Music As A Language - Lectures to Music Students
by Ethel Home
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From the very first she will be taught to analyse a piece before she begins to play it—she will find out the key, time, cadences, sequences, passages of imitation, modulations, &c. If the melody be within the range of the child's voice she will then sing it, beating time as she does so. After these preliminaries it is only a question of technique to learn to play it. The last stage will consist in learning the piece by heart. The day has long gone by when it was considered a sign of exceptional musical gift to be able to do this. All experienced teachers know that, provided a child is having its ear trained by some such method as that suggested above, it can learn a piece of music by heart almost entirely away from the piano. That is to say, instead of the wearisome repetitions which were formerly necessary before a piece could be played by heart, it is possible, directly the technique is mastered, and in many cases before this is done, to learn the piece away from the piano. The benefit of this is obvious, and the nerves, both of the player and of the unwilling listeners, are the gainers.

A little thought will show that it should be no more difficult for average children to learn a piece of music by heart in this way, than for them to learn a piece of prose or poetry by heart. The initial steps are exactly the same—the language has to be known, and it is then a question of memory, and memory alone. Who would think of learning poetry by heart by the process of repeating it aloud a hundred or more times? Yet this is what was formerly done in the case of music.

Sixty years ago no girl was considered educated who could not play the piano a little. Since then a reaction has begun to set in. The standard of playing has gone up to such a degree that parents are often heard to say that their child is not musical enough for it to be worth while to teach it an instrument. This is a pity. Music is used so much in our daily life that we cannot do without our 'average performers'. The soldier marches best to a tune, the sailor heaves his anchor to a song, the ritual of all forms of religion needs the aid of music; we need it, not only in the pageantry of our processions, but in the solemn crises of life and death. For these purposes artists of the first rank are not necessary.

Every child, however apparently unmusical, should be given its chance, at any rate up to the age of twelve years. During this time, the stress should be placed, for the unmusical child, not so much on perfection of technique, but on the ability of playing easy pieces really well, and to read at sight such things as duets, song accompaniments, &c.

If, in addition, the children have joined an ear-training class, they will, at any rate, be intelligent listeners for the rest of their lives to other people's playing.

For all children, sight reading should form part, not only of every lesson, but of every day's practice. Many books for sight reading have been published, well graded, some of them beginning with little pieces in the treble clef only, and going on to advanced tests. The following are a few, selected from many other excellent ones:

Schaefer (3 vols., published by Augener).

Hilliard (5 vols., published by Weekes).

Somervell (2 vols., published by Augener and Weekes respectively).

Taylor (1 vol., published by Bosworth).

As a child will need more than one such book in the course of her study, and as she cannot play the same test twice, a plan has been made in some schools for the music to be sold second-hand from one pupil to another, through the medium of a mistress, in the same way in which ordinary school books are sometimes passed on. This reduces the expense of constantly having to buy new books for sight reading. Another plan is to establish a lending library, each child to pay 2d. or 3d. a term.

In the teaching of 'pieces' music mistresses should bear in mind that children must, from time to time, revise those which they have finished. Nothing is more irritating to a parent than to be told by a child that it has 'nothing to play' to a visitor. The mistress who is anxious to get a pupil on as quickly as possible often overlooks this point, and an entirely wrong impression is given of the child's progress to the parent.

We now come to the vexed question of the interpretation of music by children. An interesting point can be noted about the practice of the early classical composers. They were accustomed to give the minimum amount of indication as to tempo and general detail for the performance of their works.

And to what conclusion does this lead us? Surely this—that these giants in music recognized the necessity for every performer of their works to express themselves through the music, subject to the broad conditions laid down by the composer. As Hegel said: 'Music is the most subjective of all arts.' And is it not true that it is this constant necessity for personal interpretation, so strongly felt by the majority of artists, which gives the permanent interest to music?

We say, 'by the majority of artists', for now and then we meet an artist who seems to have strayed from the path of beauty, and who is devoting his energies to an ascetic determination to keep alive one particular interpretation of a composer's work, or works; who dictates these interpretations to his pupils, and who talks of other artists who feel the bounden duty of self-expression through the said works as 'outsiders', and 'not in the cult'. Such musicians do not appear to see that such an attitude is 'idolatry' pure and simple. They have not pondered the well-known anecdote of Brahms, who, when asked by a singer whether his interpretation of one of his songs was 'the right one', answered: 'It is one of the many hundred possible interpretations.'

A word must now be said on the organization of instrumental work in the school. It is important that this should be in the hands of one person, who will not only keep a supervising eye on questions of method, choice of music, lengths of lessons and practising, &c., but who will evolve some means of testing the progress of the pupils every term, in the same way in which their progress is tested in other subjects. The progress of the individual pupil should not be a secret between herself and her particular mistress!

It is a good plan to arrange a short recital every term in a school, at which from twenty to twenty-five pupils should play at a time. Such recitals should not exceed more than 1-1/4 hours in length. Nothing is more wearisome to the outsider than to listen to amateur performances which stretch out to two and sometimes to three hours' length. If the above plan be adopted, no child will be able to play more than one short piece. A mistress who is ambitious for the success of a few specially gifted pupils will sometimes suggest that a recital shall consist of the performance of two or three of these only, and that each pupil should play more than once.

Such suggestions should be frowned at.

What we want, if we have an educational end in view, is not so much to give the few musical children in a school the opportunity of gaining experience in playing in public, and indirectly of showing their progress to an admiring audience, but we want to give every music pupil in turn the same opportunity.

All children need experience before they can play to others in such a way that they not only do themselves justice, but give pleasure to their listeners.

Pieces played at such recitals should invariably be by heart. The nervous pupil may possibly break down at her first appearance, but she will be quickly succeeded by a more confident player, the little victim of 'nerves' will be soon forgotten, and the experience gained in this way is invaluable.

