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Pupils' Ideals.


The man or woman who has risen to a commanding position has done so by virtue of an ideal. Give a boy an ideal, no matter how, and he will strengthen along the line of that ideal. One striking thing about ideals is this: They vary as men vary. What is routine of the dullest, dreariest kind to one man may be ideal to another. Ideals are relative in different individuals and to the individual himself at different stages of his life. Education enlarges our views, broadens our horizon, and gives us a wider range of facts from which an ideal may spring. And this should be one result of an education, musical or otherwise: an increase, not merely in accumulation of facts, but in power of adapting ourselves to our environment. Our progress, and we must progress, will be a successive rising to the higher planes of successive ideals, and otherwise than this there is likely to be no true progress.

What is to bring about these successive higher steps? Education, as suggested before. But the primary impulse often comes in very unexpected and obscure ways. This fact constitutes one of the golden opportunities, and at the same time one of the most exacting obligations of the teacher’s work. He must enter into his pupil’s lives; he must make himself a part of their thoughts; he must share in their ideals, and then with a steady, a firm, hand; nay, perhaps, with an enthusiastic spirit he must throw into that young mind the stimulus that shall refine the ideals already recognized. But not too much at a time. Rather too little than too much. This idealizing faculty is a tender, a delicate one and cannot stand forcing. But the teacher can rely upon this principle: If he will carefully observe his pupil, if he will get into close touch with him, he can raise his ideals, and, if he should neglect to do so, he has failed in his duty. A few examples can be given. A teacher in a prominent Eastern conservatory of music who has had a very great number of pupils under his care once said that his happiest hours are those in which he receives from some former pupil a letter which tells where the pupil is engaged and how the work of the teacher had been appreciated and what a stimulus it had been. Often the pupil will refer to some particular lesson as a starting-point upward.

A teacher of singing once said in my hearing that he remembered well that, when he sang alto as a boy and tenor as a young man, he thought the music in “Gospel Hymns No. 1” was very fine music, and that he had memorized the parts in a number of pieces. But he did not stay on that level. Good teachers and wider opportunities opened his ears to finer harmonies and richer melodies.

An organist of my acquaintance, who has won recognition by his skill in extemporization, says that he received his first impulse in that direction from hearing a friend of his father improvise on a small reed-organ. The boy thought it must be the greatest thing in music to be able to do this thing and with the self-confidence of youth he tried it. He knew nothing of harmony, but he had a little organ-book, with simple arrangements of many of the masterpieces of melody from Mozart, Beethoven, and other classical writers. He learned harmony from them, and to-day is acknowledged leader in his specialty.

A noted English pianist says that her first experience in the higher music was when a fine amateur pianist of the neighborhood invited her to play duets. The little girl was made acquainted with the masterworks of music at an early age, and never forsook the ideals thus formed.

One of the pleasantest moments of my own life occurred recently when a young woman whom I had not seen for a number of years told me that she dated her impulse toward the higher levels of music to a time when I presented her with a collection of the easier classics on her graduation from high-school. “Just when my taste was being formed, you gave me what I needed, and what my teacher had not given.”

So let us seek earnestly to know the ideals of our pupils. Do not express surprise when they tell them to you, much less ridicule them for having low ideals. There is usually good reason why such should be the case. But the fault must not be yours if they remain low. Tactfully, constantly, but carefully supply the little impulses that lead to ambition, to realize ideals. Select those things for use that will themselves, unobtrusively, but certainly, lead to a recognition of higher planes. What you have gained your pupils may gain. Only try to make the way easier, smoother for them, that they may the sooner reach your side, and be happier still if they pass beyond you, in their turn to carry on your influence to future pupils.


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You are reading Pupils' Ideals. from the March, 1900 issue of The Etude Magazine.

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