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A Belated Letter Addressed to the Convention of the Federation of Musical Clubs by the Editor of Woman's Work In Music.


Once a very good New England woman was heard to thank her Creator that He had placed all the great rivers beside the great towns. This tale, which we heard Emerson relate in a lecture, never revealed to us its full meaning till lately. When one thinks it over all the good things of life may be reduced to the beneficent operation of the laws of cause and effect, and the connection of great rivers and towns in this light is as legitimate a cause of gratitude as any other satisfactory result of evolution, due to opportunity.

The object of writing this letter is to point out an opportunity which could be used to the full and with great benefit by all women’s clubs. I refer to the possibility of club concert tours by famous artists at possible prices.

New York is the gate by which foreign musical art, like all other forms of art, enters America. It is not at this moment to blame for being the terminus of the great Transatlantic lines. Artists might prefer to land at Chicago, but geography is too much for them. It follows that they appear first at the Eastern metropolis, and unfortunately for them they are too apt to remain there. It is one thing to be landed at a point of distribution for the interior and another to be distributed.

Musical artists are not distributed because the proper machinery for distribution should be lodged in the musical clubs themselves and centralized in a proper bureau in the heart of the club territory, which is geographically near Chicago. Were there such a central bureau it would be easy to bring the two continents together, and with very little expense provide a well-planned succession of artists from October to May with very small outlay by each individual club.

Artists must live; they must earn not less than a thousand dollars a year if unmarried and proportionally more if with wife and children. It does not make much difference to an artist whether he earns five hundred dollars by playing in five concerts distributed during two weeks or five hundred dollars in one concert a week’s traveling away from home. Suppose five clubs varying from ten to two hundred members in strength agreed to take an artist together and to pay him a lump sum of five hundred dollars and traveling expenses. If each member of the five clubs bought a ticket at the usual price of concert tickets the little clubs could have the artist in their own towns just as well as the large ones; the artist would be just as glad to play for the small audience as the large one, and what a fund of delight to everyone would open up! The secret of obtaining fine artists is by the individual ticket and the lump price system. If ten clubs instead of five joined the combination the artist could afford to spend a month or more on the trip, and perhaps give more than ten concerts. The little clubs at an expenditure of five dollars a member could in this way secure four or five recitals each winter in their own towns; and the large clubs could obtain artists whose prices for single concerts would tax even their larger resources.

Germany is famous for its cheap music. Artists whose prices in America are practically impossible are to be heard abroad for a very small honorarium; but artists live successfully in Germany that have known absolute want in New York. The single large fee does not compensate for months of subsequent idleness. A great many small fees in a great many small towns are much better for the artist himself. Artists grow by making music. They improve on the concert platform. Suppose a young artist (we could name more than one well worth hearing and with room in him to develop into a great musician) could be assured of one hundred concerts at fifty cents a ticket, at which the average attendance was fifty people. That allowing ten dollars for traveling expenses would net him an average of but fifteen dollars for each concert; but the total would be fifteen hundred dollars, a very fair income for a young musician; and an increment of artistic growth fairly enormous. No self-respecting artist will play for fifteen dollars; but he would play for fifteen hundred dollars a season.

Even celebrated pianists would be glad to close a contract for a certain income of five thousand dollars for fifty concerts with expenses. A membership of a concert circle of six thousand persons could undertake this at a dollar a ticket. But arrangements could be made with many superb pianists for even less. Five thousand dollars and expenses is a large income in Germany.

To make this plan succeed the concerts should be in private houses or private halls; should provide a good piano of the best make; should not be subject to expenses of advertisement; and should be guaranteed at the beginning of the season by the members of the clubs. Piano-houses cannot afford to pay fifty dollars expenses on a piano heard by but fifty people. If the entrance to such musical functions were strictly limited so that people could obtain entrance with difficulty, there would be no trouble in placing the tickets.

The success of the plan would be in dealing with the artists at first hand and in very careful selection of those engaged for the tours. The fact that the concerts were private would allow the engagement of almost all artists irrespective of their public alliances with manufacturers. It need not be said that newspaper criticism is not a safe guide for choice. Too many considerations enter into newspaper criticism to admit of successful purveying on the strength of its statements. Cases have been known where the sins of the management were visited upon the innocent artist; or where the artist’s own delinquencies were palliated out of consideration for those interested in his success; or where programs assumed greater proportions in the ear of the reporter than the playing of the same. To know the ins and outs of reported concerts one must be on the ground and share in the situation which creates the critical stand point. The Eastern section should be responsible for the quality of the artists engaged.

The needs of the section to be catered to should also govern the selection. Suppose the musicians in a certain locality were all working out programs more or less historical; Brahms is almost beyond amateur interpretation. There has been in New York perhaps the greatest Brahms interpreter in the world, this entire season; under the system we suggest he could have been heard with profit wherever Brahms has had a place in the year’s study. Or suppose Liszt has been the favorite subject of the year. Since last November the one artist who by reverence and memory is believed most perfectly to preserve the true traditions of Liszt’s interpretation has been with us, and might have been heard by music-lovers who will probably never know the true Liszt from the false. The only pianist who has played Russian music con amore spent a season in the East not long ago without ever stirring beyond the limits of the metropolitan concert district (which takes in Boston and Philadelphia). He came and went, and America is as wise as it was before. One season no less a violinist than Ysaye and the entire combination of artists who were under the same management by a financial catastrophe were almost without concerts for months. They could have traversed America from Atlantic to Pacific and quickened the spirit of true music wherever they went had there been a proper organization for club wants such as we suggest.

The great difficulties in developing the system already inaugurated by the Club Bureau are the manager’s percentage and the piano manufacturer’s contract. Could the club circuit suggested become the usual mode of artistic itineracy it would be a great relief to all piano manufacturers, and a great freedom of spirit to all artists. The grand artist’s tour, with its palace-car and corps of attendants would remain intact on its own lines; but the town and village circuit would flourish much better were the management to reside in the club bureau which bought the tours outright, as suggested, than it possibly can under private artistic management.

The Federation of Woman’s Clubs is doing a noble work for local talent. It is time for it to enlarge its boundaries and undertake the distribution of foreign concertists as well. When this is done as women alone can efficiently do it, the great river to European culture will actually run beside the towns that need it most, and they will wax great in culture, appreciation, and stimulated home-production of art.

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