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Music Composition as a Field for Women - Mrs. Carrie Jacobs-Bond

From an Interview Secured Expressly for The Etude,
with the Most Successful Composer of Songs of the Present Day

[Mrs. Carrie Jacobs-Bond was born at Janesville, Wisconsin, and was educated in music in that city under Professor C. G. Titcomb and Professor J. W. Bischoff, the celebrated blind composer, later of Washington, D. C. At the age of four she commenced to improvise at the piano in a way that attracted the serious attention of many. She has the remarkable gift of repeating by ear almost anything she has heard. Her story of how she became a composer and how she entered the publishing business is extraordinary in many ways. This is the first time that it has been given from this standpoint in its completeness. Combined with her balance of business ability and wholesome sanity she has as well a broad, kindly, human outlook upon men, women and affairs. This, together with great energy and pluck, has made Mrs. Bond a success where thousands have failed. Only a woman endowed with diverse and versatile gifts could expect to achieve such a success. When Mrs. Bond heard that Helen Keller had been persuaded to appear in vaudeville for the season she decided that one of the very best ways in which she, too, can reach that public is by accepting proposals from well-known managers for a tour of the larger vaudeville houses that will take her work to those with whom she could not possibly come in contact otherwise.—Editor’s Note.]

carrie-jacobs-bond.jpg“Imagine a little girl with a tiny dog as her only confidant—a small, silky skye terrier, his bright eyes half hidden under a fringe of fluffy hair, an animal intelligence that seemed to know and understand all that I said to him and a faithful little heart that never failed in sympathy. His name was Schneider, and many thousands saw and knew him, for he was none other than the very dog that Joseph Jefferson used at one time in his famous play, Rip Van Winkle. Jefferson came to Janesville and made a great friend of my grandfather, G. H. Davis. I fell in love with the tiny dog, and when Jefferson left he gave the little creature to me.

“It was to Schneider that I first told my ambitions to become a song writer. He, and he alone, knew at first how I longed and longed to bring music to the world, that would sing in the hearts and souls of men and women who need music in their daily lives.

“Schneider was my friend, companion and confidant for five years. Then he died. We found him frozen in the snow. I hope those who do not love dogs will not smile at this incident, for it was one of the tragedies of my childhood. Every day until spring I went out in the yard to the tomb I had made in the snow for poor Schneider and combed the silky coat of my little friend until my mother forced me to bury him, which I did with my own hands. This was my first great grief, and it made a lasting impression upon me.

“Music was a matter of the deepest concern to me, but I scarcely believe that my parents ever dreamed that I would devote my life to it. I was to be—like thousands and thousands of other women—a good wife, a good mother and a good housekeeper, etc. I knew I could be all these and something besides, for that something was a vital part of me.

Blind Tom’s Visit

“One day when I was about eight years old, Blind Tom came to town. It was a feature of his program to play a piece from memory after it had been performed for him just once. In order that there might be no mistake, my teacher, Professor Titcomb, played an original composition which Blind Tom could not possibly have heard before that time. He played it in fine fashion after once hearing it. Then someone said, ‘We have a little girl in our town who can do that, too.’ I was brought forward, and Blind Tom played an original march of his own, which I promptly repeated, to great applause. I was put down as a genius and was given the very best instruction the town afforded.

“Years passed like a panorama. Many beautiful and many terrible things happened. After the death of my husband, Dr. Frank Lewis Bond, at Iron River, I moved to Chicago with my son, ready to do anything to earn a living. At the time of my husband’s death I had a lovely home, but with his passing everything changed and I found myself, as more than one doctor’s wife has found herself, with very little. In leaving Michigan I lost my dower right to my home also, but I had been able to keep the furnishings which I took to Chicago, and there rented an apartment large enough to sublet and in this way earned barely enough to support myself and boy for the first year. I managed to keep out of debt and now I scarcely know how I did it. The report that I was a seamstress is not altogether true. I really had not been practically educated in anything, but, like many other women twenty-five years ago, I knew how to make my own clothes. I did sew for some of my relatives and did a week’s sewing in the house of a friend in return for an advertisement in her musical magazine. I think those hours in the six days that I sewed for her, trying to make myself believe that I was earning the money, were the longest hours of my life.

