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Musical Conditions on the Pacific Coast

By W. FRANCIS GATES
A Plethora of Teachers but Less Concentration of Effort than in the East

gates.jpgConsidering the homogeneity of the American people, it might seem that conditions in musical matters in one portion of the country would be about the same as in another; and yet, in considering the extreme west as measured up by eastern standards there are certain differences noticeable.

As one leaves the Mississippi Valley there are few musical centres worthy of notice. Omaha and Kansas City have a strong interest in musical matters, but passing between them and the Pacific Coast cities there are but two places worthy of serious consideration: namely, Denver and Salt Lake City. Denver is three times as large as Salt Lake, yet it shows to an outsider but little more, if any, musical activity of the better sort. The number of Welsh in the latter city, the large organ, and other factors, go to make a musical atmosphere of no little density in the City of the Saints.

Passing that large section given over to cattle, mines, sage bush, Indians, and cholos, on arriving on the Pacific Coast one finds an eastern civilization transplanted to the extreme western edge of the Continent. The centres of this are at Seattle, Tacoma, Portland, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, naming the cities from north downward.

Climatic Conditions.

Queer as it may seem, climatic conditions have a good deal to do with the musical as well as the physical atmosphere. The northern cities have a drizzling rain for five days a week through a period of seven or eight months of the year. The casual observer may conclude this is hard on the music teacher’s business, as people would fear to venture out in the wet and would miss many lessons. But the opposite is true. They get used to the rain—regard “rubbers” and umbrellas as normal garments. An artist may have a crowded house in Portland, every man and woman having come under an umbrella; while the same artist,—should there occur that rare feature in Los Angeles, a rain,—finds few in the house. Rains come so seldom that people in the City of the “Angels” dread them, and would refuse to get their backs wet even to hear a Godowsky. In fact, a heavy rain so scared away his auditors that Mark Hambourg faced an audience composed of few besides the ushers, two or three years since;—and then took as many of the latter as he could get into his cab and carried them off to a theatrical performance that had nearly as few persons present. In the northern cities the music pupils expect to paddle through the rain to their lessons; in the south, a rain will keep away four-fifths of them.

Another and more general feature is also to be laid at the feet of climatic conditions. Eastern people coming to the coast to stay for a winter or a season choose the more enjoyable climate; few elect to go through the aqueous experience of a winter in Seattle or Portland, unless it is to visit friends, nor are many attracted to the windy hills of San Francisco. They “make a bee line” for Southern California and enjoy balmy breezes and bright skies such as are unknown to eastern winters.

Differences between North and South.

This means that while the northern cities are growing equally as rapidly as the southern, the character of the population is different. The new additions in the north are made up of people who are permanent; the heads of the families are in business and there is less of the restless spirit that characterizes young and old in California. The result is that the young people are steadier in their work, imbibing from their elders less of the dolce far niente spirit that is so prevalent in the south. Consequently, the teacher in Seattle or Portland can depend on more regularity of income and better work from his pupils—those vocal pupils excepted who are affected by the dampness of the atmosphere.

In Southern California there is a large floating population—people of more or less means—which makes as its principal object in life physical comfort—and mental apathy. This is the play ground and the health ground of the country. The effect of this condition is seen in the irregularity of attendance on

lessons, in the frequent irruptions for purposes of pleasure, in the general feeling of irresponsibility that pervades the young, and is fostered by their elders. As to the hard and serious grind that is done in many cases in the east, not one in a hundred knows anything about it. The result on the work of the teacher, artistic and financial, is easily appreciated.

Influx of Teachers.

Another feature that is a direct result of climatic conditions is seen in the numbers of eastern teachers who come here with an idea that they are the first to discover the land. Numbers flock hither to enjoy a beautiful climate and perhaps to recover lost health, thinking at once to collect a class of pupils that will equal or exceed that left in the east. No teacher should think of throwing up a reasonably good income in the east for the crowded south-west. There is much more opening in the growing cities on the northern end of the coast, if one must make a change.

Still another feature of the situation is seen in the number of capable amateurs who accompany some ailing relative to their land of dreams and then, to aid the family exchequer, offer to teach at absurdly low prices. Naturally, this does not assist in keeping the teaching rates at a point worthy of capable professional effort. The result is seen in musicians drifting out into other occupations—or seeking loans on which to get back east, where more bread and butter may be had, if not more sunshine.

The conditions mentioned above are those which may be regarded as peculiar to the region. The more ordinary matters of quack teachers and illy-prepared performers are practically the same as found elsewhere in the country. Quacks and semi-quacks are found the world over; musicians in every community think their location has the most of such persons to deal with, but the nuisance is pretty well distributed. The “fake” teacher flourishes for a while, and in the larger communities for a longer time, for there the supply of ignorant and gullible “get-smart-quick” pupils is greater.

