The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
Is It Possible?

by The Editor
Volume 1, 1890, pg. 922

This article by Charlotte Mason later appeared as chaper 15 of Volume 2, Parents and Children.

There is some fear that the effect of the remarks of Mr. Haweis--interesting and valued as they are sure to be, coming from such a quarter--in the Parents' Review for last February, on the subject of letting children learn the piano, may not in many cases be what the writer intended. In the present reaction--rather too violent in some respects, perhaps--against the flimsiness of girls' education which was general some thirty years ago, parents will be too apt to quote Mr. Haweis's advice as an argument in favour of letting children discontinue their music lessons altogether, if, after being taught for a year or two. They will think the reason he gives for having most girls, unless "distinctly the reverse" of musical, taught to play the piano--viz., in order to be "useful and helpful to their social circle"--not quite convincing. All will agree, of course, that it is desirable to be useful and helpful. But it does not follow that parents will consider playing "dance music and easy accompaniments to songs" and object so important as to make it worth a girl's while to spend a definite portion of time daily in practising the piano during many years of her school life; and the high-school girl of the present day is less likely than her parents to consider it so. This is scarcely an object to put forward. It had better be left to take care of itself.

Can we not find a more convincing one? Yes; Mr. Haweis has himself suggested it for us further on in an apologetic kind of way, where he tells us that in the case of the child who "is never destined to reach even moderate excellence, even then its musical training has not been wholly lost, for it can, at least appreciate . . . others all the better for its own initiation." Even then--at least! What better reason do we want? Surely, the chief aim in teaching average pupils should be to help them to take an interest in good music, and to listen appreciatively whenever they get the chance of hearing it well performed, so that music may become a means of genuine culture to them, a real enrichment of life. It is true that very few can hope to arrive at such an appreciation of music as this implies through their own playing; but there are many girls who make but slow progress, and whose playing is not likely every to become such as musical people, accustomed to hear first-rate performances, would care to listen to, who yet may succeed eventually in playing fairly well some of the compositions of every great master--for all have written some quite easy music for the piano--and may so acquire a taste for the best music which will be a blessing to them all their lives. The formation of the taste is the main thing for teachers to think about. A taste for good music is to be imparted, if at all, by keeping pupils continually in contact with what is good; and it may be acquired by many through their own practice, even though their rendering of the music is very inadequate from the point of view of any one who is accustomed to hear really good performers. And though, Mr. Haweis thinks "the world is being driven mad with musical mediocrities" (I can well believe he has suffered much through them), it must not be forgotten that there are occasions on which the playing of the mediocrities may be very useful, even from the purely musical point of view, to others besides themselves. There are so many degrees of mediocrity, and there are hundreds of people, whose critical faculty has been but slightly developed, for whom the playing of mediocrities has much charm--if only parents would learn when not to call on their children to display their feeble powers.

I have myself taught the piano to a girl who had been learning for some years to little purpose, and whom I was inclined at first to advise to give up learning; yet when she was sixteen she seemed suddenly to wake up, and I remember she played one of the easier movements of Beethoven in a way which astonished me. Far more important, however, than the actual playing of the movement was the interest in music for its own sake which it indicated. A year or two before she wished to learn pieces of the flimsiest character, for the sake, I suppose, of making a little show with them.

There is probably no part of a girl's education in which the influence of parents has been exercised for evil to the same extent as in music. In order that music should take it proper place in education it must be treated with the same respect as other subjects. This can never be so long as parents value their children's performances chiefly as calculated to provide themselves and their friends with light amusement and to stimulate drawing-room small talk, or worse still, as a means of personal display. If they wish their children to be so educated as to become men and women of true culture--that is, capable of enjoying the highest pleasures that life can provide, and of helping to raise the mental and moral standard of their generation--they may be quite sure that music can be made one of the most powerful factors in education to that end for those who have any musical faculty at all. This question of a right treatment of music has a specially important bearing in relation to those children who, as often happens, are dull at the ordinary class subjects but have more or less musical talent. In their case it is perhaps the one subject through which the influence of thorough and systematic study can be brought to bear on the character.

In order that these good results may follow, parents must take care that their children learn music in the right spirit. They must not let them think that their chief aim in learning the piano should be to "have something to play when you are asked." Who would consider the chief object in learning English literature to be the recitation of a few pieces? or who would assume that because a girl recited a poem "nicely" she was being taught literature well? In teaching music, quite as much as in teaching literature, the main thing is to lay the foundation of a good taste, to awake an interest in the productions of the greatest masters. In dealing with literature we try to keep pupils as long as possible from contact with Miss Braddon and her kind; similarly, in dealing with music, if our object is music, and not personal display or clap-trap, we should do well to steer clear of Sydney Smith and his kind. Good music, even for the earliest stages of learning the piano, has been provided by means of simple arrangements of national melodies and of songs and tuneful subjects selected from the works of the great masters. The teacher's difficulty often is to keep pupils long enough interested in the tune-books; they think these short tunes so childish, and want to get on to "pieces." It is difficult to persuade them that the tunes will enable them to progress much more rapidly than the stupied "pieces," which are sometimes set in this early stage, filled out, as they are, with the most vapid padding in order to make them "pieces." Whenever this difficulty arises, I suspect the home influence to be at the bottom of it. How helpful to the teacher that influence might be, at this stage especially, if exercised in the right way! It is not only from the musical point of view that the tunes are far better than the "pieces" for beginners' their very shortness makes them valuable because of the frequent changes of key, time, &c., and the constant supply of fresh points which they provide. These things help on the cleverness both of the brain and of the fingers, and so enable children to become quick learners. Unfortunately, teachers themselves, when allowed to supply the music, have been known to foist "pieces" on their pupils, however bad for training purposes, for the sake of the profit made thereby. Such teachers are not often to be met with now, it is to be hoped. If there are still any such, it behooves parents to be on their guard against their pernicious tactics.

During the tune-book stage the pupil should be well drilled in simple mechanical exercises, so that the fingers may be prepared to attack soon the easiest compositions of the great masters themselves--for of course, every learner ought to aim at becoming a player; the more she has to play the better, when the right time arrives, provided she plays the right kind of music and plays it well; provided also she chooses fitting occasions for playing it. For a long time after the second stage gas been reached, the teacher should aim at making use of the compositions of only the great masters (with the addition, of course of the necessary mechanical exercises), as it is by means of them that the foundation of a sound, healthy taste can be most surely laid. Exceptions, no doubt, must be made occasionally. These compositions, moreover, ought to be set according to a systematic plan, so that pupils may gain some insight into the growth of different styles of music, and a power of discriminating between them, and may eventually, fi they become advanced players, realise the spirit of each style and play each with its appropriate expression. The good teacher will not be content with "coaching up" his successful pupils in a few pieces. He will aim at enabling them to rely on their own feeling in the matter of expression; at taking them over such an extent of ground that they may have a wide acquaintance with the compositions for their instrument, and a large stock from which to select for performance on any future occasion; at rendering them, by means of frequent change of work, capable of conquering new difficulties to the immediate object of always providing the pupil with "something to play," then the teaching cannot be good, however well the "something" may be played.

Typed by happi, Sept 2017