Ideals of Music in the New World
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The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 1 May 1947, p. 349-359
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Erskine, John, Speaker
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Text
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Speeches
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First, a performance by Glen Gould. Congratulations to the Toronto Conservatory on its 60th birthday. Ties with the Juilliard School of Music in New York through Edward Johnson. Music education in the new world. The problem of the arts in this continent as somewhat different from anything the old world ever had to face. The need to do better in the spread of the love and appreciation of good music and how that is vital to our influence in the world. An historical perspective on who was and was not educated, in music or otherwise. Old and new attitudes to teaching music. How music was taught, how we teach it now, how we might teach it. Suggesting a parallel between the teaching of our own tongue in the elementary schools, and in the high schools and universities, and the complete teaching of music as an art. Facing other ideologies in the conflict of civilization. The influence of Russia in the arts prodigious. The importance of musical schools in Russia and Poland. The next fifty years to be a period of immense advance in the best and most thorough kind of education in art. The speaker's hope that he will see the arts in his country reach the conditions of baseball, and what that means. The need for our pupils to perform, listen, and compose. Some comments on the new music, and the importance of composing new music. The need for music to play to the Russians that explains to them why we love our country. The nature of creative effort. Expressing our ideals. The importance of training everybody to be a musician. A challenge from the speaker to the Toronto Conservatory to see who will be the first, them or those at the Juilliard School, to train their pupils to compose their own music, music to express Canada or the United States.
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1 May 1947
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English
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The speeches are free of charge but please note that the Empire Club of Canada retains copyright. Neither the speeches themselves nor any part of their content may be used for any purpose other than personal interest or research without the explicit permission of the Empire Club of Canada.
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Full Text
IDEALS OF MUSIC IN THE NEW WORLD
AN ADDRESS BY MR. JOHN ERSKINE
Chairman: The President, Major F. L. Clouse
Thursday, May 1, 1947

MAJOR CLOUSE: Mr. Prime Minister, Honored Guests, Members of the Empire Club of Canada and our listening audience: The Empire Club of Canada is privileged today to do honour to the Toronto Conservatory of Music during its Diamond Jubilee Celebration Week. For sixty years the Toronto Conservatory of Music has been the source and inspiration of much of the musical life of Canada and in its students the world of music has first been opened to the minds of children, men and women. Toronto is proud of the recognition received by both the men and women of the Faculty and the brilliant students of the Conservatory.

Frequently in the past the Toronto Conservatory of Music has assisted us in providing special programs, particularly at the Christmas season and we still remember with pleasure the Christmas message of Mr. Mazzoleni and the St. Mary Magdelene Choir conducted by Dr. Willan.

The Empire Club is indebted to Past-President W. E. Humphreys, who is also a member of the Board of Directors of the Toronto Conservatory of Music, for our program arrangements.

I now wish to introduce to you Glenn Gould, Artist Pupil of Alberto Guerrero, who was awarded the Toronto Conservatory of Music Gold Medal for the highest marks in Canada in the A.T.C.M. examination. He has also won several scholarships at both the Conservatory of Music and at the Kiwanis Festivals and has displayed unusual maturity in his interpretations of the works of the Great Masters-both on the piano and organ, studying the latter instrument with Frederick Silvestor.

Glen Gould will now play for your enjoyment a Chopin Waltz and Mendelsshons "Rondo Capriccioso".

And now, Ladies and Gentlemen, it is my happy privilege to introduce our Guest of Honor--Mr. John Erskine, Member of the Executive Committee of the Metropolitan Opera Association and Chairman of the Board of Directors of the famous Juilliard Musical Foundation of New York, of which he was President for nine years.

Our Guest of Honour is also an accomplished pianist, having studied with Carl Walter and Ernest Hutcheson and has appeared as guest artist with the New York Symphony Orchestra and the Orchestras of Chicago, Baltimore and other American Cities; also studying composition and orchestration with Edward MacDowell.

Our Guest was Professor of English at Columbia University for 21 years and is now Professor-Emeritus.

But, possibly, our guest of honour is better known to many as an author of international reputation and you will readily recall some of his books:--"The Enchanted Garden"; "Forget If You Can"; "The Private Life of Helen of Troy" and "Solomon My Son" and many others.

Mr. John Erskine will assist us in honouring the largest school of music in the British Empire and the subject of his address will be "IDEALS OF MUSIC IN THE NEW WORLD".

JOHN ERSKINE: Mr. President, Mr. Prime Minister, Honoured Guests and Members of the Empire Club of Canada: It is a special pleasure to offer my congratulations to the Toronto Conservatory on its 60th birthday. The Conservatory has just demonstrated its youthfulness, and its maturity, in the beautiful playing of Glen Gould.

