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Five-Minute Talks With Girls.



I know a girl whom other girls call narrow because, well, chiefly because she does not think as they do in questions of music. Girls judge by comparison, one with another, and if a girl does not compare well with girlish standards, if she is “different” (and this means so much among girls), then she is not approvable. In the case of this particular girl her friends, who have as natural abhorrence for anything different from themselves as have their elders, have stigmatized her difference as narrowness. If she is narrow I think, yes, I hope, that there are more girls under the same ban, for I feel that it may, in a way, be regarded rather as a badge of courage.

You see, this girl has an Aunt Mary whose musical education was limited to playing Diabelli and Lichner and such music with delicate correctness on a tinkling little piano in the days of her youth, and she is now her niece’s preceptress in matters musical. The sweet, stiff purism of her girlhood is her highest idea of music, and her niece forms her young ideals unquestioningly upon her much-admired aunt’s. So that, instead of judging the girl herself, her friends are really passing judgment upon the influence which holds the girl in thrall. This is something which girls do not always understand. While youth is the time wherein you form your character, nevertheless, many, many days must go to the accomplishing of this important achievement, and in the meantime your work of the present is much more the direct result of the influences governing you than it is anything original or personal which you have evolved.

Perhaps girls like Aunt Mary’s niece are old-fashioned musically; perhaps they are too narrow and severe in their denouncing of all music other than the particular kind which they have been brought up to admire, but in this extravagant age the girls under old-fashioned discipline are quite the most fortunate ones, for if a girl’s musical culture be started on some such straight and narrow trellis there will be little danger of her genius ever running into rank bohemianism, or breaking out into a bizarre or rococo musical growth. Such early influence is pretty sure to correct any tendency toward extravagance.

And how prone we of to-day are to extravagance! Extravagance of energy, of gesture, of emotion, of sound. Yankee thriftiness seems to have disappeared, and we seem to be intent only to spend, spend, spend, more than we have and more than it is pleasant to witness, until we seem musically to be all crises, and, through our extravagance, to have reached a new and painful monotony, for one can be as much upon a dead level on an arid table-land as upon the lowest of moorlands.

We very much approve the study of domestic economy, and we talk wisely of physical economy, but we think of music as too abstract an affair to be able to apply good common-sense thereto. Yet to practice economy while studying music is quite the surest and quickest way of growing musically rich and powerful. If, while practicing, you economize your attention, gathering your thoughts together from out the various nooks and crannies where they are apt to go woolgathering, and send them from brain to page, to fingers, to pedals, as straight and sure as the thread slipped from Priscilla’s fingers on to her spindle, you will certainly learn your lesson in one-fourth the time it takes when the attention is divided and given unsparingly to every object or occurrence which chooses to cause a mental distraction during study-hour.

In the same way, if you practice economy of energy, of gesture, you will accomplish better results with less trouble and weariness than you will by a great output of physical force. A straight line is the shortest distance between two points. Art, copying nature, has adopted the curve as a more graceful way of spanning the distance, but, in gesticulating, to break the line of beauty into meaningless curlicues and flourishes is reducing art to absurdity; it is an attempt to paint the lily. The reason why a masterpiece appears so simple when a master plays it is because he accomplishes his results in the simplest and most direct way consistent with art. If he were to perform all the superfluous gestures and convolutions of the amateur, his rendering would appear to be a most awful thing; if he did not economize his strength he would very soon “go to pieces.” A true master of music is a living embodiment of that power of reserve which begets repose, the most beautiful of musical attributes, and he it is who pleases most who knows when to spend and when to spare.

To economize the emotion is quite as important as to economize one’s mental and physical strength. If you are to be a musician you cannot be too emotional, you cannot feel too much, but also you cannot be wasteful of the same without loss of poise and dignity. Again, to get into a whirlwind of excitement on every page, or run the whole gamut of passion every time one sits down to one’s music is, to say the least, exhausting, and is bound to produce that reaction, that feeling of either disgust or discouragement, which is sure to follow excess of any kind. On the other hand, emotion controlled prepares for emotion untrammeled. It arouses interest, anticipation, and gives the climax a certain zest of enjoyment which well repays temporary restraint.

Economy, a wise reserving of one’s forces—mental, moral, and physical—is bound to accomplish good results, whereas extravagance can do little more than spell satiation.

Energy and enthusiasm are most necessary qualifications of the sincere student, and I trust that you have them in abundance and that you consider them quite too precious to spend foolishly. Store them carefully and deal them out with wary hand. Let the wisdom of Benjamin Franklin wet down your youthful exuberance, and be yourself your own most rigorous disciplinarian. Take a little glance at the influences of your intimate life, and if you are not governed by the old-time purist stringency, at least do not allow yourself to be led into the prevalent follies of the ultramodernists. Much there is that is good among the new, but it takes a long-trained taste to be able to weed the good from the merely pretentious, and, until you have acquired such, do not think of the words “old fashioned” as a term of reproach, but rather let your learning be tinctured well with the old and tried.

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