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Dreams and Realities.

This is the time of year when Europe-mad students are either feverishly strapping their trunks or sighing for the blissful au­tumn day when they shall set foot on the shores of the Fatherland. For Germany—by which is meant Berlin, of course—certainly spells bliss to the majority of American music-students. That is, before they learn from bitter personal experience how others have deceived them or how utterly they have deceived themselves. Not that Berlin is an unlovely city, or that it offers no advantages to the student of music. Quite the contrary. Its physical beauties are many, its Gemüthlichkeit is charming, its café life is fas­cinating to the unpuritanical young musician, and its atmosphere is both soothing and stimulating to all that breathe it.

But Berlin is far from being that paradise pictured by the American student’s glowing fancy. Its virtues and advantages are numerous and unquestionable; but the serious defects of its educational system are unrecognized or ignored; and its peculiar, irresistible social allurements are too often the cause of demoral­ization.
The serious, striving, self-confident student may see, in the latter statement, only needless apprehension and an exaggeration of fact. Being acquainted only with American conditions, he easily imagines himself possessed of the requisite moral strength to resist the temptations of student-life abroad. When he is told how many bright and promising lives have been shat­tered in the Fatherland, he either shrugs his shoulders incredulously or smiles at all your fears. But ex­perience generally brings wisdom and suffering and tears. How few—how pitifully few!—of those that travel to Berlin can still smile, after three years, and proudly say that they are strong in mind, in body, and in art!

But all this, the reader may say, is no argument against studying in Berlin, and that it is simply a warning to weak-minded students, reflecting no dis­credit on the life of the Prussian capital. A warn­ing it is certainly intended to be; but not for one class of students more than for another. And though it is not intended to be an argument against the mu­sical virtues of Berlin, it is nevertheless a warning which no student, no parent, may complacently ignore.

As to the enducational (sic) side of this question, it con­tinues to remain a deplorable fact that students un­derestimate all the advantages of a musical training at home, and overestimate everything that is offered them abroad. Often, and with a sigh of relief, they leave an able American teacher for an inefficient one in Berlin. At home they have little or no respect for the man who is capable, conscientious, and self-sacri­ficing; nor are they willing, under his guidance, seri­ously to devote themselves to their art. But in Berlin they are ready to worship any long-haired, tenth-rate Professor, and eagerly fiddle six hours a day to gain his approbation. The progress that in­evitably results from serious application is attributed to superior German training rather than to their own efforts. They forget how indolent they were at home, how unstriving, how undeserving. To their new en­vironments and their German teacher they ascribe the progress they could easily have made at home had they been reasonably industrious.

Three, four, five years are spent in hope and toil. And what is the end of it all? What are the facts, the realities, which these young people have to face when they return to the land they spurned and test their artistic strength?

They face the stern reality that, measured by our standards of excellence, their achievements are too crude to command respect or admiration. They are coldly received by a public which they had been taught to believe is ignorant and easily satisfied, and our critics at once perceive the numerous defects which escaped the knowledge and observation of the German censors and Professors.

Briefly, what seemed excellent to the Germans often proves pitifully insignificant. What is commended in Berlin is condemned in New York. Possessed of a keen appreciation of what is artistic, our music-lovers and our critics refuse to indorse what is mediocre. The struggle is short and decisive. It is heart-break­ing for the vanquished, but it is also just.

Seeing with German eyes, and hearing with German ears, our embryo artists refuse to recognize their fatal deficiencies. They bitterly protest against our verdict and pass their lives in obscurity. But those who have the strength and manhood to recover from the first bitter blow, who labor patiently to mature their art and win our honest esteem—those are the players that discover how exacting are our demands, and who develop, in the United States, the admirable qual­ities that are foolishly believed to be the result of German educational methods.

The day is surely close at hand when gifted stu­dents and sensible parents will recognize the folly of attempting to climb the ladder of fame by means of German training. Our past dreams have resulted in nothing better than cruel awakenings. Our musical needs of earlier days are no longer needs. We are strong enough calmly to face realities, and to labor for that goal which we are surely destined to reach.

 


It may be said of Bach, as Lowell said of Dante, that “his readers turn students, his students zealots, and what was a taste becomes a religion.”

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