Music And Art For The Child
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
WE are all convinced that there should be music in the home; witness the piano, or at least the parlor organ, in almost every house in the land. But it is not every parent who has an intelligent appreciation of the place music should hold; it may be a bane quite as well as a blessing, a tyrant as often as a friend.
Piano-Lessons as Drudgery.- Happily the time has gone by when every little girl must take piano-lessons, and toil over scales through weary hours, regardless of sunshine and bird-song. How many of us who have passed through those memorable periods of distress recall the expedients to which we were driven to shorten them. A group of women confessed recently their misdeeds on this score. One had moved the hands of the clock until her mother was forced to buy an hour-glass; this baffled the small sinner for a time, but she soon learned that after the sand had dropped through for a little while the glass could be reversed and the time shortened by half. Another woman said that, when a child of seven, she was so driven to desperation by the demands of her music-teacher that she actually prepared a penknife with which to stab him should he give her any more five-finger exercises. One story followed another, all going to prove that where one child loved its practising, nine hated it.
Music should be Loved, not Hated.-Children naturally love to strum on the piano from curiosity; some easily learn to pick out a tune with one finger, beyond that, only a few really love music well enough to bear its drudgery cheerfully. Yet all boys, as well as girls, should be able to read notes both for the voice and for the fingers; and so much, doubtless, they will learn in school. If possible, they should learn to play, more or less, enough eventually to accompany a singer or read a hymn at sight. But it should be made as easy as possible; practise-time should be short, never over half an hour a day when the child is under twelve, and this divided into two periods. The real foundations of a musical education on any instrument, the endless routine of scales and exercises, should not be insisted upon where there is a genuine hatred for them, for in the end it will be found that there is nothing gained by the trouble taken. By all means cultivate a talent, only be sure there is a talent to be cultivated. Unless one is prepared to make a life-work of it, he cannot be a thorough musician. Music is some-times worth paying a large price for, but not always. Especially it is not right that a whole family be deprived of luxuries or even enjoyments that one member, merely, may be accomplished. A parent should try to gauge his child's abilities, tastes, and prospects, before starting him upon a musical education. A girl sometimes spends a large part of ten or fifteen years studying the piano or violin, and then on marrying gives up her music because of lack of time to practise. It would have been wiser to give her a broader mental training, opportunities for travel, and more leisure for the study of household economics.
On the other hand, a small amount of instrumental music may be a delight to a family circle, especially where several instruments are used. A boy can easily learn to play a banjo or guitar to his great enjoyment; these with the piano, and if possible the violin, a mother will find a great help as she tries to make her children happy at home.
All Should Learn to Sing.-The normal child always loves to sing. It begins almost as soon as it can talk, its little voice often carrying a tune with astonishing accuracy. As it grows its repertoire increases, until, when ten years old, it may easily know from fifty to a hundred songs. A mother should develop this taste, gathering the children about the piano and singing with them. A good collection of famous songs should be purchased, and those national airs learned which are always valuable. The Scotch ballads, such as "Robin Adair," "My Heart's in the Highlands," and "Annie Laurie"; the English and Irish songs, "Gayly the Troubadour," "The Brave Old Oak," "Kathleen Mavourneen"; the German "Lorelei" and "The Watch on the Rhine"; the French "Marseillaise," and our own patriotic airs-should all be familiar, as well as the many beautiful Christmas songs, and the stately hymns of the ages.
General Culture in Music.-Children should learn to under-stand and appreciate music as a part of their general education. In a city there are always afternoon concerts to be attended in the winter months, especially those of fine orchestral music intended for children. The life-story of each of the great composers should be known, the numbers on the programme explained as far as possible, the motif made clear, and the child's ear taught to follow the different instruments. Children love such music, and will listen delightedly to a performance that is wholly classic.
Where such concerts are beyond reach, a mother should try in some way to provide a substitute for them. Even in country places amateur recitals can be arranged with little trouble. It is a duty we owe our children to give them an intelligent knowledge of the great composers and their works.
Educational Value of Drawing.-As every girl was once expected to play the piano, so ability to copy landscapes in oil or paint flowers in water-color, was considered imperative. We understand to-day that it is the training of the eye and hand that is essential, not the mere production of pictures. Every child is trained in colors and their values in the kindergarten, and in our public schools drawing is correctly taught. The children have cubes and cylinders, flowers and vegetables, and plaster casts, given them to copy, and all this is most helpful, but the parents' interest in the child's drawings is necessary. A frame and mat of medium size with a movable back may be prepared easily, and into this the sketches may be slipped which a child makes at school, each one in turn giving place to a better. Of course no mother will be so unwise as to hang up these little pictures on the parlor wall for the eyes of callers; the child's own room, or better still, the mother's, is where they belong. Appreciation, not compliment, is to be desired.
Sketching from nature in the summer vacation is interesting, and will be a real source of advancement if a child has any aptitude whatever. Unlike the study of music, there need be little or no tedious monotony about drawing. But the same course may be pursued as has just been suggested-lay the foundations well, let the child advance for a time, and then decide whether a special talent calls for a special training. One can do better things in this world than to paint crudely on china or caricature nature. If one is born an artist, let him "thank God and take courage." If not, let him be content to work in other fields.
Appreciation of Art.-But there is a general training in artistic appreciation quite apart from production, and for this a child needs artistic surroundings. If one is brought up in a house filled with gaudy furniture, poor pictures, and tasteless ornaments, it is doubtful whether years will eradicate all the mistaken ideas such things will give. It is not necessary that a home be luxurious to be artistic; good taste is needed rather than a large outlay of money. Furniture should be rather simple, colors harmonious, and ornaments refined, to produce a beautiful whole. Especially the pictures should be good. Fine photographs of cathedrals, or statues or landscapes, are infinitely better than colored prints or crayon portraits or cheap woodcuts. One of the most valuable rooms in the house is the attic, where, as our tastes develop, those things that we have outgrown may be put out of our sight. Every house-keeper at intervals should weed her collection of pictures; if she cannot always put good things in the place of bad, at least the bad may disappear. The same principles hold true in buying books for children. It is not necessary that they should be illustrated, but if they are, the illustrations should be artistic.
In every large city there are art-galleries of greater or less worth, but in all there are some good pictures; take the child to see these if possible. It is surprising how readily it will recognize the truth of a reproduction, and with a little instruction will learn also to know something of artistic values. Our public schools do us service in hanging upon their walls copies of good pictures.
There is a danger in all this against which we should guard our children. The emphasis should not be placed upon music and art to the exclusion of other things. There is a demand in the world for the practical man and woman, and to overtrain a child on the ornamental side of his nature is to unfit him to cope with life's chief problems.