BY E. L. ASHFORD.
While the South has always been recognized as the land of “music, love, and flowers,” it has only in the past few years responded to the great wave of musical development that is sweeping over our nation, making us the proud and happy possessors of artists and composers of international reputation, good schools of music, fine orchestras, and singing societies, and—in some localities—of annual Music Festivals where the more important choral works are given a satisfactory rendering.
Several factors have combined to retard this development in the South-land, probably the most important one being the desolation that followed the Civil War, which made the study of music (and, indeed, of all the fine arts) a luxury not to be considered except by the favored few.
To this disadvantage of environment may be added the natural temperament of the Southern people, which inclines to melody, pure and simple, rather than to polyphonic forms.
In accordance with this love for melody, the study they have given to music has been almost entirely in the direction of voice-culture for the purpose of solo singing; consequently part-singing has been sadly neglected. But of late years one can see some slight tendency toward concerted work, and the formation of music clubs among women has done much to foster this change for the better. In fact, it is doubtful if any permanent progress in this direction could have been effected without the music clubs.
The history of these organizations in the South is about the same as in other sections, except that when the spirit of development took the form of concerted action, there was much less available material at hand upon which to draw for the successful study and rendering of the more complex musical forms. The best possible foundation for choral work is the chorus-choir and glee club, and these were almost unknown among us. Very few of the men could read even a plain hymn-tune, while the women were not much more capable. No attention had been given to stringed instruments (except the guitar and banjo); so there was no nucleus upon which to build an instrumental accompaniment even of the most simple nature.
As a consequence, the music programs of the clubs at first consisted entirely of solo work. This soon proved tiresome, and Artist Recitals were introduced. This plan served a double purpose in cultivating the taste of the associate members for a better class of music, and inciting the active members to concerted effort among their own ranks; and eventually led to another and more important step, viz.: the bringing of really good orchestras among us, so that it has become possible at least once or twice a year to hear really fine music properly rendered. In at least two Southern towns (Spartanburg, S. C., and Birmingham, Ala.) these orchestral visitations have become annual events.
Permanent choruses have been formed, and one or more oratorios prepared each season and given with full orchestral accompaniment during the festival. In other cities a chorus is gotten together a few weeks before the festival and some popular cantata or oratorio selection prepared for the occasion. It goes without saying that this plan is not so satisfactory from a musical stand point, as there is not sufficient time in which to gain the more delicate and beautiful effects due to correct shading and phrasing. However, it is a step in the right direction, and may, in the course of time, lead to permanent organizations.
Another encouraging feature of musical development in the South is the increase of chorus-choirs in churches, and the frequent rendering of sacred cantatas upon festal occasions. Though this class of music is not so difficult either to understand or interpret as oratorio, yet it is lofty in character and purpose, and increases the desire among musicians to work together, and also adds to the dignity and impressiveness of the church service.
While we are developing—slowly, but surely—along the above lines, we are also making some little progress in the line of teaching, though we still lack a great deal of reaching a satisfactory standard in this most important department of our musical life. However, the Southern Music Teachers’ Association is doing aggressive work, and must, in time, exert an influence that will compel more thorough preparation on the part of our teachers. There is plenty of work among us for teachers who are really good musicians, and not merely “faddists” on the subject of method.
For our more rapid and genuine development, we sadly need intelligent and unprejudiced newspaper criticism, for it is upon the press we must—to a large degree—rely for our musical standards. Fulsome praise for the amateur may be prompted by the laudable desire to encourage the young student to still greater effort in his chosen art, but the result in most cases is to foster a degree of complacency quite unfavorable to earnest and conscientious study. However, with increased facilities for hearing good music, and enlarged opportunities for its broad and comprehensive study, let us hope that the standard of criticism will soon be raised to its proper level, and that our musical progress in the near future will be not only rapid, but founded upon the principles of true art.