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What Constitutes Success?


“The talent of success is nothing more than doing what you can do well, and doing well whatever you do, without a thought of fame.”

First of all, then, it is what we do. It must be something that we may reasonably expect to “do well.”

How may we know that we are engaging in the right work?

“When men are rightly occupied, their amusement grows out of their work, as the color petals out of a fruitful flower.”

Can the work that we, dear readers of the Etude, have undertaken, stand this test?

For it to amuse and interest us, to be always a pleasure, and never a bore, we must have for it a great and all absorbing love; for it demands our entire consecration, requiring, not only mental and physical application, but that our very soul be wrought into it.

Well, then! satisfied that we are in the right work, we must be equipped for “doing it well”; and for this, we must have—

First: Assiduousness—We must apply ourselves constantly to the getting of knowledge, and the studying of ways to impart it; it is not what we know, but what we are able to impart, that profits us as teachers.

I sometimes come across a peculiarly worded expression, that serves me admirably in teaching; for instance—in the February number of The Etude, the expression which Mr. Mathews uses, “the hand riding on the tips of the fingers” in a legato finger phrase, conveyed to a “Miss” a much better idea of getting a smooth passage, than I had been able to give her.

We must be diligent to read, and catch at everything that can be of use to us. Read and think; for it is not the amount we read, but our ability to adapt what we read to our work; that is the thing to be desired.

By the way, we have been having some rare chances lately, through The Etude, of obtaining books that can give us solid information and real practical aid. I refer to “Celebrated Pianists,” and “Anecdotes of Musicians.” I hope you all have them; if you have not this last, you must get it at once. You have no idea how these little scraps from the lives of musicians—amusing, pathetic, serious, or instructive, help us to get acquainted with them, and to interest our pupils.

Bear in mind that our work demands increasing activity. We must never allow ourselves to imagine we have reached that point where we may relax our energies; for this being satisfied with our work is fatal to success.

“When one is satisfied with what he has done, he has reached his limit; from that point he begins to go down hill, imperceptibly, it may be at first, but none the less surely.” Let us have lofty ideals, and pursue them with unflagging zeal.

Next: Patience—Patience and Firmness; for I think the two should be considered together.

To repeat a thing over and over again, and do it cheerfully; to bear, it may be, with awkwardness and stupidity; to meet with composure all the little vexations that arise, and keep ourselves calm and steady throughout the day’s work—this is what patience requires of us.

Not always easy. But we hope, some day, that the much-repeated lessons will have been unforgetably learned; that the awkwardness will have been moulded into grace; that the stupidity will have given place to an awakening of the intellect; and that, by meeting all the little vexations in the right spirit, we may be able to weave a thread of beauty into the lives of these, our pupils. And because we hope all this we can be patient.

“The end crowns the work.”

And yet, there is a point with pupils where patience ceases to be a virtue. We may suffer too long with poorly learned lessons, or non fulfillment of reasonable requirements; for we should be considerate in our demands, and insist firmly that they be complied with, or we sacrifice our dignity, and the scholar is the loser. Then, too, it dulls the wits of the pupil, if we allow too much time for the fingers to serve the intellect, or for questions to be answered. So, our patience must be tempered with judgment, that we may not lack the required firmness.

Then: Self reliance.—Our work should be characterized by independence of thought, independence of ideas. No matter how much we may admire our teacher’s conceptions, we should not seek to imitate them, for the work should bear the stamp of the individual. His ideas will have given tone and color to ours; his strength, his vigor, his enthusiasm will have nourished our musical life; but can we maintain a healthy growth when severed from the parent plant? You must see that it is very necessary for us to do this, in order that our work may be done well.

Then, too, there is something invigorating about this self-dependence; the brain grows more active, we gain in confidence and self-respect, and the whole musical system is quickened.

Let us then broaden our resources, study, if we can, with the best masters, but rely on our own inspirations, and brain wares.

Finally: Courage.—We must not get disheartened. Do we realize the importance of this?

The heart is the vital function, the centre of power; if this fails, all the other organs are impaired.

We must ever keep ourselves in condition for doing our best, and then we scorn defeat.

“We fail!
But screw your courage to the sticking-place,
And we’ll not fail.”

We now come to the last clause upon which our chances of success depend—“Without a thought of fame.”

Alas! for the vanity
Of poor humanity
Throughout the land!

Pardon the parody.

Ruskin says:—

“The greatest efforts of the race have always been traceable to the love of praise. It is the gratification of vanity, which is, with us, the stimulus of toil and balm of repose.”

Let us see to it that our efforts are free from any such impulse. And then, with a work well chosen, and ourselves fitted to do it well, we shall surely gain success; and in the words of the old French proverb—

“Nothing succeeds like success.”

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