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Patrons Have Duties To The Teacher

Much has been written first and last of the duties of the music teacher toward the patron. Is it not time to present also the other side of the shield, and to point out a few duties, commonly ignored, of the patrons toward the teacher?
The patrons of music teachers naturally divide into about three classes whose faults often coincide but sometimes vary. I shall handle them here together or apart as seems most convenient. The three classes are:—
First, parents, who give us children to instruct upon definite understandings regarding frequency and duration of lessons, and price and time of payment.
Second, music students and young teachers who are handling their own tuition money, either earned or given them, and select their own teacher.
Third, professional teachers who have spells of "brushing up" by means of ten-minute conversations with the prominent teachers who chance to be handy.
All these patrons are sinners in bulk and variety, and it is often their own fault that so little comes of their lessons.
The first duty the patron owes us is a suitable attitude toward the lessons. Here I am speaking of the first division of our patrons, the parents. Many parents are so impressed with the alleged talent of their children that they seem to think (indeed sometimes actually say) that any teacher so fortunate as to get so talented pupils can afford to teach them at half price or nothing at all "for the advertisement." My first advice to all teachers reading this is promptly to refuse any such pupil. Even if full price be paid the pupil is surrounded at home with an atmosphere which nullifies much of the work you may do in her case; often the very worst pupil you have is the one "who is so talented" that she can afford to do everything else except what you tell her.
Closely allied to the foregoing is the purse-proud parent, who regards a music teacher for her children as something to be awarded by competitive bidding, the cheapest bidder taking the contract. Here also it is not the absurdly insufficient price that ruins your work, although this is something; rather the impossible and silly attitude of the parent, which undermines the capacity of the student, or (amounting to the same thing) creates an atmosphere extremely unfavorable to learning.
This purse-proud, avaricious streak is a particularly nasty one for the teacher, since the child also generally inherits some of it, and the parent's attitude is reflected and encouraged by the environment. Patrons belonging to this class miss lessons at any pretense. They seem to imagine that teacher's work is to hear a recitation already prepared by the pupil; whereas the main business of the teacher, about nine times out of ten, is to assist the pupil in finding out how to prepare the lesson. Therefore the patron thinks that when the child has missed practice and obviously has not learned the lesson, it is good "business" to stay away from the lesson—generally with no notice to the teacher, or if any notice, merely a telephone message five minutes before the hour.
Almost all patrons, and most of all the wealthy, commit a singular and shortsighted error by neglecting to provide a place where the children can practice in quiet. If there is but one piano in the house it is placed in the parlor; and here callers are received. Thus it happens that the child has to practice while conversation is going on between her mother and lady friends, and is in a worse position than the ass between the two famous bundles of hay. She wishes to hear what is said, and she is probably cautioned from minute to minute not to play so loud. When the mother is not receiving callers, the servants improve the opportunity to "slick up" the room, often going to the disturbing extreme of washing the globes in the chandelier. This kind of outside interference is fatal to the child's work, because the particular thing most difficult to establish and most indispensable is concentration of attention, which is here interfered with from the outside, while the poor child herself might not have been capable of an attention enduring more than five or ten minutes at once. If it become a question whether the callers are to be received in the best room in the house, or the child's work interfered with, by all means take the callers elsewhere. Show them the room, that they may know you have such a one, then take them anywhere else handy. Give the poor child a chance. Every well-to-do house should have a study for the children, or, if there are several children, have two, one for literary work and one for music. Put a piano in a child's bed room, if nothing better offers.
Every child should have a certain definite time for practice, and it is the parent's business to provide for this and see that it is observed. All children attending the public schools attend scrupulously; those in private schools are apt to stay away upon the slightest reason. Experience shows that children take less harm from school than from idleness, and in music it is extremely important that the child have regular hours and keep to them.
A few parents take the attitude of wishing their own children to have the best possible time; and as these parents have usually had to work during their own childhood they are apt to think that the pinch lay in the having to work. Wherefore they give them lessons, in order that they may learn a little about music; but they do not care whether the child learns much or not. The good time is the main thing. These parents are very foolish. It is the work which gives a child a good time. Play without any work to contrast with it is the most tiresome and soul-destroying occupation possible, no matter what the age of the child sentenced to so empty an existence. Very few children really overtax their brains; a few do, but never that I have heard of in music.
