Our Attitude Toward Music

Our Attitude Toward Music

Our monthly music column.

By H. A. MILLER, Professor of Music, Southern Missionary College

To become a professional musician requires considerable time, talent, and effort. Perhaps the general interest in music exceeds that of many other callings which also have their devotees who worship as faithfully at their chosen shrines as does the musician at his.

The music student frequently boasts of spend­ing six to ten hours a day at his instrument. He confines himself almost solely to that one pursuit, and a pursuit it really is, for he never arrives to his own satisfaction. Frequently he presents him­self with ashen cheek, hollow eye, and sunken chest; and this is so common as to cause us to question his musical ability without this condition as an accompaniment. The charge is made: Place him at his instrument, and he is master of it; take him away from his music bench, and he fears being consulted on anything foreign to his art.

He who flourishes a technique that permits him to delve into the masterpieces with grace and a degree of comfort, pays the price in sweat and blood. But should that not be held before the stu­dent as praiseworthy, to give himself devotedly to a task? Yes, by all means, but it should be determined whether or not the task be worthy.

Do you say, "What a strange statement to come from a professional musician. See him throwing stones at his own profession. See how he discour­ages painstaking effort in students of music?" Far from this. It is the all-absorbing interest in music that leads many who are somewhat gifted in the art to spend more time than is good for them. The bulk of their labor is given to mastering technical difficulties to the neglect of sufficient interest in the finer form of technique—musical feeling and interpretation.

Too many young people think they are studying music, when in reality they are merely studying an instrument. There is a vast difference between the two. There 'is also a danger that students may be led into thinking of music in terms of the sonata, the concerto, and the symphony. Some even feel apologetic if they should accidentally play a sinaller form, and to sing a gospel song is to lower one's artistic dignity. This attitude, sincere as it may be, is no different in some respects from that of the world. What a pity that musicians, both in the bud and in the ripened fruit, should feel uneasy in the presence of the smaller forms, and at home only where the larger forms exist ! As a matter of fact, not infrequently the heavy technical numbers display to the trained ear not only a lack of sufficient technical training but a definite ab­sence of interpretation.

Benedict, the musician, speaks of "one suppli­cant worshiper of Beethoven to whom no task was ever thought too heavy or severe that might to promote an interest in the works of this master.

He continues:

"The devotion was beautiful but disastrous. It allowed no thought for proportion; no alignment with even the larger designs of music. I very well remember his enormous and protracted labors in the performance of the 0 P1d,t ro6 Sonata. [Incidentally, this sonata is forty-six pages in length.] That monument of exalted despair kept him long and late at his instrument for weeks and months at a stretch. He would come from his hours of practice day after day literally worn out, dull of eye. shrunken in spirit, wan and weak, and sad and de­pressed as from a death chamber. And there was never any end, and he knew there would be none, to his toil.

"No joy that I could perceive, and no benefit, ever came from the overhanging gloom of this mighty crea­tion. Only once to my knowledge did he come before an audience with this work, and then it was listened to, for the most part, uncomprehendingly and with only cold respect. For the rest of the time he played it only to himself. Much of the physical force and mental en­ergy of this man went into this one work. It takes an able man, in some ways an extraordinary man, to play. the Opus 106 Sonata. In any case the man must yield to the Sonata."

From this sensible author much more might be quoted which would likely stir up our musical friends to offer what seems to them good proof of the old classic idea that musicians, to become real musicians, must conquer enormous works of great complexity by the great composers, regard­less of effort. But music is great only in propor­tion to the degree of greatness it awakens within our own souls.

Beethoven played his own compositions in pub­lic so poorly that had he not been the great com­poser himself, the audience would not have stayed to listen to him. He did not care to spend the time and concentrated effort necessary to properly perform his own creations. The technique his own compositions demanded was a bore to him.

Could not the following quotations from the Testimonies have some significance? "Music, when not abused, is a great blessing; but when put to a wrong use, it is a terrible curse." "Music is the idol which many professed Sabbathkeeping Christians worship."—Volume I, pp. 497, 506.

 

We should be unwise to "accept art wholeheart­edly for what it is, with no concern for Its various reactions." The place which music should occupy in the Lord's work and the type of musical effi­ciency required should be well understood, with the determination to reach for the most effective use of the art in this closing work. Anything short of this, though labeled as "high artistic standards," apes the world and is a misfit to the original plan which led to the establishment of our own schools.

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By H. A. MILLER, Professor of Music, Southern Missionary College

October 1945

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