I bring the warm good wishes of the Juilliard School of Music in New York. We have very pleasant ties with you. Edward Johnson, a long-valued friend and member of our Board is the Chairman of yours. In our day few men have done more for music education and for the promotion of good music in America, and few understand more clearly in what respect music education in the new world, in your country and in mine, must differ from traditional music teaching in the old.

I chose this subject because I know that your faculty are aware that the problem of the arts in this continent is somewhat different from anything the old world ever had to face. We must do better in the spread of the love and appreciation of good music than any country ever tried before. It is vital to us. It is vital to our influence in the world that is no corner of your land, and in no corner of mine, any talent should fail of a fair education and a fair chance.

I have in mind not merely the supreme geniuses. It is one of the pleasantest persuasions of democracy that even those of us who are not quite geniuses have our rights, and especially the right to education. In the old world it was considered enough to teach geniuses, and musical genius, as you know, was expected to occur only in the male sex. If it showed itself in a girl the family might encourage the caprice of nature, but with certain reservations. If your daughter had an irrepressible urge to walk the tight rope in the circus, you salvaged what you could by insisting that her public performances should be under an assumed name, preferably a foreign one. Likewise, if her urge was to perform on the piano, she could, of course, keep her own name, so long as she demonstrated the purity of her life by playing as only an amateur can. If she had a voice there was less hope for her, especially if the voice happened to be a good one. She might even become an opera singer, and her folks might fear to learn how she spent her time when she wasn't singing, especially if she took a name which prepared them for the worst.

I admit I am not being entirely just in this account of music--in the old world. But I count on you to recognize the truth in what I have said, as well as the slight exaggeration.

There was a time when cultured Europeans believed that a serious and complete musical education should be almost exclusively the privilege of genius. It was in the new world, our world, that music first became recognized as a language, the most eloquent and subtle language ever employed by man to bridge the silence between soul and soul. The old world was accustomed to speak of music as the universal language, but in musical education the old world never acted on the logical implications of what it said. Genius is trained in vain to utter itself in a universal tongue, unless the audience is trained at the same time to listen. How can you communicate with me in any language unless I understand what you say?

During the First World War the American army accepted many boys from mountains and plains who could ride hard and shoot straight, but could not read or write. Compulsory and intensive study cured these cases of illiteracy in short order. I saw it done. At the end of the course the boys wrote their own diploma. Each sent a letter home to his mother or his wife--who presumably couldn't read. No doubt they prized the letters and wondered what they contained. When their men came home, perhaps they found out.

Are we training performers in exactly the same way, leaving the audiences temporarily unaided in their raw condition? They may be pleased to hear their children play or sing when we get through with them, but will they know what it is all about? Must they wait for the children, like the returning soldiers, to tell them what the letter contained?

Don't think I am about to plead for more of what is called music appreciation. We have scattered this unfortunate handicap to culture in most of the schools in the United States. Music appreciation of this kind trains boys and girls to have the right opinion about a piece of music, if they should hear it and should happen to recognize it.

We teach literature in the same way. It is a satisfaction, of course, to know that boys and girls, having enjoyed our instruction, will also remember that Ben Jonson was a different person from Samuel Johnson, that they lived in different countries and didn't write exactly in the same way.

Of course, that saves us embarrassment at the dinner table among strangers. And perhaps it is a good thing for people who take courses in music appreciation to know when Brahms wrote and whether he came a little before Beethoven or a little after him. Maybe that is good. But I am getting too old to be patient with it. It isn't the real thing. It is cultural humbug. Unfortunately it is easy and comparatively cheap.

What I think we must undertake instead is difficult, but it's our opportunity. We teach our best children to perform. We try not to let any geniuses escape. But there are men and women in this world who are not geniuses in music, yet they have something to say, according to their ability, if the ability is trained and if all of us know the language of music. It can be learned like any other language, through use. There are exercises in reading and writing.

There may be no wonderful creations in literature in the elementary classes, and yet the children cannot write at all unless they can express their own ideas in some characteristic way, and read and understand the ideas of people more mature than they?

I am attempting to suggest a parallel between the teaching of our own tongue in the elementary schools, and in the high schools and universities, and the complete teaching of music as an art. If we know the grammar, if we know how to pronounce it and speak it, if we know how to express ourselves in it, and if we are accustomed to put our best hopes and thought in it, then our grasp of the language of music will be complete.

In the conflict of civilization we are facing other ideologies than our own. The influence of Russia in the arts has been prodigious, and it will be. Many Russians have still to learn to read and write their own language, but they have this larger language, it seems almost directly from nature, and in it they have spoken to the other countries of the world for a long time, and we have honoured them for their enormous talent in music, in literature, in the theatre, in the drama, the opera, and in the dance.

