Archive for October, 2006

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How to Listen to Music

October 27, 2006

Listening is an art. It requires close and accurate attention, sympathy, imagination and genuine culture. Listening to music is an art of high degree. Many derive exquisite enjoyment from it, for music is potent and universal in its appeal. To listen intelligently to music is an accomplishment few have acquired.

A great painting presents itself as a completed whole before the observer’s eye. It holds on the canvas the fixed place given it by the master from whose genius it proceeded. No intermediary force is needed to come between it and the impression it makes on the beholder. Music, on the contrary, must be aroused from the written, or printed page to living tone by the hand or voice of the interpreter, and but a fragment at a time can be made perceptible to the listener’s ear. Like a panorama, it comes and goes before the imagination, its kaleidoscopic tints and forms now sharply contrasted, now almost imperceptibly graduated one into the other, but all shaping themselves into a logical union, stamped with the design of a creative mind. Properly to inspect the successive musical images, and grasp their significance, in parts and as a whole, demands keen mental alertness.

Many are content to listen to music for the mere sensuous impression it creates as it wraps itself about the inner being, lulling a perturbed spirit to rest, or awakening longing and aspiration, joy and sadness, according to the nature of the music and the hearer’s mood. Some even take pleasure in formulating into words the sensations evoked by the ebb and flow of the tonal waves, and fancy they are thus deriving intellectual profit from music.

From both ways of listening helpful results may accrue, but by no means the greatest. Music is far beyond words, and in attempting to translate it into these we miss its musical meaning, the best that is in it. As listeners we derive our highest ćsthetic and intellectual satisfaction from the ability to follow, even anticipate, the composer’s intention, now finding our expectations fulfilled, now being agreeably disappointed. Failure to catch the opening phrase and preliminary rhythms of the composition makes it impossible to appreciate the tonal forms into which they develop. Nor may the mind linger over any one
part, if we would grasp the work as an unbroken whole. That musical creation alone can afford the noblest delights that prompts and rewards the act of thus closely following the composer’s thought.

An instance of absolute knowledge of music appears in an anecdote told of Johann Sebastian Bach. When he was present at the performance of a fugue and one of his two most musical sons was with him, he would, as soon as the theme was heard, whisper what devices and developments he thought should be introduced. If the composer had conformed to his idea of construction he would jog his son to call attention to the fact. Otherwise, his exceeding modesty and reverent comprehension of the difficulties of the art made him the most lenient of critics.

Few have reached the luminous heights this master of masters trod. Even a well-cultivated ear and taste may often be baffled by the intricacies of a fugue, symphony or other great work of musical art heard for the first time. The best listener beyond the pale of genius will at times feel as one astray in a labyrinth of beauty to which for the moment no clue appears. A single representation will rarely suffice to reveal the full worth of a masterpiece of music. By hearing it often, by  admitting it, or some reproduction of it, to our own fireside, we will become familiar with its contents and learn truly to know it.

Those who are fortunate enough to have been surrounded from childhood up by the choicest gems of the tonal language, and whose minds are of the deceptive order, will insensibly attain a refinement of taste and delicacy of perception no learned dissertation on music could afford. At the same time, an acquaintance with the materials and elements of which the art is composed and with the laws that govern them, is essential to enable even one who has heard much to gain the complete enjoyment that comes from understanding. Confident as we are that Prometheus captured his fire from Heaven, we ought to learn something of its attributes before we accept it at his hands, that we may be able to distinguish a true spark of the divine flame from a phosphorescent will-o’-the-wisp.

The idea so largely accepted that music is an unfathomable mystery, like all half truths has wrought much mischief, and has greatly retarded musical progress in social life. Behind the Divine Art, as behind Religion, lies the inscrutable mystery of Life, and in both there is a Holy of Holies only the consecrated may enter. Before the portals of this are reached there is a broad, fertile field for intellectual activity that all may work to advantage, preparing the way to the inner sanctuary.

The musician is continually confronted with fresh evidence of the  popular ignorance, even among students of music, in regard to the outward form and inner grace of what is conceded to be the most popular of all arts. In a roomful of professed music lovers a definition of counterpoint was recently called for, and no one present could give an
intelligent answer. This led to a discussion of musical questions which resulted in the disclosure that not one of the company could define melody, harmony or rhythm, or had the slightest conception of the meaning of the simplest component parts of the art in whose service they were making plentiful sacrifices. Some knowledge of these things is
absolutely imperative, not alone to the student, but to one as well who would listen intelligently to music.

Sound and motion constitute the essence of music. Its raw materials are an infinitely rich mass of musical sounds that bear within themselves the possibility of being molded into form. By the musical builders of the past they have been carefully considered, mathematically calculated, and have finally resolved themselves into a recognized
scale, composed of tones and half tones. These are the composer’s plastic resources. He shapes them precisely as the sculptor fashions the apliable clay with which he strives to bring his ideal to realization.

All sounds are the result of atmospheric vibrations affecting the ear. Musical sound, or tone, is produced by regular vibrations, and differs from mere noise whose vibrations are irregular and confused. The pitch of a musical tone rises in proportion with the rapidity of the vibrations that produce it. Tones may be perceived by the human ear ranging from about sixteen vibrations in a second to nearly forty thousand, more than eleven octaves. Only about seven octaves are used in music. The science of acoustics is full of interesting facts of this kind, and is of profound value to any one who would gain an insight into
the structure of music. It is unfortunately much neglected.

The prime elements of music are Melody, Harmony and Rhythm. They are perhaps as little realized as its raw materials. Melody is a well ordered succession of musical sounds, heard one at a time, and selected from a defined, accepted series, not taken at random from a heterogeneous store. Harmony is a combination of well-ordered sounds heard simultaneously, and with suitable concord, or agreement. Rhythm is measured movement, or the periodical recurrence of accent; and signifies symmetry and proportion.

Melody, unexhausted and inexhaustible, is the initial force, or, as Dr. Marx has called it, the life-blood of music. Within itself it bears the germ of harmony and rhythm. A succession of tones without harmonious and rhythmic regulation would be felt to lack something. Melody has been designated the golden thread running through the maze of tone, by which the ear is guided and the heart reached. Helmholtz styled it the essential basis of music. In a special sense, it is artistically constructed song. The creation of an expressive melody is a sure mark of genius.

Harmony arranges musical sounds with reference to their union, and is regulated by artistic and ćsthetic rules and requirements. It has endless modes of transforming, inverting and intensifying its materials, thus continually affording new means of development. All the intervals and chords used in music had to be discovered, one by one. It often took more than a century to bring into a general use a chord effect
introduced by some adventuresome spirit. Our scale intervals are the slowly gained triumphs of the human mind. Modern music did not emerge from the darkness of the past until harmony, as we know it, came into active being.

Both melody and harmony are controlled by rhythm. It is the master force of the musical organism. Before man was the ebb and flow of nature had its rhythm. On this elementary rhythm, the one model music finds in nature, the inventive mind of man has builded the wonderfully impressive art rhythms existing in the masterpieces of music.

Melodies are made up of smaller fragments, known as motives, phrases and periods, or sentences, all of which are judiciously repeated and  varied, and derive their individuality from the characteristics of their intervals and rhythms.

A motive is the text of a musical composition, the theme of its discourse. The most simple motive, with proper handling, may grow into a majestic structure. In Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony three G flats in eighth notes, followed by an E flat in a half note, form a text, as of Fate knocking at the door, which, when developed, leads to tremendous conflict ending in victory. Those notes that repeat and modify the motive and are combined under one slur constitute the phrase, which is similar to a clause in a sentence of words. A period, or sentence, in music, comprises a musical idea, complete in itself, though of a nature
to produce, when united with other harmonious ideas, a perfect whole.

