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The Curse of the Unclean.

The popular song is a real need of the nation. Whatever cheers an aching heart, whatever brightens a sullen tendency, whatever puts spring in feet lagging with discouragement, whatever turns the coarse jests of a vulgar company to disciplined rhythm and controlled thought, however simple, that thing is good and worthy the support of the people. To do these things is the mission of the popular song.

The average man comes into the world without the gift of either strong musical or literary instincts; yet he loves to hum a tune, and while humming it is filled with better impulses. That being the case, the educational uplift of music should not be denied him. But for him who has not enough artistic pabulum to recognize the actual, material worth of music and poetry to a nation, there should be provided a way, through which he will accept—thoughtlessly, as air or sun shine is accepted—the impetus to awaken his dormant artistic possibilities. Such direction must, necessarily, come from the music of the streets, that being the only kind sure to receive the attention of the multitude.

To a musician the popular songs are, frequently, an irritation, but to the musically untrained they are oftener the incentive to unconscious aspiration. When our intelligent American public is schooled to enjoy the best music, then, by all means, eliminate the song that is less than best. But that happy state is a long way off, unfortunately, and now the popular song is to the public what the picture-story book is to the child: not literature, certainly, but the one means by which a child, without the inherent literary appetite, may cultivate a desire for the genuine in literature. The effect for good or evil of the popular songs is most accurately witnessed in the village community, since in such communities they make, very nearly, the en tire “musical atmosphere.” Alas! many of these melodies serve as a medium to inflict offensive verse upon a suffering public.

There have been many taking and tuneful airs which catch the common ear, with poetry that, while wholly inane, is in no way insidious, “Annie Rooney” and her beau may not have developed anyone’s mentality, neither did they corrupt his morals. It is a fact that one wrangling married couple, to the knowledge of the present writer, was brought back to paths of peace by this song. The girl who was “bred in old Kentucky” carried a suggestion of the stable about her; still there was nothing to offend or affront in the pretty, domestic realism of the verse.

If all the songs of the last few years had been as clean, we might well rejoice in our integrity. But there is a fatal tendency toward the debasing and vile, which threatens the very foundations of society. For as the songs are so are the people. These songs are represented by that class in which young girls refuse gold, “glittering gold,” in exchange for treasures above price; where maudlin men shoot themselves because “she” has married somebody else (thus proving her excellent judgment); and where a coachful of ill-bred travelers and their outrageous effrontery to a be reaved young husband are set forth in execrable poetry and not much better music. Incomprehensible as it seems, innocent, engaging, young maids and matrons have sung these excrescences upon the name of music in public assemblies, apparently without a thought of wrong-doing, when their auditors must have blushed for the shame and pity of it.

That such songs depress and degrade, every thinking person must allow. They are the enemies of both music and poetry, that, in the garb of these graces, familiarize young people with unwholesome conditions. The thoughtless man or woman may say: “It is real ism; these things exist; there is vileness and suffering everywhere.” True, they do exist, so do the scavenger and the loathesome sore, though none are benefited by an exhibition of either.

What is to be done? The sister-muses, poetry and music, should lead mankind up the shining steeps toward the Creator of all things pure and lovely; hand in hand it is theirs to shed the radiance of enlightenment through the gloom of doubt and ignorance; that their power should penetrate unlettered localities by simple methods is fitting, but that they be prostituted to the gloating lust of the mercenary is a social disgrace that should not be endured.

Organization against so great a nuisance would be commendable, but organization is futile unless the public has first opened its eyes to observe danger and then, willingly, fares forth to its destruction. Meanwhile the individual (and the individual is the instigating force of all reform) might start the leaven of cleanliness by decrying the suggestive in song, giving approval to the sweet and true, even when it falls below artistic standards. From such influence a way should open whereby this tendency can be suppressed, and the innate respectability of the nation show itself once again in honest, wholesome, popular songs. It is time for all who have a figment of patriotism to cease tolerance of this curse of the unclean. — Adda L. Nichols.

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