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Professor Quack. (A Sketch From Life.)


Professor Quack was a man of short stature, crooked legs, round shoulders, pale face, and weak eyes, whose sight was assisted by powerful glasses, through which he peered as though he were making frantic efforts to keep awake; his hair was dark brown, and he wore it brushed back from his forehead à la pompadour. A heavy, drooping mustache bulged out from underneath his knob of a nose like a cataract.

Sleepy though he appeared to be, he was, indeed, very decidedly wide awake in matters of business. He was conductor of a band and was not too proud to take up the violin and follow his own leadership, even if he was obliged to play second fiddle. For some strange reason not distinctly known he never played first violin, but time and again led the band while playing second violin himself. This stamps him for an original conductor, for what band ever followed the sway of the second violinist’s bow?

He was also conductor of several singing societies, and these were his chosen prey. Every society gave at least one concert during the season for his benefit. Upon these occasions each member was provided with thirteen tickets, twelve to sell and one for his own personal use. He was director absolute—to wit: business manager, stage manager, general manager, etc.—on all these occasions. These societies, which, by the by, were all Männerchöre (male choruses), held their rehearsals in beer-saloons, because his Männerchöre were all drinking corps; and he found it more convenient to have the flowing liquor at their side than to have them go out around the corner, between songs, to relieve their parched palates.

Prof. Quack was to be admired for his business ability if for nothing else. He was first, last, and all the time treasurer of every society with which he had any connection. The members handed their yearly dues to him in little dribbles, equal to one-twelfth of the annual fee, monthly in advance. The professor, knowing their weakness, declared that this contribution should go toward defraying the expenses for the purchase of the vocal lubricant commonly known by the appellation of “bier”! The scheme was an excellent one, for never were meetings more regularly attended. Indeed, the faithfulness and sense of duty exhibited were marvelous, awe-inspiring. The professor knew from the start that he was the power supreme, and that his herd of donkeys would bray him unto the world’s end, so docile were they. And all this through the instrumentality of beer. Verily the way to reach their hearts was through the brewery. It is quite unnecessary to remark that they did not represent the elite of the town; in fact, they themselves boasted of their non-connection with aristocracy in the matter of birth, and also their antipathy to being inoculated with the germ of nobility. One of these societies was nicknamed by a wag from its own ranks, “The Anti-Gentlemen’s Bawling Club.” Coarse jokes and indecent language sallied forth between the measures of sweet and good music, and the muse, if ever she did come near them, must certainly have clapped her hands to her ears and sped away, terrified and abashed. Poor thing! How the crimson blush must have overspread her countenance!

The professor not only attempted to sell tickets for his concerts, but sold them; and that, too, in a town where such work was no easy task either. For this he has received the applause of even his enemies in the musical fraternity. We must admire the man who can persuade people that it is their duty to support him, when it is n’t, and actually carry his point so far as to make himself considered an indispensable member of the community. His activity was marvelous and nothing was too high for his ambition; nor was anything too low, either, provided there was money enough in it. He would have led a band of monkeys if he thought it would pay. His friends and dupes were synonymous, and they stuck to him with remarkable adhesiveness. Probably nothing could have separated them but death, and the “Fass” was the keystone of their union. All rehearsals were at an end when the “Fass” ran dry; for he who sings must drink. And why not? Did any one ever hear of a great singer that was born and bred on the desert of Sahara?

These societies flourish and will so long as beer is brewed. The professor has no scruples about teaching any instrument he has ever seen, be it string, wood, or brass. The less he knows about an instrument, the more anxious he is to teach it. His natural curiosity probably inspires this in him; and, then, one is sure to learn something by trying to teach something.

Being gifted with a natural tendency to investigate, and having been accidentally thrown into the musical world, he tried, and fussed, and dabbled with every musical instrument; became a follower of all and a leader of none. Although he did occasionally stand before a band of men, baton in hand, he did not lead them; they led themselves.

Now, what should such a man do, indeed, but found a school of music (a conservatory, as he called it). Nothing seemed more natural, and this he did. As for teachers, he hired none. Why should he? He himself was a whole corps of teachers. He was the faculty, director, secretary, manager, and last, but not least, treasurer of the whole establishment.

The most notable feature about the school was the place where it held its sessions. In the main avenue or business street of the town was located a two-story brick building, the first floor of which was fitted out for a store or shop with two show-windows of the modern type. Now, the professor having secured the lower part of this building, probably on account of its fine site, tenement houses standing on either side of it, and finding that the show-windows could do much to attract attention, ranged in neat order a miscellaneous collection of sheet music intended to be for sale. His plan had its desired effect. People stopped before his windows, gazed, read, and were apprised by a sign in each window that Professor Quack gave lessons on this, that, and the other thing. Underneath this announcement was a line extending the cordial invitation to “step in and see me.”

The first floor of this building consisted of one long room running the full depth of the structure. Just by the door as one entered was a small counter, over which he sold his wares and also made arrangements for business appointments, such as “music furnished for all occasions,” the accepting of new pupils, etc. At the further end of the room was a piano bearing the name of some obscure firm, and standing out full to the view of everybody. There, divided neither by portiere nor screen from the remainder of the establishment, was the “hall” where the aspiring youth exerted all their powers of discipleship while the maestro, between the puffs of a cigar, the disposing of a jewsharp or other toy instruments which were among his stock in trade, listened to the pupil with one ear and to the customer with the other. Sometimes, in order to demonstrate that an instrument was in good health, he would sound it while the student was digging away at some insurmountable difficulty at his chosen instrument. Peculiar, indescribable combinations were often thereby effected.

After school-hours the “conservatory” was made the rendezvous of interested and curious children. Boys and girls would huddle together craning their necks to peer into the windows and get a view of the “scholar” taking a lesson. They would pass jests about what they considered the poor unfortunate inside. Report had it that the professor believed in corporal punishment, and they would watch eagerly for an outburst of passion from him. Speculations were constantly being made as to when he would fly at his victim and deliver a dose of chastisement. Such expressions as “Watch him,” “He’s warming up,” “There he goes,” and the like were frequently heard from among this juvenile mob.

Occasionally the professor would make a wild rush for the door, open it, give an angry, menacing yell at the crowd, and shake his fist at them. They would scatter, making various jocular remarks, followed by choruses of taunting yells, upon which the professor, foaming and dancing about in frantic anger, would slam the door shut and return to his pupil like a wild beast to his prey.

The simple contrivance of a portière or screen which would have overcome all these annoyances was not even thought of. It was not long before the large sign stuck up on the front of the building came down, the windows cleared of all the music and other articles for sale, and a “to let” sign posted in each window. The professor had sounded no note of warning and had moved none seemed to know where. But he was not one to secrete himself from the world, and before long he was located by a sign in the window of one of the flat houses on a side street. The sign was smaller, as of necessity it would have to be, but it was the same old announcement, “Conservatory of Music.” And so he continued to do business, and plenty of it, too, at low rates. That word conservatory had captivated his senses, and he was not happy unless he saw it or had it near him. This word is much abused, and fond mamas and papas should be careful lest they be captivated by its appearance where it has no right to exist. There are quacks in every profession, and music, unfortunately, has many more than its share of them.


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You are reading Professor Quack. (A Sketch From Life.) from the July, 1898 issue of The Etude Magazine.

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