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Music-Teaching from a Country Standpoint

BY W. S. B. MATHEWS.

 
In a recent issue of a contemporary publication a distinguished writer comforts a disconsolate woman from Iowa, who regrets that she has to give lessons from house to house, often at less than a fifty-cent rate, and has few opportunities of hearing music. The "Comforter" (for he does it so well that he deserves the capital) cites some advertisements in German musical papers where all sorts of professional qualifications are wanted for important points at rates in marks (25 cents) about equal or less to American rates in dollars. He suggests thankfulness that her lot is cast in a country where she can get her fifty cents, seventy-five cents, or even a dollar for a lesson, and is not obliged to know the whole dictionary in order to secure and hold one of these positions. The point is well taken.
 
Reed-Organ Pupils.
When a college graduate (musical college) goes into a small country town to get up a class, she presently encounters several difficulties. First, some of her would-be pupils live out of town, and she must go to them. She gets out her wheel, and, unless unfortunate enough to have to trundle the five miles back to town in a pouring rain, she does very well. The bête noir of this kind of teacher is the pupil whose father has bought her a reed-organ, intending to get her a piano later. Now, as to what can be done on one of the ordinary reed-organs, I am not the wise man to speak. I did, indeed, assist at an instruction book for this case, many years ago, and I treated the problem from the standpoint of easy piano-music. There is a good deal of music which can be suitably played upon the reed-organ. It will be organ-music. Piano-music does not go well, no matter how many octaves or alleged "stops" the instrument may have. In fact, I am almost as skeptical concerning these "stops" as an old friend of mine concerning the instruments of a bad organ- builder; he said that the only effective stop on his instruments was when one stopped playing. I do not go so far as that. Many innocent things can be done on the reed-organ; many innocent things, and a few musical things. You can sustain, to an unlimited extent; you cannot accent very well; you cannot produce a staccato and piquant effect, or but little.
 
Get the best instruction-book available and add thereto occasional pieces of real organ-music. Exercises are of little value. Some fugue-music written for organ will be useful as exercise. Look out for rhythm, for that is the organ's weak point. It is a dreadful drizzler. Make it spunk up. You can do a little to make the accompaniment lighter than the melody by playing it a little more staccato. It is an ungrateful job. My uniform advice to intended buyers of reed-organs is the old advice: "Don't." Nothing but a call to self-effacement can be justification enough for investing in this hybrid instrument, which is neither fish, flesh, nor fowl; not even good red herring.
 
The touch of the organ should be prompt, and, if you give attention enough to it, the pupil can play her lesson upon the piano in your studio. She will not be happy, nor will you; but she will gain an idea or two. If she is preparing for a piano later, you will have to do the best you can with piano- music upon the organ. You can cover the first three grades fairly well with the organ. The touch will not be expressive, but if you work enough at rhythm you can get fair results, results which will save her time upon her piano.
 
The Place of Analysis in Teaching.
The farther I go, the more clearly I see that the ground-reason why the taste of our pupils does not improve in proportion to the length of their study is that we neglect to instruct them in the structural and purely musical qualities of the pieces they study.
 
Every well-made piece is a work of design, a variety of kinds of design, lying one inside the other like a nest of Japanese baskets or boxes. We neglect this part of the work, and at the end of years the pupil has no more judgment as to quality of workmanship in a piece than when she began. We ignore even the inmost thing of all, the question whether the piece means anything. First, then, I would cultivate a habit for the pupil always to appeal to her inner sense as to whether a piece has something to say; whether it means something. Rag-time is not necessarily vulgar; it is generally the commonplace melody and harmony in which the vulgarity resides. Now, the syncopated rhythm of rag-time appeals to almost everybody who has life enough in him to know rhythm when he hears it; but since we have not educated an ear for harmony nor developed a sense of elegance in melody, our accusation of vulgarity appeals to nothing within the pupil.
 
What kind of analysis to cultivate is really a very difficult question. No class of pupils is more common than those who have taken harmony and written a ream or so of figured basses, who yet do not know harmonies when they hear them. First teach chords; this is first grade. Follow the scheme I traced in The Etude, for February, 1902: Miss Dingley's new course with children. After that they must hear chords in key; then be able to do all sorts of cadences in all keys; that is, know all keys practically upon the keyboard with their fingers. As to form, know at least enough to define the metrical structure of the music and observe where the new subject comes in and the mood changes. Commonly a new key also comes in, and other peculiarities. Consonance and dissonance must be known, in order that the dissonance may be resolved musically. In short, the pupil should learn as much analysis as can be made illuminative in practical study. And everything must come down to terms of ear. No analysis is of any value which cannot be carried on by means of the ear, without assistance of the eye. This is the key to productiveness in analysis, and it applies to harmony as well as to form; also to modulation.
 
When we succeed in educating our pupils along these lines, we find that the pupil begins to be more and more discriminating in the choice of music and in her likings. Trash falls into its proper place; to wit, the waste-basket. There is no other place for trash. The pupil who is able to hear the conduct of a piece of music and to feel whether it is musical and is really saying something is thereby above being pleased by trash.
 
As to the extent, that depends so much upon opportunities. Every pupil should know all that there is in a first-rate primer of music and the harmony I have above pointed out.
 
The Teacher a Social Factor.
Some one asks me whether a music-teacher should be a social factor, and how she is to become so. It is a good question, but I do not chance to have the rule handy. I imagine that any music-teacher who works in singleness of purpose to make her pupils love music, hear it, feel it, be moved by it, and is loyal to pure ideals herself will inevitably succeed to a position of her own; first, among the mothers, who will feel that the children are under good influences. Later, to those who do not have children; and presently those who also themselves would like to know something of this beautiful art which we all love so warmly by heredity and environment and understand so poorly. Just as soon as the teaching shows that the teacher has hold of this inner something of the art, and her playing also speaks it, she will begin to have position with all who share this beautiful ideal.
 
Everything she can do to make music better understood will be just so much added fish for her net. But she must not forget that the public is suspicious of fake money-making devices. I have never known but one religious cult to pay "big money" to its first apostles, and that is Christian Science. It was a gold mine at first. Occasionally a successor of Elijah (we have one in Chicago) makes a good deal of money; but, as a rule, missionarying is not what the census calls a "gainful occupation." I think one of the most available applications of "first aid" in musical missionarying is a student club, working from the standpoint of composers, like the various student clubs reported in The Etude each month. It opens the heavens, extends the horizon, and brings in a number who do not take lessons. And by just so much as you make your work respected by just so much you make yourself felt in the community.
 
Musical Organizations in Small Towns.
Next to a musical club, a choir or chorus, of whatever convenient size the town affords, is a good assistance. Also an orchestra. I think a class in choral singing, with a first half hour in actual instruction in reading, could be made to pay in almost any community, and especially in the smaller ones. Then when they have learned to sing readily from note take care that the singing sings something. Give the go by to the familiar class singing-book. Take a rational and artistic collection, such as that beautiful "Laurel Songs," lately published, the most choice collection of high school music ever brought together, and some of the best of it is American.
 
The increasing opportunity for musical work is wonderful. Still, I must say that during a teaching career of about fifty years I have spent but about a year and a half in localities where music-teaching did not "go." One was a year on a farm in northern Illinois, in 1858; the other was a half year in a little country community in Georgia during war-time, when I taught an academy. Everywhere else music-teaching has been in demand.
 
There is great opportunity and the living accessible to the music-teacher is practically about the same as that accessible to a similarly qualified professional man or woman.

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