Christmas Meeting
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 20 Dec 1951, p. 145-157

MacMillan, Sir Ernest, Speaker
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Christmas meeting with Christmas music by The Schola Cantorum of St. Michael's Cathedral, Directed by Rt. Rev. J.E. Ronan. First, an address by Sir Ernest MacMillan speaking on music.
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20 Dec 1951
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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
Christmas Meeting
With Christmas Music by
Directed by Rt. Rev. J. E. Ronan
And An Address by
Conductor, Toronto Symphony Orchestra
Thursday, December 20th, 1951
CHAIRMAN: The President, Mr. D. H. Gibson.

MR. GIBSON: Monsignor Ronan and his Choir will be introduced by Mr. H. R. Jackman, Second Vice-President of The Empire Club of Canada.

MR. JACKMAN: It gives me pleasure to introduce to the Empire Club, Rev. Monsignor J. E. Ronan and the Boy Choristers. Particularly so because Monsignor Ronan and the Choristers are distinctly a Canadian product, and an Ontario product.

Monsignor Ronan was born in Simcoe County, then attended St. Michael's College, and for his musical education he subsequently attended the Conservatory of Music in Toronto; then Pius X School, New York; the Abbey Solesmes, France, and the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music at Rome.

I think it is particularly to his credit and to the credit of our province, that Monsignor Ronan, on his travels in Europe was greatly taken with the Cathedral Music which is so general in the capitals of the European countries, and while there he decided that we in Ontario should do something likewise, to create a choir of boys and to have Cathedral music which would be equal to any in the world, and shortly we are to hear and see the result of Monsignor Ronan's work.

I think that the existence of a Choir of such excellence as that of St. Michael's Choristers is an indication once again that Toronto is becoming the cultural centre of this Dominion. Already we have made notable contributions in various forms of culture, and perhaps we have not made any greater contribution than we have in the field of sacred music.

We are greatly indebted to those who devote their lives to the finer things of life, to the expression of our thoughts and feelings in music, and we now look forward to hearing from Monsignor Ronan and the Boy Choristers of St. Michaels.


MR. GIBSON: Before Rev. Father Ronan leaves, may I again express the gratitude of this assembly to you, Sir, and the boys of your Choir. It is something that will remain long with us, I know.

Mr. Sydney Hermant will introduce to us that great world figure, Sir Ernest MacMillan.

MR. HERMANT: Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen: At the outset may I congratulate you, Mr. President, and Mr. Ernest Miles, our Secretary, upon your achievement in having the notices for this splendid meeting received by the Members well in advance. I recall our unhappy experience of last year when these notices arrived a week or ten days following the date of the meeting. Perhaps, therefore, it is in keeping with the Chrsitmas spirit that you have accorded me this special pleasure today as a generous gesture of forgiveness.

Thirty-five years ago this Christmas our distinguished guest, Sir Ernest MacMillan, conducted a performance of the Gilbert & Sullivan Operetta, "The Mikado" in a German prison camp. Sir Ernest had been studying music in Paris and was visiting Germany to attend a Wagnerian Festival when War broke out. I have learned only at luncheon today that Sir Ernest had in fact arranged to meet our distinguished President, Mr. David Gibson, at that Festival but Mr. Gibson was fortunately detained in England and unable to keep what might have been a fouryear appointment. Sir Ernest was interned and remained throughout the War in a German prisoner-of-war Camp. During this period he organized and conducted a Camp Orchestra, and composed an eight-part choral work with full orchestral accompaniment based on Swinburn's Ode "England." Despite the title, the score passed the censors and the composition was sent to Oxford University and as a result Sir Ernest was awarded his Degree of Doctor of Music in absentia, the first time that this great University had ever conferred a Degree by mail. Sir Ernest was born in Mimico, Ontario, both of his parents having come to Canada from Scotland. He attended Rosedale Public School, and Jarvis Collegiate Institute, here in Toronto, and continued his education in Edinburgh, Scotland and Oxford University. Later he was a First-class Honours student in Modern History at the University of Toronto.

