Page images




It has been demonstrated that the study of the elements of vocal music can be placed in the course for the schools and its accomplishment required in the same way and upon the same basis as is that of arithmetic, grammar and geography. No material difference exists between the execution of the scheme for music and that for arithmetic; the number of pupils who from natural defects should be excused is no greater in one than in the other. The work assigned for each grade, the tests as to the accomplishment of the tasks, the holding of the pupil for the satisfactory performance of his assignment — all are in line with requirements in other branches. The conduct of the class differs from others only that, like penmanship, more concert recitation is required. Yet individual recitation is helpful, and must frequently be demanded.

The instruction should be given and the drill conducted by the teacher who is regularly in charge of the room, and with the same regularity and same energy as that of spelling.

The purpose of the pursuit of the study is identical with that of coördinate branches: an expert accountant or an eminent rhetorician is not made by studying the elements of arithmetic or grammar in an elementary school; neither is an accomplished musician to be graduated from the common school. The young person at the end of his course, wherever he may leave it, is relatively as advanced in music as he is in the rest of the work; and when the eight or twelve years are accomplished, he is able to read and sing as well as he is to write and compute. Not as an accomplishment, but as a part of that training that goes to make the intelligent citizen, is this branch to be required.

A fallacy is abroad among us that many able teachers, skillful and efficient in other directions, are unequal to the grade-work in music. It has been found that where a teacher is absolutely incompetent for this duty, the cases are so rare as not to be noticeable. A competent supervisor is a necessity; the supervision must not be a lazy one. Lazy supervisors are not of rare appearance in the music line. One director of music can competently superintend two hundred teachers, devoting his entire time to inspection and instruction, frequently assembling them by grades, out of school hours, for special instruction.

The ability of the teacher to sing has little to do with the teaching; indeed, if she can sing, she must not. In singing, as in reading, the pupil, not the teacher, is to do the practicing. It must be remembered that in all teaching, imitation is the last expedient to which the teacher should resort. The ear should enable the instructor to detect glaring inaccuracies; but even the defect of a faulty ear is measurably overcome by the pupils, for in all but the beginning grades, voices are ever in the room that are correct in time and tune, and will cover and bring up the erring ones. The study of the elements of music has no more dependence upon ability to sing than has the study of percentage.

The practice daily required is a task, and not necessarily a pleasure to the class. The recitation must be considered as are all others, and the results must be accounted for in the same way. The misfortune has been, and is, that the music of the schools is regarded as an extra, and not as a regular. It has a place upon the daily program; it is the most conveniently omitted.

Excuses should be granted only for excellent reasons, and then by the authority of the superintendent; it is possible to reduce the excuses to a minimum by cultivating such an opinion in the schools as shall lead the pupil to expect no excuse: unless the same or a like reason would excuse from other branches, one for music must be refused.

Song-singing, while a pleasant feature of the room, is a small part of the legitimate work, and is related to the main study in hand as is a special reading, declamation, or oration, to the study of reading.

As a reason for placing this branch among the obligatory branches to be taught, too much stress has been laid upon the happy influence of music in the school. It is true that the quieting influence of song is helpful in discipline, and it is also true that geography, well taught, has a happy effect. Change is desirable. Monotony in school life, as in adult life, is harmful.

Fair condemnation can be given to the common song-singing of the common school. Too often, not merely a negative harm is done by the work, but a positive injury follows the execrable execution of the ordinary school song, as it frequently reaches the ear of the hearer. The teacher, principal, and superintendent, each is blamable for the vitiated tastes of children who pretend the study of music; the literature is often abominable, while the rant and roar of the children, who are not taught the difference between noise and song, cause men and women of culture to condemn the methods.

Skill and professional intelligence is a requisite in this as in all other departments. No song should be permitted until it has received the approval of the musical director. “The Tardy Song,” “Billy Boy,” and “I Want to be an Angel,” would then be assigned to outer darkness, where such effusions belong.

With many of us the printed course of study presents an acceptable course in music; a personal inspection too often demonstrates that the work fails to conform to the text. As long as the average school prospectus continues to overstate the truth and the annual issue of school documents are so replete with imaginative statements evolved from the ambitions of mistaken school men and women, you and I must learn the truth about grade-work in the schools, including music and the kindred study of drawing, by personal inspection and by a comparison of work and notes at conventions such as is this.

Forty years ago, Mr. Baker commenced the teaching of music in the Boston schools. It was the beginning. I remember the effort. We learned little but rote-songs. Progress has been made; and yet so much remains to be clone that I incline to the belief that the country will be more efficient in public-school education, if efforts are concentrated upon improving the work and methods of what is already in hand, rather than by dissipating the energy in the various new directions now urging upon the schools by zealous but mistaken reformers.



To be successful in this age one should know everything of something, and something of everything; his vocation makes the one necessary, his relation to society demands the other. When one's specialty is the teaching of a single subject, his tendency is to insist that this subject is the one thing about which everything should be known. Our supervisors of drawing ask time enough to make artists of all public-school pupils; the special teacher in gymnastics asks for time to develop athletes; the arithmetic teacher would produce both lightning calculators and profound mathematicians; and so on, through the list. But the grammar school cannot make specialists in all things-it should not make specialists in anything. You, whom I have the honor of addressing this afternoon, would have children leave the eighth grade with the eye, ear, and voice of a trained vocalist, and your ambition is a laudable one; but the school authorities say to you, as to all other special teachers, “You cannot have the necessary time.” I am aware that it is claimed by many that this high standard can be attained in the fifty to seventy-five minutes per week allotted you, and am also aware that in public tests you seem to make good this claim as to reading at sight; but I do not forget that concert work is always deceptive. I remember how often I have heard a class of fifty children repeat in unison a table or a sentence that not ten could repeat alone. Neither do I forget that a majority of eighth-grade pupils have taken private lessons in music, spending hours each week, year after year, in painstaking practice in reading. I know full well that it is claimed that these pupils read no better than others; that reading readily by letter is no help in reading by syllable. This point I do not propose to argue.