There is not the organization among Pacific Coast teachers that there is in the east, owing to the distance between musical communities. In San Francisco and Los Angeles there are teachers’ organizations, but these are separated by 500 miles and there is no affiliation. Tacoma and Seattle are close enough to make such a thing possible, if the vexed question of the name of the adjacent mountain did not form cause for disruption.

Culture in Small Towns.

There is one feature noticeable in the south-west and that is the culture of many of the smaller communities. Towns that are perhaps but two-score years of age have more education and musical interest per capita than found in nine-tenths of the towns of similar size in the east. This is particularly noticeable in Redlands, Riverside, Pomona, Monrovia, and, farther north, in older cities, such as San Jose, Sacramento, Albany, Salem, and other points. One expects such culture in the college towns last mentioned but to find a choral society 15 years old in a little “orange town” is a surprise. Such a condition arises from the fact that orange ranchers are persons of education and a fair supply of wealth. These they brought from the east to the building of the western communities. They are the pick of the cities from which they came, and the towns they build can do in ten years what it takes fifty or a hundred to do in the east.

Church, Choral, and Orchestral Music.

From what has been written, it may be seen that there is no dearth of material for good church music on the coast. The supply of capable organists and singers is greater than the demand. Consequently, salaries, outside of the largest churches, are low. The best organists get from $500 to $750 a year, and sopranos and tenors about the same. But it must be remembered this is only in the largest churches in San Francisco and Los Angeles, perhaps a dozen all told.

The niggardly policy in the matter of church choir salaries often noticeable in the east evidently came over the Rockies or “‘round the Horn” with the forty-niners. At any rate it is here. The general rule is to pay the singer as little as possible—all for the glory of the Lord. In what is said to be the largest Presbyterian church on the coast, not one of the singers is a professional musician, and a bank clerk was recently chosen as organist because he would take the place for half what a professional organist would charge. Such is the example set to the smaller churches and they follow it without compunction. The “pin-money” soprano and the “cigar-money” bass is largely in evidence. And the worst of it is, the churches are satisfied with the kind of music which results. But this is no new story. Why dwell on it? In nearly every city over the broad land the same condition obtains.

In the matter of choral music there is considerable spasmodic activity on the western edge of the Continent. Portland, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, have their choral societies, more or less permanent—too often less. In Los Angeles, within a certain ten days, two organizations gave the “Messiah” this season. Each filled its auditorium. Competition is the life of art, in this case. Pasadena has a new chorus, Monrovia has had one for years. San Francisco’s “Loring Club” and Los Angeles’ “Ellis Club” are organizations of male voices which attain much perfection in their recitals.

As to symphony orchestras, the oldest on the coast is that at Los Angeles, now in the eighth season. It enrolls fifty players and gives eight concerts a year. San Francisco and Portland have had less success in this matter, possibly because the same spirit of self-sacrifice does not animate the orchestral players. Union control of musicians also interferes with what they would like to do for the furtherance of art. And everyone knows San Francisco is owned body and soul by the unions. Portland has been doing something of late years in the matter of orchestral music and the programs of its orchestra are highly creditable. These orchestras are handicapped in securing artists of high grade as soloists, as many such demand as much for a single performance as the whole intake of the concert amounts to. But this reacts for the benefit of the local musician, who is thus given opportunity to appear with orchestral setting.

Private Teachers and Conservatories.

There is no notable example of broad conservatory work in the Pacific Coast States. There are a number of musical departments attached to denominational colleges which apply the term “conservatory” to themselves and a few separate institutions which use that as a title. These undoubtedly, notably in San Francisco, are doing good work. But in other communities the work of the schools is so far behind that of private teachers as to make no noticeable impress on the musical atmosphere. In the matter of private instruction the western cities will hold their own with communities of similar size in the east and in some cases, the musical atmosphere is far denser than in cities of the same population in the Middle States.

Naturally, San Francisco, from its situation and its 500,000 local and adjacent population, is the centre of all art life in the extreme west. There are a number of teachers there whose reputation is national among musicians, and there is no dearth of composers. The population of the better class is more permanent than in the southern end of the States. In theatrical and musical affairs San Francisco gets nearly as good attractions as does Chicago. Nearly all artists think it worth their while to visit this city, some turning north from this point and some south. There is sufficient interest in the better class of music to give large hearings to performers of note. Opera may be heard all the year round.

Musical criticism is largely on a newspaper basis rather than on an artistic foundation. I do not know of one case in which the three necessary elements of good criticism are present. I would rank these three as follows: first, a journal of general circulation; secondly, musical knowledge and literary ability sufficient to make the critic’s dictum authoritative—in so far as one person’s judgment can be; thirdly, absolute freedom from advertising and other considerations. Occasionally, two of these elements are present, but the lack of the other negatives much of their good effect. As a general thing, what is true of eastern newspapers, save in certain shining examples, is true in the west: the musical columns contain reports, but not criticism. The pianist’s hair and his mannerisms are described and the usual gamut of adjectives is worked over as to his performance. But of analysis, there is none, for the reporter has not the musical education that permits him or her to distinguish between a diminished seventh chord and an augmented ninth; between bassett horn and saxophone; or betweeen (sic) French and Italian. The society writer is detailed to “write up” a symphony concert; the political reporter is sent to an artist’s recital. And when the dignity of a signed article is reached the “I” is larger than the artist.