A simple melody is usually composed of eight measures, or some number divisible by four. There are exceptions, as in “God Save the King,” our “America,” of which the first part contains six measures, the second part eight.

Habit and instinct show us that no melody can end satisfactorily without some cadence leading to a note belonging to the tonic or key chord. Very often the first part of a melody will end on a note of the dominant chord, from which a progression will arise in the second part that leads satisfactorily to a concluding note in the tonic chord.

Counterpoint, literally point against point, is the art of so composing music in parts that several parts move simultaneously, making harmony by their combination. During the fifteenth, sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the masters of counterpoint shaped the musical materials in use to-day. So anxious were they to attain perfection of
form they often lost sight of the spirit which alone can give vitality to musical utterances. The great Bach infused this into his fugues, the highest manifestation of the contrapuntal, or polyphonic music of old.

Meanwhile the growth of the individual led to the growth of monophony in music, in which one voice stands out prominently, with an accompaniment of other voices. Its instrumental flower was reached in the symphony. Melody reigns supreme in monophonic music. Both the canon and the fugue form a commonwealth, in which all voices are rated alike. Viewed rightly, this suits the modern democratic instinct, and there is to-day a tendency to return to polyphonic writing. It is individuality in union. In the hands of genius it affords the most refined kind of harmony.

A thorough knowledge of counterpoint shows the mistake of regarding it merely as a dull relic of a dead past. It is a living reality that, if correctly studied, leads to a solid, dignified, flowing style, rich in design, and independent in its individuality. Counterpoint, said a
critic in the London Musical News, shows the student how to make a harmonic phrase like a well-shaped tree, of which every bough, twig and leaf secures for itself the greatest independence, the fullest measure of light and air. Composer, interpreter and listener may all profit by a comprehension of counterpoint.

From its infancy modern music has been affected by two perpetually warring factors, the Classical and the Romantic. The first demands reverence for established ideals of formal beauty; the second, striking a note of revolt, compels recognition of new ideals. As in all other departments of art and life, progress in music comes through the continual conflict between the conservative and the radical forces. A position viewed as hazardous and unsuitable in one age, becomes the accepted position of the next, and those who have been denounced as musical heretics come to be regarded as musical heroes. Very often the untutored public, trusting to natural instincts, will be in advance of the learned critic in accepting some startling innovation. Old laws may pass away, new laws may come, but the eternal verities on which all manifestations of Truth and Beauty are based can never cease to be.

“The scientific laws of music are transitory, because they have been tentatively constructed during the gradual development of the musical faculty,” says W. H. Hadow, in his valuable “Studies in Modern Music.” “No power in man is born at full growth; it begins in germ, and progresses according to the particular laws that condition its nature. Hence it requires one kind of treatment at one stage, another at another, both being perfectly right and true in relation to their proper period. But there are behind these special rules certain psychological laws which seem, so far as we can understand them, to be coeval with humanity itself; and these form the permanent code by which music is to be judged. The reason why, in past ages, the critics have been so often and so disastrously at fault is that they have mistaken the transitory for the permanent, the rules of musical science for the laws of musical philosophy.”

An acquaintance with form as the manifestation of law is essential to an intelligent hearing of music. The listener should have at least a rudimentary knowledge of musical construction from the simplest ballad to the most complex symphony. Having this knowledge it will be possible to receive undisturbed the impressions music has to give, and to distinguish the trivial and commonplace from the noble and beautiful.

The oftener good music is heard the more completely it will be appreciated. Therefore, they listen best to music who hear the best continually. The assertion is often heard that a person must be educated up to an enjoyment of high class music. Certainly, one who has heard nothing else must be educated down to an enjoyment of ragtime, with its crude rhythms.

“We know a true poem to the extent to which our spirits respond to the spiritual appeal it makes,” says Dr. Hiram Corson. It is the same with a true musical composition. We must take something to it, in order to receive something from it. Beyond knowledge comes the intuitive feeling which is enriched by knowledge. Through it we may feel the breath of life, the spiritual appeal, which belongs to every great work of art and which must forever remain inexplicable.

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How to Interpret Music

October 13, 2006

Certain learned college professors were once heard discussing methods of literary criticism and interpretation. They spoke of external and technical forms, and how magnificently these were illustrated in the world’s acknowledged masterpieces of literature. Every work read or studied, they decided, should be carefully weighed, measured and analyzed, and should be judged solely by the maxims and laws deduced
from classical standards. The critical faculty must never be permitted to slumber or to sleep. Above all, the literary student should beware of trusting to impressions.

Not a word was uttered in regard to the contents of the masterpieces in question, the special emotions, the overwhelming passions they revealed, the mighty experiences of which they were the result. Nothing was said about the source of a great book in the life of its author, or its value as a record of what many minds and hearts of an entire epoch have
thought, felt and desired. The learned professors were so deeply concerned with what they considered the demands of strict scholarship that they lost sight of the spirit which animates every true work of art. To them literature consisted of words, phrases, sentences, figures of speech, classical allusions, and well-constructed forms. They
regarded it apparently as an artificial product, compounded according to traditional and cautiously prescribed recipes.

An aged man of letters present, one who was characterized by his ripe scholarship, his richly cultured personality, sat listening in silence to the conversation. Suddenly he rose up, and, in vibrant tones, exclaimed: “Where hath the soul of literature fled, its vital part? If we are to trample upon our impressions the best that is within us will be chilled. Of what avail is education if it does not lead to the unfolding of our God-given intuitions? Friends, if the trend of modern criticism be to divorce literature from life, the throb and thrill of great art will soon cease to be felt.”

The lesson conveyed by these words may with equal propriety be applied to the field of music. Viewing certain current tendencies the cultured musician is often moved to wonder where the soul of music has fled. The critical faculty is keenly alive to-day, but musical criticism, shorn of its better part, musical appreciation, can never lead to the insight
requisite for true musical interpretation. Observation and perception, intellectual discernment and spiritual penetration are essential to gain insight into a great musical composition until its musical ideas, the very grade and texture of its style, are absolutely appropriated.
In his “Death in the Desert,” Robert Browning tells of the three souls that make up the soul of man: the soul which Does; the soul which Knows, feels, thinks and wills, and the soul which Is and which constitutes man’s real self. Appreciation of music requires the utmost activity of all three souls. The more we are, the broader our culture, the more we
think, feel and know, the more we will find in music. Dr. Hiram Corson, commenting on Browning’s words, says the rectification, or adjustment of what Is, that which constitutes our true being, should transcend all other aims of education. If this fact were more generally accepted and enforced it could soon no longer be said that few persons reach maturity without the petrifaction of some faculty of mind and heart.

Every faculty we possess needs to be keenly alive for the interpretation of the best in music. One who is accustomed to earnest thinking, quick observation and sympathetic penetration will see, hear and feel much that utterly escapes those whose best faculties have been permitted to lie dormant, or become petrified. The interpreter of music must have vital knowledge of the inner, spiritual element of every work of art he attempts to reproduce. His imagination must be kindled by it, and musical imagination is infinitely more precious than musical mechanism.

It is by no means intended to underrate technical proficiency. No one can be a satisfactory exponent of music whose technique is deficient, however profound may be his musicianly understanding and feeling. At the same time, with every tone, every measure, mechanically correct, a performance may fail to move the listener, because it lacks warmth and glow. Only they can make others feel who feel themselves, but sentiment
is apt to be confounded with sentimentality unless it is guided by a scholarly mind. The more feeling is spiritualized with thought the nobler it will be. Heart and head need to operate in company with well-controlled physical forces, in order that a fine interpretation of music may be attained. Faultless technique, in the service of a lofty ideal, indeed ceases to be mechanical and becomes artistic.

