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A Cardinal Fault of the Music-Student.

BY J. S. VAN CLEVE.
 
I suppose nothing is more disheartening to a teacher of the art of music than to discover that ideas which have been slowly and with pain as well as painstaking imparted to the student are all gone, or if not utterly obliterated, at any rate dim, confused, incoherent. Here is a juncture in the life of a student where the entire responsibility rests upon the student. No teacher, however competent, however faithful, however enthusiastic can do the brain work for the student.
 
One of the best and most salutary results of going to a high-priced teacher is the extra tension put upon the mind and will by the necessity of securing some adequate benefit for the large outlay. That means nothing but the heating of the student's mind to a more plastic and impressible temperature, by added degrees of effort, as sluggish and stubborn iron is made pliable by the fires of the furnace.
 
Then the real reason why you do not get better musicianship in most instances is that you, as a student, rely too much upon the cleverness and energy of your teacher to save you the strain of mental effort. Pain, pain, pain; that is the key of life; that is the key of knowledge; that is the key of skill. If you are too effeminate to endure the first strain of dull, painful effort you will never reach the sweet and triumphant sense of mastery in art. How sweet that sense is those of us who have endured and have attained a modicum of mastery well know but cannot easily express or explain.
 
In order to advance you need first an effort which strains up to the full tensile power of your mind. They put upon locomotive boilers, when testing them, a pressure with water in excess of the actual tensile power demanded of them in practical use; and so the hours of study must be keener and more agonizingly intense than the hours of practical labor in later years. Ah, but, you say, will I not break down my health by such intense study? There is very little danger. For one man in college who fails because of intemperate mental labor there are ten who fail from indolence; and if there be a failure in health it is from vice, not from study. True, many of our frail nerve-laden American girls, with their silken fiber, their flaming ideality, and perfervid ambition do break down at the various colleges of music, but it is because they work too many hours per day and neglect obvious hygienic laws. They do not fail from too intense study, but from nagging at the piano too many hours a day. Do not tease the piano six hours per day, in a half-insane state of mind, but practice at it three hours per day in a clear, burning, vivid state of mind.
 
Again, most of our ambitious American women- pianists, in order to cause their scant savings to reach as far as possible, commit the fatal error of eating poor food in meager quantities. The result is that the bodily machine breaks down lamentably.
 
In gymnastics, in mental labors of science, literature, or politics, in art-study, it is a cardinal truth seldom fully comprehended and often only glimpsed at rare and lucid moments, that hours of intense effort, offset with utter relaxation, are the track along which to run. The pugilist does not work as many hours as the carpenter or the common ditcher; the soldier spends but few hours in actual battle; the poet achieves fame with the work of transfigured moments. And yet, do not think rest is not work. The unconsciousness of sleep, and the lighter occupations which serve to relax the mind, are a part of achievement.
 
The error at which I am now striking is the notion that a fussy and prolonged half-effort is the best path to success, particularly if a very skilful, very bold, very long-tried guide be engaged. No! No! No! Knit your powers of mind together firmly, even if with pain each day, and for a few golden hours work like a slave. Nay, that is a conventional comparison, but a poor one. Work like a divinely endowed man. Is there anything in this universe more splendid than a human being putting forth the wonderful powers of thought which God has bestowed upon humanity? No gymnasium, no arena, no battlefield, no armor-clad battle ship, no struggle in the halls of forensic or national debate, no strife for righteousness and reform demands more energy or more self- sacrifice than does our art of music.

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