Sir Ernest enjoys a world wide reputation and has brought great honour to Canada and the Empire. In addition to being Principal of the Royal Conservatory of Music, at the University of Toronto, he has since 1931 been Conductor of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra which has become world famous. He is also permanent Conductor of the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir which is widely recognized as one of the finest of its kind on the Continent. Sir Ernest has been guest Conductor of famous orchestras in music centres throughout the world, and now at this Christmas meeting of The Empire Club of Canada we are to enjoy Sir Ernest MacMillan speaking on the subject "The Enjoyment of Music".

SIR ERNEST MACMILLAN: Thank you very much, Mr. Hermant, for your very kind introduction, and Mr. President, I am very flattered to be described as a "world figure". I am conscious of becoming a little more rotund as the years go on, but I don't know whether that has anything to do with it.

Speaking about the enjoyment of Music, I suppose everybody enjoys music in some shape or form. Even Samuel Johnson admitted that of all noises he found music the most agreeable. "Music", he said, "was a method of employing the mind without the labor of thinking at all, and with some applause to one's self." I am afraid the latter is very often true of musicians.

A psychologist or an expert in aesthetics could give you an analytical disquisition on the nature of musical enjoyment. I do not propose to do anything of the kind. Quite apart from my lack of qualifications, I feel that Christmastide calls for a more relaxed frame of mind, and I'm sure that Dr. Ronan and his choristers have encouraged us to accept music simply as a divine gift to humanity and as one of the indispensable ingredients of the Christmas season. However, I find that there are almost as many approaches to music as there are individuals, and it may be interesting to review a few typical cases so that each of us can see where he stands.

Music serves many purposes--it can be festive or religious; it can add an essential touch to a roistering evening; it can arouse warlike feelings; it can put baby to sleep. It is probably the oldest of the arts; it is an international -almost a universal, language.

At the present day I think we have probably too much music--of a sort--about us. Speaking personally, when I have occasion to eat a restaurant meal I go in search of a place where I can eat in comparative silence-at least where the only sounds are the clatter of dishes and the hum of conversation. And as for breakfast time, to expect a man to eat his breakfast to the sound of a crooner is like hitting him below the belt when his vitality is low. I don't want to hear music of any kind in a railway station, a public conveyance or a room where conversation is going on--anywhere, indeed, where there are already other noises. Background music rarely remains in the background of a musician's consciousness: if it is bad he resents the music; if it is good, he resents the other noises. I applaud the man who thought of installing silent records for juke-boxes so that one can at a trifling cost purchase immunity from the raucous sounds that normally issue therefrom. I don't know whether this precious privilege is universally available, for when I see a juke-box, I run. In fact, I like to take my music neat: I like to hear it when and where I can give it my full attention. In spite of Samuel Johnson, I think it bears thinking about, and paying attention to. When I do give it my attention, I expect it to be worthy of my attention, and when it is not, it makes me as uncomfortable as would a bad smell. In our necessarily noisy civilization, silence is too good a thing to be broken without justification.

In estimating anyone's enjoyment of music, great significance is found in what he selects and willingly pays to hear. A man is apt to value what he has to pay for, the same is true of a community and people are willing to pay according to their means for what they really want. When I say "pay" I am not thinking merely in terms of money but also in terms of time, effort and the sacrifice of personal comfort. Anyone who bundles himself into his outdoor clothes and forsakes the fireside and a comfortable chair on a blustery winter's night to go to a concert sacrifices a great deal more than the price of his ticket, and he naturally expects a reasonable reward for his efforts. Members of voluntary choirs make similar sacrifices to attend rehearsals; you would be amazed at the sacrifices they make sometimes, and nothing gives me greater pleasure than to be told by members of my choir how refreshing they find an evening of singing after a hard day at the office. On the whole I find that with a few exceptions the keenest and most intelligent listeners at concerts are those who have at some time or another made music for themselves: they may not have become very expert, but they have at least some insight into the problems of music making and, if they have been well taught, have made personal contact with some of the great composers. That is why I believe in teaching music even to children who show no great aptitude for it, unless they are dragooned into undergoing a dull routine, they will in later life come to appreciate their early experience.

