Music for children

While touring Melbourne, Australia, Huberman wrote an article published in the The Argus on Saturday 17 July 1937. He discusses music education and practise.

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Music for Children

Helpful Hints For Parents
By Bronislaw Huberman

In this article, written specially for “The Argus,” Mr. Huberman, the famous Polish violinist who is giving a series of concerts in Melbourne, confesses that when he was a boy practising was “often an absolute martyrdom” to him. Parents should remember, he says, that few children, even children who may have a capacity for musical genius, are fond of practising.

Erroneous ideas and false suppositions, especially on the part of parents, have wrought tremendous havoc to musical education in general, and to the choice of a musical career in many cases. Probably the greatest error of all is the parental belief that a child’s aversion to practise is a convincing proof of a lack of talent.

The willingness to practise is a question of character rather than of genius. It is directly due to diligence, obedience, or, possibly, a sense of duty; but estimable as those qualities undoubtedly are none of them is synonymous with genius.

When they were children, Beethoven and Weber had such a hatred of practising that they had to be dragged to the piano. To come nearer home, I candidly admit that when I was young practising was very often an absolute martyrdom to me. I cannot say even now that I honestly love practising. There is this difference, however: mental maturity makes me realize that every hour’s practise brings me nearer the goal of performing great works in the way that their composers meant them to be played. Such logic, of course, is beyond the mental capacity of a child, and that is why we should not expect children to display keen delight, or even satisfaction, in practising.

Fostering Mediocrity

In the same way that many parents believe that disinclination to practise stamps a child as non-musical so many other parents fondly imagine that docility regarding practising indicates great musical talent. This assumption accounts for the fact that many mediocrities have been pushed into the musical profession by overzealous parents who have influenced their children’s careers. As a result of his ignorance born musicians were kept out of the musical profession and untalented ones were forced into it.

These were the conditions that existed in the days when the music in the home had to be provided by the home fingers, in the days before the gramophone and the radio had usurped the function of the music-maker in the house. Nowadays, when by the twisting of a dial, music can be provided ad libitum for the home and its people, parents do not expect their children to supply the musical fare for the household. As a result, in many homes children are no longer receiving any tuition in music. And that is just where the great mistake is being made. The enjoyment of listening and that of self-performing is about as different as that of seeing the fruit and eating it.

Entirely Wrong Attitude

The entire attitude toward musical tuition has been wrong ever since the first music lesson in the world was given. Because a child “learnt music” the parents expected that the child should be ready to give a display of his talent (or lack of talent) whenever he was called upon to do so. In the eyes of the parents the only reason for studying music was to become a performer. This attitude is, of course, utterly wrong.

A child does not study history or geography for the specific purpose of entertaining his relatives and friends with recitations of historical or geographical data; nor does he study mathematics for the express purpose of dazzling his friends with his feats as a ready-reckoner. History, geography, mathematics, languages – all these are taught from a broad educational point of view. Music should be taught in precisely the same way – to give pupils an understanding of the vast literature of music, to help them to become appreciative listeners of beautiful music, and to experience for themselves the beauties of a self-performed work.

A Compulsory Subject

Music should be made a compulsory subject in schools, and children should be instructed in such a way that they learn to regard music as the expression of the soul. If the subject is taught intelligently then by degrees the love of serious music will become more widespread and many cities and towns will become centers of music.

The conservation of amateurism on a high level is of paramount importance for the propagation of the professional musician. Just as the ratio of pearls to oyster shells is one to a thousand – so also is there only one genius to each thousand music students. Therefore, it is to the interest of the musical profession to increase the number of students so that a larger number of “pearls” may be procured. The ranks of amateur musicians in the world have already supplied a surprisingly large number of “pearls” – Moussorgsky, Borodin, and Cesar Cui are a few examples, for all three were Government officers by profession. Rimsky-Korsakov, Tschaikowsky, Glinka, and Balakirew were amateur musicians for the greater part of their lives, and it was only when they were comparatively advanced in years that they gave up their other professions in favour of music.

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