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Editorial Notes

The commencement season in all its rigor is at hand—the season when pupils’ musicales flourish most bravely. The severity of these occasions might be materially alleviated if teachers were to make it a rule not to assign the participants anything beyond their powers. The names of the great classical composers look well upon a program, and are doubtless impressive to those of the audience who know anything about them, but in musical functions the ear, not the eye, is the supreme test. The average Young Person, no matter how diligent she has been in practicing scales and finger exercises, cannot be expected to excel as an interpreter of classical works. It takes a von Bülow or a Reinecke to play a Mozart sonata and make it interesting to modern ears. It is time that Beethoven’s “Sonate Pathètique,” about which some one has said that the only thing pathetic is the way in which it is generally played, should be left off school-programs. It has been too often butchered to make a pupil’s holiday.

Let pupils, indeed, study such works, learn to know them in form and structure, but think well before inflicting them upon a miscellaneous audience. In case of full-flown graduates this caution, of course, does not hold good, since they are supposed to be able to give a reason for the hope within them.

It is not difficult to select an attractive program well within the powers of youthful players from the works of modern composers—works with which they are in sympathy and can play con amore.

* * *

It is not an easy matter to get to the mind of a student or an audience in a few words what is meant by “musical form.” If one has time, a good command of language, and plenty of musical illustrations at hand, it is not such a troublesome matter. But when one has not much of either, it is not so easy.

In trying to explain this, use an illustration that everyone is conversant with. It at least carries the root of the idea to the listener’s mind, be he a student of music or the average attendant on concert or lecture.

An illustration may be drawn from the common forms of architecture. Starting at the largest musical form, the symphony, tell them that the parallel form in architecture is the cathedral; following this in descending order, comes the sonata, and this, we may say, is the church building with its variations in shape, to be sure, but with a central idea of form and utility. Then comes the sonatina, the little sonata, curtailed in its size and expression; and this may be likened to the chapel, the diminutive of the church. Chapels are larger or smaller, plain or more ornamental, as the case may be. And so it is with sonatinas. But still there is the central idea or the distinguishing feature that tells one this is a church or a chapel; and so it is with the sonata and the sonatina. There is the general outline, the distinctive features that tell the composition to be the one or the other.

Then there are many kinds and styles of buildings, large or small, plain or ornate, each for a different purpose, and each following the dictates of the architect or the builder. And so there are many subordinate and “free” forms of musical composition, each following the art or the whim of the composer. Some endure for centuries and some are ephemeral and serve but a passing taste, as do their architectural counterparts.

* * *

“Oh, yes, I see; that is the man that invented the telescope.” So exclaimed a young lady some years ago when looking at a picture of Admiral Farragut, standing with his telescope in his hands. This lady was a graduate of a conservatory of music; she was an excellent pianist, a fine singer, a student of musical theory, yet she thought this picture of Admiral Farragut, as he stood clad in his American uniform, represented the inventor of the telescope.23

Now what is the point to this little story? Simply this: the insufficiency of a musical education standing alone. Music is an important branch of a general education, but it cannot take the place of that aggregation of forms of knowledge that go to make up what, for lack of a better term, is dubbed “culture.”

A knowledge of history would not have placed Galileo on Farragut’s pedestal. Nor would it have ascribed to a great modern warrior the invention of an instrument centuries old. The absence of general education among musicians brings the art they practice into somewhat of disrepute; the presence of a wider culture reflects honor on the possessor and, to some degree, on his art.

Too many young people who are very musical in their make-up have a decided objection to giving time and effort to studies outside of their limited musical curriculum. Every once in awhile we hear of this one quitting school to study music, and that one dropping out of college to give “all my time to my practice.” A general education to the extent of a high-school course, at least, is an absolute necessity. Then, parallel with the musical study should go some college work, if one is in a college town,—one or two studies, for instance, German and history, or higher rhetoric, or literature. If I may quote myself, “A musical education without a knowledge of literature is even weaker than a literary education without a knowledge of music.”

* * *

Many teachers, even those of exceptional ability, complain of a lack of patronage. Their pupils number less, possibly, this year than last,—even are at present falling off,—and perplexed and discouraged they accuse fate, chance, or destiny, and settle down into a pathetic acceptance of “circumstances over which they have no control.” Pathetic, yes! for there is truly pathos as well as tragedy in the life that is given over by its rightful ruler to the hap-hazard antics of “fate” and of “chance.” There are a multitude of details entirely overlooked by the disheartened teacher with his eye fixed on an imaginary Destiny; details are tangible and may be speedily proved, by one who will merely rouse himself to the effort, to be all of destiny there is. A hint even to the wise is necessary at times, especially if the latter have neglected their lamps and are bemoaning that a strange chance has sent darkness to overwhelm them. Let these, instead, criticise their own conduct and views, and examine their own consciences. Is the vivacity, the perseverance, and withal the patience which once pervaded all their work showing signs of waning? Do they consider punctuality a duty as binding as a moral obligation, and are they careful to establish over the pupil an authority which shall command a certain deference, as well as a winsomeness which shall command affection?

“Why did you leave Mr. M.?” a promising pianist was asked a short time since; “he is surely a fine teacher.”

