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Much has been written upon the subject of nervousness; in fact, there is scarcely a musical journal published that does not treat of the topic now and then, and still the vast number of students afflicted with the dread disease continue to exclaim, in accents of appeal, "How shall we overcome nervousness?"
No doubt, if these students were to analyze their symptoms they would be surprised to discover how much of their deplorable condition has been caused by inattentive practice.
Nervousness is, after all, only self-consciousness; and if the mind is wholly occupied with the work in hand there will be no room for thought of self. However, it will be impossible to concentrate the mind when playing in public if it is not accustomed to like discipline during the practice hours.
The mere consciousness of playing before a critic overwhelms the mind with countless thoughts, the brain whirls with excitement, the heart thumps nervously, and it is but natural for the trembling fingers to meet with disaster. Is it strange that every such experience serves to make the pupil less courageous?
I have watched such students taking lessons on and on with a vague hope of being cured of the fault some time in the future, only at the end of four or five years to find themselves more nervous. Who is to blame? In nine cases out of ten, if the pupil was in good health it was the teacher's fault.
Had he said to the pupil the first time she pleaded nervousness: "Don't let me hear you say that again; you are not nervous, you do not know the meaning of the word; the chief trouble with you is that you do not apply your mind to your study," I think the pupil would be placed upon the proper road to improvement.
We seldom become better than we think, and it is one of the greatest of all errors to tell a pupil that she is nervous. It is only by diverting her thoughts from herself that the fault can be cured. Teach her to concentrate her mind upon what she is doing, and for this purpose there seems to be no better method than persistent practice of the simple two-finger exercises in a very slow tempo.
When the muscles of the body are devitalized the pupil will cease to think of her nerves, she will have gained perfect repose, that most powerful foe to nervousness. If she can concentrate her mind upon a simple exercise, certainly it will be less difficult for a piece with its many demands upon the emotions to occupy her mind.
Only thus far is a teacher responsible. The pupil must live her own life, and in the experiences which come to her there will be much that does not harmonize with the work in hand; but if she is taught to discipline these emotions, if she knows the teacher will criticise the feeling with which she plays, as well as the fingering, she will make an effort to separate the practical cares of life from her music. To seat herself at the piano will be to lay aside all that is foreign to the music she is about to play.
I do not mean to say that our life experiences should have no effect upon Art; on the contrary, it is only through suffering that Art is created and understood; but this influence of life upon Art must be indirect. Only after it is assimilated and becomes part of the character should its effect be manifest. It is not when the storm is raging that its greatest benefit is felt, but on the morrow when the water has been absorbed by flower and glade, that its refreshing beauty is appreciated, for then all Nature exhales a delicate perfume, and the sun pours forth a benediction upon the dripping foliage.

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