“I also did china painting and was very successful at it—so successful, indeed, that it was later a question whether I would take up a musical career or make china painting my means of subsistence. As things turned out, the china painting went hand-in-hand with my music. For many years I designed and painted the covers for my songs with wild roses, the flower I took for my trade-mark, as it was the flower I loved the best. The past few years I have been too much occupied with other things to paint, but I always design the titles and have been very successful in finding artists who have painted more beautifully than I.

“Perhaps you know, to begin with, I was too poor to hire anyone to write my verses or draw my title pages, so I had to do it all myself.

“The first song that I ever wrote was a child’s song, which I sold many years ago, but the first song that I published was I Love You Truly. As I look back now I wish I could feel once more the thrill that came over me when my good friend, Mr. Nelson, who printed my songs whether I had the money to pay him or not (and who believed in me) handed me the first copy of I Love You Truly, and I realized that I had written the words and music, that I had drawn the title page, and that I believed, even though I could not sing, that I could go out into the world and make somebody buy that song. Well, I did this with many songs; in fact, my songs were given their publicity by my singing them in homes of my good friends. They generally paid me $10 for my services, which I presume now was a pretty big price for the way I did my work. My first recital was given in the home of Mrs. Henry J. Howe, Marshalltown, Iowa, in which city I often hear that I was born.

Hardships, Humiliations, Cold and Hunger

“My musical work was not altogether unknown in Chicago. Two publishers had accepted and issued some of my songs. However, I realized that if they were to pay me the amount I must have, the promotion that these publishers were giving the works and the returns therefrom were entirely inadequate. A song is like any other piece of merchandise when you consider it from the commercial standpoint. Write the best song in the world and lock it up, and it is a dead issue. I had always desired to be in business, and accordingly I decided to publish my own songs. My son was growing up and I realized that in him I would have a fine aide in the matter of business details later.

“Had I known then what I know now—had I ever imagined the terrible hardships, humiliations—yes, even cold and hunger—I do not believe that I would have had the courage to make a start. Let me give you one little example. When I had published about twenty five songs I showed them to Mr. David Bispham (always a noble friend to ambitious and deserving workers), who was to give a great recital at the leading hall in Chicago. The songs pleased him and he agreed to put them on his program. The manager of the concert thought it suicidal. He begged Mr. Bispham to change his plans—to put anything on his program but the works of an unknown composer, and a woman at that! However, Mr. Bispham, with his mind once set, was not easy to move and he determined to carry out the idea. And, as a further assurance of his belief in my songs, he invited me to accompany him in this group.


“The songs were more than cordially received. I was so overcome with the applause that I forgot to even turn to look at the audience or Mr. Bispham until he came to the piano and touched my shoulder and asked me to acknowledge with him the reception that my songs were receiving. It was the longest applause I had ever happened to hear and, though I do not suppose it was more than half a minute, I lived years in that first recognition which Mr. David Bispham gave me the opportunity to enjoy. I wish to say here that this was the second public appearance ‘on any stage’ for me, and may I please tell you the story of the first one?

“In a well-known piano company of Chicago I found a friend who recognized my talent as a song writer and whose sympathy and encouragement meant more than anything else to me at that time, Mr. Carl Bronson, now living in Los Angeles, through whose influence this company offered to pay all expenses for a public recital for me, furnishing hall, program and advertising and, at the concert I was assisted by Jessie Bartlett Davis. Mr. Paul Schossling, former ‘cellist of the Theodore Thomas Orchestra, Mr. Charles W. Clark, the singer, and a little girl whose name I do not now recall. The concert dress that I wore that night was made out of one the lace curtains which had been in my former home, and I could never tell you how many yards of feather-stitching and French knots put on—little bands of satin which I appliqued on to this lace so it would not show that it had ever hung in anybody’s window! It was finished just a few moments before it was time for me to get into the cab which was drawn by a pair of tired old horses. The people were so kind and my musicians were so splendid that it was another red-letter day in my life and through the interest which the piano company created for me I found myself the possessor of $300.00. This amount was the beginning of my business which I started at that time in a little hall bedroom, 8 x 10 feet, with a closet just the depth of a sheet of music. I had written at that time about twenty-five songs. This constituted the stock. It seems to me that, at that time, I saw myself with shelves and shelves of music in the downstairs of a house that I had earned myself; that I should live upstairs, but that there would be a little bell on the door (such as there are in the little shops in England) and when anybody opened the door, I would rush madly down and wait upon the customer—but that never happened. What really did happen was that I moved into a larger apartment. The business was now large enough to occupy the dining room, about 14 feet square, with shelves extending around the room. We used the dining-room table for a music table between meals. I now had a son who had the ability and a desire to be of service to his mother, who came into the little shop. The shop outgrew the dining room and finally owned the whole house. From that time on, it is a very simple story. ‘Nothing succeeds like success,’ and the wheels had started to go around on a chariot that pulled my music down to Michigan Avenue in the business district.”

