Sisterly Discourse with John's Wife Concerning John,
The Family Purse,
The Parable of the Rich Woman and the Farmer's Wife,
Little Things that are Trifles,
A Mistake on John's Part,
Must-haves and May-bes,
What Good Will It Do?
Shall I Pass It On?
"Only Her Nerves,"
The Rule of Two,
The Perfect Work of Patience,
According to His Folly,
Is Marriage Reformatory?
And Other Relations-in-Law,
A Timid Word for the Step-mother,
Children as Helpers,
Children as Burden-bearers,
Our Young Person,
Getting Along in Years,
The Gospel of Conventionalities,
Familiar, or Intimate?
Cheerfulness as a Christian Duty,
The Family Invalid,
A Temperance Talk,
A Parting Word for Boy,
Homely, But Important,
Our grandfathers and our grandmothers were drilled in vocal music in the church or neighboring singing-school. In that day--and for twenty-five years later--almost every household possessed and made frequent use of the Boston Academy, the Carmina Sacra, the Shawm and other collections of vocal music adapted for the use of societies and churches. Nearly everybody sang by note, and she was dull of ear or wits who could not bear her part at sight in any simple church tune. The pianoforte took the place of our grandmother's spinet and harpsichord, and every girl in every family was taught to play upon it after a fashion. She who had not taste or talent for music gave it up after her marriage. In this particular she was no more derelict than the "performer" of our times, whose florid flourish of classic music costs thousands where her grandmother's strumming cost hundreds.
The musical education of the girl of that period hardly deserved the name. The national ear for music, like the national eye for painting and sculpture, has made marvelous progress in fifty years. The singing school has gone to the wall along with the volunteer choir and the notion that every boy and girl can and ought to sing. Once in several whiles you find a "music-mad family," of which every member plays upon some instrument and studies music with expensive professors. Or one child displays what relatives rate as musical genius, and is educated to the full extent of the parent's ability. This done, the proficient becomes, in his or her own opinion, a privileged prodigy. Critical from the outset of his musical career, he grows intolerant of amateur work and disdainful of such compositions as the (musically) unlearned delight to honor.
"Don't you suppose," said the late Mrs. Barrow (the dearly-beloved "Aunt Fanny" of a host of little ones) to me at an evening musicale, "that seven out of ten professed disciples of the Wagner cult here present would, if they dared be unfashionable and honest, ask for music that has a tune in it rather than that movement in something flat or sharp to which they have seemed to give breathless attention for the last fifteen minutes?"
"A tune in it!" repeated a bystander in intense amusement. "Dear Mrs. Barrow, tunes are musical tricks, not true art."
This dogma, and others like unto it, are putting all our music-making into the hands of professional artists and hushing the voice of song and gladness in our homes. The one musician of the household is accredited with perfect taste and unerring judgment, and usually becomes a nuisance to his circle of acquaintances. He shudders at a false note; the woman who sings sharp is an agony, the man who flats is an anguish, and the mistakes of both are resented as personal affronts.
I know one girl (I wish I could stop at the singular number) who cannot enjoy going to her own church because the choir does not come up to her standard of perfection. She never sings in church herself. To mingle her voice with the tide of thanksgiving and praise would be like the crystal flash of the arrowy Rhone into the muddy Arve. She sets her teeth while ignorant and unfeeling neighbors join in the service of song, and confides on her way out of church to anybody who will listen to her that she really thinks it a misfortune to have as fine and true an ear as her own so long as people who do not know the first principle of music will persist in trying to sing. She has many companions in the persuasion that this part of the worship of the sanctuary should be left altogether to a trained and well-salaried choir. In the family honored by her residence there is no home music except of her making. There are, moreover, so many contingencies that may deprive her expected audience of the rich privilege of hearkening to the high emprise of her fingers and voice, that the chances are oftentimes perilously in favor of her dying with all her music in her.
Shall I ever forget, or rally from, the compassionate patronage with which she, a week agone, met my petition for
"When sparrows build and the leaves break forth?"
"I never sing ballad music," she said, loftily. "Indeed I could not do myself justice in anything this evening. I make it a matter of conscience not to attempt a note unless I am in perfect tune throughout--mentally, spiritually and physically. I should consider it an offence against the noblest of arts were I to sing just because somebody wishes to hear me."
This is not entirely affectation. The tendency of her art-education has been to make her disdainfully hypercritical. It has not awakened the spirit of the true artist, who is quick to detect whatever promises excellence and encourages the tyro to make the best of his little talent.
With all our newly-born enthusiasm for German composers, we have not taken lessons from the German people in this matter of home music. We do not even ask ourselves what has made them a musical nation. At the risk of writing myself down a hopeless old fogy, I venture the opinion that we were more nearly upon this track when the much-ridiculed singing-school was in full swing and every child was taught the intervals and variations of the gamut, and ballads were popular and part-songs by amateurs a favorite entertainment for evenings at home, than we are in this year of our Lord. The pews in that age united with a volunteer choir in singing with the spirit and with the understanding. The few may not have played their part as well as now, but the many did their part better. In the family, Jane may have surpassed her sisters in musical talent and proficiency, but one and all knew something of that in which she excelled, enjoying her music the more for that degree of knowledge. This brings forward another argument for the musical education of the masses, large and small. It would make general and genuine appreciation of good music, and put an end to the specious pretences of which we spoke just now. The German artisan's ear and voice are cultivated from childhood; his love of music is intelligent, his enjoyment of it hearty, yet discriminating.
Our babies hear few cradle songs under the new régime, except such as are crooned, more or less tunelessly, by foreign nurses. Girls no longer sing old ballads in the twilight to weary fathers and allure restless brothers to pass the evening at home in innocent participation in an impromptu concert, the boys bearing their part with voice and banjo or flute. We did not make perfect music when these domestic entertainments were in vogue, but we helped make happy homes and clean lives.
We used to sing--all of us together--upon the country porch on summer nights, not disdaining "Nelly Was a Lady" and the "Old Kentucky Home," and sea songs and love songs and battle songs that had thundering choruses in which bassos told mightily. Moore was in high repute, and Dempster and Bailey were in vogue. The words we sang were real poetry, and so distinctly enunciated as to leave no doubt in the listener's mind as to the language in which they were written. We had not learned that tunes were musical tricks. Better still were the Sunday evenings about the piano, everybody lending a helping (never hindering) voice, from grandpapa's cracked pipe down to the baby's tiny treble. Every morning the Lord of the home heard "our voices ascending high" from the family altar, and in the nursery feverish or wakefully-fretful children were lulled to health-giving slumber by the mother's hymns.
These are some of the bits of home and church life we would do well to bring forward and add to the more intricate sum of to-day's living. Granted, if you will, that we have outgrown what were to us the seemly garments of that past. Before relegating them to the attic or ragpicker, would it not be prudent and pleasant to preserve the laces with which they were trimmed?