The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
Music and Children:
A Chat with "Music and Morals."

By H. R. Haweis
Volume 1, 1890/91, pg. 22

[Hugh Reginald Haweis, 1838-1901, was an ordained cleric with an interest in music. He wrote the book "Music and Morals" in 1871. His wife was Mary Eliza (Joy) Haweis, author of many books including "Chaucer for Children: A Golden Key." Their son Stephen Haweis was a painter.]

      "The world is being driven mad with musical mediocrities."

"Certainly," said Music and Morals, "let every child be taught music!"

"What if the child has no faculty--no musical ear--no love---"

"Stop; strange as it may seem, there may be faculty without love. There may be love without even a musical ear--but in each case it is well for the child to be taught music."

"This is dogmatic, but hardly persuasive."

"Well, let me explain. The Greeks, under the word μονσικη or music, comprehended a vast system of harmonious, aesthetic, metrical culture. We can never use the word 'Music' quite in their sense again, but we may at least learn from them that music, apart from the manipulation of sweet sounds, may be educationally useful in a variety of ways. That is why I say teach all children music."

"Whether they like it or not?"

"Yes, whether they like or not--first, because children don't always know what they do like; and secondly, because they don't know what is good for them."

"You are not convincing."

"I don't expect to be all at once, so please lend me your attention. You must train the mind, the body, the brain, the hand, somehow; you must strengthen the powers of attention, cultivate the perceptions, call attention to combinations, degrees of emphasis, arrangement, order, harmony--and pray what lends itself for this purpose so readily as Music? The child is taught to connect an idea with its symbol when it weds a sound to a written note. It must sit upright--must direct the power of the mind upon the hand; it learns thus a refined muscular discipline. It requires concentration or fixed attention to follow the notes of music and pick out a tune or an exercise; the mind thus acquires the habit of fixed attention, whilst the strain of attention is relieved by the musical sounds generated. So the child gets, as it were, its sugar plum as it goes along the every note struck."

"But if the child does not like music?"

"Children are differently endowed, but there are very few in whom some taste for music cannot be cultivated--even children with hardly any musical ear can improve and even acquire the rudiments of one--but eliminate the joy of the art, the discipline of the art still remains in the early stages of childhood's culture as a valuable aid and assistance to education."

"But would you go teaching music to an unmusical child?"

"Certainly not; after the age of ten I would teach an unmusical child no more music. I would try it with drawing, modelling, or any handicraft. The musical faculty, if any, develops very young--the cultivation of it early is always useful as a discipline, and it may be well for all girls, even if not very musical--when not distinctly the reverse--to be taught the pianoforte enough to play dance music and easy accompaniments to songs--it makes them useful and helpful to their social circle--but if you train seriously for music, nothing but a first-class faculty is worth spending much time and money upon. The world is being driven mad with musical mediocrities."

"What instrument do you incline to?"

"The piano is always the most useful, as it gives you at once the command of all kinds of music--everything is capable of being compressed more or less effectively into a pianoforte score, and with a knowledge of the pianoforte keys, the harmonic resources of all sound are placed under the ten fingers. The piano carries with it the rudiments of the organ, and the harmonic combinations of the orchestra. As a rule all children take to the piano who have any musical bent whatever."

"But if the child wants to learn another instrument?"

"Why, that may be mere caprice, or it may be a genuine passion."

"And if it is a passion?"

"Why yield to it, by all means. If a child is fascinated by the violin, or even the banjo, it shows a special fitness in the girl for the fiddle, in the boy for the banjo, or vice versa--don't resist it."

"But the banjo!"

"Well, the banjo includes the guitar tribe--even the harp is a related instrument--a penchant for the plucking, or the percussion, or the scraping, or the blowing of notes, is to be recognized and fostered; but always point out to a child that the violin, or flute, or cornet, or guitar, or even harp, will never give the same range of combination which will enable the player to compass those deeper mysteries of harmony which the piano will deliver into his hands. The violin, like the voice, is unique as a medium of individual and simple melodic expression, but it has but four stings to be placed in simultaneous vibration--its compass is limited by G in the bass. The chords, and therefore the harmonies realizable upon it, are restricted, and have frequently to be merely suggested, and sometimes not even that--and all this is a bitter disappointment to the musician as he begins to appreciate the heights and depths of harmony which Beethoven, Chopin, or Schumann reveled in when they wrote for the pianoforte."

"And how about practicing?"

"No real practicing can be made very agreeable, the great secret being always to tire out the fingers several times a day; but please observe this caution--girls have injured their wrists for life by too violent and desperate practicing. A little lump comes our just above the wrist, and although you may put it in again, you will never be cured and never fit for much in pianoforte playing afterwards. Girls are often seized with a fury of practicing, just as Schumann was, who tied back his third finger and lamed his hand for life. You must not spare, but still you must respect the vile body. The grand thing is to teach the child why the drudgery of practice is good--scales and exercises always as a beginning, then the tunes and pieces. If this plan is adopted systematically, the child will soon be convinced that it is the only right, though not the pleasantest, method, simply because he, or she, will notice the prodigious results which follow in the rapid facility acquired."

"And what kind of music do you recommend?"

"The child should have a certain voice in that. It will soon learn to choose good music, because it will find that one does not tire of it so quickly. Mendelssohn is out of fashion--even Schubert is dropping out--but both have written charmingly easy and exquisite things, Christmas pieces, impromptus, &c., for the piano. The cruel neglect of the 'Songs without Words' of late years is much to be condemned--they have been over-played, now they are under-played. They are much more suitable for young people than Grieg, or even Schumann, let alone Chopin."

"Should a child be taught by ear, or by note?"

"By both. There is no lesson equal to playing over to the child the piece it has to learn before inviting it to pick it out from the notes, but children should never be allowed to scramble through pieces by heart without notes until they know them accurately."

"And how about concerts?"

"You cannot take children too often to good concerts. Let them hear the great players; it inspires children just as much as it is apt to depress musicians of more advanced years. A child is so aspirational and buoyant--so confident and daring in its imagination, it forgets the wide gulf which separates appreciation and execution, and goes home prepared to do as Rubinstein or Sarasate do. It doesn't; but then the attempt is so wholesome, the pleasures of imagination are so great, and the actual attainment is far greater than anything that would have been achieved or attempted without so abnormal an impulse.

"But suppose the child is never destined to reach even moderate excellence?"

"Even then its musical training has not been wholly lost, for it can, at least, appreciate or tolerate others all the better for its own initiation; and, believe me, listeners are wanted in a world where rather more people want to play than are able to find patient hearers."

"And as to morals?"

"Well, as a moral force, music is invaluable when properly used and understood. It keeps young people innocently amused--it recreates and relieves most healthfully their ardent and boisterous feelings by giving them a safe emotional outlet--it draws them together on a safe and enjoyable platform, and fits them admirably for a return to the more irksome tasks and duties of daily life."

"And that is one reason, I suppose, why you are so fond of coupling together those two familiar words?"

"I suppose you mean Music and Morals?"

H. R. Haweis

Typed by Catie, August 2015; Proofread by LNL, June 2024