A musical work of art originates in the deep well of the fertile imagination of genius, and can only be drawn forth when the composer is in that highly exalted frame of mind we call inspiration. The theme, or musical subject, is a vital spark of the divine fire, and has flashed unbidden into his consciousness, demanding undivided attention for its
logical development. With infinite care he molds and groups the musical factors which are his working forces, and of which he has both an intuitive and a practical knowledge. The manifold forms he fashions all combine for one purpose, and lead persistently to one grand climax, from which they may return to the repose whence they came. Unity in diversity
is the goal he sets before himself. All aglow though he is with the joy of artistic production, he dare not permit his mind to waver from the task in hand.

Music is not to be played with, and the labor of composition is no trifling matter. It demands the keenest mental activity, the most profound mental concentration. It demands consecration. The composer thinks and works in tones, in an ideal realm, far removed from the realities of the external world. His business is to bring his theme to
its most magnificent unfolding, treating it with absolute definiteness, that his intention may be perfectly clear.

It is the business of the interpreter of music to be so thoroughly acquainted with the elements of which music is composed that he can promptly recognize the color, complexion and individual character of every interval, chord and chord-combination, every consonance and dissonance, every timbre and nuance, and every degree of phrasing and rhythm. He must have so complete a mastery of his materials and working
forces that his imagination may be influenced unimpeded by the emanations from the composer’s imagination which animate the moving forms he commands.

It is his business to respond with his whole being to the appeal of the musical masterpiece he attempts to interpret, and so express the emotions aroused by it from their slumbers in his own bosom that a responsive echo may be found in the bosoms of the listeners. A most ingeniously constructed music-box, with the presentation of a complicated piece of music, may fail to move a heart that will be stirred to its depths by a simple song, into which the singer’s whole soul has been thrown.

Though the mind of the inventive genius be a mystery that may not fully be explained, its product is within the grasp of the intelligent seeker. The ćsthetic principles of musical construction rest on certain elementary laws governing both the human organism and the phenomena of sound, and may become familiar to any one who is capable of study. In
the same way the established canons of musical expression, observed by the skilful artist, consciously or unconsciously, are traceable to natural causes. Without realizing the inherent properties of music, as well as its technical possibilities and limitations, we cannot know the art.

The tonal language is one that is not translatable into words. It is composed of an infinite variety of tone-forms, now sharply contrasted, now gradually blending into one another, all logically connected, all tending to form a perfect whole. The profusion of harmonic, melodic, dynamic and rhythmic changes it brings forth invests it with a meaning far beyond that of words, a musical meaning. Every masterpiece of music clothes in tonal form some idea which originated in the composer’s mind. To the interpreter it is given to invest it with living sound.

Chords and chord combinations all have their individual characteristics. Some cause satisfaction, for instance, others unrest. When a chord of the dominant seventh is heard, the educated musician knows that a solution is demanded. The unspoiled ear and taste instinctively feel something unfinished, and are disturbed if it be not followed by a
return to the key chord. Where the faculties are dormant or petrified, its significance will be unobserved.

The story is told of a young lady whose musical education had been utterly hollow and false, but who, having been overwhelmed with flattery for her voice and her singing, was deluded into a belief that she was destined to shine as a star on the operatic stage. She consulted the famous basso, Karl Formes, who good-naturedly had her sing for him. He
perceived at once that she possessed neither striking talent nor adequate training.

As a supreme test he struck on the piano a chord of the dominant seventh, and asked the young aspirant for dramatic glory what she thought it meant. Presuming it to be incumbent upon a prospective prima donna to have uppermost in her mind the grand passion, she replied, in a sentimental tone, “Love!” Promptly Karl Formes sounded the solution to the chord. “There is your answer,” quoth he. “I ask a question, and it is thought I speak of love. Go home, my good girl, and seek some other avocation. You have a fair voice, but you are tone-deaf. You can never make a musician.”

A favorite motto of the piano teacher Leschetitzky is, “Think ten times before you play once.” If this rule were more generally observed we should have better interpreters of music. A great composition should completely occupy mind and heart before it is attacked by fingers or voice. In that case it would be analyzed as to its form, its tonal structure, its harmonic relations, its phrasing and rhythms, and its musical intention would become luminous. The interpreter would understand where accents and other indications of expression should occur and why they should so occur, and would be able, in however feeble a way, to find and reveal the true heart music that lies hidden in the notes.

It is never too early in a course of music study to consider the requirements of musical expression. Persistent observance of them will inevitably quicken the artistic sense. The rules to which they have given rise are for the most part simple and easily explained. For
obvious reasons, all musical interpretation is expected to imitate song as closely as possible. The human voice, the primitive musical instrument, in moments of excitement, ascends to a higher pitch, increasing in intensity of tone as it sweeps upward. Consequently every progression from lower to higher tones, whether played or sung, demands a crescendo unless some plainly denoted characteristic of the music calls for different treatment. A descending passage, as a return to tranquillity, requires a decrescendo.

“The outpouring of a feeling toward its object, whether to the endless heavens, or forth into the boundless world, or toward a definite, limited goal, resembles the surging, the pressing onward of a flood,” said the great teacher, Dr. Adolph Kullak. “Reversely, that feeling which draws its object into itself has a more tranquillizing movement, that especially when the possession of the object is assured, appeases itself in equable onward flow toward the goal of a normal state of satisfaction. The emotional life is an undulating play of up-surging and subsidence, of pressing forward beyond temporal limitations and of
resigned yielding to temporal necessities. The crescendo and decrescendo are the means employed in music for the portrayal of this manifestation of emotional life.”

Another important matter which may to a great extent be reduced to rule is that of accentuation. Through it a tone-picture is invested with animation, and a clue is given to the disposition of tonal forms. Accents are always required to mark the entrance of a theme, a phrase or a melody. Where there are several voices, or parts, as in a fugue, each
voice denotes its appearance with an accent. Every daring assertion hazarded in music, as in speech, demands special emphasis. Dissonances need to be brought out in such prominence that they may not appear to be accidental misconceptions, and that confident expectation may be aroused of their ultimate resolution. Accentuation must be regulated by the claims of musical delivery. At all times too gentle an accent is without effect, too glaring an accent is to be condemned.

Hans von Bülow strenuously advised young musicians to cultivate their ears and strive to attain musical beauty in what is termed phrasing, which he regarded as the real beginning of greatness in a performer. Phrasing and time keeping are two of the prime essentials in musical delivery, and cannot be neglected with impunity.

Time may well be called the pulse of music. Upon some occasions the pulse beats more rapidly than others. It is incumbent on the interpreter of music to ascertain the harmonic and other causes which determine the tempo of a musical composition, as well as those which make slight variations from it admissible. Among other points to be noted is the
fact that sudden transition from repose to restless activity calls for an accelerando, while the reverse requires a rallentando.

It is absolutely imperative for one who would interpret music to cultivate the memory. The musician who cannot play or sing without notes is compelled to expend a large amount of mental activity on reading these, and will find it difficult to heed the manifold requirements of musical expression and delivery, of which a few hints have here been
given. A musical composition is never thoroughly understood until it has been intelligently memorized. One who can play or sing without notes is as free as a bird to soar aloft in the blue ether of musical imagination.

Every interpreter of music longs for appreciative listeners, and young musicians, in especial, often lament the lack of these. It is well to remember that the genuine musical artist is able to create an atmosphere whose influences may compel an average audience to sympathetic listening. A good plan for the artist is to be surrounded in fancy with an audience having sensitively attuned ears, intellectual minds, and warm, throbbing hearts. Music played in private before such an imaginary audience will gain in quality, and when repeated before an actual public will hold that public captive.