Whatever motive brings a person to a concert: amusement, instruction, relaxation, or pure snobbery, he can hardly, once he is there, escape some influence from the music. That influence will be largely proportionate to his background of experience, plus his mental alertness to what is going on. People get from music, as from books, pictures and travel, pretty much what they bring to it. Yet it is surprising how opaque some people can be. I want to read you a letter written in 1835 from a young lady to a friend describing a performance of Beethoven's opera "Fidelio".

"Last night, my dearest Lucy, we were all seated in the pit of Drury Lane Theatre, seeing Fidelio, and it really is quite beyond description. If you could have but seen Malibran! We have been for the last week endeavouring to persuade Papa to take us, and at last, with great difficulty, he consented so far as to say, if the weather was fine we might go. Accordingly, Mama arranged with the different people of whom our party was composed, to meet at the Conservatory at Covent Garden as the clock struck six. Mama with her three daughters and youngest son arrived there first, then the William Callcotts with Helen Stuart; Mr. Harrison next appeared. He is a young man pupil of Uncle William's. I dare say Charlotte has told you about him in her letters. Then Mr. Browne, then Mr. Kem a friend of the Callcotts, then Mr. Klingemann, and then a pause of agony ensued, for Papa never appeared, and we could not go without him. Mama at last said we had better go on without him, and she would wait for him, and follow us; after a little talking we all set off, for it was then ten minutes after 6, and the doors were to open at half past six. K. took Mary, Mr. H. Fanny, Mr. Browne me and Mr. Kern Helen. When we reached the doors there was not much of a crowd and to our great joy, Mama and Papa joined us in a few minutes. We had to stand 20 minutes, which, you must allow, is a long time to be kept in suspense, when you are listening every moment for the doors to be opened; not that I apprehended, as Fanny did, a painful and ignominious death, but I only felt extremely excited as to our getting good seats. At last the doors were opened and in we went. Mr. Browne and I were both obliged to make a valiant resistance against some people behind us, and I received several severe thumps on my shoulders, but being highly excited, and feeling bold as a lion, I revenged myself by not giving way an inch to them, and after paying, and running round two or three passages, we at last found ourselves in the pit. Of course, being such a large party we could not all sit together. Fanny, Mr. Browne, myself, Mr. Harrison and Helen sat in the fourth bench from the orchestra, beautiful seats as you may imagine; behind us Mary and K., behind them Mr. Kem and Charles, and one or two benches behind them, our parents and the Callcotts; and now, my dear Lucy, all powers of description are at an end, for what pen could describe the endless beauties of Malibran's appearance, singing and acting? Though all the others' acting and singing was most wretched, she more than made up for them. I never enjoyed anything half so much, and unless at some future time of my life I again see her act in Fidelio, or some equally beautiful character with equally beautiful music, I never shall enjoy anything so much."

Well I wonder just how many auditors of that kind we have among us today, but I hope they are few. I am afraid, however, that far too many of our listeners are still much more interested in the performer than in the composer. Ideally the performance should be so good as to enable you to forget it and to come into direct contact with the music itself, but how rarely we attain that ideal!

Listening to music with genuine attention we develop preferences and form judgments; these in turn influence not only taste but character. Any music that an intelligent man or woman finds worthy of concentrated attention is educational.

Many people find it hard to enjoy music in its highest forms, which is only natural, because the great minds of the masters do not yield their innermost secrets on first acquaintance. If you have enjoyed at any time the privilege of friendship with people of mental distinction, you know that, although they may at first be difficult of access, their friendship is something to treasure; the association brings such rewards. Developing a taste for great music or great art of any kind simply means forming friendships with the great masters and, unlike personal friendships, these can be formed without your boring the great man himself or risking an impatient snub.

