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How One Boy Practiced


The other day I was visiting the family of an educated gentleman, who is, in fact, a superintendent of public instruction in a good-sized Illinois city, and I chanced to overhear, and consequently to observe, the piano practice of his young son, a boy about thirteen years of age. The boy was a typical American boy, quick-witted, restless, capable of learning anything, rather too far along for his years in the school grades, fond of play, eager in all boyish sports, mercurial, kind-hearted, with an irrepressible, bubbling desire for incessant teasing. He sat down to a really excellent upright, but was perched upon a high-twisted, loose-jointed, screw stool, which understood its own mind about as little as a weathercock. The father has a true love for music, though not much knowledge of the art. He is also sufficiently advanced out of crude ideas to no longer consider music in the category of “tatting,” embroidery, and wax flowers, but as a subject worthy the serious study even of the masculine half of humanity. The boy has a good teacher, and began to pick away at a really good composition. His mode of practice reminded me of a canary-bird pecking at seeds: A note or two—a boy went by shouting—up sprang the student, and darted to the front door to see what was up. The mother, from the rear room, called out, “Willie, go back to your practice!” Back he went, with the obedient alacrity of a rubber band that has been stretched. A few more notes were picked out, when a breeze came through, and, catching his portfolio, scattered the leaves on the floor like those of the ancient Sibyl. Five minutes more were consumed in getting the music in order and replacing it. Matters went on now better for nearly ten minutes, when, the kitchen-door being opened by accident, a waftage of complex fragrance from the boiling dinner—cabbage, turnips, onions, etc.—assailed the boy’s nostrils, and he jumped up, running out to ask what was to the fore in the way of prospective nourishment. Impatiently his mother ordered him back to the piano, and again the alleged work went forward like the striking of a clock whose internal mechanism is “on a strike.” Halting and galloping, naturals, sharps, and flats profusely sprinkled with delightful irrelevancy and freedom from harmonic prejudices, charitable blurrings of the pedal, and phrases marked by a general lassitude, went meandering on in a lazy stream of intermittent effort, when the boy called out, “Mama, is it twelve o’clock yet?” The answer came back: “No, dear, it is ten minutes of twelve, but I guess, as you’ve practiced fifty minutes, you may stop now.” The stopping was done with a brilliancy that defies description. I was plunged into deep muse and meditation, reflecting upon this great problem —namely, How many million hours of such labor would be required to make a finished pianist ?


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You are reading How One Boy Practiced from the July, 1898 issue of The Etude Magazine.

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