Category Archives: Not My Writing

Violinist Jill Olson Moser Writes About Minnesota Orchestra Subs

About a week ago, I was contacted by Jill Olson Moser, who’s a substitute violinist with the Minnesota Orchestra. She passed along a piece she’d written, sharing her concerns about the current conflict from her perspective as a sub. I haven’t heard anyone discuss what she discusses here, despite the vital importance of the topic. It was a hugely thought-provoking read for me, and I think it will be for you, too. So (for once) I’m going to shut up, and let a reader take center stage. I thank her for giving me permission to post her words here.


9:10 Tuesday Morning

A handful of weeks out of the year I have a week of work with the Minnesota Orchestra on my calendar weeks in advance. Sometimes I get a call 2-4 days before the first rehearsal. I leisurely go to the hall and check out the music. I enjoy listening to multiple recordings of the upcoming repertoire and I begin a thorough process of practice and mental preparation. But not at all unusual is the 9:10 call on Tuesday morning, just as I’m sitting down with a cup of coffee. This call starts with, “Hi, wondering if you can play this week,” quickly followed by, “Rehearsal starts at 10:00.”

That leaves 20 minutes to arrange a babysitter for as many of the hours between 9:20 and 4:00 as possible, get dressed, pack up the fiddle and fly out the door. The ten minute drive downtown is for canceling anything that was on my schedule during the rehearsal hours, and starting to leave messages for babysitters to tag team with whoever could bolt over for my hasty departure. Fingers crossed, traffic flows smoothly and there is an open parking meter right outside the stage door, or I will start to panic. Remaining, after racing downstairs, unpacking, checking the seating assignment and sitting in my chair, are about 30 seconds to glance at what I will be sight reading over the next two rehearsals. The rehearsal breaks on Tuesday are dedicated to rearranging my schedule for the rest of the week and lining up child care. If that goes smoothly, I hopefully have time to woodshed a few tricky passages. Believe me, these weeks fly by, as a Thursday morning Coffee Concert is just breaths away. Before I know it, I’m repeating the third performance on Saturday night of music that may have been foreign just days before.

Crazy, right? It is a funny thing, because I love it. Those crazy weeks are the mainstay of my career. You might ask, “Why don’t you make sure you’re at least dressed by 9:00 on Tuesday mornings? Well the thing is, there were years in which I always was. But budgets get cut, contracts require musicians to play with smaller sections, Young Peoples Concerts and Pops concerts that were once played by a full orchestra are now cut down to a few stands in a section. And what I can hardly believe enough to put in writing, orchestras get locked out. So now, I don’t plan on that call.

But let me back up a bit more. Because we subs could be secret agents for all of the notice we garner. You probably recognize us, we are a loyal bunch, and are so well treated that we stick around. In fact, we make a choice to build our careers around a job that doesn’t name us, and clearly doesn’t come with any job security or guarantees. Some of us have won other auditions for full time, decent paying symphony jobs and turned them down. Some of us have been offered stable University teaching jobs, but turned them down. Some of us could have been the tenured stand partners we play with from week to week, had the wind blown the other way in an audition. In part, the reason we keep subbing is because the sub work allows us to play with one of the greatest orchestras in the world. Because to quit subbing with the Minnesota Orchestra in order to play in a lesser orchestra isn’t so appealing. But lets be real here, it is also because we can make a decent living while doing so. Given the cost of living in the Twin Cities, the sub pay makes for a higher quality of life than many other “real” music jobs.

This takes me to the gamble. I could be talking about the fact that, at least in the violin section, we audition annually. From year to year I risk my place on the sub list. I could go from making $50K one year to making $12K the next if my Don Juan sucks at the audition. It is not easy re-auditioning, without a screen, in front of your colleagues. Let me say, every one of us agrees. It sucks. But actually, this isn’t the gamble I’m talking about. I’m talking about how a sub balances their work, because after all, we are freelancers.

In 2001 when I first won a spot on the sub list, I picked up and moved to Minneapolis. Shortly thereafter I won a sub spot with the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra. Times were good. My weeks would fill with work from one orchestra or the other, and weeks that I wasn’t hired were a nice break. Time to get ahead with practicing other stuff. Those times are long gone. SPCO has had deep budget cuts and additionally, for years has been importing many of their violin subs from elsewhere. As I said before, in recent years Minnesota Orchestra has played with reduced sections, even for subscription weeks. So, the balance becomes more complicated.

Nothing in town compares to the pay of subbing with the Minnesota Orchestra for a freelancer. Depending on how much less something else pays, taking other work can really backfire. Also well paying is the Minnesota Opera, but even then it isn’t a clear decision. For instance, to play with Minnesota Opera, from just a financial perspective, it must not in its three weeks of rehearsal and performances conflict with even one week of Minnesota Orchestra, or you are losing money. If you sign a contract with the Opera for one production and then Minnesota Orchestra calls for all three of those weeks, you are out a couple thousand dollars. The subs are divided on whether that is a good gamble. Work with the Opera however, is guaranteed up to a year in advance, and some subs opt for that certainty. As you can imagine, our brains are always doing these calculations. But the reason I even go into this is because, it is in the best interest of the Minnesota Orchestra to have their best subs available when the orchestra calls at 9:10 on Tuesday morning. After all, these subs are not only expected to contribute and blend with the sound of the incredible sections they play in, they are expected to do it while sight reading.

