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Editorial Notes

Honorary Distinctions

There is a misty legend, undoubtedly apocryphal, but none the less pointed, that a famous master (was it Handel or Haydn?) went to a great English University (was it Cambridge or Oxford?) and there, after having received a degree of Doctor of Music, twisted his sheepskin into a fool’s cap and, placing it upon the head of one of the college servants, announced, “There, I make you a Doctor of Music.”

However spurious and clumsy this wit, the story is not without justice. Great universities often stoop from their academic dignity and confer honorary degrees upon men and women who have educated themselves to higher achievements than thousands of the graduates of the institutions conferring the degrees. This has happened innumerable times. It is a very pleasant bit of scholastic complacency—this recognition of the Alumni of the University of Hard Knocks.

On the other hand, academic degrees, given indiscriminately (even purchased in the past), can become a very delusive and dangerous source of abuse. They should be guarded with the greatest propriety. Society has a right to demand that these distinctions should be conferred only upon those who have done work that is admittedly of very great significance to mankind. The peddling out of degrees upon local celebrities whose names can never reach the permanent halls of fame is merely a pathetic pandering to human vanity. The achievements of one receiving an honorary degree should be apodictic, otherwise the whole system of degrees becomes a farce.

In America, the degree of Doctor of Music has been conferred upon many musicians of high standing, almost invariably as hon. causa. A few men have worked for the degree and earned it in their course. Therefore the American distinction is hardly comparable with that of the great English Universities where the degree is rarely conferred except for work done along prescribed University lines and followed by a very “stiff” examination. On the other hand, there are thousands of English university graduates who possess degrees in music whose apodictic accomplishments could hardly compare in any way with those of such Americans as Edward MacDowell, William Mason, Horatio Parker (Mus. Doc. hon. causa Cambridge University, England) or George W. Chadwick. When Sir Edward Elgar received the degree of Doctor of Music from Cambridge University, the distinction was about equally divided between the institution and the composer. The self-taught Elgar is at once the most masterly English composer since Purcell and at the same time the most unacademic.

We are, of course, wholly out of sympathy with any tendency to grant music degrees, particularly honorary degrees, unless there are some conspicuous evidences of accomplishment of permanent value to the times. When President Coolidge was invited last Spring to attend some twenty college commencements and receive honorary degrees, it was quite obvious that the distinction of his presence was greater than any honor the college could bestow.

In music, the Doctor of Music receives upon the occasion a hood lined with pink, an insipid color to be sure, unless we desire to look upon it as the pink of perfection. Most of those who have received the degree have been so very busy in their after-lives that they have had little time to think of it.

The Etude is pleased to congratulate at this time four of its friends who have recently received the honorary degree of Doctor of Music. Thurlow Lieurance, noted investigator of Indian music and composer whose delightful compositions are sung around the world, received the degree from the Cincinnati College of Music, where he had previously studied with Frank van Der Stucken and others. His work in original research alone would entitle him to high academic recognition. LeRoy Campbell, educator, who has been at the head of a flourishing conservatory for years, has made innumerable educational pilgrimages abroad and has been a contributor to The Etude for many years, received the degree from Grove City College. Willem Van de Wall, one of the most remarkable musical workers of the present time, who has for years devoted himself to the problem of curing insanity through musical means and has accomplished wonderful results, received the degree from Muhlenburg College. Van de Wall is a psychologist of high ability and a musician who has played with many of the great orchestras of the world. Harry Alexander Matthews, English-born organist and composer of many notable cantatas, received the degree from the University of Pennsylvania, where he is conductor of the Glee Club.

Small Town Stuff

There is always a tendency for the city nit-wit to laugh at the small town. Forty-second Street and Broadway is supposed to be so much more sophisticated than Main Street and Willow Lane that these localities are represented as presenting comparative degrees of mentality.

What are the facts? We have just been over a list of representative American educators who have been considerable factors in the making of musical America. Less than twenty per cent. of the men were born in large cities. Eighty per cent. were born in small towns. Hurrah for the small town!

Too Much Technic?

The technic of both the construction of music and the interpretation of music is singularly complex—possibly more complex than that of any other art.

In its mechanical aspect the technic of music is not unlike mathematics, to which the ancients invariably espoused the tone art. The composer who essays to write fugues is working out problems in aural calculus and trigonometry which might give some concern to the mathematician.

It is because of this technical equipment that composers and interpreters must acquire that they often neglect the art side, that is, the æsthetic principles which, after all, govern the character of the work and determine whether it is a mere contraption or an immortal masterpiece.

Mussorgsky, the Russian iconoclast, felt this very deeply and expressed himself thus as long ago as 1872:

“Tell me why, when I listen to young artists, painters and sculptors talking, I can follow their thoughts or understand their opinions, their aims; and I rarely hear these people talking technically save when it is absolutely necessary? When on the other hand I am with musicians I seldom hear them express a single living thought. One would think that they are all on school benches. They only understand “technic” and technical terms. Is musical art so young, then, that it is necessary to study it in this childish manner?”

On the other hand, Mussorgsky would have been a greater composer if he had had more technic. It might not then have been necessary for the self-abnegating Rimsky-Korsakoff to rewrite much of Mussorgsky’s technically weak work.

Technic we must have and have in abundance.

It is the fault of young musicians to think that they can fly without machinery. They are like the simple folk that the writer recently saw in a hospital for mental diseases. These unfortunate people were trying to fly by waving their arms in the air like the wings of a bird. Seated in a bi-plane with an engine and a spread of wings, they might have flown from coast to coast.

Our advice is to get as fine a technical machine as you possibly can. After you have done this learn how to run the machine so that you fly and at the same time forget the machinery, the technic. That, after all, is the trick of being a Beethoven, a Wagner, a Paganini or a Paderewski.

 

 

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