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Five-Minute Talks With Girls. The Lessons of the Summer.


In times primeval knowledge was acquired in many and various ways. People took lessons from things animate and inanimate, and learned from vegetable and animal, as well as from human, nature. As time went on, however, the wisdom gleaned from natural sources became sorted and stored into neat bundles and handed down from wise man to wise man, until it came to be taken for granted that these bundles contained all knowledge, and that it was only necessary to go to a man possessed of a store of knowledge and receive due portion thereof. So it came to pass that men bowed before the Human Mind as supreme generator of wisdom, and, ignoring all else, placed their young at the feet of Human Erudition incased within four close walls, where they learned to think of the world as a pasteboard sphere, of man as a series of charts showing horrid interior views, of animal life as dead things which they shrank from touching, and so on to music, which they studied as something peculiar to mankind, beginning and ending therewith. Various platitudes on the singing of the birds were divulged, and perhaps passing mention given to the fact that the vibrations of ether which make music make heat and color also when very much accelerated. But only a very few of the many thousands of girls who have studied music have been taught to think of it as a part of the great scheme of the universe.

Now, however, our wise men, having burst the wrappings of the once-thought sufficient stock of knowledge in their efforts to widen and re-enforce it, are thinking themselves back to nature and to “first causes”; but custom and usage, two tyrants of our day, still confine us, for ten months of the year, within the restricting barriers with which civilization encompasses itself about. As this leaves only two months in which you may study where and what your youth and tendency choose, make the most of them. When you have finished your term of lessons; when the final recital is over and you have either packed etudes and scales away in your cabinet, or else prepared carefully a program for summer work at the piano,—which is most apt to sizzle into desuetude as one hot day succeeds another and the mercury establishes itself firmly in an elevated position, —then go out; be one with all the other growing, happy things of earth, and take your lessons from all the universal creation.

Learn the lesson of the leaves in their tireless repetition of one beautiful, vernal theme; learn the entire precision of Mother Nature in all she does, and feel her unvarying regard for “form” in the midst of apparently careless luxuriance.

Learn of the insects, in their busy, energetic living; watch and listen to them, and see what proof you can find for Mattieu Williams’s quaint fancy that they use, in their common, every-day table-talk, those sounds which are beyond the vanishing-point of the human ear. He thinks that they communicate with one another by means of those vibrations which fill the great gap between our highest audible sound (40,000 vibrations) and the heat-vibrations, which commence at one hundred and thirty-four trillions per second. Such fancying (a dwelling in the fairly-land of science, Williams calls it) invests insect-life with true interest and appeal, and will help you to cultivate some of that delicate imaginativeness without which Mendelssohn could never have written his music to “The Midsummer Night’s Dream,” nor Weber or Humperdinck their delicious fairy operas, without which, indeed, no one is a musician complete.

Make friends with the birds, and they will show you how we have distorted Nature’s teaching in making music an artificial thing, only to be permitted at certain times and places. The birds sing at their work during all the busy day, caroling most lustily the while they build and plaster and thatch their homes, and through the many trials and vicissitudes of raising large families.

The workman who gaily sang the same song every morning as he plastered the house next door to Tschaikowsky’s home, thus furnishing the composer with a theme for the “Pathétique Symphony” was a truer musician than we who go silently about our work all day and then pay some one else to make music for us in the evening.

If anyone wonders, in your presence, why we are not a musical people, tell them it is because we have not learned the lesson of the birds, because we are too absorbed in sordid work and gain to sing. In a land where one may pass from coast to coast without hearing a merry chorus in the fields (excepting the darkies among the cotton), where it is in very bad taste to sing along the public ways, where the maidens go about with silent lips and contracted brows, “the worried archangel aspect,” as Robert Grant has dubbed it, and the lads seldom go further than to pucker their lips into a ridiculous whistle, it is fruitless to expect that music will take root and flourish. We need to go back to the teachers of primeval man to learn the utter foolishness of trying to become a musical nation while we toil so long and hard that there is no time to make music, and then straightway pour what was so hardly earned into the pockets of foreigners.

This paying money to sit in an uncomfortable seat and listen to a foreigner make foreign music is neither a joy nor a relaxation, as is proved by the tense faces of those who do it, nor is it advancing the cause of music nearly so much as making our own music would, as singing about our tasks, and singing for the joy of living.

Music—true, healthy music—is the natural expression of happiness, and we must be a happy people before we can be a musical community. This we can never be while our rich deny the poor whom they have always with them, and spend their money in fruitless attempts at imitating other nations, and while our poor waste what they have in the struggle to imitate the rich. Snobbery is rampant in our land, and music is deeply infected. It needs the infusion of fair young truth and naturalness, and it is for you, twentieth-century girls, to learn the lessons of Nature, to bring them into every-day use and practice, to spread the gospel of happiness, to sing, sing, sing, with fingers and with lips, and, like the Lady of Banberry Cross, to make music wherever you go.

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