New Ideals in Musical Education

THE problem of the relation of music to society and social culture is most interesting, though not easy to state or to solve. Certain preliminary points, however, are fairly clear. In the last century and a half music has steadily advanced in social importance. Once only the casual luxury of the few, it has become the serious pursuit of many. One needs but to recall a few commercial and professional statistics to realize the breadth of its diffusion. The cultured world exhibits a strong appetite for it, and the appliances to feed this appetite have multiplied enormously. The mere bulk, then, of modern musical activity challenges attention and query.

More germane to my present purpose is the further fact that music is not only extensively cultivated, but seems to have decided intensive values. Myriads of people, undeniably intelligent, hold music to be personally important, not merely for livelihood or luxury or anything external to real life, but as a part of that life. Well-informed music lovers are not as many as they might be, yet they furnish a most respectable mass of testimony as to the interior richness of music as a form of human expression, as a branch of literature, — a richness, as of any other form of literature, that can be known only by one properly equipped. The main reason why this richness is not universally acknowledged is simply that music cannot be translated. While, though you may not know Hebrew, you can still get a true knowledge of the book of Job, if you are wholly ignorant of musical idioms and rhetoric and dramatic structure, you cannot have access to a symphony through any verbal epitome or transcription. The skepticism of any number of persons, therefore, about the richness of music as literature, because they do not know it, does not at all offset the fact that others who do know are ready to testify that what they know is worth knowing. These more expert but perhaps prejudiced witnesses are reinforced by a multitude of plain folk who are musical only in an unscholarly fashion, but who have somehow acquired an instinctive grasp of the deeper realities of the tone world. These all unite in witnessing that music has profound intensive values. Appealing primarily to the ear, charming the hearer by its merely sensuous beauty, seizing him with its rhythmic swing and momentum, fascinating him by delicate witcheries or piquing him by sudden surprises, evoking ofttimes a kind of awe by its intricacy or massiveness, — doing all this, it often does much more. It sets him thinking, it arouses “ obstinate questionings,” it hints at undreamt-of experiences, it uncovers to the hearer the secrets of other lives or those of his own life, it lays a soothing hand upon the soul in distress, it unlocks the treasuries of energy and aspiration, it glorifies the teachings of religion, it gives wings to worship, it even seems to speak of a life beyond. These are not mere fancies, but sober facts of experience, too well substantiated to be disregarded.

These facts are here recalled merely because they have important educational corollaries. To one who studies the broad outlines of social development, it is clear that our time has begun to demand a higher educational treatment of music simply because music affects social life widely and profoundly. With this demand in mind, I wish to call attention to certain new ideals that are already being adopted, and that are likely to become increasingly influential. I shall confine myself to music in collegiate education, wholly ignoring its treatment in the technical or professional school, highly important as the ideals of the latter are in their place. I shall limit myself to three propositions, which are curiously interlocked so as to form a connected series.

My first proposition is that, in the college, musical effort should address itself explicitly and largely to the needs of those who feel themselves shut out from the experiences of musicians, who do not expect to become musicians, and who even seem to lack special musical aptitude. This assumes that a college and a professional school are fundamentally distinct. The latter is for a picked class, and aims to train specialists ; the former is for all, and aims at a rounded preparation for life in its general relations. The college is bound to make prominent the wants of the deficient, to minister to the needy.

For example, it is clearly desirable that all college graduates should have a respectable grasp of the outlines of general history, political, economic, scientific, literary, religious. Some students come with considerable knowledge, while others come with crude and faulty notions, perhaps with a positive aversion to the subject. The college does not set itself to offer great opportunities for specialization to the intelligent and enthusiastic few, while wholly ignoring the needs and the vague wants of the rest; but it devises courses that shall benefit all, and that shall vigorously appeal to the immature and the uninterested. The proudest triumph for a college teacher comes at the moment when the veil on the mind of some dull and frivolous student is lifted, and his eyes look out with delight upon the beauties of a subject that before had been for him virtually nonexistent. Illustrations of this might be multiplied from natural science, from philosophy, from language and literature, — from every department. These subjects are in the curriculum because of their general utilities, and these utilities need to be made clearest to those who have not realized them. Now, if music has any place in a college, it is because it too has general utilities; and if so, these should be specially demonstrated to those who least appreciate them.