We have it from Ruskin that all fatal faults in art that might otherwise be good arise from one or other of three things: either from the pretence to feel what we do not; the indolence in exercise necessary to obtain the power of expressing the Truth; or the presumptuous insistence upon, or indulgence in, our own powers and delights, with no care or wish that they should be useful to other people, so only they should be admired by them.

These three fatal faults must be avoided, or conquered, by the person who would interpret music.

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The Musical Education That Educates

October 8, 2006

There is a musical education that educates, a musical education that refines, strengthens, broadens the character and the views, that ripens every God-given instinct and force. It arouses noble thoughts and lofty ideals; it quickens the  perceptions, opening up a world of beauty that is closed to the unobservant; it bears its fortunate possessor into a
charmed atmosphere, where inspiring, elevating influences prevail. Its aim is nothing short of the absolutely symmetrical development of the spiritual, intellectual and physical being, in view of making the well-rounded musician, the well-balanced individual.

The profits derived from a musical education are proportionate to the investment. Careless work, an utter disregard of principles, in other words, a mere dabbling with music, will afford but superficial results. It is precisely the same with a haphazard pursuit of any branch of art, science, or literature. Through music the soul of mankind may be
elevated, the secret recesses of thought and feeling stirred, and every emotion of which the individual is capable made active. In order to attain its full benefits it is imperative to use it as a profound living force, not as a mere surface decoration.

“The musician ever shrouded in himself must cultivate his inmost being that he may turn it outward,” said Goethe. A true musical education provides culture for the inmost being. It tends to enlarge the sympathies, enrich social relations and invest daily life with gracious dignity. Those who gain it beautify their own lives and thus become able to make the world seem more beautiful to others. Those who are never able to give utterance to the wealth of thought and feeling it has aroused in their hearts and imaginations are still happy in possessing the store. After all, our main business in art, as in life, is to strive. Honest effort meets with its own reward, even where it does not lead to what the world calls success.

It has been said that he who sows thoughts will reap deeds, habits, character. The force of these words is exemplified in the proper study of music, which results in a rich harvest of self-restraint, self-reliance, industry, patience, perseverance, powers of observation, retentive memory, painstaking effort, strength of mind and character. To possess these qualities at their best abundant thought must be sown. Merely to ring changes on the emotions will not elevate to the heights. The musical education that educates makes of the reasoning powers a lever that keeps the emotions in their rightful channel.

Aristotle, who dominated the world’s thought for upwards of two thousand years, attributed his acquirements to the command he had gained over his mind. Fixedness of purpose, steady, undivided attention, mental concentration, accuracy, alertness, keen perception and wise discrimination are essential to achievement. This is true of giant minds; it is equally true of average intellects. The right musical education will conduce to these habits. Musical education without them must inevitably be a failure.

Music study is many-sided. To make it truly educative it must be pursued from both theoretical and practical standpoints. It should include technical training which affords facility to express whatever a person may have for expression; intellectual training which enables a person to grasp the constructive laws of the art, its scope, history and ćsthetics, with all that calls into play the analytic and imaginative faculties; and spiritual development which imparts warmth and glow to everything. Even those who do not advance far in music study would do well, as they proceed, to touch the art on as many  sides as possible, in view of enlarging the musical sense, sharpening the musical perception, concentrating and multiplying the agencies by virtue of which musical knowledge and proficiency are attained.

“Truth,” said Madox-Brown, the Pre-Raphaelite, “is the means of art, its end the quickening of the soul.” Music does more than quicken the soul; it reveals the soul, makes it conscious of itself. Springing from the deepest and best that is implanted in man, it fertilizes the soil from which it uprises. Both beauty and truth are essential to its welfare. As Hamilton W. Mabie has said: “We need beauty just as truly as we need truth, for it is as much a part of our lives. We have learned in part the lesson of morality, but we have yet to learn the lesson of beauty.” This must be learned through the culture of the esthetic taste, a matter of slow growth, which should begin with the rudiments, and is best fostered in an atmosphere saturated with good music.

Too much stress cannot be laid on the importance of hearing good music. When it falls on listening ears it removes all desire for anything coarse or unrefined. Constant companionship with it prepares the ear to hear, the inner being to receive, and cannot fail to bring forth fruit. The creations of noble minds form practical working-forces in shaping character, purifying taste and elevating standards. A literary scholar cannot be made of one who has not been brought into close touch with the productions of the great masters in literature, nor an artistic painter, or sculptor, of one who has never known a great painting or piece of statuary. Neither can a thorough musician be made of any one who is ignorant of the master-works of music. It is well to realize, with Goethe, that the effect of good music is not caused by its novelty, but strikes more deeply the more we are familiar with it.

The human voice being practically the foundation of music and the first music teacher, every well-educated musician should be able to use it, and should have a clear understanding of its possibilities and limitations, no matter what his specialty may be. Composers and performers alike will derive benefit from some dealing with the vocal element. Vocal culture is conducive to health, and aids in gaining command of the nerves and muscles. They who profit by it will best understand the varied nuances of intonation, expression and coloring of which music is capable, and will learn how to make a musical instrument sing. Likewise vocalists should familiarize themselves with other domains of their art, and should be able to handle some instrument, more especially the piano or organ, that they may be brought into intimate relations with the harmonic structure of music.

To make music study most effective the scientific methods of other departments of learning must be applied to it. For the supreme good of both art and science need to be brought into close fellowship. Art is the child of feeling and imagination; science the child of reason. Art requires the illumination of science; science the insight of art. Music combines within itself the qualities of art and science. As a science it is a well-ordered system of laws, and cannot be comprehended without knowledge of these. As an art, it is its business to awaken a mood, to express a sentiment; it is knowledge made efficient by skill–thought, effect, taste and feeling brought into active exercise.

No art, no science, affords opportunity for more magnificent mental discipline than music. Moreover, a careful, earnest study of the art furnishes a stimulus to activity in other fruitful fields. Although subordinate to life and character it contributes freely to these, and its best results come from life that is exceeding rich, and character that is strong, true and enlightened through broad, general culture. The musical education that educates develops something more than mere players and singers; it develops thinking, feeling musicians, in whom large personalities may be recognized.

Stephen A. Emory of Boston, whose studies in harmony are widely used, and who left behind him an influence as a teacher that is far-reaching, divined the true secret of musical education, from the rudiments upward, and expressed his views freely and clearly. He thought it indispensable for the musician to make music the central point of his efforts and equally indispensable for him to have, as supports to this, knowledge and theories from countless sources. “It must be as a noble river,” he said of the pursuit of music; “though small and unobserved in its source, winding at first alone its tortuous way through opposing obstacles, yet ever broadening and deepening, fed by countless streams on either hand till it rolls onward in a mighty sweep, at once a glory and a blessing to the earth.”

To conquer music a musician must have conquered self. As music can no more be absolutely conquered than self, the effort to gain the mastery over both necessitates a continual healthy, earnest striving, which makes the individual grow in strength, grace and happiness. That musician has been rightly trained whose every thought, mood and feeling, every muscle and fibre, have been brought under the subjection of his will. Professor Huxley uttered the following words that may well be applied to a musical education:

“That man, I think, has had a liberal education, who has been so trained in his youth that his body is the ready servant of his will and does with ease and pleasure all the work that, as a mechanism, it is capable of; whose intellect is a clear, cold, logic engine, with all its parts of equal strength and in smooth working order; ready, like the steam engine, to be turned to any kind of work, and spin the gossamers as well as forge the anchors of the mind; whose mind is stored with knowledge of the great and fundamental truths of nature and of the laws of her operations, one, who, no stunted ascetic, is full of life and fire, but whose passions are trained to come to feel, by a vigorous will, the servant of a tender conscience; who has learned to love all beauty, whether of nature, or of art, to hate all vileness, and to respect others as himself.”