“It Looks So Easy”

“To see the results, it all looks so easy and pleasant that many will, I am sure, feel that they might do likewise. Alas! no one ever hears of the failures, and for one success there  are perhaps a thousand tragedies. Nobody ever hears of the poor wretches who virtually sell their health, minds and souls to do what I have been so blessed in doing. If you think it is easy, all I have to say is, ‘Try it!’ Many a time I have spent my last nickel to go down town in Chicago to meet some successful publisher, wait outside of his door possibly an hour or more, and then be told to ‘call to-morrow.’

“Of course, one of the things a woman has to encounter, or had to encounter a few years ago, was the idea that she should only be a home-maker and that she could not possibly do anything else, that that would occupy her entire time. This idea has passed and the world is beginning to see that a woman can be the best kind of home-maker and mother and at the same time a successful professional woman. In fact, we all know and still believe that the best place on earth is home, and that the woman who does make of herself a real home-maker and a mother who has the entire confidence of her children is the one  most capable and efficient in going into the world as a professional woman. I believe that anyone who has the ability to truly understand the heart of a child has the gift of helping humanity.

“In regard to women’s clubs—personally I owe them a debt. I do not know for how many I have sung in the last twenty years, nor of how many I am an honorary member, but through this experience I have found that my simple home songs have made an appeal. These women know that the heart of a song is melody. A song without an appeal is dead. It must have the human touch. Why is it you sing a simple song or whistle a familiar tune? Most often it is to cheer yourself, sometimes because you are especially happy, but if the little song brings a picture to your memory, of an incident, then it has found its mission. Most people feel instinctively that music is the natural source of expression. The result is song. If you are musical and know how, you can perhaps preserve the sentiment and the melody of your own thoughts; and this is the basis of the highest composition, whether you are a McDowell or Stephen Foster. The multitude needs music—perhaps more than the cultured few. This inference has been the working principle of my life, to supply that need out of my own heart and now I feel that if I were given my choice, I would say, ‘let me write the simple songs for the people rather than the intricate and curious pieces which only the critics extol for their eccentricities.’ John Howard Payne, whose cousinship I claim, wrote ‘Home, Sweet Home.’ I am sure that even one of the great musicians would have been proud to contribute to the world the comfort that simple song has given.

The Human Message

“Americans may well be proud of the high technical attainments of our composers. All they need is the encouragement of the great music producers, and they should be kindly criticized where criticism is needed. But some of our very greatest American works have touched only the thin veneer of our great American public. They are prone to write themselves above their hearts. The real problem is, how to reach the masses with a broad, human message, and I believe the way to do this is to get their interest in simple understandable ways.

“Would it not be splendid if the great symphony orchestras would give, occasionally during each season, programs of simple music with admission within the reach of all. Would it not be wonderful if, every little while, the seats downstairs for grand opera could be sold at a nominal sum within the reach of the poor and tired who take almost their very last dollar and almost their last bit of strength, and climb to the topmost gallery to refresh their souls. They are the real music lovers, so why not give them a chance more often than we do to enjoy in comfort the music that they starve to hear. If we really want the masses to understand the best in music these things will have to be done for them. The wonderful education given by the phonograph and the elevation that these instruments have produced in the minds of the people should be proof enough to great musical organizations that they can help advance the higher class of music in our country if they would only begin. We must get out and preach the gospel of everything in a loving and understanding way, not with condemnation, but with sympathy.