Before a recital a rehearsal should be held in the same room in which the recital is to take place. Few people seem to realize the immense difference made to children by a change of environment at such a time. The pupil who will play her piece on the piano without one mistake to her mistress, and in the room to which she is used, will often be troubled at playing it on another piano, and in another room.

A child was once known to break down in an evening recital, and when asked the reason, said: 'I have never played that piece before with a candle near me, and I didn't like the shadows on the piano.'

This sort of remark gives a real insight into the child mind.

Another small point may be mentioned. In the lessons just before a recital the mistress should go to the end of the room in which the lesson is given, while the child is playing her recital piece, in order that her supporting presence near the child may not be missed at the recital.

The recital will probably be followed by some form of reception by the school authorities of the parents of the pupils. No teacher should miss this opportunity of getting to know the parents of her pupils. A friendly talk over the progress, or lack of progress of a child will often result in sympathetic help being given at home, and, in any case, the teacher will probably learn something about the character and home environment of the child which will help her in her work.

Partly owing to lack of time, and partly because some pieces will not be ready, a certain number of children will not be able to play at the school recital. Such children should be gathered together at the end of the term, and should play to the mistress who organizes the work. In this way they too will gain experience, and a little focus will have been made for their work.

We must add one final suggestion. Each music mistress should keep a register, in which she notes not only the names of her pupils, the times of their lessons, absences, late arrivals, &c., but an exact list of all the work done by them, with dates. This is invaluable, not only for gauging their progress, but as a means of quickly ascertaining their work in musical literature. It is, alas! a day of examinations, and with the many little books of studies and pieces which have to be got up for outside examinations there is a serious fear of the systematic education of a child in classical musical literature being interrupted, or, at any rate, put on one side for a time. Such a book makes it possible for the mistress to keep a definite scheme of work in view for each pupil, and the busier the mistress, the more she will need some such aid to her memory.

The pupil should also keep a register, in which she notes the exact amount of time spent daily in practising, and the way in which she divides it. This book should be brought to each music lesson, and should also be shown to the supervising mistress at the end of each term.



In finishing a course of training along the lines we have been considering, it is well to take a bird's-eye view of what has been done.

In all communal work the results fall roughly under two heads:

1. The getting of new ideas, and of new ways of presenting old ideas.

2. The development of character, due to the mixing with fellow students and with those who are directing the work.

So far as the actual work is concerned, stress has been laid on the following:

1. The necessity of considering music as a language.

2. Various methods for teaching in accordance with this idea.

3. The principle of the inclusion of the work in the regular curriculum of schools, with class treatment.

In the short space of one year, which is all that can be generally spared by the student, it is impossible for her to realize the full bearing of all that has been done. It is only when we see such work in perspective, after the lapse of a little time, when it has been possible to work out at leisure some of the practical points involved, that we can perceive all the ground covered.

Many students have experienced considerable difficulty at first in doing themselves what they have seen children do, who have been trained along these lines, i.e. to write down two-, three-, or four-part exercises in dictation, to transpose at sight, to extemporize without hesitation at the piano, &c. The feeling of working against time, of examinations to be passed, of discouragement at apparently slow progress, has possibly produced a state of mental indigestion, and the only cure for this is Time, the universal doctor.

The student is now at the point of entering a new sphere of work. The instrument has been sharpened. How is the application to be directed? A word of warning is necessary. The young and enthusiastic teacher, fresh from the inspiration of a year's work with those interested in her development, is too often apt to be over-rigid in enforcing a new presentment of ideas.

'This way, or no way!' is her cry.

Now all sound educational work must possess an intrinsic quality of pliability: it must grow, expand, and be capable of development in a hundred ways. Small points of method must be adjusted to the particular class and pupil, and a generous recognition of the useful parts of other people's 'methods' will be the surest way of obtaining recognition of our own ideals. Provided a firm attitude be maintained on essentials, it is often possible to compromise on minor details. Above all, an open mind must be preserved in the presence of advice, however inexperienced. Many a young teacher has failed in her first post because she has given the impression to those in authority that there is one, and one only, way in which she can do her work—one, and one only, possible scheme of division of classes and hours for lessons.

An arrangement far short of the ideal must often be accepted, with a courteous protest, but it will assuredly be modified later by the authorities when the teacher has won confidence by arousing the interest and enthusiasm of the pupils, and by showing good results from the lessons.

Has not every new presentment of every subject in the school curriculum been greeted with the same chorus of depreciation at first? Why should music, the latest arrived of the subjects on the regular curriculum, fare differently?

Remember that the head of a school has often to keep in mind, not only his or her ideals in education, but the wishes of a governing body and of the parents.

A short demonstration of work done under imperfect conditions will often throw a flood of light on the aims of an enthusiastic teacher, who has been struggling in difficult surroundings. 'I had no idea you were doing all this with the children' has been the admiring comment of more than one former unsympathetic critic, and conditions are at once altered in a generous spirit.

Above all, the young teacher must remember that it is of the first importance not to lose her enthusiasm for the work. She must keep herself up to date by being in touch with general musical life outside her immediate circle. She should belong to a musical society, and take every opportunity of attending lectures, &c. She should organize musical clubs and meetings among her pupils, and encourage a healthy attitude of kindly criticism.

And, finally, she must be always working at something to do with her own music, for directly she ceases to put herself, from time to time, in the attitude of the learner, she will cease to be a sympathetic and stimulating teacher.

It is a good plan to keep a musical diary, in which our own progress and that of our pupils is recorded, together with notes on current musical events—concerts attended, and so on. Such a record is most useful for reference, and for encouragement in dark hours, when it seems impossible to re-establish a lost sense of proportion.



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