The Teaching of music

This article was written for the Sydney Morning Herald, and published on 2 July 1937. Huberman discusses the importance of amateur music education and the dangers of mechanized or recorded music.

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The Teaching Of Music

Warning to Parents
By Bronislaw Huberman,
The eminent Polish violinist,
At present in Sydney

Musical education generally and the choice of a musical career have suffered greatly from completely false suppositions and erroneous ideas. Probably the greatest mistake of all is the assumption by parents that a child’s reluctance to practise is sure evidence of a lack of talent.

I must confess myself that to me practising can be a terrible martyrdom, and I remember that even Beethoven and Weber hated practising, and had to be whipped to the piano. I still hate practising, as I have hated it all my life, but now, being an advanced musician in age and in musical maturity, I have the mental capacity to visualize the link between this martyrdom and the high aim of performing a composition as it should be performed. Every hour’s practise brings me nearer to my aim. But one cannot expect to find this logic, and the satisfaction that comes from it, in a child.

Influx Of Mediocrity

What then is left of the willingness to practise, the usual main criterion for musical talent? At the best, diligence, a sense of duty and obedience to the parents – practically the opposite of talent. The linking of practice is, therefore, not a question of gift, but of character. Perhaps this wrong conception explains the abundant influx of mediocrity into music. Although it may sound paradoxical, it can be said with some certainty, that many of the masters’ choice of a profession was more decidedly influenced by their fathers’ pedagogic judgment, or by their professional musical activities (this giving a clearer perception of the real musical values) than by their own creative genius. As examples, I may mention Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin, Weber, Rossini, Bizet, Brahms, Reger, Puccini, Johann Strauss, Busoni, d’Albert Lowe, Elgar, Pfitzner, and Korngold, whose fathers were all musicians, school teachers, and music teachers.

Save The Amateurs

Such were the conditions before the coming of mechanization. Through the ignorance of their parents, born musicians were kept away from, and untalented ones were forced into taking up music. But music was made in many homes with fingers of flesh and blood, but often also with the heart and mind. Today, you only press a button to satisfy your desire for home music. In consequence, many parents stop their children’s music lessons. Apart from the financial sacrifices, they realize the unnecessary drudgery for a child who, besides having ordinary home work, is urged to miserable practising for years, with a result, which even in the best case cannot compare with the ever-ready and easily obtained performance of a gramophone record or of a broadcast concert.

And there the parents are mistaken, as they have been since the creation of this world. The enjoyment of listening and that of reciting is about as different as that of seeing the fruit and eating it. Equally different is, of course, also the relationship between man and music, its influence on the formation of his soul and character. But only the few chosen artists, who have experienced the raptures and delights of a self-performed Beethoven quartet or a Bach fugue, know of the true revelation of music. Therefore, to these we address the urgent call to inculcate in their children an understanding of music by tuition at an early age, and not to be dismayed by the disinclination of the children or by the competition of mechanized substitutes.

Centres Of Music

Why has Vienna (and later on also Petrograd) always been the principal center of music. Because in these two towns, more than anywhere else, serious music was cultivated in the home, which is the only natural soil for art. This resulted in a subtle reactive ability of the music-loving public and in a striking number of geniuses given to music since childhood.

The conservation of amateurism on a high level is of the utmost importance for the propagation of the professional musician. In pearl fishing one pearl will be found out of a thousand shells, and likewise there is only one genius among a thousand students of music. To increase them is therefore in the interest of the “breeding” of musical geniuses. And “pearl fishing” among amateurs produces a surprising number of genuine pearls. This is particularly illustrated by the history of Russian music in the 19th century. Moussorgsky, Borodin, and Cesar Cui were musicians in their calling, but Government officials or officers by profession. Tschaikowsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Glinka, Skiabin, and Balakirew only in advanced years gave up their professions for music, which so far they had only practised as a subordinate occupation or as amateurs.

Compulsory In Schools

Music should be made compulsory in schools and a certain amount of musical knowledge and ability to play should be acquired by everybody. Just as languages are acquired for the expression of the mind, so music should be studied as a language for the expression of the soul. But we must have clear ideas why we wish children to study music and what we hope to achieve by that study.

Languages, for instance, are generally only taught from a broad educational point of view, as a medium for better understanding or appreciation of foreign literature, apart, perhaps, from the desire for easier communication abroad. Too often, however, those intent on music (or their parents), do not strive after deeper familiarity with the works of musical literature, or a deepening of their understanding for the great creations, and for the interpreters of this language of the soul. Most of them have only one aim – to recite. Otherwise they consider time spent on music wasted.

Naturally, this is quite as absurd as if all former pupils of primary, secondary, and public schools started attacking the community with lectures in and on foreign languages, geography, etc., or else gave up education altogether. The first aim in studying music must be an understanding of the vast literature of music and the full expression of one’s deepest feelings. All cannot hope to be among the greatest, just as all school children cannot hope to be outstanding authorities on the subjects they learn at school.

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