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Trials and Tribulations of a Music Teacher.



Of all the many disturbing elements in pupils, the one who compels you to spend an hour for half an hour’s lesson, is one of the most frequent and perhaps the most troublesome, interfering, as it often does, with the time belonging to another pupil. The mischief thus done may be readily understood, and is a far worse evil than that of the pupil who skips lessons for all manner of unimportant reasons, and then wants them deducted from the bill. In relation to the time pupil I will relate as an instance a case that occurred to me when I first started my professional career as a music teacher.

One afternoon my bell was rung, and when I opened the door in answer thereto, I found a small, slim, redheaded girl whom it did not require one moment’s observation to see was of the extremely nervous temperament. After twisting and shifting about, she explained that her Mamma would like to see me about piano lessons.

I called at the address given on the next day, climbed up four flights of stairs to a top flat, and was admitted to the parlor, the furniture of which was shabby and shoddy. In it stood what I can better term a spinet than a pianoforte. Presently the child’s mother came in with the air of a queen. She, too, was as shabby as the furniture, but before turning on the subject of my visit, she made haste to explain that she came from a good family and was still well off, but lived as she did merely as a matter of taste, which statement she soon after qualified by saying it was in order to save and give her children a thorough and high-class education, which she considered justified, as Amy, her daughter, was such a smart child. A former professor had said she was the brightest pupil he ever had, and “Mamma” rattled on to assure me Amy was not like ordinary pupils, and that I was not likely to have others like her soon again. Furthermore, Amy had particular talent for music, and as a proof thereof she related how Amy had considered the steam calliope the most interesting thing in Barnum’s parade, and “enjoyed it so.”

Upon the subject of terms she did not approve of my half-hour lessons, and was not willing to pay for more. I explained that for a child of Amy’s eleven years, I thought a half hour would be sufficient for a commencement, and “Madame Talker” agreed to try, although she did not approve of it. I was asked to play, and, attacking the musical relic, played a tarantella by Stephen Heller. Madame divided her attention between listening and pouring coal on the fire, and when I was through commented that it was lively and a very startling piece.” After some more talk about family and weal h (sic) I escaped.

Soon afterward, upon visiting the house to give Amy the first lesson it took me just one hour and a quarter to give the half-hour lesson. Upon arrival I had to wait fifteen minutes. “Mamma” then talked for fifteen minutes, which, in fact, she kept up throughout the greater part of the lesson, and before I could leave I had to go through fifteen minutes more solid talking. In fact, while I give this as a description of the first lesson, it applies closely to the subsequent ones. “Mamma” told me she herself had a wonderful brain, and explained to me that what indicates brains is the space from the top of the head to the ear, and then, in a self-satisfied manner, concluded, “Now, my space is enormous, and I have a sister who is a school teacher in Boston.”

Amy did not prove an apt scholar. To begin with, to show me what she could do, she played the C scale with one hand for one octave, and with bad fingering at that. One great drawback to the girl’s progress was that her finger-nails were so abnormally long that her fingers slid all over the keys. I suggested a cutting, but was at once told in Amy’s impulsive way that she was so nervous she could not bear it, and she continued to slide over the keyboard. I think it was at this lesson that the mother announced that she was very sick, and hastened to explain that “the doctor says there is nothing the matter with me physically,” from which I concluded that the doctor held the same views as myself regarding her mental condition. “Mamma” had the greatest possible faith in her doctor, who, she said, had no certificate, but was a “landmark” in the neighborhood. “Mamma” also had a decided aversion to paying in advance, as “Amy might die and I would lose all that money.” Whenever I started to go she would stop me with “Listen, Mr. Hausrath,” and then would follow a lot about her bright boy, the vulgar people downstairs, and the living in reduced circumstances with a fortune in Wales.

At the second lesson the mother declared she wanted Amy to have a thorough education, with a good groundwork, and she would like her to learn “The Mocking Bird” and “The Little Fisher Maiden.” I naturally objected to this line of study, and gave Amy to learn from Kullak’s “Scenes from Childhood.”

Matters progressed fairly well until one day Amy failed to know her lesson, and in accordance with old- established custom I gave the same lesson to be learned over again for next time. She again failed to know it, and I gave it a third time, besides a new technical study. I then received a note from the mother to the effect that she did not choose to pay three times for one lesson, and would drop the lessons.

A month later word came that Amy would continue her studies, and as before I was afflicted with family affairs and petty quarrels with neighbors. Then Amy got sick, and after quite a delay lessons were recommenced. As she did not know her lessons I gave them over again. This was complained of. I mentioned that she wished thorough instruction, but the mother informed me that she knew music, for her sister had studied it, and she thought Amy learned well enough to have new material each lesson. It was shortly after this that Amy was taken sick, and, for all I have heard, she may be still ill.

This is only one instance where I was compelled regularly to give far more time than was contracted for, and consequently the loss of the pupil was a gain to me.

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