“Oh, he always had ways I didn’t like, and is worse lately, if anything. I think he must have taken  Henselt for a model. He is eccentric, sarcastic, overbearing, and whimsical! A fine teacher, I admit, but even one of these qualities will aggravate a pupil to the point of leaving a teacher. I understand that his class is small, and it’s not to be wondered at.”

This is but one of many similar instances, and always in the reasons given by pupils for making a change will be found a sketch of the teacher’s shortcomings, true to the life, and as telling as a Gibson jotting. It is a mistake too frequently made to suppose that the employment, either of severity or sarcasm, will establish one’s authority. The role of teacher and pupil must be kept distinct, it is true,— by kindliness alone, since, when deference and affection are lost, both authority and pupils take to themselves wings.

* * *

“In time of peace prepare for war” is the soldier’s motto. Translated into the language of the teacher this saying is equivalent to: during the summer months lay out the campaign for the winter.

During the winter season—the period of a teacher’s activity—the rush of work is sometimes so great that many points receive scant attention; less than they actually merit and their importance warrants. During the summer vacation when pupils are scarce or have discontinued their lessons entirely, the moment is propitious for formulating plans for the coming season and endeavoring to avoid repetition of difficulties that may have come up during the past.

Certain pupils have come to a stand-still. Their progress seems to have been so slight that it was scarcely discernible to the naked eye. The conscientious teacher should inquire into the causes producing this condition of affairs and should try to find a remedy to be applied the following season. Lack of progress is generally to be traced to indolence on the part of the pupil. But is it not possible that some blame may attach to the teacher also? Has the teacher studied the pupil sufficiently? May he not have given a set of pieces entirely at variance with the taste of the pupil or perhaps the wishes of the parents? (Too great a deference to the demands of the latter, especially if their musical taste be not refined, is not, of course, advisable. Nevertheless absolute opposition to their wishes is not judicious.) Then, again, has the teacher always been punctual? The French have a proverb saying that punctuality is the politeness of kings. Teachers should not be less rigorous in their observance of this principle than the representatives of royalty. Many parents object to the slip-shod manner in which some teachers arrive at the time appointed for the lesson. They object most strenuously to this mode of procedure, and really cannot be censured for it.

All these facts and many others should be carefully considered, and offer ample food for thought, especially during the summer months, when the cares and worries incidental to a busy season are thrown off and the teacher once more becomes light-hearted and buoyant in spirit and disposition.

* * *

Much can be gained by the perusal of the prize essays in the current number of The Etude.

Out of hundreds of manuscripts submitted, from all parts of the United States (many came from Canada, and several out of the far East), four are here presented.

Each is written by one thoroughly acquainted with his subject; each one is the result of years of experience, and is essentially valuable.

But, on the other hand, these essays are finely gotten up from a literary point of view, and here is abundant opportunity for young writers to study style, conception, and logic in composition. Observe how the subjects are treated—how they are introduced, led up to and finally exploited with the aid of skill and thoughtful fidelity, on the one hand, and experience, on the other. Every musician must be not only thorough in his art, nowadays; he must also be intelligently versed in the side-lights of literature and life. It is the well-groomed and excellently kept horse that wins the race. Love for reading—desire to excel in expression of one’s ideas—goes a great way. It enables the teacher to instruct understanding and broadens his gifts. To be able to teach is a rare thing, but to be able to write intelligently and well so that strangers beyond your horizon can be helped by your experience is better yet. Here is an opportunity to advance. All honor to the modestly diligent!

* * *

In the larger cities a certain phase of music-teaching is assuming alarming proportions. Teachers are beginning to tremble. The facts of the matter are these: whereas, in former years, the average pupil began in September and took lessons way into the middle of July, pupils now scarcely begin before the middle of October, the fashionable set not before the middle of November, and discontinue their lessons the beginning of May,—nay, even the middle of April.

The average length of a teacher’s season has thus dwindled from, say, forty-four weeks to thirty weeks at the utmost.

What is the cause of this?

The probable cause is that families that can afford to pay for tuition go to the country earlier than in former years and return to the city later.

The attractions of country-life are wielding a powerful influence. Out-of-door exercise, the seaside, and mountain-life offer irresistible attractions for which city-life affords no adequate compensation. Of course, the first to feel the change at once is the teacher. His former patrons necessarily require his services less frequently, and consequently the account at the end of the year is smaller in size than during the “fat” years.

The only remedy the writer can suggest is the opening of summer studios where city folk are plentiful, and the chances are that pupils will continue their lessons.

In the event that this innovation be accepted, music study must be made as light and pleasant as possible. In fact, the writer would suggest that some of the serious features of winter study be temporarily discarded and replaced by such as are more appropriate to the exigencies of the question at issue.

It must not be forgotten that lawn-tennis and golf are formidable rivals to Clementi and Cramer. However, in the end, Clementi and Cramer will carry the day.

* * *

The pupil who imagines that a superior teacher will carry him through without doing hard work himself is sure to be disappointed. Learn to stand upon your own feet, for you must walk over every foot of the road that leads to success. There are no stage-coaches or bicycles that will take you there. If you covet success as a musician you must fight to attain it.


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