The genuine music lover is one who focusses his attention on the music itself rather than on such external pictures as it may suggest. I should like to say a word or two about what is called "programme' music--music, that is to say, associated with a literary or pictorial idea. Some people seem incapable of enjoying any music without some such associations and read their private interpretations into everything they hear. There is no harm in doing this if it helps their enjoyment--in fact, we all indulge in these imaginative flights at times--but when these personal impressions become public property they are apt to pin down the imagination to an interpretation never intended by the composer. We have no reason to suppose, for instance, that Beethoven associated his C# minor Piano Sonata with moonlight, nor that he gave the name "Emperor" to his Concerto in E-flat. When he did attach a title or a description to his music it was usually something of a general nature and, in the case of the "Pastoral" Symphony he was careful to add that the work was "more the expression of feeling than a painting" -as indeed almost all music is. But even an exceptionally realistic composer like Richard Strauss often showed himself reluctant to add anything to the titles of his tone-poems and gave detailed descriptions only under pressure.

I am personally always a little suspicious when I receive a new score with an elaborate programme attached: it may prove to be music that can stand on its own feet or it may actually need such a crutch. One may at the outset be intrigued by a literary description of the work, but if the music is hardy enough to survive the test of repeated hearings, the literary or pictorial associations recede into the background and the music interests us through its intrinsic qualities. Direct imitations of other sounds have indeed their place in even the greatest music, but that place is a subordinate one. It is a very naive approach indeed to look for imitative effects where they are not intended, or to think that interest so aroused will last for long. As Sir Hubert Parry once said: "Some people are prepared to think that the scale of C major is interesting if told that it represents a rivulet, though the chances are that they would not pay much attention to a rivulet if they saw one." A good deal of the so-called "Music appreciation" taught to children lays too great stress on programmatic descriptions; they have their place and undoubtedly help to arrest a child's attention, but they should be followed up by stressing the qualities of the music itself: its melodic, harmonic and rhythmic elements, and above all its design and shape.

A love of good music may be of slow growth, but with some people it begins with the suddenness of a religious conversion. Conversations with many whose musical conversion has taken place in adult years generally show that they have been suddenly struck by the greatness of some particular work or by the style of a great composer. From that point they have gone on to enlarge their experience of great works-and of small ones too, for the latter are then seen in proper perspective. In days gone by I have known people who almost ate their hearts out, because, having been uplifted by this or that symphony or sonata, they had no opportunity of hearing it again for an indefinite period--not, perhaps, until the experience had faded from their memories. Nowadays there is no need for this: nearly everything worth while has been recorded and for a moderate sum a music-lover can assemble a collection of his favourite works in recorded form and listen to them whenever he has a leisure hour or two. The tremendous increase of recent years in recordings of serious music shows, as perhaps does nothing else, that thousands have availed themselves of this privilege. The result has been a prodigious widening of the circle of intelligent listeners. To find a parallel to the influence of the gramophone one would almost have to go back to the invention of printing, although photography has proved scarcely less revolutionary. On the other hand, those who listen exclusively to mechanically reproduced music are apt to develop what one of our very intelligent radio engineers described to me as "tin ears"; like the art lovers who study the great painters in reproductions, they should welcome at least occasional opportunities of hearing or seeing the live original.