Lesson Rates.

Rates for musical instruction probably evince the same vagaries on the Pacific Coast that they do elsewhere in the country. There was a time when the teacher who could point to school-days in “Bosting” could charge two or three dollars a half-hour, regardless of his ability—or lack of it. Occasionally, there still comes from the east some teacher who has had a wide opera experience (in the chorus, but that point is kept in the background) and with large manners and the latest fashions of dress and an ever-ready “glad hand” for everyone, rounds up a number of pupils for a season or two. But when the personal enthusiasm for the stranger dies out, he hies him back to (literally) greener pastures.

Like in the rest of the country, there is a certain proportion that are carried away with the “Herr” or “Signor” or “Monsieur” (self-dubbed). In some cases the proprietors of these prefixes come from the countries they indicate. In others, and more ludicrous, the title was attached in a visit to that country. We still are provincial in that respect. But there is gradually spreading the idea that there is no better instructor than the wide-awake American who has studied hard under good teachers and who has had opportunities to hear plenty of first-rate music. This practically means that his musical education, if he has not visited Europe, must have been acquired largely in New York, Boston, or Chicago. For only in these cities does the student have the fullest advantages in the lines of symphony (always first) opera, chamber music, and soloists of the highest rank.

Musical Atmosphere.

At least, such has been the condition of affairs up to the present century. Doubtless, this new epoch will see such advancement as will cause the music student to realize that as good advantages are to be had in San Francisco and in Los Angeles as in any city of the country, save those mentioned, and as few reach the grade where the highest realms of music are touched, these points will offer advantages that will make it unnecessary for the student to take the journey of 3000 miles for instruction.

San Francisco has had her Otto Bendix, Hugo Mansfeldt, her Stewart, her Anton Schott; Los Angeles has Max Heinrich, Etta Edwardes, Bernhard Mollenhauer, Henry Schoenefeld, and others. There is no lack of good instruction in various lines, though there still lingers in the minds of the people the corollary of that idea which used to permeate the east. Twenty-five years ago the person who wished to be thorough in a musical education thought he had no salvation outside of Europe; now that fallacy is exploded, but its natural offspring is in evidence on the western coast—that anything solid in musical study must be done in the east.

People now go to Europe for eclat, for reputation, and to hear opera to better advantage; in a decade, this modified idea will have hold of the Pacific Coast and our students will go east, not so much to study as to hear. It is a peculiar fact that, in a prospective student’s eyes, the value of a teacher decreases in direct proportion to that teacher’s approach to the student’s location. One might journey from Yuba Dam to Boston to study with a certain instructor of note, and go through all sorts of sacrifice to this end; let the teacher decide to locate in Chicago, and there arises a doubt in the pupil’s mind as to the value of his instruction; and, further, if the musician of note decides to spend his days in the salubrious climate of California, the project of studying with him is dropped, and another eastern instructor picked out. It is truly a case of distance lending enchantment, though the teacher might be able to do even better work in the better climate.

Number of Pupils Out of Proportion to the Number of Teachers.

While it is now true that at present there are not enough music students to “go ‘round,” while the number of teachers who have come to the coast is out of proportion to the number of young people who are seeking instruction, it is equally true that the population is drifting this way. Approximately—for the exact figures cannot be given—Los Angeles gains 15,000 a year; San Francisco plus Oakland, 20,000; Portland and Seattle perhaps 5000 to 7000. The surrounding communities do not, as a general thing, gain so rapidly in population, for the people who come to this section largely desire the benefits of condensed civilization as well as of climate.

During the first few years of life here, the average family offers nothing to the business of the music teacher. It is too busy getting settled and enjoying the change of temperature. It has not fully awakened from the surprise caused by a lack of cyclones and snow storms and blizzards. It is revelling in the esthetic delight of picking roses on Christmas Day and violets on New Year’s; it is still enjoying the creature comforts of oranges and strawberries in the winter and ocean baths in the summer. After a few years of these things, they become commonplace matters and the processes of education are allowed to have their place, though that place is more restricted than in the east—and it is short enough there. The average pupil expects to do literally nothing from May to October and really must have a month at holiday time! So the teacher cannot count on more than seven months of full work in the year. And then because of the outdoor attractions—as has been noted above—the study may be frequently broken into.

As a whole, the matter may be summed up in these few words: The Pacific Coast is a good place to spend one’s declining days, or after a moderate competency has been acquired, to “sing a little tenor, teach a little baritone,” or to do a small amount of piano or violin work. The energetic man who must have his time fully occupied, for peace of mind and pocketbook, will not be satisfied with present conditions. In twenty-five years things will be different.

 

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