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Music Memory Contests
EDITH L. HILDERBRANT, HARVEY, ILL.
USIC Directors and Supervisors everywhere have caught the spirit of the Music Memory Contest. For its origin the educational world is indebted to Mr. C. M. Tremaine, who, in his own home, conceived the idea of such a contest, who first tried the competition with his own children, and who later presented to the local supervisor of music a plan for conducting a contest on a large scale in the schools of his community. The fact that the schools of the nation have welcomed and tried the plan with such eager enthusiasm and unanticipated results, is some measure of the success which crowned the efforts of those concerned with the direction of the first Music Memory Contest.
Today the door to music appreciation stands wide open. The Music Memory Contest admits hundreds of persons, yes, thousands, in one community, at one time, to an inner circle where the finer music exerts its magic spell. Those whose good fortune permits them to enter this realm by way of the contest, bring a live enthusiasm and a burning desire that have grown out of earnest efforts to know and appreciate the best in music.
Music Memory Contests involve the joy of competition. Herein lies partly the reason that so much zest is shown in the mastery of something difficult. And at this point let it be said that the difficulty lies in the fact that to so many persons the better music is unfamiliar. Fine music really makes a stronger appeal than the ordinary kind, and lends itself even more readily to mastery through association. Those persons who think they prefer the ordinary kind are victims of a social order in which ragtime and jazz have a marked predominance over the classics. Such persons have, probably through no fault of their own, been denied the privilege of association with the masters.
In respect to difficulty, it is admitted that to learn for the first time the names of a long list of compositions, associating with them the names of composers and the melodies, mastering the spelling, and finally, even reproducing some of the selections, requires no mean amount of intellectual effort. To originate a movement that is at the same time more fascinating and more effective than the Music Memory Contest in enabling numerous individuals to accomplish these results, would require a still greater amount of mental exertion.
The development of a high degree of appreciation is one of the great problems of the leader in the music world. It is not sufficient for a pupil to know fine music, though of course knowledge is essential. It is not sufficient for a pupil to enjoy fine music, for all of the pleasure that that capability affords. It is not sufficient for a pupil to be able to say sincerely, "I love fine music." He must use fine music. That is the acid test of appreciation. Before the task of the supervisor reaches anywhere near the stage of completion, the pupil must, of his own volition, use the best. And it is the instructor's bounden duty, as steward of the choicest, it is his or her obligation to the growing child, to reach him with the best.
Any open war waged against ragtime and jazz, without a better music to supplant those forms, registers lost. The normal person must have music. Music furnishes one of the most natural means of self-expression. To follow the path of least resistance is an all too common human trait. In these facts lies the reason for the low development of our present day popular music.
Ragtime and jazz are simple in melody and harmony. They make a quick appeal to the untrained mind. It requires no strain of the intellect to grasp such ordinary music. An instrument plays it here, a voice catches it there, money carries it everywhere. In an instant the nation knows a new song. And quite as suddenly, after a short season of popularity, does that song sink into oblivion.
Music directors and supervisors, the missionaries of the gospel of fine music, have powerful influences to combat. The success of their efforts lies in their ability to permeate the soul of
America with the finest of melodies. There must be a concerted effort to carry the nation with selected compositions. And that means that not only the pupil must be reached, but also, through him, the home and the public.
The Music Memory Contest ranks as an invaluable means of raising the standard of music appreciation. It is an exceptional plan for exerting a maximum of influence with a minimum of effort. The pace-setter in any profession welcomes effective methods of achieving his aim. Hence the popularity of the competitive method.
It is not the easiest thing in the world to conduct a truly successful Music Memory Contest. In the first place, it is the obligation of anyone directing such contest, to win everyone whom it may be in any way possible to reach to the cause of better music. And there is no limit to human possibilities.
Under ideal conditions, everyone in a community, whether in school or out, participates in the local Music Memory Contest. Under ideal conditions, everyone, of his own initiative, takes an active part. There is no need of ever having to arouse interest. The interest is already there and requires only to be directed. Under ideal conditions there is abundant co-operation on the part of townspeople, music dealers and professional musicians.
