I have often heard it said that the United States is very backward in taking hold of good music, and the reason given has usually been the newness of the country, followed by the prediction that, with greater age, this defect would disappear. Now this is certainly very comforting, but is it true? With a continuance of existing conditions, I should say that it is not. We have in this country certain conditions that exist nowhere else, which are continually strengthening themselves, and which operate to lower the musical taste. These conditions have obtained so strong a hold that they will be very difficult to overcome.
In our Sunday schools are assembled every week hundreds of thousands of pupils of all ages who are drilled in, and taught to sing, Sunday-school hymns. There is no denying that some of these hymns have a swing and a jingle that make them very attractive to young people, and in that very quality lies their power for evil, for no musician will deny their worthlessness, while those who continually hear and practice them to the exclusion of all other music, are sure to acquire a taste for them, and a distaste for anything better. The practicing of such hymns never leads to the gradual improvement of musical taste, for the character of these hymns (or, better, songs) is steadily deteriorating instead of improving, proof of which assertion I have in some leaflets recently sent out from Boston (think of it!) for use in a Christian Endeavor Convention, which contain some of the very poorest music ever printed. This statement, as well as others in this article, has reference to the tunes only, as it is only music that is under consideration.
One thing that has given such hymns a standing is their almost universal indorsement by Sunday-school superintendents and ministers, very few of whom are musicians, and most of whom probably look at the words only. I have in mind now a composition that I recently saw on the face of which was printed a most flattering indorsement by a very prominent Sunday-school worker; and it is fair to believe that, because of the man’s prominence, his indorsement would sell millions of copies of this song. Of course, he looked at the words only, but the evil is done just the same.
What I believe to be another fruitful source of evil is a majority of the “Musical Conventions,” so called. A man calling himself a leader strikes a small town and organizes a class for a convention. He brings a trunk full of books for use in the work, of which the contents are usually largely of his own composition. He drills the class for three or four days on light, trashy choruses, and winds the whole thing up with a “Grand Concert”; then away to pastures new, leaving every member of his class the happy possessor of a worthless collection of so-called music, and a determination to have a musical society formed at once, and that is the last of it.
The manner in which many of our church hymnals are compiled is a lesser evil, it is true; still, it is an evil. The work is usually done largely by ministers, of whom few have a trained musical judgment. Now, I think that this work should be done by musicians (not convention leaders, but musicians) and should be done with the view to giving the very best music available. I do not believe in the practice of putting in a lot of music of poor quality simply because we used to hear it when we were boys, and because it comes in the “old favorite” class. There should be no sentiment about it. Music is either good or it is not good, and it should be treated according to its merits.
I believe that the way to educate our people up to the appreciation of good music is to teach it in all our schools; to introduce it as fast as possible into our Sunday schools, and to reconstruct our hymnals, eliminating from them all the poor old fossils, even if they are “old favorites.”
It will take time, but we should commence with the children, and the result will be certain.—C. McDaniels.Etude Magazine. November, 1901