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Mrs. Frances E. Clarke - Music as a Vocation for Women

Educational Director of the Victor Talking Machine Co.


[Mrs. Frances E. Clarke is one of the most active and successful women in the vocational side of music. She was born at Angola, Indiana, and educated in Chicago. For many years she was a choir director and soprano soloist in leading churches. She then became the music supervisor of Monmouth, Ill., for five years; of Ottumwa for some years, and of the city of Milwaukee, Michigan, for eight years. She has twice been president of the Music Section of the National Educational Association; six years president of the Public School Department of the National Federation of Musical Clubs. She founded the Supervisors’ National Conference, which has a membership of three thousand—and has at various times been connected with the faculty of active musical educational institutions. For seven years she has been at the head of the educational department of the Victor Talking Machine Company, in Camden, New Jersey, employing a large force of helpers in her work. She has been the vice-president of the Pennsylvania Federation of Musical Clubs and also vice-president of the Philadelphia Music Teachers’ Association. Mrs. Clarke has given hundreds of lectures in all parts of the country.— Editor of The Etude.]


Have you not wished a thousand times that you were a man, that you might do this or that forbidden or prohibited thing?

Yes! it has been a “Man’s World” in many ways, but, as an old college friend used facetiously to say, “Them times are went.”

This is the woman’s day, long hoped for and really here, economically, industrially, politically (?), socially and, most of all, musically. In the days of Good Queen Bess the royal ladies of the court toyed with the spinet and virginal to banish ennui, while in Vic­torian times “a lass with a delicate air” might pluck a harp or possibly sing a ballad. It has taken America in her strength and freedom to bring women to the front rank in nearly all lines of musical endeavor.

Fifty, forty, thirty years ago it was considered “the thing” for every daughter of well-to-do households to “take” a term or two of lessons on the piano or organ, in order to shine socially at the neighborhood parties, and one might hope to arrive at the distinction of play­ing the cottage organ in Sunday School. A few might “take vocal” for the supreme office of soloist in the home choir, all unpaid and all sublimely unconscious that they were, nevertheless, laying the foundation of a great vocation for their followers, and a great industry for the country. Statistics say that there are 2,000,000 people now engaged in the music industry, and that is probably under the correct figure.

Music has, indeed, come to be the fourth need of man, after food, clothing and shelter. Naturally, it must require a small army to produce and carry on the vari­ous lines of service which music is now offering to a famishing world, and probably two-thirds of it is now done by women.

Beginning at the top, our women composers are com­ing forward in a most satisfying way. Mrs. H. H. A. Beach, Mrs. Mary Turner Salter, Margaret Ruthven Lang, Mrs. Bond, Mrs. Eleanor Everest Freer, Gene Branscombe, Mabel Daniels, Fay Foster, Gertrude Ross are names that find recognition everywhere.

In the realm of great artists the women are more than holding their own, being about equal in number to the men. It is not with these lofty ones, however, that one needs to find a niche. There are hundreds of capable artists on the concert stage, in Chautauqua work, in church choirs, in local clubs and societies who make a good living with their art.

Woman’s Success in Music

Women are now successful managers of artists, musical seasons, tours of orchestras and opera com­panies. Others are writing well on musical subjects and conducting journals and magazines. There are other thousands who sing in large choruses, unpaid, but, deriving much personal benefit therefrom. Women’s orchestras are multiplying, and thousands are finding pleasure and profit with the violin, cello, harp and their combinations with piano, and many with the more diffi­cult flute, woodwinds and brasses. The great French orchestra, just touring this country, carries a woman harpist. A good example for us! Then there are the multitudes of music teachers who are finding their opportunity in the awakened musical conscience of the people.

In the earlier days it was only necessary for a girl to take a few lessons from someone who had in turn “studied” a little in town or nearby city, to immediately “get up a class” of beginners in the neighborhood and teach them Home, Sweet Home, with Variation; and Maiden’s Prayer until, by passing of time she be­came known as a “music teacher.” Perhaps it has all had its part in the national development, but such paths no longer lead to the mountain-top. Teach­ing there must be, and multiplied a hundredfold, but real teaching on the same high plane of equipment and achievement as is required in education in any other subject, solid academic preparation in the science of the subject-matter, and thorough training in the pedagogy of the art superimposed on a natural talent for and comprehensive training in the art itself.

Standardization of some sort has become a necessity as self-preservation. The schools everywhere recog­nizing the educational value and general appeal of music, are reaching out eagerly for some means whereby music may be credited toward graduation. Why should not instruction in piano, violin, voice and orchestral instruments be offered free to those desir­ing such instruction, just as instruction is offered by experts in chemistry, physics, languages, medicine, engineering, metallurgy, electrical work, etc., etc.?

New Work for Women in Music

As a vocation, music employs more people than any of these, and therefore should be taught freely in the schools by competent teachers, as a vocational subject, entirely apart from its great cultural and artistic value. Some near time this will come about. In the meantime work done outside the school with recognized private teachers is now being credited in the schools of many cities. Here, again, is a rich field for the real teacher of real music, not its tassels and husks.