The correctness of applying the last clause to the musician will be questioned by those who delight in enlarging on the petty jealousies of musicians. It will be learned in time that these foibles belong only to petty musicians, and that no one knows better how to respect others as himself than one who has enjoyed the privilege of the musical education that educates.

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Blunders in Music Study

October 7, 2006

Like a voice from the Unseen, the Eternal, music speaks to the soul of man. Its informing word being delivered in the language of the emotional nature finds some response to its appeal in every normal human breast. Shakespeare indicated this truth when he had his Lorenzo, in the Merchant of Venice, say:

_”The man that hath no music in himself,
Nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds,
Is fit for treasons, stratagems and spoils;
The motions of his spirit are dull as night,
And his affections dark as Erebus;
Let no such man be trusted.”_

It is not the normal soul, fresh from its Creator’s hands, that is fit for such dire evils, but the soul perverted by false conditions and surroundings. Where vice has become congenial and the impure reigns supreme, that which rouses and expresses noble aspirations and pure emotions can find no room. Normal instincts may also be dulled, the inner being made, as it were, musically deaf and dumb, by a false education which stifles and dwarfs the finer feelings, or by circumstances which permit these to remain dormant.

The emotional natures of human beings differ as widely in kind and degree as the intellectual and physical natures. In some people sensibility predominates, and the irresistible activity of fancy and feeling compels the expression in rhythmic tone combinations of ideals grasped intuitively. Thus musical genius manifests itself. No amount of education can bring it into being, but true culture and wise guidance are needed to equip it for its bold flight. “Neither diligence without genius, nor genius without education will produce anything thorough,” as we read in Horace. Other people with marked aptitude for musical expression have reproductive rather than creative endowments. To them belongs talent in a greater or less degree, and they are adapted to promulgate the message which genius formulated for mankind. Talent may be ripened and brightened by suitable environments and fostering care.

There are besides persons led by genius or talent into other avenues than those of the tone-world, and the great public with its diverse grades of emotional and intellectual gifts. The cultivation of the ćsthetic tastes is profitable to all, and no agency contributes so
freely to it as music. Too many people engaged in purely scientific or practical pursuits have failed to realize this. In those nations known as musical, and that have become so through generations occupied with the art, music study is placed on an equal footing with any other worthy pursuit and no life interest is permitted to exclude musical enthusiasm.

Unless disabled by physical defects, every one displays some sense of musical sound and rhythmic motion. It is a constant occurrence for children, without a word of direction, to mark the time of a stirring tune with hands, feet and swaying motions of the body. A lullaby will almost invariably soothe a restless infant, and most children old enou gh
to distinguish and articulate groups of tones will make some attempt at singing the melodies they have often heard. The average child begins music lessons with evident pleasure.

It should be no more difficult to strengthen the musical instincts than any other faculties. On the contrary, it too often chances that a child whose early song efforts have been in excellent time and tune, and not without expression, who has marched in time and beat time accurately, will, after a period of instruction, utterly disregard sense of rhythm,
sing out of tune, play wrong notes, or fail to notice when the musical instrument used is ever so cruelly out of tune. Uneducated people, trusting to intuitive perceptions, promptly decide that such or such a child, or person, has been spoiled by cultivation. This is merely a
failure to trace a result to its rightful cause, which lies not in cultivation, but in certain blunders in music study.

These blunders begin with the preliminary course on the piano or violin, for instance, when a child, having no previous training in the rudiments of music, starts with one weekly lesson, and is required to practice a prescribed period daily without supervision. To the difficulties of an introduction to a musical instrument are added those of learning to read
notes, to locate them, to appreciate time values and much else. The teacher, it may be, knows little of the inner life of music, still less of child nature. Manifold perplexities arise, and faltering through these the pupil acquires a halting use of the musical vocabulary, with
other bad habits equally hard to correct. A constant repetition of false notes, wrong phrasing, irregular accents, faulty rhythms and a meaningless jumble of notes dulls the outer ear and deadens the inner tone-sense. Where there is genius, or decided talent, no obstacle can wholly bar the way to music. Otherwise, it retreats before the
blundering approach.

Many a mother when advised to direct her child’s practicing, or at least to encourage it by her presence, has excused herself on the plea that it would bore her to listen. If the work bores the mother it is not surprising that the child attacks it with mind fixed on metal more attractive and eyes seeking the clock. Occupations which are repellent in early life leave behind them a memory calculated to render them forever distasteful. It is therefore a grave mistake not to make music study from the outset throb with vital interest. An appeal to the intellect will quicken the ćsthetic instincts, be they never so slender,
and almost any one will love work that engages all the faculties. Those pupils are fortunate who come under the influence of a teacher with strong, well-balanced personality and ripe knowledge, and are treated as rational beings, capable of feeling, thinking and acting. Too
many music teachers learn their business by experimenting on beginners. It has been suggested as a safeguard against their blunders, and all ignorance, carelessness and imposture, that music might be placed under the same legal protection accorded other important factors in social life, and that no one be permitted to teach it without a license granted by a competent board of judges after the applicant had passed a successful examination, theoretical and practical. This would be well if there was any certainty of choosing suitable persons to select the judges.

A practical Vienna musician, H. Geisler, has recently created no little sensation by asserting that the pianoforte, although indispensable for the advanced artist, is worthless, even harmful, in primary training, and that the methods used in teaching it are based on a total misapprehension of the musical development prescribed by nature. Sensual and intellectual perceptions must actively exist, he feels, before they can be expressed by means of an instrument. It is a mistake to presume that manual practice can call them into being, or to disregard the supremacy of the tone-sense. He considers the human voice the primitive educational instrument of music and believes the reasonable order of musical education to be: hearing, singing, performing.

This order is to be commended, and might readily be followed if primary instruction was given in classes, which being less expensive than private tuition, would admit of more frequent lessons and the services of a competent teacher. Classes afford the best opportunity for training the ear to accuracy in pitch, the eye to steadiness in reading notes,
the mind to comprehension of key relationships, form and rhythmic movement, and the heart to a realization of the beauty and purport of music. In classes the stimulating effect of healthy competition may be felt, an impulse given to writing notes, transposing phrases and melodies, strengthening musical sentiment and refining the taste.

Both the French Solfčge method and the English Tonic Sol-fa system prove the advantage of rudimentary training in classes. Mrs. John Spencer Curwen, wife of the president of the London Tonic Sol-fa College, and daughter-in-law of the late Rev. John Curwen, founder of the movement it represents, has applied to pianoforte teaching the logical principles
underlying the system, which are those accepted by modern educators as the psychological basis of all education. From her point of view the music lesson may be made attractive from the moment the pupil is placed at the instrument.

Time is taught by her as a mental science, with the pulse as the central fact. She proceeds rhythmically rather than arithmetically, making constant appeals to that within the child which is associated with music. As the ear is expected to verify every fact, whether of time or pitch, she deems essential to profitable practicing the daily supervision of some person who understands the teacher’s requirements.

Many times a child who can readily explain the relative value of every note and dot will stumble in the time movement when confronted with a mixture of the same notes and dots. This is because no mental connection has been established between the mechanical time sign and its sound, which is the outgrowth of instinctive impulses. Time confusion
may also be caused by confiding too implicitly in loud and persistent counting, instead of trusting to the intelligently guided rhythmic pulse.

The keenness of musical perception in the blind is a subject of frequent comment. It is due to the fact that neither outer nor inner ear is distracted by the organ of sight, and the mind is compelled to concentrate itself with peculiar intensity on the tone-images aroused
for its contemplation. When one of the senses is weakened or lost, the others become strong through the requirements made on them. This shows how much may be gained in music study by throwing responsibility on those faculties it is desirable to develop.

