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Attempting The Impossible Brings Ridicule

Americans have the reputation for possessing excellent common sense. Moreover we congratulate ourselves upon our knowledge of the fitness, the appropriateness of things. We think we know “what is right” and “when to do it.” Years ago Charles Dickens differed from us and told us about it in his “Martin Chuzzlewit” in a manner that made the red, white and blue corpuscles in our blood dance. Things have changed since Dickens’ famous trip to America and we are a different nation and a different people. If Dickens were to return he would find that the sale of his own best books was larger in America than in any other country. But have we passed the stage of attempting to do impossible and ridiculous things which he satirized in “Martin Chuzzlewit?” Some of our correspondence would make it appear that we had not. One lady writes “I am planning a pupils’ recital in which my pupils are to be dressed like the great operas. I wish to make the costumes myself. Will you kindly send complete descriptions?” You will realize how impossible it would be to help this well meaning friend. Just why she should attempt to give such an affair in a little prairie town of two hundred inhabitants, many of whom have never seen an opera, is hard to tell. Another writes, “Please send all of the operas arranged for Contralto” Wagner, Verdi, Bizet, Bellini having passed down the Styx (or did they go up?) we were unable to comply.

Before planning a recital, a club meeting or a program you should in justice to yourself read up upon the subject. Books such as the following ones are very helpful, “What is Good in Music” (Henderson), “How to Listen to Music” (Krehbiel), “The Standard Operas” (Upton), “First Studies in Music Biography” (Tapper), “History of Music” (Baltzell),  “Music in America” (Ritter), “Contemporary American Composers” (Hughes), “History of American Music” (Elson), “Woman’s Work in Music” (A. Elson), “Song, and Song Writers” (Finck). These books are of great value to all those who give recitals or club meetings, since they save them much valuable time and many ridiculous mistakes.

You should also confer with some experienced person and above all things do not try to accomplish results that are obviously far beyond your reach. Don’t try to give a “Parsifal” recital before an audience that would rather have Godard, Bohm and Gurlitt. Verily, a simple Heller etude, well played, is more acceptable in the kingdom of music than a Beethoven Sonata assassinated by some bungling novice. Do not make yourself ridiculous by attempting the impossible.

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