Others are using their musical knowledge in the sell­ing of sheet music, books, records and rolls. In the background thousands more are employed in the actual making of these same sheets, books, records and rolls. In fact, these workers are now nearly all women, and they are rapidly becoming, in some cases, more skilled than men.

There are hundreds of talented women making good money playing for the sheet music sections of the department stores and, yes, for the “movies,” generally as a means to an end of more study. Why not dignify the part, even though only a “Yes, my Lord,” by play­ing music suited to the scenario, even the subtle sug­gestion of atmosphere which may be given by music half unconsciously to the hearers or rathers “see-ers”? A real growth not to be despised results from sincere effort to dignify such a position by lifting it to an artistic plane.

Women Music Supervisors

The largest artistic field and the most important in view of its multiplied results is that of the Super­visor of Music in the public schools. Here we are reaching the citizens of to-morrow, and the faithful work of the 6,000 Supervisors in the country (a large percentage women) has gone far toward making this a singing nation. There is no more beautiful nor worth while work for any woman to do than that of the Music Supervisor. The children love music instinct­ively, furnishing constantly the element of interest and inspiration. If properly taught, in accordance with the latest standards and ideals, the work is educational in its broadest sense.

With the new phases of music appreciation, orchestral development, study of light classics, etc., etc., the field is quite worthy for the very best and the most talented music students and not, as formerly considered, a quiet backwater for the “lame ducks” of the conserva­tories’ graduates, those not having sufficient talent for artistic careers nor yet enough music education for “regular teachers.”

The day has passed when school music can be so belittled. It requires the best brains and talents of musicianly musicians who are genuine teachers and who see clearly the goal to be reached, viz., that of bringing America to her rightful place as a really musical nation, which is only possible through and by the chil­dren of all the people in the public schools. Here is a life motive worthy of the best endeavor womanhood can bring to it, and one promising rich reward.

The field is only half filled. Through the short-sight­edness of school officials there are many cities of con­siderable size where there is no Music Supervisor, and many, many more of the smaller cities and towns and consolidated rural districts. There is a crying need for an army of young women who, having prepared them­selves by a comprehensive musical education, built on a thorough academic training, plus special training in public school music, will go out into the small villages and towns where there is no music teaching or super­vision, and via the Ford route, form a circuit of these needy places.

Such a combination of towns could be arranged almost any place if the progressive and competent teacher will only try it. Each one can easily pay a good rate for one day per week, and the sum total will make a tidy salary for the live Supervisor. Com­munity Choruses and pageants and festivals offer much opportunity also in these small town centers.

Another field is but just opening up, that of the talk­ing machine records. Girls with musical taste and knowledge often make better record sellers than men. Thousands of musical girls are now so employed in the record stores. As these records of the better sort (the others sell themselves) cover the entire field of music composition, one may use every bit of musical knowl­edge in store, to the greatest advantage. Customers like to be told something interesting about the selections, the composer, the type or style of the artist.

This means reading and study, which is never so fas­cinating as when one has a definite use and immediate need for it. Then, too, one broadens and grows every hour in such an atmosphere hearing constantly the gems of the world’s best music, reproduced by the greatest artists and informing oneself of the stories of each one, and then making it doubly delightful by passing it on to someone else. Here is a combination of art and business that is well worth considering as a vocation, that is at the same time an avocation.

No one can really succeed who does not love her work. She should be able to say with the Master, as the writer has done many times, “To this end was I born.”

If there is a love of music in the heart of any girl and sufficient talent in any field of musical thought there is to-day no reason why she should not cultivate it assiduously with the steady purpose of making a living by it as well as merely enjoying its cultural advantages.

It is no longer unwomanly or immodest for a woman to earn her living by any honest work, as is being proven by our thousands in munition factories and all kinds of government work, railway offices, banks and business houses, and in garden and field, elevator and shop, messenger and chauffeur. Kipling was prophetic when he said, “The Governor’s lady and Judy O’Grady are sisters under the skin.” Never again will the elite of clubdom be guilty of snubbing a teacher or saleswoman, secretary or manager, because she earns her daily bread, if her culture and refinement be above reproach. It is the woman and not her job that counts for right­eousness.

The music industries offer a splendid field to women, none finer. Here, as everywhere, the requirements are sincerity, purpose, poise, persistence, dignity and hon­esty, and any intelligent woman with a musical educa­tion can use it as she has never before been privileged to do, as a ready means of earning a living and the “extras” that mean the better part of life. The writer has experienced almost every stage of development from teaching a country school at $18 per month, being the song leader of the community, singing schools, church organ, city choir, supervisor, to Director of the Educational Work of one of the great music industries of the country, with a splendid corps of sincere musical women as co-workers and disciples, and yet can daily say, “To this end was I born.”

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