All parents and teachers ought to know, as anyone can prove by observation and experiment, that a child's most rewardful gratification is a sense of growing power—of understanding things better, of being able to do something new, and of seeing more things to do. This is the automatic stimulation of a growing mind, and this is the life-preserving element in the race. When once a race or an individual learns that to know a new thing or to be able to do a new thing is an element of power and affords an exhilaration and stimulation, that individual or race is going on and will seek more of it. It is the dangerous element in some manifestations of the kindergarten cult that it fails properly to value the life-giving force of a disposition to work. Play is all right for a change, but work pays better.
Upon one point nearly all parents deserve a credit which they do not usually receive. Nine out of ten wish above all to give their children the best. They have a feeling that in music as everywhere else there is a good and a bad; they mean to get the good. They feel the danger of superficiality, and they are generally ready to support the teacher in requiring an intelligent and productive thoroughness. The teacher is safe to count upon this. The parent does not mention it; they are often reserved. But you can generally count upon it.
The patron owes it to the teacher to pay the bill at the time agreed. The common practice of schools and many city teachers of requiring a quarter pay in advance is not wholly bad, although uncommercial. It is a guaranty that, accidents aside, the pupil will continue one quarter, and thus afford the teacher a chance of productive work. I know an old teacher who is very clever at this point. His patrons are generally wealthy ladies (he is a singing teacher) or ladies who appear wealthy. One of them comes and says that she would like to begin now; she happens to have with her but ten dollars; she will pay this and the remainder when this is out. He answers, with a sweet and winning smile: "My dear madame, my rule is invariable; you just go home and when you have saved up seventy dollars for your first quarter come back to me and I will be proud to receive you." She goes and she comes back. It takes nerve; but he has it.
The most difficult pupil to get any satisfaction out of is the one who, from poverty or other reason, promises to pay at the lesson. She is the most irregular pupil of all; her "quarters" are liable to cease at any old time; and you never know whether she will fill two consecutive hours she has taken. The teacher receives this pupil at his own risk. It is better to dispense with her entirely. Still it is conceivable that the wife of a working man paid by the week might be able to take quite a good many lessons transiently, who could not take any on the pay- in-advance plan, and from whom you could not collect at the end of the quarter. If only there were some way of making such patrons see that they had duties! But they regard their music lesson just the same as buying from a dry goods store; no buy, no pay. If you do not have the cloth cut off, you haven't bought.
I have left until this last the exasperating professional teacher, invariably ignorant, superficial, and unprepared, who being in your vicinity from a distant city, wants "to ask you a few questions upon points of method." This kind of teacher "shops" in every large city she visits, and accumulates an imposing collection of autographs in the form of receipts for tuition from eminent teachers. These receipts she exhibits, now as evidence of her wide preparation, and now as curious examples of eminent handwriting. I have in mind a dozen of this sort who have been, to hear them tell it, "pupils" of every leading music teacher in America, and often of Liszt, Rubinstein, and Leschetizky (they will have to begin upon a new list pretty soon; Liszt and Rubinstein are beginning to have been quite a while dead). And this much-taught and far-traveled person has no one single well-mastered idea from any one of these men. This kind of thing, fortunately, is restricted in its nature; it belongs to the "so-along ad-infinitum" and we let it pass.
We might require every proposing patron to recite correctly in our hearing the "Patron's Creed."
1. I believe that my children are poor little things, with undeveloped minds and poor enough natural endowments. I want a teacher to take lots of pains and make the most possible with the material.
2. I believe that concentration of mind is the most productive accomplishment my children can have, and I rely upon the music teacher to promote it in every way possible, for in music this quality arises perhaps more easily and more productively than in any other one study.
3. I believe music to be a beautiful and elevating art; and besides getting handy on the keyboard, I much more want that my children grasp the idea of the beauty of music and learn to enjoy it artistically. To this end I am willing to contribute concert privileges, and so on, to my full ability.
4. Owing to the confidential nature of music I recognize the absolute necessity of an appreciative attitude in the child as a necessary precondition for learning, and such attitude I mean to promote in every way I can.
5. I am willing to agree to any frequency of lessons or assistance in practice, or extra advantage necessary, to the extent thought advisable and consistent with my resources.
6. I will not permit my children to be overtaxed with foolish demands upon their time for parties, dances, and the like, which take off the attention, distract the mind, and dispose to idleness.
In reciting this creed, as a prerequisite to matriculating, our independent young girl patrons must apply the points to themselves, they themselves being the "children" referred to, and often the least tractable of the lot.

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You are reading Patrons Have Duties To The Teacher from the March, 1904 issue of The Etude Magazine.

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