The Importance of Good Friends

“Often one hears the story of a ‘self-made man’ or woman. Of course, you have to be a worker for yourself, you have to get up earlier and go to bed later and keep yourself constantly thinking in order to succeed, no matter how many good friends you have, because, unless you prove to your friends that you are in earnest, they will not and cannot give their time to helping you. I have found the most wonderful friends, and I am quite sure they have befriended me because they knew I was willing to befriend myself. Nobody in the world is just ‘self-made.’ Good friends are the greatest asset. I do not mean that they should give you money or that they should give you a position, but that, if you are worthy, they will make it possible for you to help yourself. I wish I could have the time and space to enumerate all of the good friends that I have had. That would be impossible, but I must say a few words for those great artists who came to my rescue at the beginning of my career.

“The one who came to my assistance first was Jessie Bartlett Davis. It was she who loaned me $250, and it was this money that made it possible for me to publish my first little book, called Seven Songs. It was a long time before I was able to return that loan, but it was given to me in such a manner that I knew I never had to worry about it. You know there is a great deal in the way you help a person. I know many who have been helped, but who have also heard of it many times from their helpers. A grateful person is glad to tell the world of the kind things that have been done for them, but it certainly hurts to have it told about you and ‘rubbed in.’ The next great person to help me was Mr. David Bispham, who sang my songs, as you have been told in the former part of this article. Then came Madame Schumann-Heink who, for many years has been my good friend, singing my songs as only she could sing them. I have spoken of these artists especially because they were the first people to help me.

“And then, after I had gained some confidence in myself, I was asked to sing for Miss Margaret Anglin (who later proved to be one of my greatest friends. She immediately said, ‘If you will come to New York you shall have the use of my little theatre (which was the Bijou, situated on Broadway), and give some matinées.’ For three matinées she came to personally direct the setting of the little stage for my recitals. She sent word to three charitable associations offering to give them a percentage of the receipts if they would allow their names to be used. This was very clever advertising as I was absolutely unknown in New York City. Out of these recitals I cleared several hundred dollars. It always seemed to me that these ‘several hundred dollars’ were offered to me when I most needed them. You may not know that I was desperately poor for seven years and at that time almost an invalid.

Some Principles of Success

“This is a day when magazines are flooded with prescriptions for success. I am frequently asked the source of power which has brought success to me. Of course, success is never to be attributed to any one thing but to a great many things, all backed by hard work, patience, tact, etc. However, though all of these may be in your possession, you will never be a success in music or anything else, unless you have the one important thing, spirit, for, after all, the one thing for which you deserve credit is the gift of the spirit of truth which is active within you. If, in your soul, you are free from guile, jealousy, false pride and hate, and if you work to do good for the greatest number of your fellow-beings, this will be reflected in everything you undertake.

“This article might not be considered complete unless I said a word for the song that has proven my greatest success, A Perfect Day. So many wild stories have been told about this simple song, which was truly written for a place card at a dinner which was given upon the return from my first visit to Mt. Rubidoux, where I saw the sunset from that lovely California mountain for the first time. This little verse, which was written at the Mission Inn, Riverside, in about five minutes, was put away with many other rhymes I had written, and it was some months before I ever thought of it again. The music came to me as I was driving across the Mojave desert in the moonlight, with another party of nature-loving friends. I began to hum the verse of A Perfect Day to the original tune and one of my friends said, ‘Is that a new song?’ And I said ‘maybe it is.’ I completed the song before I went to sleep that night, and from the very first, as I sang it, I was confident of its appeal and that thousands of other people besides myself had had at least one ‘Perfect Day.’

“And now to tell you the really greatest of all things to come to me through A Perfect Day. On November 11th, 1918, the day the Armistice was signed, my son was in New York City, standing at the head of Central Park, when four men put their arms around each other’s waists and began marching and singing A Perfect Day. My son joined them and they gathered singing men until they landed down at Madison Square with over 5,000 in that serpentine line all singing my song. When my son telegraphed me this news I said, ‘This is the end of A Perfect Day for me.’”

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