There are numerous promising schemes for class work in operation in our own country, some of them offering excellent advantages to the student. From the music study in our public schools valuable results ought to come in time. Thus far, unfortunately, it is too often conducted by teachers who are themselves without trained musical ability and who
permit their pupils to shout rather than sing music of an inferior order to the accompaniment of a piano wretchedly out of tune.

The much beloved Phillips Brooks once said: “A school song in the heart of a child will do as much for his character as a fact in his memory, or a principle in his intellect.” Unquestionably a love for good music, inspired during the formative period, is calculated to open unlimited possibilities, and ours could readily be molded into a musical nation if
a firm foundation for musical knowledge and appreciation were laid in our schools. After the rudiments were mastered, it could easily be decided which pupils had a natural bent demanding special training.

Where music study becomes compulsory the blunder of permitting the compulsion to be felt must be avoided. Socrates of old, in Plato’s Republic, advised making early education a sort of amusement. Those who heed his counsel should not forget that in turning music study altogether into play work there is danger of weakening the will. The tottering footsteps should be guided wisely, as well as tenderly, in the first approach to the Temple of Art, that the pupil may learn to walk, as well as to observe and think independently. We most prize beauty that we are able to discern for ourselves. We gain strength by  intelligently conquering our own problems and perplexities. “Nothing is impossible,” as Mirabeau has said, “for one who can will.”

The aim of music study is to know music, to gain a correct conception of how it should sound, and so, as far as possible, to make it sound. This aim can never be reached by the mere cultivation of technical adroitness. Untold sacrifices are made to-day to what becomes the unrighteous mammon of technique when the mechanical side of practice is
exalted above its interpretative aspects. Schumann deemed brilliancy of execution only valuable when it served a higher purpose. That higher  purpose is to reach and express the soul of music. Unless enriched by it, all mechanism is dead. It is not desirable that every one should perform acrobatic feats on some musical instrument, or indulge in vocal
pyrotechnics, but it is desirable to extract music out of whatever technique may be attained. Instead of racing onward with feverish haste to ever increased technical skill at the expense of other development, it were well for the student to pause until each composition attacked, be it but an exercise, could be interpreted with accuracy, intelligence, and feeling. We should then have more musicianly players and singers. We
should more often be brought under the magic spell of exquisitely shaded tone that may make a simple little melody alive with beauty.

A grave blunder of our present music study is the neglect of ensemble playing and singing. Some of the noblest music written is for part-singing and for two or more instruments. Much profit and delight will be the result of making its acquaintance. Four and eight hand piano arrangements of the great overtures and symphonies, too, are valuable
and enjoyable. They prepare the way for an appreciation of an orchestral performance of these masterpieces, and broaden the musical horizon. Where there are several music students in a family it is a pity for them to confine their efforts exclusively to the piano, although every musician should have some knowledge of this household instrument.
That is a happy home whose members are united by the playing or singing of noble concerted music.

It is an absurd error to suppose that fine soloists cannot succeed in ensemble work, or as accompanists. Those who fail have been poorly grounded in their art. They may give dazzling performances of works bristling with technical difficulties, yet make a sad failure of some slow, tender movement that calls for musicianly understanding and delicate treatment. The truth is, the requirements for an artistic accompanist, or for artistic concerted work, are the same as for an artistic soloist: well directed musical aptitude, love of art, an ear attuned to listening and large experience in sight-reading.

The music pupils’ public recital contributes no little to the blunders of the day in music study. Especially with piano pupils, the work of the year is likely to be shaped with reference to the supreme occasion when results attained may be exhibited in the presence of assembled parents and friends. The popular demand being for the mastery of technique,
showy pieces are prepared whose mechanism so claims the attention that the principles underlying both technics and interpretation are neglected. Well-controlled hands, fingers, wrists and arms, with excellent manipulation of the keyboard, may be admired at the recital, but little of that effective playing is heard which finds its way to the hearer’s heart. A dead monotony will too often recall the letter that killeth because devoid of the spirit that giveth life.

Sounding notes, even sounding them smoothly, clearly, and rapidly, is not necessarily making music, and a succession of them without warmth and coloring is truly as inartistic as painting without shading. If it were more commonly realized that it is an essential part of the music teacher’s vocation to train the mind and the emotions and through them
the will and the character, there would be a higher standard for the music pupils’ recital. No one would be permitted to play, or sing in  public who could not give an artistic, as well as a technically correct performance.

Music students should lose no opportunity to hear the best music, both vocal and instrumental. Heard with understanding ears one good concert is often worth a dozen lessons, yet many students know nothing in music beyond what they have practiced themselves, or heard their fellow-students give at rehearsals or recitals. If they attend concerts at all, it is rather to observe some schoolmaster method in their own particular branch than actually to enjoy music. Trying to gain a musical education without a wide acquaintance with the literature of music is like attempting to form literary taste without knowing the world’s great books. To bathe in the glow of the mighty masterpieces of genius
neutralizes much that is evil. In music they are the only authoritative illustrations between notes and the ideals they represent; they form the models and maxims by means of which we approach a knowledge of music.

In view of hearing good music, breathing a musical atmosphere and being glorified into artists, vast numbers of American girls seek foreign musical centres. They are apt to go without suitable equipment, mental or musical, and with inadequate pecuniary provisions. They expect to attain in a few months what they are doomed to discover would take years
to accomplish, and cannot fail to suffer for the blunder. Many of them return home disappointed in their aims, and ruined in health. Many of them are stranded in strange lands. A crusade should be started against indiscriminate going abroad for music study, without thorough preparation in every respect.

The fact is, a free, true, fearless hero, such as Wagner found in his Siegfried, is needed to slay, with his invincible sword, the dragon of sordid materialism, and awaken the slumbering bride of genuine art. A storm-god is wanted to swing his hammer and finally dissipate the clouds that obscure the popular vision. Some one has called for a plumed
knight at the literary tournament, with visor down, lance in hand, booted and spurred for the fight with prevalent errors. One is equally needed at the musical tournament.

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The Origin and Function of Music – Part III

October 6, 2006

Music is often mentioned in literature as a means of discipline, inspiration and refreshment. We read in Homer that Achilles was instructed in the art that he might learn to moderate his passions; Pythagoras, father of Musical Science, counseled his disciples to
refresh themselves at the fount of music before retiring to their couches at night in order to restore the inner harmony of their souls, and to seek strength in the morning from the same source. Plato taught that music is as essential to the mind as air is to the body, and that children should be familiarized with harmonies and rhythms that they might be more gentle, harmonious and rhythmical, consequently better fitted for speech and action.

“Song brings of itself a cheerfulness that wakes the heart to joy,” exclaimed Euripides, and certain it is a large measure of joy surrounds those who live in an atmosphere of music. It has a magic wand that lifts man beyond the petty worries of his existence. “Music is a shower-bath of the soul,” said Schopenhauer, “washing away all that is impure.” Or as Auerbach put it: “Music washes from the soul the dust of everyday life.”

Realizing the influence of music, Martin Luther sang the Reformation into the hearts of the people with his noble chorals in which every one might join. He called music a mistress of order and good manners, and introduced it into the schools as a means of refinement and discipline, in whose presence anger and all evil would depart. “A schoolmaster,” said he, “ought to have skill in music, otherwise I would not regard him; neither should we ordain young men to the office of preaching unless they have been well exercised in the art, for it maketh a fine people.” It were well if teachers and ministers to-day more generally
appreciated the value of music to them and their work.