But not all music instructors begin work under ideal conditions. Often if they have ideal conditions at all, it is because they themselves have created them. Problems differ in different communities. In some localities it is comparatively easy to carry the message of fine music into every home. In others it is peculiarly hard to arouse a broad, general interest in better music. Industrial conditions, educational development, political issues, church influence, proximity to music centers, all these things factor directly or indirectly in the problem of creating interest.
In an industrial community one may find hospitality, prosperity, earnest striving for better things, yet little knowledge or appreciation of the fine arts. In an intellectual center music may or may not be a familiar Muse. Some of our best intellects say with Warren G. Harding: "I know music in an unpretentious
way, and I love it; we cannot have too much music; we need it— the world needs it-probably more than ever before, and I am the friend of every effort to give it its rightful place in our national life."
Others, whose bright minds shine out for certain achievement, must admit, as Darwin did, at the close of a useful life, that they have lost their taste for the fine arts. Darwin adds that if he had had his life to live over again, he would have made it a rule to read some poetry and listen to some music at least once every week, "For," he says, "perhaps the part of my brain now atrophied would thus have been kept alive through use."
In communities where music interests run high, enthusiasm is easily aroused in the Music Memory Contest. In isolated places where people want for entertainment, it may be easy to get their co-operation, yet it is not likely that they have had sufficient work to make them really appreciative. Hence the need for considering the time element in planning a contest. People in the suburbs of large cities can get so easily to fine concert halls where only the best is presented, that unless they are drawn into the local eddy of competition through the influence of some close friend or relative, they regard their advantages as all-sufficient, and they withhold their support.
There are pupils in our schools who have never heard a measure of fine music outside of the schoolroom. Some of these have been steeped in jazz. To hand a pupil of this type a list of fifty classical musical compositions, bearing the names of composers, many of which are foreign, is like handing him a page of Greek, and he treats it accordingly. The chance is he walks out of the auditorium leaving it on the floor under the seat he occupied.
It is interesting to note how that gradually, from day to day, pupils who were at first indifferent, are drawn into the Music Memory Contest. It is their lot to hear with other pupils the musical numbers presented at a "listening" concert. They hear the stories of the compositions and the narration of incidents in the lives of the composers. Soon they begin to show appreciation. Sometimes those who, at the beginning, expressed no interest,
develop such a high degree of appreciation as to give them exceptional rank in the final contest.
Often it is possible to arouse interest in a Music Memory Contest in pupils who are lukewarm or indifferent, by requesting their assistance in tasks that have little semblance of music in them. Young people are thus indirectly drawn into contact with fine music, and the music itself makes the appeal.
They might, for example, be asked to solicit the co-operation of motion picture theater managers and of newspaper and magazine editors. Those of a literary turn may help to feature the contest in the school paper. Some pupils enjoy painting posters, while others delight in pasting them on shop windows. Through the co-operation of instructors in English, some may study and sketch the biographies of composers, and so arrive, through a knowledge of their lives, at an appreciation of their works. Some students may first be attracted into the presence of fine music by being privileged to pass out souvenirs, furnished by the dealers and distributed at the close of a "listening" concert in a public music shop.
Pupils who know and appreciate fine music are often stimulated to renewed effort in their study of the subject by performing at concerts to which patrons are invited. Students who acquire a taste for fine music at school most naturally carry it to the home. The home reacts, possibly by having father or mother attend a music concert to see what the excitement is all about.
The fond, wise parents carry home some new "tunes," in the form of sheet music, phonograph records or player rolls. Every home won to the cause of better music contributes immeasurably to the success of the contest, and every home truly won marks a milestone in the progress of music appreciation.
It would be impossible in this limited space to mention all of the things that might be done to make the influence of a contest far-reaching, deep and lasting. A description, though, of a form of entertainment which has some financial value, a high social value, and an unusual value in developing appreciation of music, would surely be in order. It is the so-called Moment Musicale.