BY H. LORAN CLEMENTS.
Modern education in a sense is a system of self development and instruction. The wide-awake student of today will not take every statement of his text-book or instructor on faith, but will only be satisfied when he has proven for himself the truth of what he hears. This spirit, when it is fully encouraged, produces men and women who are more than faulty phonographs; who actually think and judge for themselves, and therefore are self reliant. It was not so very many years ago when young people were taught to sing a certain number of pieces in much the same way as parrots were taught to talk, and with about the same results. To-day we encourage our pupil to think for himself, and thus to reveal himself. The teacher offers the material with which to work. It remains with the student whether his work is beautiful or otherwise. But is our vocal teacher the only source from which we can get materials to build? By no means. Every note of music which we hear, whether it is produced vocally or otherwise, should be of some benefit. It is too much the custom to give ourselves up to the sensual enjoyment of music, and then to let the mind sink into a kind of lethargy. That maybe all right for those who hear music for a pastime, but we, as students, should leave the opera or concert hall with our minds full of new ideas, and the music so absorbed that we can readily apply it to our advantage. With this in mind we should foster a spirit of criticism; criticism which is not censorious, dyspeptic, faultfinding, but the honest comparison of that which we hear with a certain high ideal which we may have already fixed in our mind. Such criticism is broadening. Our artists are not gods and goddesses, and are, therefore, not above criticism, for they sometimes make mistakes which ought to act as great danger signals to those who intend to follow in their footsteps. If we can benefit by the mistakes of those who are at the top of the ladder, we can surely gain great help by the example and experience of those who are in the different stages of artistic ability. By learning to profit from the mistakes of all those we see around us, our progress to fame shall be all the more rapid and sure. In criticism, also, we not only learn to avoid dangerous methods and all that tends to retard our development, but we increase our musical judgment. We hear an acknowledged authority render a certain composition in a certain manner, and perhaps a few days later we hear just as great an artist render the same selection in an entirely different style. Now, which way do we like it best? Which way would we sing it? A careful consideration gives us a finer discrimination and a higher artistic perception. If we have to criticize honestly and frankly, we learn how to get out of the ruts of life and become broad and liberal instead of narrow and bigoted. With our faculty of criticism sharpened, we can learn the methods of our great artists, and recognize more fully what the word art really means. The young lady who intelligently listens to a Melba as she sings the pure, clear tones of the upper register, will gain more ideas about head tones than a dozen lessons could give her. If a certain artist’s enunciation is almost perfect, and the student listens with undivided attention, ideas will surely be gained. But let me urge the importance of bringing to the concert-hall a mind which is all alert and ready to receive all possible hints as well as to detect flaws. We can still enjoy our music even if we do carry on an immense amount of thinking.
Method and technic are not everything. If we neglect the public performance and shut ourselves up in the studio, we soon become like botanical students who exclusively devote their study of plants to the dried specimens found in the herbarium, rather than to the fresh green plants provided by Nature. The dried plants, it is true, give the general structure, outline, and almost the color of the fresh specimens, but they lack vitality. In other words, vocal teachers, be they ever so skilful, can not give us the warmth and vitality of music as can those who are inspired by the presence of a large and critical audience.
A would-be prima donna may render the solo parts of such an oratorio as “The Elijah” in a faultless manner as far as technic is concerned, but until she has heard such an artist as Nordica she will utterly lack that warmth and high conception which such a work demands. Let her come in contact with such an artist, and at once her horizon is broadened, her ideals are raised, and her artistic conception strengthened.
In hearing music, vocal students should not confine themselves to vocal entertainments. The voice is the king of instruments. Let us therefore learn how to use it by acquainting ourselves with every kind of tone production. Chamber music, symphony programmes, organ recitals, all should combine to produce a broad and cultured musician.
Finally, in listening to these varied programmes, we become acquainted with the “masters.” We attend an opera or concert primarily to hear the method of producing the work, but who can estimate the benefit we receive from the music itself. Every note of the master is charged with a message which comes straight from a human soul,—a soul which has experienced the very trials of life that we have endured. Beethoven in his melancholy speaks to us. Wagner stirs us with his conflict of human passions, and as we listen to the “Hallelujah Chorus,” we, with Handel, “see all heaven before (us) and the great God himself.” By being so constantly with the great, our own souls begin to develop, great thoughts in time crowd out narrow conceptions, and we become, like the music we hear.—great.Etude Magazine. July, 1897