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Types In the Concert Room.


I was recently one of a small audience assembled to listen to a Chopin programme given by a local professor, and my attention was called to the absorbing interest evinced by the lady on my right in the rather eccentric reading of that composer by the above named celebrity. Among other numbers as per programme was the following: “Grand Etude for the left hand in C minor, Op. 10, No. 12.” At this point my neighbor seemed doubly interested, leaning forward and craning her neck to gain a better view of the key-board. Much to our amusement she exclaimed, at the conclusion of the etude, “Oh pshaw, he used his right hand!” Evidently her attention was due to curiosity about, rather than interest in, the art of piano playing.

Perhaps she was related to the pretty girl in rustic finery, who asked if I would not “please play just once, ‘Home, Sweet Home,’ with foreign fingering;” or to the good deacon who, at the close of the concert, remarked confidentially, though approvingly, to the lady who had had the temerity to engage me for their church benefit—“Why! Miss Stevens isn’t an actress, she’s a lady.” Was it Thespis or Cecilia whose social position he questioned?

Among students the most severely critical are those who, living remote from the influence of the concert room, are guided solely by the ideas of their teachers or their own too often distorted views on interpretation; the most appreciative and discriminating those living in the larger towns where opportunity is constantly offered and improved for hearing not only the best, but the various pianists. The former are usually discovered sitting in the front row, solemn and severe, a copy of Beethoven in hand; the latter sit where fancy dictates, are independent and vigorous in their criticism, condemning without fear, enthusing without restraint.

I might mention the shy pupil who burns with a desire to meet the artist, but who stands aloof and stares “with never a word to say,” or the dear girl who rushes up to give you an emphatic caress and tell you how perfectly lovely it was.

Not to be omitted is the diligent student who seeks after ideas, or the aggressive one who advances the same.

I could also say something of the “remarkably promising, young pianist,” who demurely waits at a modest distance, while the teacher descants upon his or her talents, and then coyly advances to be patted.

Yet oftener one meets the society woman who doles out platitudes accompanied by the ditto man who glories in his ignorance of all matters musical.

Nor do I forget that discouraging individual who, after my long piano programme, will naively ask me, “Miss Stevens, don’t you sing?”

Ever to be remembered is the old bore who wants me to improvise.

The individual whose vocabulary is limited to his calling is not uncommon. For example: A conductor remarked that he thought my Knabe Piano would get a “hot box,” and his friend, the stenographer, observed to the management “  , what a magnificent typewriter that woman would make!”

But of all the unmitigated frauds is the professor who now approacheth, self conceit oozing from every pore, to propound his theories and explain his method. He prates of “expression versus virtuosity,” the “æsthetic versus the mechanical,” “Soul versus fingers,” etc., assuring one that he never kills the spirit with technique; he never retards genius with pianistic skill, too ignorant to realize that to play the piano one must learn to use one’s fingers, to produce tone one must study touch in all its phases and acquire a flexible technique; or should we say, too cunning to expose his ignorance of the art he professes to teach, he goes on to the end of the chapter imposing impracticable theories on credulous pupils. This type, let us be thankful, is almost without exception foreign to the soil, and finds an antidote in the scores of American teachers who have had more or less excellent training which they impart with native zeal. The influence in any audience of these teachers is quickly felt by the artist. ‘Tis an influence towards that enthusiasm which warms the heart and brightens the fingers and makes the programme go.

How grateful are kind words from these people at the close of the concert. All are acceptable, from the encouraging comments of a colleague to the gush of a school girl.

Miss Sentimental asks: “But don’t you work from pure love of your art? Do you really care for approval?” Of course, I love my art, yet I could never work and travel and play without approbation and flowers and talking to agreeable people about pleasant things. I would rather enmity wore a mask of flattery than to see its ugly face. One need not believe fulsome praise, and to turn a deaf ear to intelligent criticism would be imbecile. Yet remarks from spleeny sources should be graciously condoned and silent contempt disarmed with its own weapon.

Surely above all things do we prize sincerity, and that, perhaps, is the reason I was so pleased when a tiny pianist of eight years threw his little arms about my neck, exclaiming, “Oh, Miss Neally Stevens, I liked you best of all,” than which no sweeter praise was ever bestowed.

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