It won't do to say we are not interested in those subjects. The world is influenced by them, and the Russians are using their gifts now to influence the world. They are respected in South America and elsewhere, as I happen to know, not because South Americans naturally care for their economic system, but because in the realm of art they are overwhelming. They have the international language. And when we go down there, many of us can't even speak Spanish, which compared to music is a limited language.

I once asked Mr. Paderewski how he explained the musical gifts of his country, Poland, and of Russia. I said, "Has nature decreed that a child born in those countries should always excel in music?"

He answered, "Nonsense! Poland owes its music to the conservatories founded at the end of the 18th century, in time to bring together some great teachers, some of whom taught Chopin."

He added, "I think Russia owes practically everything in music to the Rubinstein brothers, Anton and Nicholas. Without great music schools," he went on, "I don't know how you can ever have a musical people. Man is the kind of animal that doesn't educate himself automatically. Somebody has to take him by the back of the neck."

In your country and mine we are quite ready to take ourselves by the back of the neck, and I came here today to say that it's time we did so.

We let some nice man, some generous--hearted lady go on our orchestra board or be a director of our symphony. It wouldn't hurt a bit if they knew a little more about music. Be we are risking much in the hands of people whom we have not yet adequately prepared. It is not their fault.

Our friend, Edward Johnson, gathers white hairs educating us from day to day, and week to week. That is how it has to be done, but it is not the right way. It is too much the way we educate Congressmen.

The next fifty years must be for you and for us a period of immense advance in the best and most thorough kind of education in art. At present we educate the talented, part of the time as performers and the rest of the time as audience. We insist that the performer shall know the idioms and the grammar of his language, and that he must listen to other performers. One day the youngsters are playing and the next day they are listening. If we had a large enough class listening, we could bring on the audience faster. But it wouldn't be enough to have them listen.

I say, whenever I speak to people who won't misunderstand me--I don't believe you will--that I should like to see the arts in my country reach the condition of baseball. I won't say football-I mean American football. In football we have cheer leaders. So few Americans have played football that they wouldn't be sure when to cheer if they didn't get the signal. In baseball we have no cheer leaders. The cheer leader couldn't leap to his feet fast enough to meet the audience. Every boy and man in the stands has played baseball, no matter how clumsily, and a great many of the girls. They never took a course in baseball appreciation.

If all of the audience, all of every audience, has tried to play the pieces they hear played, you know the delight is a thousand-fold greater. They know the language, they know what is being said.

And that result isn't impossible. We have music in our public schools, but we must persuade all our schools, colleges and conservatories that the boys and girls who love music but don't care for it as a profession, or perhaps should not try to follow it as a profession, still have a duty as citizens to know the language and what is said in it by the new composers as well as the old.

Here comes a rather hard point. We don't know a language until we can talk in it and write in it. Our pupils should perform and listen-and also compose.

I heard a magnificent concert last night, as most of you did. We paid honour to lovely music expressed in another time than ours. It wasn't Canadian music. It was very good Canadian singing and wonderful Canadian playing. I am sure the day will come when your great Conservatory will occasionally stage a concert like that, with your orchestra, which is trained in your conservatory, and your singers, most of them trained in your conservatory, all performing the work of some of your pupils. This complete result must come for your country and mine, if we are to grow up.

Russia is right. Mr. Stalin is right in insisting that if their young people believe in what they are doing, they must be able to say it in music. They are saying it in music. It sounds to me like the devil, but they say it for all their people, who seem to understand that language. Don't laugh at them! They are ahead of us so long as they express themselves sincerely and understand what they are saying.

Where shall we turn for the great orchestral works which express your love of your country, or express the love of my people for our country? We haven't yet grown up on that side.

You may ask, "Haven't we music enough? Europe has been composing it for some time, and it is awfully good. Why shouldn't we leave well enough alone?"

There are profound reasons why we neither should nor can. Europe in various great creative moments expressed the soul of Europe. But Beethoven and Chopin never expressed the soul of Canada nor of the United States. They couldn't.

If we are to be confined to playing, year after year and for a hundred years and a thousand years, nothing but the immortal self-expressions of Europe, then we are dedicating ourselves to be nothing but phonograph records, and really not the best phonograph records at that. We have no career for our youngsters, no real career, unless there is something they need to say for themselves and for us.

There is another reason why we can't sit still. You know better than I that the most vocal minds of Europe in music just now don't admire their old masterpieces. They are telling the rest of the world that they are tired of the classics. They have loved them a long time, but their affection has died out. They want us to accept their synthetic inventions and experiments, produced at this moment of Europe's greatest fatigue.

