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Five-Minute Talks With Girl Pupils

An Intellectual Ear.

You all know that no one can be a musician without a trained and musically attuned ear; that is a truism, but how to attain a musical ear is not quite so clear to every girl.

Listening to one’s own playing is an excellent way. Listening to the different tone qualities of the instruments of an orchestra is good. But there is a third method which may be practiced away from the piano and by those who are not fortunate enough to attend orchestral concerts regularly, and that is by observation study. You have observation lessons at school, and find recording what you have seen with your own eyes much more interesting than simply repeating, parrot-fashion, what you have read or been told; and now what I wish you to do is to observe with your ears.

There are as many and varying sounds in this world as sights, and we have made a mistake in this present century in making the eyes the pack-horses of the senses, for we have thus hurt the eyes by overworking them and dulled the ears by underworking them, by not giving them proper exercise. Professor Buell places hearing as first and most important of all five senses, and what a splendid thing it would be for young musicians to start a crusade against the abuse of hearing and to restore the ear to its proper place and dignity.

One interesting method of ear-observation is listening to the speaking voices of those about you. This way is open to all. Listen to the speaking voices of those whom you know to be musical, to the voices of those who are tone-deaf, and to those who are physically deaf. Study the voice of each new person whom you meet, as well as his face, and see to what conclusions your ears will assist you.

In the voices of the physically deaf you will notice an uncertainty of tone and irregularity of pitch, as though the voice lacked control. Hawthorne, speaking of Barry Cornwall, said: “He talks in a somewhat low tone—without emphasis, scarcely distinct. He is deaf, and this may be the cause of his unaccented utterance—owing to his not being able to regulate his voice exactly to his own ear.” Did you ever think how the voice obeys and is subservient to the ear? As the ear is, so shall the voice be.

Listen to the voices of those who are tone-deaf, who are without a sense of tonality, and see if you do not miss something. The speaking voices of such remind me of nothing so much as of two boards being struck together, or the “clappers” in which boys delight. I remember, when at school, two boys being excused from singing because, on examination, they were found to be tone-deaf. This seemed to me most extraordinary at the time, but I have since met with many who are without any sense of pitch, tonality, or key-relationship. I want you to be sorry for these people, and to think of the pleasure they can never share with you. Just think of being deaf to modulation, inflection, klang-tint, and all the other beauties of music. Do not think that it is not worth the while to play for such people, but play them music with  a strong rhythm; they can feel rhythm; so give them what they can enjoy.

Lastly, notice how pleasing a really musical person’s voice is, and how obediently it connives with the demands of a well-attuned ear, and you will see that the ear is really master of the voice, that where the ear is a cultivated one the voice will show the result and be soft, flexible, and musical. But where something is wrong with the ear the voice will certainly be dull, tuneless, or hard, and have no music in it.

This is a very simple observation lesson which I have given you for the first, but you may enlarge upon it almost infinitely. In every use to which you put your ears you are making them more alert for your musical listening, more keen for quality of tone, more vigilant to note that smoothness so difficult to obtain. That tiny harp of three thousand strings within your ear is like any other instrument. Good usage keeps it bright and fine, while with neglect it rusts and dulls. If every girl would cultivate a delicate ear there would soon be an end forever to that unhappy reputation which American women have borne so long for shrill, unmusical voices, and the “awful American female voice” would become as much a thing of the past as the straw-chewing man who was supposed to be typical of our American manhood.

A Bunch of Resolutions.

1st. Resolved that, liking to see dignity well dressed, I shall take excellent care of my piano; shield it from sun and heat; use upon it a chamois, that it may not grow shabby, and a drop of alcohol, that its ivories may not grow yellow; never strike nor “bang” it; but always caress it and be to it the friend that it has been to me.

2. Resolved that, as there are one hundred and sixty-eight hours in every week, I shall give at least one of these to reading musical literature.

3d. Resolved, that I shall not say I hate anything that is music, but, if such should seem distasteful to me, to remain silent, out of respect to those who find something good in it.

4th. Resolved, that I shall never refuse to play when asked to, nor appear to do so unwillingly, but always be glad to make music.


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