Music is an essential factor in great national movements. Every commander knows how inspiring and comforting it is to his men. Napoleon Bonaparte, who was not readily lifted out of himself and who complained that music jarred his nerves, was shrewd enough to observe its effect on marching troops, and to order the bands of different regiments to play
daily in front of hospitals to soothe and cheer the wounded. The one tune he prized, Malbrook, he hummed as he started for his last campaign. In the solitude of St. Helena he said: “Of all liberal arts music has the greatest influence over the passions, and it is that to which the legislator ought to give the most encouragement.”

An art that in some form is found in the varied activities of all people, at all times, must be the common heritage of humanity. “It does not speak to one class but to mankind,” said Robert Franz, the German song writer. Alexander Bain called it the most available, universal and influential of the fine arts, and Dr. Marx, the musical theorist, thought music beneficial to the moral and spiritual estate of the masses.

Truly indeed has it been said that its universality gives music its high worth. Mirroring neither your inner life alone nor mine, but the world’s essence, the transfiguration of what seems real, the divine Ideal, some spark of which glows in every bosom, each individual may feel in it whatever he is capable of feeling. The soul’s language, it takes up the thread dropped by words and gives utterance to those refined sentiments and holy aspirations words are inadequate to awaken or express. Its message is borne from heart to heart, revealing to each things unseen, according as it is prepared to receive them.

In the Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare made Lorenzo speak to Jessica of the harmony that is in immortal souls and say that “whilst this muddy vesture of decay doth grossly close it in we cannot hear it.” To refine this muddy vesture, to render the spirit attentive, to bring light, sweetness, strength, harmony and beauty into daily life is the central
function of music which, from the cradle to the grave, is man’s most intimate companion.

Richard Wagner devoutly believed it would prepare the way for an unspoiled, unfettered humanity, illumined by a perception of Truth and Beauty and united by a bond of sympathy and love. This ideal union is the goal at which Tolstoi aims in his “What is Art?” He defines art as a human activity to be enjoyed by all, whose purpose is the transmission
of the most exalted feelings to which men have arisen; but the union he proposes would have to be consummated by a leveling process. All art  that cannot without preparation reach the uncultured classes is denounced by him. He is most bitter in his denunciation of Wagner, who fought for a democratic art, but who wished to attain it by raising the
lowliest of his fellow-creatures to an ever loftier plane of high thinking and feeling.

According to Tolstoi, art began to degenerate when it separated itself from religion. There must have been dense mist before the Russian sage’s mental vision when he fancied this separation possible. Art, especially musical art, is a vital part of religion, and cannot be put asunder from it. Like thought, music, since the bonds of church and state have been
broken, has spread wide its pinions and soared to hitherto unsuspected heights. All noble music is sacred. Amid the marvelous material progress of to-day music is more needed than ever. Unburdened by the responsibility of fact, it brings relief to the soul from the grinding pressure of constant grappling with knowledge. The benefits of knowledge are great, but it is also beneficial to be uplifted, as we may be by music, from out the perplexing labyrinth of the work-a-day world toward the realm of the Divine Ideal.

As a means of culture music is a potent factor in human civilization. It is destined to wield even greater influence than has yet been known. It has become the household art of to-day. As it enters more and more fully into the heart of the home and social life it will more and more enrich human existence and aid in ushering in the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth.

If music can do so much for mankind, why are not all musicians great and ood? Ah, my friend, that is a hard question to answer, and can only be airly treated by asking another equally difficult question: Why are not ll people who have enjoyed the advantages of religion wise and noble? Consider the gigantic machinery that has been put in motion to
promulgate Christianity, and note how slow men have been to appropriate the teachings of its founder. Slow progress furnishes no argument against the mission either of religion or its comrade music.

In common with religion music kindles our finer sensibilities and brings us into an atmosphere superior to that which ordinarily surrounds us. It requires wisdom to beautify commonplace conditions with what has been enjoyed in aërial regions. Rightly applied, music can lend itself to this illumination. As it is better known, its advantages will be more
completely realized.

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The Origin and Function of Music – Part II

October 5, 2006

Of the music of primeval man we can form an estimate from the music of still existing uncivilized races. As the vocabulary of their speech is limited, so the notes of their music are few, but expressive gestures and modulations of the voice supplement both. With advancing civilization the emotions of which the human heart are capable become more complex and demand larger means of expression. Some belief in the healing, helpful, uplifting power of music has always prevailed. It remains for independent, practical, modern man to present the art to the world as a thing of law and order, whose ineffable beauty and beneficence may reach the lives of the average man and woman.

Without the growth of the individual, music cannot grow; without freedom of thought, neither the language of tones nor that of words can gain full, free utterance. Freedom is essential to the life of the indwelling spirit. Wherever the flow of thought and fancy is impeded, or the energies of the individual held in check, there music is cramped. In China, where conditions have crushed spiritual and intellectual liberty, the art remains to this day in a crude rhythmical or percussion state, although it was early honored as the gift of superior beings. The Chinese philosopher detected a grand world music in the harmonious order of the heavens and the earth, and wrote voluminous works on musical theory. When it came to putting this into practice tones were combined in a pedantic fashion.

In all ages and climes music has ministered to religion and education. The sacred Vedas bear testimony to the high place it held in Hindu worship and life. Proud records of stone reveal its dignified rôle in the civilization of Egypt, where Plato stated there had existed ten thousand years before his day music that could only have emanated from gods or godlike men. The art was taught by the temple priests, and the education of no young person was complete without a knowledge of it.

Egyptian musical culture impressed itself on the Greeks, and also on the Israelites, whose tone-language gained warmth and coloring from various Oriental sources. Hebrew scriptures abound in tributes to the worth of music which was intimately related to the political life, mental consciousness and national sentiment of the Children of Israel. Through music they approached the unseen King of kings with the plaintive outpourings of their grief-laden hearts and with their joyful hymns of raise and thanksgiving.

From the polished Greeks we gained a basis for the scientific laws governing our musical art. The splendid music of which we read in ancient writings has for the most part vanished with the lives it enriched. Relegated to the guardianship of  exclusive classes its most sacred secrets were kept from the people, and it could not possibly have attained the expansion we know.

Music has been called the handmaiden of Christianity, but may more appropriately be designated its loyal helpmeet. Whatever synagogue or other melodies may have first served to voice the sentiments kindled by the Gospel of Glad Tidings it was inevitable that the new religious thought should seek and find new musical expression. In shaping a ritual for general use, an accompaniment of suitable music had to be considered. The fathers of the church constituted themselves also the guides of music. Those forms which give symmetry and proportion to the outward structure of the tonal art were pruned and polished under ecclesiastical surveillance until spontaneity was endangered. Happily in the
spirit of Christianity is that which ever proves a remedy for the mistakes of law-givers. The religion that inculcates respect for the individual has furthered the advance of music and of spirituality.

Beyond the confines of the church was another musical growth, springing up by the wayside and in remote places. Folk-music it is called, and it gives untrammeled utterance to human longings, human grief and despair, and human wondering over the mysteries of life, death and the great Beyond. Untutored people had always found vent in this kind of music for pent-up feelings, and the folk-music of the Christian world, during the Crusades, gained a new element in the fragments of Oriental melody transplanted into its midst. In time, through the combined wisdom of gifted composers and large-minded ecclesiastical
rulers, the music of the church and the music of the people became united, and modern music was born.

Architecture, painting, sculpture and poetry possess practical proofs of their past achievements and on these their present endeavors are builded. Modern music has been compelled to be the architect of its own fortunes. It is the one new art of our era, and, as the youngest in the family of arts, it has but recently reached a high state of development.

