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The Gleaner's Column

The life of a musician is peculiarly isolated. There are few, if any, callings that so absorb the time and energy and interest of their followers. Years of preliminary study are necessary to fit the singer for the stage, and it must be close, unremitting study, with no intervals for rest or pleasure. Study and practice do not end when public life begins, but are continuous if the artist is conscientious and ambitious. This necessity, and the further need of placing special safeguards about the health, removes such persons from the usual conditions and surroundings of everyday life, in a great measure, and they live in a world of their own.
When a man devotes himself to business it is commonly with the understanding, tacit or expressed, that when he has attained a competence he will at least lighten, if he does not give up, his labors, and will engage in more congenial pursuits. When this time arrives it generally turns out that he is fitted for business and nothing else, and that complete leisure means discontent and unhappiness. What is true of business is much more so of the professions, for a successful professional man has a genuine love for his work, and this, added to the habits growing out of years of practice, renders him loath to give it up for any cause. This feeling is especially characteristic of musicians.
Here is a list of books selected by the eminent music critic, W. J. Henderson, for those who would study music: "Homophonic Form," by Percy Goetschius; "How to Understand Music," by W. S. B. Mathews; "Popular Method of Sight Reading," by Frank Damrosch; "How to Listen to Music," by Krehbiel; "Evolution of the Art of Music," by Hubert Parry; "The Beautiful in Music," by Hanslick; "Boundaries of Poetry and Music," by Ambros; "Beethoven and His Nine Symphonies," by Sir George Grove.
Make no secret of the fact that you are a poor girl. There is no disgrace in that. The world knows that wealth is inert, and that the bravest struggles and best triumphs are made by the poorest artists. Be perfectly honest about your condition, and be too proud to aspire to anything you cannot earn. If you want to please, be natural. Truth is always better than affectation and a great deal more lasting.
In an interview recently published in the press, Sir John Stainer informed the world that out of fifteen thousand voices he had tested in his capacity as examiner, only some twenty-five were what may be called "fine." That seems a very small percentage, but I would, from personal experience, reduce the number to five, because out of the twenty-five certainly not more than a fifth would have the making of artists.
Many persons take up singing simply because they have voices and want to make money. I will not go so far as to say that the voice is the least important attribute of a successful singer, but I certainly know of no case in which a vocalist has achieved great success unless brains and temperament are allied to voice.
The English tongue, which has been called "the language of birds," is far from favorable for the emission of the voice; but we firmly believe that when anyone expresses himself or herself clearly in the native language, the dilettante most difficult to please would do wrong to complain. Music is kindly disposed and is ever ready for a hearing. The essential is that it should be melodious and written in correct style.
Our country has not been standing still, nor have our teachers been asleep. Musical knowledge which has not been sown has been grafted, has been imported, and has been assimilated by the keen intuition of a new, bright, searching race.
Our race is a race of teachers. Our schools have been the lighthouses of our civilization, and our mothers have been teachers from pure love of it. There is no member of any nation who is so capable of making known to another what he himself knows as the American.
To preserve through study-years into the later and larger life the reverent charm of music's first attractive power, it is necessary that the thing signified always be learned first, and the sign for it only secondarily; and that the musical end always be kept closely associated with the indispensable technical means to that end.
There is a trinity of universals in music—rhythm, melody, and harmony—and these have come to the race and taken up their abode. The instrument of rhythm is the drum. The instrument of melody is the flute or the pipe, and that of harmony is the lyre, with its two or three strings that are struck together. Rhythm means the will, melody the mind, and harmony the heart.
Many mistakes are to be seen on all sides by people trying to educate the muscles and thereby train the mind, a lamentable mistake, and in this way no real growth is to be seen. In all phases of life work it is necessary to get a correct mental conception of what is to be done before correct physical action can be hoped for.
A large choir organized with lofty purpose, under the control of an organist of ability both as a master of his instrument and as a choral conductor, and, to guide all, a consecrated spirit, is calculated to wield an uplifting power on the hearts of a people, and to cement together and unify all their differing desires in devout worship and lofty praise.
It may be claimed for singing that it necessarily involves acquaintance with its sister art, poetry. It brings the earnest student face to face with some of the noblest and most beautiful poetic conceptions of the human mind, and it is almost impossible to conceive that any student worthy of the name will rest satisfied with the few scattered and fugitive thoughts with which he may come in contact in the course of his vocal studies.
Faure, the famous baritone, deprecated the appointment of ex-singers as professors, saying that it was absurd to expect that at the end of one career they could begin to learn another, and a quite different one to boot. These ex-vocalists as a rule try to teach their pupils by imitation, which of all the bad methods of imparting vocal instruction is the worst. The great savant Fournié, in his admirable work, "Physiologie de la voix, et de la parole," has such an excellent paragraph on this point that I quote it: "If the professor has for his instruction no other resources than imitation, how will such a one, being a bass, for instance, impart the knowledge of some special difficulty to a tenor? What course will he pursue if he has to train the voices of females? He may possibly supplement his instruction by precepts. But will these precepts be correct; will they even be grasped by the pupil if they are not based on a scientific knowledge of the instrument?" Sir Morell Mackenzie, the famous throat doctor, said that in his experience the best singing teachers were those who, without having adopted the public career as vocalists, had made much deeper and more serious studies to qualify themselves as professors than singers could be expected or required to do. As he skilfully put it: "A first-rate singing master is very often like the hone that sharpens the razor, but does not shave; or like the finger post which indicates the direction to take, without going there."—De Valmour.
There is a way out of the difficulty in singing on high pitches, viz.: the study of controlled breath pressure, and of the freedom and independence of larynx, tongue, and jaw in the production of tone and articulation.—F. W. Wodell.
In the performance of all art-works sincerity of purpose should be the keynote. If the player cannot bring himself into the spirit and atmosphere of the composition he cannot perforce convey it to the listener. This point must be continually borne in mind.—F. W. Wodell.
Is art absolved from subjection to the natural laws that govern the acquirement of all real knowledge? No. Is the musician, as artist, exempt from obedience to the rules that must be observed by aspirants for success in any other profession? No. Can you make a painter or a sculptor without first giving him a complete training of eye and hand, a thorough mastery over brush and chisel? No. Can you educate a singer without first obtaining a complete control over his instrument—the voice? Obviously no. Would an aspirant for vocal honors, even if possessed of the requisite vocal and physical gifts, who desired to become a great singer, have any chance of success by opening a score—say "Tristan" —and beginning to study one of the roles? And yet this is precisely what is being done by many at the present time. Would it not be necessary in his case also to develop and to perfect the vocal organs, to render them pliant and to bring them under the control of his will? No one is born singing. Art is the one thing that man has created. There is no such thing as "natural art"; and it must not be supposed for an instant that Wagner, the master who is so often misquoted as being opposed to a past school of vocal art, held that school in contempt save when it was used as the end and not as the means.— Haslam.

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You are reading The Gleaner's Column from the March, 1904 issue of The Etude Magazine.

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