Every one knows how this line of thought is opposed. Some claim that all musical aptitude is rare and exceptional, — a view, I think, unsustained by facts. Some musicians hold that it is folly to teach any but picked students, those with talent or genius, and even that the whole race of musical amateurs is an obstacle to artistic progress. Against this selfish and suicidal view of teaching and of the duty of experts to society one hardly needs to register even a word of scorn. Far more serious is the sober doubt whether music has such general utilities as to fit it for a place in a college, except as an anomalous side issue. We must promptly admit that if music study can be only what it is often made to be, it has no universal applicability, and but limited general utilities. Surely not every child can be made an accomplished pianist or singer or composer, nor should be forced through a process of training for such an end. But to render music and compose music are certainly not the only ways to use music. Imagine a teacher of English literature interested only in training public readers, actors, prose writers, and poets, and refusing to do anything for those desirous of knowing the substance and scope of that literature as a part of general information and self-culture ! A college department of English wholly devoted to elocution and rhetoric would be inadequate and lop-sided. Such an inversion of emphasis there, or in chemistry or physics or biology, would arouse instant complaint. No such complaint arises, because in most colleges these subjects are handled without special reference to their becoming sources of professional income, but so as to contribute to a rounded view of modern science, of human thought and progress, of creation and its laws, such as every welleducated person must have to understand himself and the world wherein he lives.

But music has usually been treated in just this preposterous way. The difficulty is not with music, but with the current methods of handling it as an educational discipline. Musicians themselves often overaccentuate the wrong sides of the subject. They so exalt the technical work of playing, singing, and composing as to make people generally suppose that music cannot be studied otherwise. Consequently, the same inversion of emphasis has ruled in many collegiate institutions. Thus two distinct kinds of education are confused, and the narrower is constantly substituted for the broader. So colleges have brought into their systems an alien element. Instead of organically extending their pedagogical methods to include music, a technical or professional school has been arbitrarily attached, having methods and designs diverse from those of the college as a whole. The mere stating of the matter thus is sufficient to expose its unwisdom. The consequences of this policy are unfortunate both for unmusical and for musical students. Many of the best students content themselves with hearing a few recitals and concerts simply for recreation, or turn their backs upon the whole subject, perhaps with contempt. And those who take musical courses acquire perverted ideas of musical art, exaggerating the importance of digital or vocal gymnastics, and combining a surprising ignorance of musical literature with an entire incompetence to use what they know in scholarly interpretation and criticism.

These remarks are made in no combative spirit, but simply to lead to the further remark that just here a new ideal in musical education has already been set up. Musicians themselves are seeing that if their art is what they know it to be, it must demonstrate itself to more than a special class, and that methods of teaching must be altered accordingly. This whole movement is most healthy. It is a reaction toward pedagogical common sense; and while for certain musical workers it involves some sacrifice of professional ambition and no little mental readjustment, to music as a factor in popular culture it must bring both scope and dignity.

This leads inevitably to a second proposition, namely, that in general education those aspects of music should be made prominent that concern the objective facts of musical history, analysis, criticism, and elucidation; music being assumed to be parallel in nature and significance with the other fine arts and with literature. Musicians are apt to say that a music student should devote himself to making music, either as performer or as composer, and that all scholastic study about music and scientific prying into music are useless simply because they are not music. Painters make the same objection to the scholastic and scientific investigation of painting, and some poets and playwrights repeat it about a similar investigation of literature. But literary students long ago asserted their right to study literature as a phase of civilization and as a means of self-development. Students of painting, sculpture, and architecture have claimed a similar liberty, and students of music must seize freedom in the same way. There cannot be any serious doubt about the rightfulness of this move from the solely technical toward the historical, critical, and philosophic. Peculiar difficulties, however, beset the practical application of the principle.

The most serious obstacle to scholarly musical work is that of providing the student with materials of study, with laboratory or museum facilities. The trained musician secures these by the personal reproduction of examples, by playing or singing through such works as are to be known and studied, or by hearing recitals, concerts, operas, church services, and the like. The prime reason for learning to play or sing is to gain the chance of making this original study of music from the sources. In literature such work is easy, since every one can read books. In the arts of form we have the aid of photographs, engravings, diagrams, reproductions, and models. In natural science we have similar means, especially classified museums of actual specimens. But music, like the drama, is an art of progressive action that cannot be photographed or diagrammatized ; an art of tones not reproducible in words, usually not representable by anything except itself. Consequently, its study requires altogether unique museum provisions. These must consist of actual renderings of music. Something of the recital or concert species must be furnished, that the student’s mind may have definite objects to study.

