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Would I Take Up Music Again?


A Symposium embracing the opinions of some of America’s most Distinguished Composers, Educators and Pianists


These valued opinions were sent in response to the following questions:

Would I Want my Son or my Daughter to Make Music a Career? 

Would I Take Up Music if I were Beginning my Work Again?


ould I Take Up Music if I were Beginning my Work Again?These valued opinions were sent in response to the following questions:

Virtuoso Pianist

Yes, in answer to both questions, although the matter was decided for me when I was a very little girl living for a time in London. My Master, who was also an Orchestral Conductor, brought me out in concerts, but I would certainly choose a musical career for myself.

It is all a question of the work in which one finds the greatest happiness and the most satisfying medium of self-expression and development of the best in one. Mu­sic is the greatest means of expressing one’s ideals of life and of the beautiful, and conveys so much deeper spiritual meaning than mere words.

The musician, as also the author or painter, seems to be the intermediary through which the inspirations he receives from the higher sources are communicated to the world. The interpreting musician comes so closely in touch spiritually with his audiences and is inspired by them to his best efforts. In his wish to give them the most beautiful interpretations of the great master­pieces that lie in his power he has a much higher motive than the idea of mere personal display.

This is considering music from the standpoint of ideals. The question of monetary reward is one of op­portunity, environment, publicity, and differs probably in each individual case.


Composer, Director Chicago Musical College.

The musical career, in spite of the crowded condition of the profession, is one in which fame and fortune still may be attained. If I had a son or daughter who pos­sessed a real gift for music, I would certainly see to it that the gift was developed and matured; for it is far better to take up a career of music and, by means of talent and industry, make a good living than apply one­self to a profession which inspires but little enthusiasm in the professor and which, as a natural correlary, re­sults in but little success. We have had many graduates of the Musical College of which I am President who have made, and still are making, five or six times the income they could have made in the world of business, and they are spreading abroad the gospel of fine music. They are independent; their efforts will bring them in­creased success; they do work which they enjoy. There are many branches of musical activity to choose from. The art of accompanying, for instance, will yield gen­erous returns in reputation and money to those who learn and master it.

You ask if I myself would take up music again if I were to live my life over again. Certainly I would; for I know of no other career of which the fascination is as great.



If I had a son or daughter I would oppose their mak­ing music a life profession unless they were exceptionally talented and fitted for this precarious profession, both mentally and temperamentally.

As there are thousands of young men and women now ekeing out a miserable existence from an economic standpoint, and chafing under the unhappy knowledge that they are musically unsuccessful, I cannot counte­nance too strongly the advice to avoid music as a profes­sion, unless there be a real inner urge with an adjunct of more than just mere talent. Young students are often misled by false encouragement of ignorant teachers and

musically uninformed friends and relatives. I think many misfits have been manufactured through wrong advice, for often when the profession has been entered upon with inevitable failure, the innate pride of the poor victims has kept them from leaving the world of music and turning to something else. I have seen this tragedy, and it is pitiable. A father and mother should be very careful in this matter of false encouragement of a talent. But, of course, this, no doubt, is repeated every day in the matter of other “life professions.”

I think one of the real reasons why I should not wish to see a son or daughter of mine embark on a musical career is because of the memories of my own struggle for success; also the requirement of a greater number of years for success, as compared with the achievement of an equal success in another profession or business.

“Would I take up music again?” you ask. This is rather a personal question and, involves many conflicting things. Candidly, I do not know! There are times when the success for which I am still striving seems distantly remote, and the possibility of material success (barring, of course, the innate satisfaction of creation) in another profession, which, if it had been followed with an equal zeal, might have brought greater reward and greater hap­piness, certainly grips the imagination in such a retro­spection. But such things are in the lap of the gods and I do not know whether it was “right” that I “took up” music or not. The future alone can tell. Partial success in music is fraught with many conflicting emotions—a fleeting satisfaction of success won, an equal doubt and disappointment with questionings followed by annoy­ances attendant upon partial fame and success, and an equally pleasant satisfaction at the joy of creating, and many situations in a composer’s life to confuse and confound one in any analysis of the “life purpose.” So it IS difficult to say whether I would have adopted music again had I to do it over again.


