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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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