Here is a practical and economic difficulty of serious magnitude. And there is besides a pedagogical difficulty. For recitals and concerts, even those of great excellence, are not necessarily educative, except in the vaguest way. A mineralogist would smile if a tray of jewels in a store window were called specially educative. Every botanist has had to combat the notion that the conglomerations of the florist supply valuable education in botany. The jeweler’s tray and the florist’s bouquet do, indeed, furnish the trained observer with important objects of study, but the training needed to use them comes primarily from other sources. So with music. The ordinary concert is packed full of material for scholarly thought and for self-culture, but the training needed for appreciating and using it as education is either wanting, or due to the use of other means.

There is an immense opportunity for rational and systematic classroom work in music, if only teachers would see it. I mean the reproduction on the piano, with the voice, or even through musical machines, of works arranged in some classified order, illustrating forms or styles or composers, and accompanied by the same scientific analysis, comment, and explanation that are used in every classroom of history, literature, or social economics. Such work takes time and thought, is liable to abuse, and is not well systematized as yet. But with its advent comes the awakening of many a groping mind to musical realities, and a sudden intuition of their vital relation to other worlds of thought.

The essentials in a teacher working for higher musical education along these lines are three. First, he must be analytic in method, with the mastery of definition and classification that follows. Second, he must have a broad historic sense, since nothing in musical progress is luminous or correct in perspective except in its historic relations. Third, he must have a sure hold on the bearings of all the fine arts, music included, upon the fundamental features of human life. Each of these assertions would bear indefinite expansion and justification. The bare mention of them as “ essentials ” may be sufficiently startling. Yet surely a college department under a teacher defective in all three must be educationally a farce.

Space fails for the enumeration of the particular courses of lectures, many requiring little or no illustration, that may be arranged to carry out the programme here in mind. Probably the best centre around which to group them all is the splendid subject of music history, with its numerous radiating branches. The strict analysis of dominant art forms should be carefully attempted, with expositions of the masterpieces in each. Musical physics should not be neglected or maltreated. Musical sthetics, though a subject whose very name is highly irritating to many musicians, yet affords a field for the highest psychological acumen, and offers many problems only imperfectly solved as yet. Such an application of music to an end outside itself as church music has dimensions and dignity enough to justify independent exposition. What might be best to undertake in any given case depends on many circumstances. The field is ample and full of attraction and profit for the best scholarship. Music as a part of general culture has stood apart and lagged behind through no fault of her own, but because her educational sponsors have been narrow and selfish. This ideal is not really new. Its practical application is not unknown. Its importance is not unconfessed. But it is still rare enough to justify our calling it a second new ideal in musical education.

My final proposition concerns the purposes that should shape and animate musical instruction in general education. Suppose that we do reach a wider circle than is common, and do so by pushing forward scholastic courses about music rather than technical courses in musicmaking. What are the ends in view ?

The first end in view is to make students rationally intelligent about the plain facts of music. Music confronts us on every hand, and under infinitely various forms. Here, as elsewhere, the educated man or woman should be a leader in fostering the good and refusing the bad. In no other field of equal importance are there such chaotic standards of criticism and judgment as in music. People who would be ashamed not to form a sensible opinion about a novel, or a building, or a public policy, are wholly at loss regarding the merits and even the outline character of a new oratorio, still more of a new symphony. This helplessness is due to ignorance, — the kind of ignorance that general education can do something to remove. The elevation and rectification of the average thought about music would be worth while without anything further.

But a second end is still more important. Music is the most subjective of the fine arts. In its relation to the intense and powerful emotional side of our natures it is singular, if not unique. It sways the heart forces that may either build up or tear down character, and this, too, by that subtlest of mental approaches, an appeal to the sense of beauty. For the individual this may be one of the chief utilities of music. The process of self-awakening and self-realization that must attend all wise and liberal music study may be serviceable for the best self-culture ; and yet this very process, unless duly balanced and directed, is attended by no little danger. Music study often issues in exaggerated moodiness, in sentimentality, in a craving for emotionalism merely for its sensational excitement. This danger is not peculiar to music, but inheres in the use of every form of fine art, including literature and the drama. It is to be avoided, not by shunning artistic things and calling them evil, but by breadth and depth of study, by discrimination in the choice of objects of pursuit, and by combining music study with other study. In our commercial and materialistic age, we sorely need influences to develop otherwise neglected sides of real life, such as the hunger for the beautiful, the passionate momentum of the eager heart, the reaching up after the invisible and the ideal, the capacity for burning zeal and holy reverence. The function of music and the other fine arts is to help us toward these great experiences. Instead of dreading them, we may well give thanks that there are such voices to call us up to a plane of life where unsordid and fiery intensity is possible.

