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My Pupil.

We hear teachers say: “She is my pupil,” and we read in the circulars and announcements of a number of teachers of greater or less note, “Teacher of”— followed by a list of singers of greater or less reputation. We question as to the wisdom of such advertising and whether in so doing the teacher is entirely fair to himself. The circumstances under which that statement can be justly made are unfortunately very rare in the experience of American teachers; for example, few pupils who have made great success have studied with but one teacher; the custom—a wrong one, perhaps—is to study with several teachers.

She is “my pupil,” if the teacher began with her and carried her forward to the point at which her reputation is assured; then it reflects great credit upon her teacher. He should be applauded whatever the conditions were. If exceptional gifts were there, both as to voice and talent, it is greatly to his credit and reputation if the work is carried forward to a successful issue. There are those who say with a sneer that “anyone could have taught her to sing, she had such a glorious voice and so much intelligence;” but indeed it is with just such pupils that the greatest mistakes are made. The danger lies in the weakness of the teacher in guiding pupils with great endowments. If he is wise, he will insist upon attention to technic and detail commensurate with the greater demands to be made upon the student. If he is strong, he will restrain the talented pupil from too rapid progress, or frequent public appearances, and so guide and control the practice that no harm or injury can result. He it is who must shape the destiny of the gifted pupil by creating, if needs be, and perfecting taste and appreciation. It is nearest the truth to say that the greater the talent, the greater the teacher must be to realize the fullest possibilities.

On the other hand, if the teacher is able to hold for a long term of study the less talented pupil, she who may be called one of average talent, he is entitled to all the credit of the success. Here is work that is interesting, and the results to the earnest teacher even more gratifying; for he not only must be accredited with the negative virtue of doing no harm, but with the ability to achieve where success seemed elusive, if not impossible.

In either of the above cases, a teacher has the unquestionable right to say: “She is my pupil.” But how many teachers, not only at home but abroad, are so fortunate as to be able to say that they have had the exclusive direction of a student’s work during the entire course of study. Such claims can rarely be made. The talented student who is successful usually runs the professional gamut of an entire city, until by good fortune she finds one who is able to seize upon the conditions as he finds them, and by his own process eliminate that which was wrong in what has already been learned and turn to account the good that has been gained. The fact that every experience has been growth is overlooked. The truth that the hour of greatest receptivity was at hand, and that increasing maturity is a most potent factor in the redemption of a promise of success, is lost sight of, and the entire credit of the work accomplished is given to the latest teacher.

For quite different reasons, perhaps, the average pupil is no less loyal to her first teacher. She is dissatisfied because by comparison with those who are better endowed, she progresses too slowly. She has her own or parents’ ideas as to how soon she should become an artist. She listens to the gossip of her friends as to what their teachers are doing for them, and like most of them tries a new teacher, until at last, gaining wisdom by experience and knowledge by comparison, she goes back to the one who impressed her as best suited to her needs, and with him works out her musical possibilities. No doubt she has gained something, perhaps much from each one, quite enough, to be sure, to rob her last instructor of the right to say with pride: “She is my pupil,” though his may have been the largest share in aiding her to a realization of her ambitions.

Let the teachers who read this review their work. How easily they will be able to count the pupils to whom they gave the first vocal lesson, who are still studying with them, even though in a greater or less degree reaping the reward of their efforts. Or, to be more definite, how many pupils began lessons with them from five to seven years ago and have continued without a change of teachers until the present. Such a question will give rise to reflections that should be of value to most teachers.

In the opinion of the present writer, the transient character of the vocal clientele is largely the fault of the teacher. Tact as well as force is required to hold pupils against all opposition, outside influences and discouragements; but it can be done and the effort pays, not only in the pride of attainment, but in the satisfaction of being able to work out and demonstrate the perfectness of one’s system. All teachers agree that the most delightful and desirable pupils are those who begin and continue with them. Such pupils are really the only sure test of a teacher. There is, of course, a certain not altogether worthy pride in being able to succeed where other teachers have failed, but there are many reasons whereby this is possible, reasons that do not in the least reflect upon the other teacher or teachers, that one cannot justly claim superiority either of method or excellence. To fail in holding a pupil is not always the fault of a teacher, but to fail in the effort to do so for other than pecuniary reasons marks him as blind to his own and his pupils’ interests. It is well to impress early upon the pupil’s mind that each step leads to another, and that success awaits the relative unfolding of a sequence.

It cannot be denied that there is a strong comradeship between the earnest teacher and his pupil. To foster this and to cement it by mutual pride and interest is only right. By this and other equally worthy means the teacher who is capable should hold and carry his pupils from the first lesson to the time he bids them adieu for the broader field of activity in the specialty for which he has fitted them. Under these circumstances, both teacher and pupils should point with pride to the just use of the words, “my pupil,” and “my teacher.”

 

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