I insist for myself--you can agree with me or not-that a good deal of this new music which young people from Europe say is a great improvement, largely because it is not at all like the older music-I insist for myself it is not a music that expresses the heart. I don't believe it expresses the real heart and soul of Europe today. At any rate, I am quite sure it doesn't express my heart, and I hope it doesn't express my soul.

We could survive these years of peace which are ahead, difficult years, perhaps--we never could have survived the war--if in the new world there hadn't been much to love and have faith in. Some of this will get into books. But is it going to be stated in music as Chopin once stated his love of Poland? You and I and most people who like the arts have learned more good things about Poland listening to Chopin's music than from all the books we ever read about that country. And what music can we play to the Russians now to explain to them why we love our country? We haven't such music yet. Let us hurry up and write it. Get going! We need it and we need it for our own souls!

You know, as we grow older, we all discover that by trying to say what we really mean, as at desperate moments we are compelled to do, we learn more clearly what we do mean, and our reasons for saying it. With our back against the wall we sometimes are forced to see life clearly and make a very illuminating report of it.

All creative effort is just that. The composer clarifies our world for us. If we hear the music and feel that it speaks for us, we are likely to learn something about ourselves.

If we believe in our own way of life, we must be sure our ideals are expressed. We give considerable thought to re-educating Germany. I should be much more confident about that experiment if I were sure we knew where we might spread or enrich the idea of democracy at home. That in our wonderful countries there should be hundreds of thousands of men and women with a natural love of beauty, who are left in fundamental ignorance of the fine arts, is disturbing.

We expect the faculty of our music schools to know something about music. But the day will come when we shall expect the nonprofessional men and women who generously give their time to musical and other ventures, opera and philharmonic societies-we shall expect them also to know music. I suspect that all the philharmonic audiences you have ever met, if you asked them how the conductor gets an orchestra going at the beginning of the music, would admit they don't know. That is his language? Why his alone

I am saying that we should train everybody to be a musician. I believe the number of talents in our hemisphere justifies the effort. If some of us fear the effort is a mistake, if we see danger in training so many musicians, then we are slipping back into the European point of view. We are saying again that only a genius should have a chance, and we hope there won't be too many geniuses.

We forget something. In more primitive society in all parts of the world, men used to earn a living by writing letters for their neighbors. When schools in the new world began to teach everybody to read and write, the professional letter writers saw starvation staring them in the face. Nothing seemed more unfair to them than the destruction of their profession, yet somehow they did not starve. They found that their ability to spell and use a pen could be profitably employed in other ways than letter-writing.

I believe that when we are all educated in the universal language of music we shall find new ways to use that knowledge, ways which will not interfere with the profession of any one else.

The biggest asset we have in the new world is a new unweary point of view. The pioneers who came first were courageous and creative. It took courage to come out here and begin with the wilderness. Nowadays many more wish to come, but not because they are courageous. It takes courage now to stay at home in the old world. They are looking for rest and a haven, and we can't blame them.

I think we ought to let them all come over, but I'd like to keep out their mood of defeat and weariness. We have plenty of room-but only for the courageous.

Let me challenge you of the Conservatory to be more courageous than we. Lt's have a race. Will you at the Conservatory, or we at the Julliard School, be the first to train our pupils to compose their own music, music to express Canada or the United States? When I come again, as I hope to, make me confess in your presence that you are further ahead than we are.

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Ideals of Music in the New World


First, a performance by Glen Gould. Congratulations to the Toronto Conservatory on its 60th birthday. Ties with the Juilliard School of Music in New York through Edward Johnson. Music education in the new world. The problem of the arts in this continent as somewhat different from anything the old world ever had to face. The need to do better in the spread of the love and appreciation of good music and how that is vital to our influence in the world. An historical perspective on who was and was not educated, in music or otherwise. Old and new attitudes to teaching music. How music was taught, how we teach it now, how we might teach it. Suggesting a parallel between the teaching of our own tongue in the elementary schools, and in the high schools and universities, and the complete teaching of music as an art. Facing other ideologies in the conflict of civilization. The influence of Russia in the arts prodigious. The importance of musical schools in Russia and Poland. The next fifty years to be a period of immense advance in the best and most thorough kind of education in art. The speaker's hope that he will see the arts in his country reach the conditions of baseball, and what that means. The need for our pupils to perform, listen, and compose. Some comments on the new music, and the importance of composing new music. The need for music to play to the Russians that explains to them why we love our country. The nature of creative effort. Expressing our ideals. The importance of training everybody to be a musician. A challenge from the speaker to the Toronto Conservatory to see who will be the first, them or those at the Juilliard School, to train their pupils to compose their own music, music to express Canada or the United States.