I shall not point out the fact that in sight-singing, in the true sense of the term, the syllables are not necessarily thought of — merely the tone. I shall simply say that those who are in doubt upon this point can easily settle it for themselves by selecting in some fair way, equal numbers of those who do, and those who do not take private lessons, and giving them the same test in simply naming notes at sight. For my own part, I have several times applied this test, and always with the same result. This, for the time being, has settled the question for me; but it cannot settle it for you, and rather than raise a discussion upon an unessential side-issue, I would admit that private lessons are to be credited with no part of the musical knowledge possessed by public-school pupils. This, however, I do assert: that the average eighth-grade pupil not taking private lessons, cannot name at sight the notes in the ordinary school exercises as fast as they should be sung, even when allowed to call six per cent. of the notes incorrectly. I make this assertion upon the result of tests made in different schools situated hundreds of miles apart, and these tests conducted by different persons who had no prejudice to bias their judgment, and no motive to render untrustworthy returns. Forty notes in sixty seconds with six per cent. of errors, is about the average of the figures received. If they cannot read the syllables, of course they cannot sing them. But you tell me that you fail to secure satisfactory results in voice-culture and ear-training, and I have no reason to doubt you. Indeed, it would be strange if these should not be slighted, rather than the reading. We all want our work to be appreciated. We can give an exhibition of sight-reading that is conclusive evidence to all, of efficient work. Equally good work in cultivating voice and ear, can be appreciated by musicians only. And this, no doubt, accounts in part for the fact that fifty per cent. of the time allotted music, is devoted to reading notes. (I say fifty per cent. because I do not want to provoke discussion upon my estimate. Should it be claimed that I have placed the figures too high, I will say seventy-five per cent., and prove it by an appeal to facts familiar to all who have observed other than their own methods of teaching.)

I conclude, then, that the work you are trying to do cannot be done in the allotted time; but I would not disparage the results attained. Looking at the matter from the standpoint of a school principal, I am free to admit that no part of the time or the money devoted to public school education yields proportionally larger returns to patrons than that devoted to music. But the results are not what they should be. Too much is attempted, and nothing done well. If children leave the school with voice well trained, and with a strony love for vocal music, they will sing, no matter how the music may be written. The remedy suggested is the employment in the lower grades of a notation that will present no obstacles to the learner, supplemented by such a study of the staff in the higher grammar grades as will enable the pupil to translate from one notation into the other.

Five years ago, at Saratoga, there was present at a meeting of this body a class of little children from the Boston schools. Mr. Seward, for his own purposes, placed on the board an exercise in Sol-Fa. Mr. Holt got the floor for a single minute, and under his direction these little children, trained in the staff only, sang this exercise in such a manner as to confound Mr. Seward


and cover Mr. Holt with glory. I was astounded; but when I went home I found, upon testing the matter, that the children of all grades, in Whittier School, could do the same thing. I found that they could do more. I found that taking out ten per cent. of the best staff-readers, the ninety per cent. could sing better from the Sol-Fa notation, which they had not used five minutes, than they could from the staff, which they had used five years. In short, this notation seems to present almost no difficulties to the learner.

The use of the staff by beginners tends to beget slovenly habits of reading. The singer finds it easier simply to approximate an interval when the sylla ble is not named, and depend upon a leading voice or an instrument for the exact tone. So strong does this habit of approximating become, that a child will frequently call the syllable correctly and give it the wrong sound, when if the name had been given him without seeing the note, he would have given the correct tone. For example, he guesses the note to be the fifth of the scale, and after the tone is mentally produced he gets the name of the note, which proves to be the fourth, and combines the two, saying fa but singing sol. A large majority of chorus-singers, and fully ninety per cent. of our eighth-grade pupils, have this habit well established; and so long as the human mind tends to follow the lines of least resistance, so long will the staff tend to foster this habit. The Sol-Fa notation is free from this objection. It gives the name only, and this suggests not the approximate but the exact sound. In the very successful reading test given last Wednesday afternoon, we noted that when the little folks failed to sing a note, it was only necessary for the leader to speak the name to bring out the correct sound.

Again, staff notation hinders the best results by distracting the child's mind from the singing itself. Pitch, quality, force and time demand attention; and if half the child's mental activity is expended upon the mere reading of the syllables, only half is available for the real work of singing.

It is claimed by Sol-Faists that those who begin with Sol-Fa make the best staff-readers, and they point to the large percentage of prizes won in staff-reading contests, as substantiating their claim. They claim also that it is likely to become the popular notation, and cite as evidence that it already holds this rank in the greater part of the English-speaking world. These claims I have not investigated, but should not be surprised if both should be made good. But should they fail in both, I should still favor Sol-Fa for the reasons I have stated.

The position taken is simply this: Musical culture is worth more than familiarity with any one system of notation. We cannot attain the culture and a good knowledge of the staff; let us take the surest means of securing the former. Then, with a strong love for music developed in the child who goes out from our schools, with an ear trained to appreciate the sweetest harmonies, with a voice able to assist in their production, and with a familiarity with one method of representing musical sounds, we need not fear that he will fail to acquire all needful knowledge of any notation he may be called upon to use.

« PreviousContinue »