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A Plea For Broad-Mindedness.


Don’t imagine that what you know on any topic is all that any one could possibly know, and don’t believe for a moment that your way of doing a thing is the only effective way. There are four distinct ways (perhaps more) of fingering the chromatic scale, for instance, and a perfectly smooth scale can be worked out from any one of them. Then don’t say that yours is the “only way.”

The present writer has tried diligently to learn (at second hand) what is the exact “method” of a certain much vaunted European teacher; and while he has discussed the matter with dozens of persons, each one of whom thought that he knew the “system” step by step, he found that no two of the exponents came anywhere near agreeing in minute details. The truth is that this particular teacher has proven himself so great that he has individualized his all comprehensive knowledge to suit the requirements of each pupil, and that no one of his followers can reproduce his entire work any more than he can become the master himself.

No “method” or “system” was ever devised which could possibly meet the requirements of all the pupils in any given class; it follows, as inevitably as day follows the night, that the only good teacher is he who is broad-minded enough to have studied every possible “system,” and out of the mass has gleaned so many and such various ideas that he is able to adapt his work to each individual hand and head; who is courageous enough to try absolutely untested formulas whenever his judgment suggests them. Not only is this true in the practical application of technic, but equally so in every esthetic and theoretical phase of music teaching.

A noted teacher wrote me recently on the subject of “Embellishments.” I knew that he played some of them differently from many other teachers, and asked for his authorities. A quotation from his letter says:

“As to the question of embellishments, I am opposed in principle to laying down any law or even rule with reference to them, because the question of taste enters so largely into the matter that herein, too, individuality and personality express themselves. In regard to teaching embellishments I make it a point never to prescribe their execution, merely to suggest it with the distinct understanding that this way or that way of executing them is one, but by no means the only way.”

This from the pen of an artist and teacher of international reputation is certainly food for thought and a strong protest against too narrow rules in anything.

Of course every teacher must have a certain definite set of scale-fingerings, and a certain way of developing and fingering every sort of chord and arpeggio, but he must ever remember that while the Czerny rules may fit his purpose to a finished nicety, Mason may have prescribed some other way; it is not for him to say that either is right absolutely or wrong utterly, but merely that one or the other way is his personal choice.

Of course this principle of elasticity and breadth applies more fully in the realm of esthetics than elsewhere in music study; here it must be given fuller rein. Shading and tone color and even phrasing are arbitrary matters with the editor of a composition after all, in many cases the printed directions can be exactly reversed with effective results. A pupil should be taught the principles of accentuation, rhythms, contrasts and color; once he knows them he should be allowed ever increasing freedom in their use. The matter of rubato, for instance, while never to be allowed to degenerate into distortion of rhythm, is yet, in its practical application, as elusive as the wind blowing across a field of grain and just as devious in its flow of effects.

All this does not mean that a young pupil should be allowed any sort of freaky interpretation that his unformed or perverted fancy may suggest, but is merely a suggestion that every phrase in music may have another than the interpretation you have always accorded it, and that these possibilities should be continually kept in mind.

Finally. Don’t think that your way of conducting business, giving concerts and working out music plans is the only way. Be observant of the plans and work of all others, and always willing to admit that a change may mean improvement.

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You are reading A Plea For Broad-Mindedness. from the July, 1906 issue of The Etude Magazine.

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