Up to now I have been dealing chiefly with the listener and have said little of the enjoyment of making music. To the professional musician such enjoyment is usually tempered by a certain anxiety and sense of responsibility. When through excessive routine he ceases to feel such responsibility, his performance is bound to suffer. Waiting behind the stage of Massey Hall one evening with the pianist Arthur Rubinstein, who was to play a concerto with us, I noticed that he was very much on edge and exceedingly nervous. I said: "Surely you, who probably play more before the public than anyone I know, can't still feel nervous." "Oh yes," he said, "every concert to me is a debut." And that is the right attitude: the excitement and even nervousness must be present or the performance will fall flat. However nerves must be controlled and a performer who, after a few experiences of the platform, still makes his audience uncomfortable--even sympathetically uncomfortable--is not likely to go far. To the musician, listening to music (especially unfamiliar music) is always a partially analytical processin fact one runs the risk of being too infrequently stirred emotionally. Mr. Georges Enesco told me once of the concertmaster of a certain orchestra in Paris who at the rehearsal gave every sign of being thoroughly bored and indifferent: this got so on Enesco's nerves that he stopped and asked the man why he adopted such an attitude: had he taken a dislike to the visiting conductor (Enesco himself)? O non, monsieur", was the reply: "Ce West rien de personnel; c'est que je deteste la musique". (Oh, no, it is nothing personal; it is just that I loath music). Music can indeed be an exacting mistress and serving her involves (as does any occupation) a certain amount of dull routine. Yet there is always at least the challenge to do one's best--and no one worth his salt can ever feel satisfied that he has met that challenge to the full.

And now just a word before I finish about amateur music making--something which I fear we are in danger of losing in this over-professionalized world. One's mind goes back to Elizabethan times, when dinner in many an English home was followed by the singing of madrigals; each performer, being expected to read his own part at sight from a copy which not only gave no indication of what the other voices were doing, but which, was not even held together with bar lines. There is a famous passage in Thomas Morley's "Plaine and Easie Introduction of Musick" which describes such an occasion:

"Supper being ended, and music bookes (according to the custome) being brought to the tables, the mistresse of the house presented me with a part, earnestly requesting me to sing. But when, after many excuses I protested unfainedly that I could not: every one began to wonder. Yea, some whispered to others, demanding how I was brought up."

Evidently it was considered an essential part of a gentleman's education to read music at sight. I wonder what would happen at a modern dinner table if the hostess made such demands on her guests! I wonder too in how many households the playing of chamber music is indulged in by family and guests? Chamber music is really home music and brings especial joy to the players, although it needs to be well done to bring equal joy to the listeners. I remember an illustration in an old number of "Punch" showing such a group, in which the cellist was evidently sawing away for dear life: "Piano", says the clerical looking leader of the group, "piano, Mr. Robinson: in fact that passage is marked pianissimo." "Piano be blowed!" cries the cellist, "I'm here to enjoy myself!" However, I need hardly say that playing or singing one's head off is not essential to enjoyment: in fact one great secret of enjoyment in such groups lies in the spirit of give and take. In this respect the playing or singing of chamber music is a good character builder. Let us hope that music is not lost to us as a hobby--that the piano is not altogether replaced in the home by the radio, gramophone and television set, valuable as they are.

All worthwhile study of music must have good music as its foundation. Poor music, like poor cloth, wears out quickly and brings us no nearer an understanding and deeply-ingrained love of the art. As we get to know fine music at first hand we will wish to know something about it; never before were more facilities offered to those with little or no technical knowledge of music-to study its structure, its history and its literature. Of late years more and more "musical guides" and similar popular works have been issued at low prices and it is a good sign that their sale, like that of recordings, has grown enormously of late years. But of course no amount of reading about music will take the place of music making or of attentive listening, by means of concerts, gramophone or radio.

Music is a pleasure and in no sense a duty except for the professional, but no one can fully enjoy that pleasure without bringing to it something of himself. You remember perhaps a phrase that Bernard Shaw used-I think it was in the scene given so brilliantly recently in Massey Hall, from MAN AND SUPERMAN,-one of the characters asked why man should have developed a brain. The reply was, Without a brain you would enjoy yourself without knowing it, and so miss all the fun. Music yields her secrets to those who approach her in the spirit of friendship and a due share of humility. A judicious mixture of music making and music taking will give the best results.

Thank you, Mr. President.

THANKS OF THE MEETING were expressed by Mr. John Griffin, Third Vice-President of The Empire Club of Canada.

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Christmas Meeting

Christmas meeting with Christmas music by The Schola Cantorum of St. Michael's Cathedral, Directed by Rt. Rev. J.E. Ronan. First, an address by Sir Ernest MacMillan speaking on music.