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Is the Profession Overcrowded?


The general opinion is that the business of music teaching is overdone, that more persons than are necessary are engaged in it. An unusual number of calls during this summer for men to take charge of vocal departments, has strengthened some of my convictions and I think may properly form the basis of some observations.

In every case certain requirements have been specified. The applicant should be able to sing well. He must be able, not only to do the vocal teaching, but he must teach the classes in sight reading and direct the chorus. Considering the number of persons studying vocal music one would think that suitable people for any number of such positions could be found on short notice. But such is not the case. Any number of singers can be found, but there their qualifications end.

The prevailing methods of teaching vocal music, while producing many good singers, produces very few musicians. Vocal teachers are not altogether to blame, for students, as a rule, will not have it otherwise. And so in learning to sing there is, in a large majority of cases, very little musical education.

Vocal students, on the whole, are less serious than students of instrumental music, and the vocal teacher, knowing his time is short, tries to make the best possible showing with the voice, and allows musicianship to take care of itself. In most cases he is obliged to do this or lose the pupil. On the other hand, most vocal teachers, for reasons of their own, refuse to teach their pupils how to think in musical forms, to read systematically, and to hear music by looking at it. It is too much trouble and takes time from vocal work. One can be taught to sing very well and know very little about music. Some very fair singers cannot tell in what key they are singing. This to their shame.

But if the singer expects to do anything else than public singing he must be a musician. By that I mean he must be able to think music, to hear tones when he looks at notes. He must be a systematic, independent reader, one who can read at sight as well away from the piano as with it. This takes a great deal of training in thinking music. It should have as a basis thinking in the key and include every interval from the minor second up. It means a serious study of theory, for he should be able to tell all kinds of harmonic combinations and their inversions, modulations, etc., when he hears them played. It should include musical form, that he may be able to think in phrases and periods rather than single notes. When looking at a composition written in four or more parts he must be able to hear all parts mentally. Without this he cannot be a conductor.

Why is it that nearly all of the best songs are written by instrumentalists, whereas, by all the laws of fitness, they should be written best by those who sing them? The answer is at hand. It is because the singer does not study music in the way the instrumentalist does. The singer cultivates his voice, and there, in most cases, it ends.

But even if the vocalist would confine himself to public singing alone, musicianship is necessary. How often do we hear so-called great artists take all manner of unmusical liberties, literally floundering through a difficult work and making endless trouble for the director of the orchestra because they are not big enough musically to grasp the situation.

But where shall the vocal student get his training in musicianship if not from his vocal teacher? Shall that work be left to the piano teacher? This practically leaves it where it is for the reason that few vocal students study piano, so the piano teacher is helpless. Shall it be left to the theory teacher? Here we might expect satisfactory results, although a great deal of theory teaching is simply done on paper according to rule and involves little or no musical thinking, hence is not a form of musical activity.

But even if the work in the theory classes were all along right lines, the difficulty again arises of getting the vocal student and the theory teacher together, for vocal students study theory even less than they do piano. A much larger percentage of instrumentalists than vocalists are found in the theory classes, which accounts for their superior musicianship.

Very few singers can memorize a song without the piano, an exceedingly small number can hear one part distinctly by looking at it, and the number who can hear four parts, or analyze a composition is hardly worth considering. This is not due to a lack of intelligence on the part of the vocalists, for they are in every way the equal of instrumentalists. But the piano student, for example, knows when he begins that it will require several years of hard study before he can hope to do anything in a public way. The vocal student should know this also, but when he has learned to sing a few songs passably well he immediately puts a commercial value on his voice, and straightaway he is in the profession, and any such drudgery as learning to read, to play piano, or write musical composition is out of the question. Such a person is in no sense equipped for teaching. Hence it is not surprising that colleges and conservatories have trouble in getting capable men for the heads of their vocal departments.

And so it comes back to the vocal teacher. He must take it upon himself to develop his pupils along educational lines that will end in reliable musicianship. If he does not do it the chances are it will not be done.

Is the profession crowded? Yes, in spots. But in other spots there is plenty of room. At one end of the procession they are literally walking on each other, at the other end there are large areas over which one may roam without being jostled.

Right at this time there is a great need for men who are musicians as well as singers. The demand is much greater than the supply.


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