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The Singer's Opportunity.

During the past summer there have been gatherings of musicians at many points in this country. Undoubt­edly the chief feature of all these meetings has been the discussion of how the general standard of public appreciation of music could be raised. While many different ways and methods have been suggested and many individual theories expounded, yet they are all based on the proposition that it is a simple question of the education of the masses; in other words, that people are generally musical and that they will learn to love good music just as soon as they can under­stand and appreciate it.

It is a disappointing and humiliating state of affairs when we consider the large number of people who are fairly well educated in literature and art and yet who seem to take pleasure and pride in saying that “they know nothing about music.” At the Missouri State Music Teachers’ Convention this summer the idea was very forcibly presented that music needs translation to the masses; in other words, that music has its own language. This language itself must be understood before it can convey any idea, and, the better it is understood, the more clearly will the composer’s thought be presented to the audience. This must be the object of all musical education. Many methods have been suggested, having different degrees of merit. It will always be a matter of individual opinion among different educators as to the smaller details of meth­ods, each of which aims to produce this result.

The tendency of modern times has been largely toward what is called “program-music,” namely: that kind of music which shall endeavor to portray certain definite emotions and ideas. Among musicians there is a large difference of opinion as to the possibility of music’s definitely conveying ideas. There is no ques­tion but that certain kinds of music have the tendency to produce moods, and yet the definite ideas depend­ent on a given mood will vary largely in individuals, according to their own personal experiences and traits of character. Of course, those whose musical tempera­ment and education are better developed than others will receive the most along this line from the music.

There is no question but that singing is much more generally appreciated by the musically uneducated than any form of instrumental music. The two prin­cipal reasons are undoubtedly: First, that the human voice by its varying qualities has the ability to stir within its hearers certain emotions and moods even where the music itself would not have had such an effect; second, that the words themselves of the song convey a definite idea.

Music has its own language, but it is never a defi­nite language as we have by the use of words. It only presents pictures, and this effect must be very largely aided by the imagination of the hearer; but, the moment words are used in connection with the music, a definite idea is conveyed, an idea which will be much more intelligible and concrete to the ordinary unmusical audience than will be the more abstract ideas suggested by the music alone. This is where the singer’s great opportunity lies; therefore, let me insist, sing the words, and mean the words that you sing. It is taken for granted that the composer has set music to those words which will have a tendency to enhance their emotional and esthetic value. Of course, where there are different musical settings of the same words, one may be more valuable in this respect than another; and here is where the question of individual taste comes in; but the idea of music which has been set to words is to enhance and idealize the beauty of the words themselves, and therefore any singer who so sings as to cause the words to be unin­telligible has failed to meet the very first requirement of the song. That is a negative proposition. The positive proposition is that the singer who does so sing that his words will be intelligible has made a long stride toward making his song intelligible to an unmusical audience. Of course, this proposition takes it for granted that the singer will keep on the key and will be able to sing in time; in other words, that he will have conquered the rudiments of music.

Now, this thought suggests the necessity of being exceedingly careful as to the words which we select to sing. There are too many beautiful words which have been most admirably set to music by eminent com­posers for us to ever disgrace our art by singing words which, in any sense, are beneath us. Let me suggest this rule to a young singer: that when you select a song you stand up and repeat the words aloud, either to yourself as audience or to some friend, and decide whether you would be willing to adopt the ideas con­veyed by those words as your own; in other words, would you be willing to say those words and to mean what they say? This is a very important proposition, because, let me assure you, that, if in singing you do not mean what you say and say it as if you meant it, you will have missed the very core of the possi­bility of your song being appreciated: i.e., if you do not first feel an emotion yourself, you cannot make others feel it. This is your great opportunity, an opportunity which can come to no instrumental per­former. And so, in conclusion, let me say, with all emphasis, sing the words.—Horace P. Dibble.

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You are reading The Singer's Opportunity. from the December, 1901 issue of The Etude Magazine.

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