We can only speak rapidly of the third end in view, namely, that the moral and spiritual potencies of music may be better known and discriminated. Here we are on debatable ground, as is thought by many ; but perhaps one or two remarks may not seem extravagant. Music certainly operates upon the inner nature of the hearer by suggestion. The critical difficulty lies in the doubt as to the nature and precise value of the suggestion in given cases. It is true that musical impressions often seem intellectually very vague. But this vagueness is not so constant or so absolute as is supposed. Much music is vocal, and therefore provided with a verbal text. In such cases, the intellectual sense of the music is to be determined primarily by its text, unless the contrary can be proved. The same holds true of much instrumental music with a descriptive title or motto. Furthermore, many forms of instrumental music have so directly grown out of vocal forms that they are dominated by the general circle of ideas in which these latter moved. In particular classes of composition, as in particular styles of literature, there is a curious persistence of intellectual types. By following out this line of connection much instrumental music proves to have a distinct relationship with well-known literary forms, and to partake of their essential spirit. All strongly racial music — German, Hungarian, Scandinavian, Russian, for example — has qualities that make it organically expressive of the social, political, and religious life of the land of its origin. More than half of all musical literature is saturated with ideas of this kind, as is known by those who have looked for them with intelligent sympathy.

A parallel line of thought relates to the stamp that a composer’s personality puts upon his works. The better you know him, the more you see that what he says in tones is a personal expression. And so, if you can learn to measure justly the factors that made his life and character, and can thus participate in his mental life, you have a true means of interpreting his tone language. As a rule, a composer’s style corresponds with fascinating precision to the atmosphere of thought in which he lived, and to the innate quality of his personality.

All this, it will be noted, is far away from the petty folly of trying to attach to every single phrase or passage any such precise logical meaning as inheres in a categorical sentence conveying practical information. Records of outward facts, like newspapers and books of travel, or scientific treatises, or closely reasoned arguments on abstract topics, will never be written in musical form. Nor is it worth while to attribute to music any great power of pictorial delineation. Most of the purely descriptive music that we have is either half comic or merely curious. Music is not painting, nor even suggestive description of material objects or events. But music has the same broad capacity for conveying general ideas concerning personality and its inner experiences that is the property of all great literature. These ideas are neither information about material facts nor reasoning in the technical sense, but, as every thorough student of literature well knows, are yet definite enough to supply direction to serious thought and to mould character. Here is the central power of a fine novel or poem or drama. The highest qualities of these productions are too elusive and subtle to be minutely dissected or catalogued, and too ethereal to be felt by those not properly trained to perceive them ; but they are real, nevertheless, and their presence gives the novel or poem or play its immortality, its abiding dominion in the hearts and souls of men. In great music there is this same subtle power, defying analysis and passing comprehension, and yet most real and most potent.

Now if this be so, — and we must admit that it is so in some degree, — then the ultimate end of a properly organized musical education should be so to reveal and exalt these things that students may know them for themselves, may awaken to their power, and may receive some equipment for judging rightly as to the central animus and moral worth of such works and styles as are presented to them for consideration. It may be soberly questioned whether certain styles of music that are now much in vogue do not tend to exercise a debilitating and even immoral influence, not because they are technically poor, but because their very beauty and charm enable them to instill a peculiarly insidious miasmatic poison of sensuality, or of luxurious indolence, or of downright pessimism. How is the student to be put on his guard against these deadly forms of delight, or be taught to offset their influence by other forms that express a sturdy, noble, and trustful ideality, except through processes of education ? It is toward the establishment of manly and righteous standards in every field of spiritual experience that a college system should always strive; and just as this has already been done in our colleges for literary art, and in some measure for the arts of design, so should it be for the great art of tone.

This, too, is a comparatively new ideal in musical education, but one whose importance is now recognized by our more thoughtful musical workers. It is the sight of it that gives them assurance and self-respect in their work, and a missionary enthusiasm for their beloved art. Sooner or later something of the same high regard for music and its educative values will penetrate the minds of those who administer the colleges of our land, and will lead them to see that such a contention as the present one is neither extreme nor unpractical. Whether the details of the foregoing argument commend themselves or not, some position akin to that here taken must ultimately prevail, if general education is to do justice to music as a factor in modern culture, and to the rights of those who seek through education to be fitted to take influential places in modern society.

Waldo S. Pratt.