Composer, Director of the New England Conservatory

In my opinion, no one who is deficient in a sense of pitch, sense of rhythm, in musical memory or in an en­thusiastic love for music should take up the study of it; certainly not with a view of a professional career. Under no circumstances should one study music with a view of teaching it for the purpose of avoiding honest manual labor. Many excellent cooks, laundresses, house­maids and nurses have been lost to the world on this account and with disastrous results socially and commer­cially. The ranks of music teachers are full of young women who would be much better occupied in one of those vocations.

In answer to your last question I would refer you to my oldest living musical friend who was present at the performance of my first orchestral work and was inti­mately familiar with my early struggles. He is the founder of The Etude and his name is Theodore Presser.

Conductor, New York Symphony.

No one should take up music as a profession unless he has an overmastering desire to do so; unless the love for it fills his heart completely, and unless com­petent authorities pronounce him to have sufficient talent for this most difficult and most beautiful of all arts.


If I had as many children as Johann Sebastian had, I would wish to have as many of them study music as my bank account would permit. I would wish them to study music, not to make musicians of them, but mainly for the enrichment of their lives that would come from an intimate and direct acquaintance with the noble and beautiful thoughts of music-literature. For I believe that there is no branch, not excepting literature itself, that can contribute more abundantly and more richly to the wholesome development of the child’s emotional life than does music, when rightly approached and studied. Quite apart from any special gift which they might possess, I would wish them to reap the tremendous advantage of this cultural influence. If any of them gave proof of being unusually gifted in creative or in­terpretative lines I would not object to their becoming professional musicians, though I would never urge any­one to enter the profession unless he or she could rise above mediocrity, the obstacles to real success are so great. I would prefer a child of mine to be an expert dress-maker or carpenter rather than a mediocre musi­cian, professionally.

“Would I take up music again, were I to start anew?” Most certainly, knowing myself as I do now. Yet, were I to start all over again, I would most earnestly hope that some experience might make me conscious of my ability at a much earlier date in my life than in my pres­ent existence. So little conscious was I of the possession of any marked musical ability when I was ready to enter college, that I entered the University of Michigan ex­pecting to be a civil engineer, an expectation that lived, however, only to the end of my Freshman year, after which I elected all the musical courses the University then offered. I did not convince myself that music must be my life-work until I came home from a two years’ period of study abroad. This delay postponed, but did not interfere with my success. My advice to students hesitating on the threshold of a musical career is: Be sure of the amount of your capital before you invest; your musical ability is your capital.

Waldo S. Pratt 


Just now those making the choice of a life-work, with music as a possible career, should remember that, unless there be remarkable intuitive genius, a solid foun­dation of general education and real culture is indis­pensable for high success. If those with musical apti­tude and aspiration are willing to lay this foundation so broadly that, if need be, they could make good in some other vocation, their becoming musicians is fairly cer­tain to be richly worth while for them and for the pro­fession. But if they are not thus willing, they are not likely to rise above the clerical grade anywhere. It is the host of music-workers who know little outside of music, and not much of that except technique, that keeps the profession intellectually and morally weak. Such workers are apt to be mere artisans, handling their art as only a trade.

It is notable that in Europe a large proportion of the productive and influential musicians have what corre­sponds to our college training and often training be­sides in law or medicine or engineering or literature. A disciplined and furnished mind is the sword that gives victory to every noble ambition.

Harold Randolph
Virtuoso Pianist, Director of the Peabody Conservatory

If I had a son (or daughter) who possessed the ne­cessary gifts to justify him in taking up music as a profession and he unequivocally wished to do so. I should gladly and proudly wish him “God speed,” but I would never advise any one to do it. It has always seemed to me that anyone who needed advice as to the choice of an art as a life work had best take up some­thing else. Nothing but a profound conviction justifies such a step.

As to myself, it seems almost like asking a duck if it would not on the whole have preferred being born a chicken. Whether he likes it or not an artist is born for a certain medium and the question of success or failure is besides the mark. In fact, unless he feels that he would rather fail, from a worldly point of view, in his chosen art than “succeed” in something else he has missed his vocation.

Undoubtedly “the choice of a life work is the most serious moment in life” as you say, but its importance rests not so much upon the chances of “success or fail­ure” as the need of choosing something which you can whole-heartedly believe to be worth doing for its own sake—something which you would choose to devote your life entirely apart from considerations of bread and butter.

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