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Five-Minute Talks To Girls


The Whimsical Girl.

If you do not know her by name, I am sure you will recognize her from description.

She is the girl who, when she sits down at the piano, evinces a strong desire to be striking. In playing she deals largely in antitheses. In other words, she is fond of sharp contrasts, of sudden gyrations of dynamic force, and revels in rubato galore. She strives to be original, unusual, first of all; and is not content with playing as any other human being plays. A music teacher’s ideal of the faultlessly, coldly correct is not to be tolerated; she has heard too much of “individuality in music’’ and aspires to the whimsical style, to a new and re­markable version of standard music, to giving her audi­ence little shocks of surprise at the way she does not play familiar things, and to making people gasp at her ultra-modernity and concrete singleness of style.

The music she chooses with which to illustrate her unwonted “mode” is pretty sure to be suggestive of title, and the more weird or uncanny, the more com­pletely she revels in it. Then, sweeping it clean of any symmetry or form which the composer may have worked it into, she straightway proceeds to infuse into it her own “individuality,” and to make marvelous music indeed!

The “Hexentanz,” for instance, is made more witchy than the broom-riders of Salem themselves could have made it, and the most innocent pieces (like Chaminade’s “Flatterer,’’ for instance), simply because they bear insinuative titles, are contorted into strange and Beards­ley-like music.

This is, perhaps, an exaggerated silhouette; but do you not recognize her? Have you never listened to her playing and been bewildered into murmuring, “That is lovely”? Or have you been honest enough on such an occasion, as was once a girl whom I know, to say, “Well, I do n’t call that music!”

It is not music, girls, or at best it is only a sort of poster-music, music of a cheap and flaunting kind, that will die of its own puerility; so do not permit your­selves to be blinded by the quasi-dazzle of it, and above all things, do not copy it. Do not try to be “smarter” than your teachers, or put into your playing that which you would be ashamed of during the lesson hour.

Never try to be cute, tricksey, or will-o-the-wispy at the piano. By affectation a girl only disgusts the musical and bewilders the unmusical. A teacher in Boston used to say to his girl pupils: “There, do n’t try to improve upon the composer. Perhaps if he had only thought of that way of rendering it he would have written it so, but as he did not, really, I would not try to improve upon what he has written.”

Individuality is indeed such a rare thing, you know. One has to sift one’s self through such a heap of ready­made thought before one is able to squeeze out even one little drop of individuality, and even then it is ques­tionable if this drop be not a composite of other men’s wisdom, and have only the color of originality from having passed through such a wondrous variety of knowledge and experience as to bear no noticeable resemblance of any one influence.

Better be a good copy of the best in the music life than a poor, unshaped attempt at something the like of which was never seen before,—happily,—just for the sake of having your own unknown little initials in the corner of a ridiculous rendering! Better be “icily reg­ular, splendidly null,”—better far!

If we go back to the good old first principles, the annihilation of self at the piano is the highest wisdom of all. The modest girl (she still lives, despite the many laments over her decadence) nowhere shows her pretty culture to greater advantage than at the piano, where, without any foolish wriggling, bashfulness, or flaunting pride in herself, she puts music forward and demands attention and admiration for the work of one infinitely more than herself.

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