During those eleven Christian centuries, from the latter part of the fourth century, when the corner-stone for our musical system was laid, until the wonderful exploration period of the fifteenth was well advanced, the masters of music were absorbed in controlling the elements of their art. Since then event has crowded upon event with rapidly increasing ratio. During the past two centuries the progress of the art has been like a tale in fairyland. We now possess a magnificent musical vocabulary, a splendid musical literature, yet so accustomed are we to grand treasure-troves we perhaps prize them no more than the meagre stores of the past were prized.

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The Origin and Function of Music – Part I

October 5, 2006

One of the most interesting of the many interesting stories of our civilization is the story of Music. It affords an intimate knowledge of the inner life of man as manifested in different epochs of the world’s history. He who has failed to follow it has failed to comprehend the noblest phenomena of human progress.

Mythology and legendary lore abound in delightful traditions in regard to the birth of music. The untutored philosophers of primitive humanity and the learned philosophers of ancient civilizations alike strove to solve the sweet, elusive mystery surrounding the art. Through the myths and legends based on their speculations runs a suggestion of divine origin.

The Egyptians of old saw in their sublime god, Osiris, and his ideal spouse, Isis, the authors of music. Among the Hindus it was regarded as a priceless gift from the great god Brahma, who was its creator and whose peerless consort, Sarasvati, was its guardian. Poetic fancies in these lines permeate the early literature of diverse peoples.

This is not surprising. Abundant testimony proves that the existence of music is coeval with that of mankind; that it is based on the modulations of the human voice and the agitations of the human muscles and nerves caused by the infinite variations of the spiritual and emotional sensations, needs and  ispirations of humanity; that it has grown with man’s growth, developed with man’s development, and that its origin is as divine as that of man.

The inevitable dualism which Emerson found bisecting all nature appears also in music, which is both spiritual and material. The spiritual part of music appeals to the spiritual part of man, addressing each heart according to the cravings and capacities of each. The material part of music may be compared to the body in which man’s spirit is housed. It is the vehicle which conveys the message of music from soul to soul through the medium of the human ear with its matchless harp of nerve-fibres and its splendid sounding-board, the eardrum.

Music is the mirror which most perfectly reflects man’s inner being and the essence of all things. Ruskin saw clearly that he alone can love art well who loves better what art mirrors. This may especially be applied to music, which offers, as a Beethoven has said, a more lofty revelation than all wisdom and philosophy.

Having no model in nature, being neither an imitation of any actual object, nor a repetition of anything experienced, music stands alone among the arts. It represents the real thing, as Schopenhauer has it, the thing itself, not the mere semblance. Were we able to give a thoroughly satisfactory explanation of music, he declares, we should have the true philosophy of the universe.

“Music is a kind of inarticulate, unfathomable speech, which leads us to the edge of the Infinite, and impels us for a moment to gaze into it,” exclaimed Carlyle. Wagner found in music the conscious language of   feeling, that which ennobles the sensual and realizes the spiritual. “Music is the harmonious voice of creation, an echo of the invisible world, one note of the divine concord which the entire universe is destined one day to sound,” wrote Mazzini. Literature is rich in noble definitions of the divine art.

From a matter of fact standpoint music consists of a vast concourse of tones which are its raw materials and bear within themselves the possibility of being moulded into form. Utterances and actions illustrating these raw materials are common to all living creatures. A dog, reiterating short barks of joy, or giving vent to prolonged howls of distress, is actuated by an impulse similar to that of the human infant as it uplifts its voice to express its small  emotions. The sounds uttered by primeval man as the direct expression of his emotions were unquestionably of a like nature.

The tendency to manifest feeling by means of sound is universally admitted, and sound, freighted with feeling, is peculiarly exciting to human beings. The agitations of a mob may be increased by the emotional tones of its prime movers, and we all know that the power of an orator depends more on his skill in handling his voice than on what he says.

A craving for sympathy exists in all animate beings. It is strong in mankind and becomes peculiarly intense in the type known as artistic.The fulness of his own emotions compels the musician to utterance. To strike a sympathetic chord in other sensitive breasts it becomes necessary to devise forms of expression that may be unmistakably intelligible.

Out of such elements the tone-language has grown, precisely as the word-language grew out of men’s early attempts to communicate facts to one another. Its story records a slow, painstaking building up of principles to control its raw materials; for music, as we understand it, cannot exist without some kind of design. Vague sounds produce vague, fleeting impressions. Definiteness in tonal relations and rhythmic plan is requisite to produce a defined, enduring impression. In primitive states of music rhythmic sounds were heard, defined by the pulses but with little or no change of pitch, and sounds varying in pitch without regularity of impulse. A high degree of intellectuality was reached before our modern scales were evolved from long-continued attempts at making well-balanced successions of sounds. As musical art advanced rhythm and melodic expression became united.
 
The study of the origin, function and evolution of music, according to modern scientific methods, is a matter of comparatively recent date. As late as 1835 a French writer of the history of music expressed profound regret that he had been unable to determine when music was invented, or to discover the inventor’s name. It was his opinion that musical man had profited largely from the voices of the feathered tribes. He seriously asserted that the duck had evidently furnished a model for the clarionet and oboe, and Sir Chanticleer for the trumpet. An entire chapter of his book he devoted to surmises concerning the “Music before the Flood.” The poor man felt himself superior to the poetic fancies of the ancients, which at least foreshadowed the Truth, but had found no firm ground on which to stand.

Much finer were the instincts of Capellmeister Wolfgang Kasper, Prince of Waldthurn, whose historical treatise on Music appeared in Dresden in 1690. He boldly declared the author of music to be the good God himself, who fashioned the air to transmit musical sounds, the ear to receive them, the soul of man to throb with emotions demanding utterance, and all nature to be filled with sources of inspiration. The good Capellmeister was in close touch with the Truth.

It was in 1835, the same year that the French writer mentioned offered his wild speculations, that Herbert Spencer, from the standpoint of a scientist, produced his essay on the “Origin and Function of Music,” which has proved invaluable in arousing discriminating thought in these lines. Many years elapsed before its worth to musicians was realized. To-day it is widely known and far-reaching in its influence.

In those inner agitations which cause muscular expansion and contraction, and find expression in the inflections and cadences of the voice, Herbert Spencer saw the foundations of music. He unhesitatingly defined it as emotional speech, the language of the feelings, whose function was to increase the sympathies and broaden the horizon of mankind. Besides frankly placing music at the head of the fine arts, he declared that those sensations of unexperienced felicity it arouses, those impressions of an unknown, ideal existence it calls forth, may be regarded as a prophecy to the fulfilment of which music is itself partly instrumental. Our strange capacity for being affected by melody and harmony cannot but imply that it is possible to realize the delights they suggest. On these suppositions might be comprehended the power and  significance of music which must otherwise remain a mystery. The progress of musical culture, he thought, could not be too much applauded as a noble means of ministering to human welfare. Mr. Spencer’s theory has of late led to much controversy. Its author has been censured for setting forth no explanation of the place of harmony in modern music, and for not realizing what a musical composition is. In his last volume, “Facts and Comments,” which contains many valuable thoughts not previously published, he declares that his critics have obviously confounded the origin of a thing and that which originates from it. “Here we have a striking example of the way in which an hypothesis is made to appear untenable by representing it as being something which it does not profess to be,” he says. “I gave an account of the origin of music, and now I am blamed because my conception of the origin of music does not include a conception of music as fully developed. If to some one who said that an oak comes from an acorn it were replied that he had manifestly never seen an oak, since an acorn contains no trace of all its complexities of form and structure, the reply would not be thought a rational one;” but he believes it would be quite as rational as to suppose he had not realized what a musical composition is because his theory of the origin of music says nothing about the characteristics of an overture or a quartet.