There was an interesting Sommerfest concert this summer in which the cellos were featured in the Overture to William Tell. Five solo celli taking front and center. The Principal cello was out of town. In fact, due to injuries, illness and vacation days, the only orchestra members playing in the cello section for that concert were sitting on the front stand. The rest of the section was subs, including three of the solo parts. It sounded incredible! This was a concert in which Andrew Litton spoke in support of the musicians. He talked about how the measure of a truly great orchestra is in its depth. That it isn’t just superstar principal players that make a great orchestra, but having for instance, a full section of cellists worthy of featuring. I would add that another measure of a great orchestra is to have depth in its sub pool, which doesn’t happen accidentally. It happens because the musicians of the orchestra have fought for years to defend fair compensation for their subs. They understand that the quality of their orchestra depends on the support of this community of freelancers. Because on occasion you will end up featuring a cello section full of subs, and they have to sound great.

I do not write seeking a pat on the back; as subs we recognize that our names will not be listed in the program. But now as musicians have been locked out by management, I think about the future of this remarkable orchestra, and I can’t help but reflect on the important role subs play in this great ensemble. We tour the world alongside our tenured colleagues and sit side by side in intense and amazing recording sessions. There is no room for anything but the best, from any of us. We have all been pushed to grow and to improve under the baton of Osmo Vanska, and we too have done what has been asked of us. Our role could become even more vital, to step up as orchestra musicians seek other opportunities. But while musician pay is on the chopping block, I have a hunch that an easier cut by far will be slashing sub pay. A move which initially will leave us scrambling to scoop up whatever other work we can, and for many of us will be the moment when it no longer makes sense to have a career as a sub. We will follow the logical path toward reliable work; a smaller orchestra job, a teaching position, or subbing in another town. Even if we stay in town, when that 9:10 call comes on Tuesday morning, it just might not be worth it.


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What Do the Minnesota Orchestra and the SPCO Mean To You?

I have a simple question for y’all.

What do the Minnesota Orchestra and the SPCO mean to you?

How have they inspired you, moved you, transported you? When did you first see them? When did you last see them? What makes you love them? What makes them special, and worth preserving in their current forms? Write down your thoughts and then post them in the comments section here (or if you want to communicate through email, leave a comment saying so, and I’ll get in touch with you privately as soon as possible). Write a few sentences, or write an essay. I’ll then re-post them as actual entries that you can then spread and share with your friends and family. I want to hear funny anecdotes, profound experiences, intellectual epiphanies: anything. Let’s take a minute to remember what we’re fighting for. I’ll post them all under the tag What Orchestras Mean. I think in the middle of the fight it’s vitally important to occasionally step back and remember all the amazing music we’ve been blessed with.

By the way, Minnesota Orchestra and SPCO managements are more than welcome to participate in this! :D Even if you don’t want to answer my questions, feel free to take part in this activity! (*shrug* Hey, it’s worth a shot…)


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Amusing search queries that people have used to find this blog

I’ll have some stuff to say later tonight or tomorrow morning, but I just wanted to let y’all know that business is booming here at SOTL with tons of Minnesota Orchestra patrons wanting to know what exactly the f*** happened today.

To provide a little lighthearted reading in the midst of the apocalypse, here’s a list of amusing terms that readers have used to find this site. I’ll feature the best ones every day, so if you want to send a coded anonymous message to management, feel free! Just use a search term that will get you to this site, click on a link, and voila (or should I say, viola?). If it’s amusing enough it will be posted here. Have fun!

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Women as Musicians; Past and Present, 1895

Another article, another stereotyped view of women from the 1890s.  Once again, women are deemed capable of interpreting, but incapable of producing – seen as sub-par composers – and even accused of “retarding” the growth of musical understanding. And yet it is not a simple case of sexism, since women violinists are praised and men are insinuated to be unable to get in touch with their emotions. Understanding the role that gender has played in the history of music remains an elusive task…

This is from The Current Opinion, January 1895.


T.L. Krebs…The Sewanee Review

Since the days of Gobi, the Hindoo goddess, of Miriam, the Jewish maiden, and of the Sirens of ancient Greek mythology, a woman has figured conspicuously in the development of music. Although she has never been a great productive genius, although she has never created symphonies, operas and oratorios of lasting value, her influence has been such that, without it, we could hardly conceive our music off the present to be possible. In music we need all the faculties, all the characteristics, in a word, all the personality of the human being. Since the nature of woman is such as man does not possess; since the elements of male and female individualism combined make up what we know as human mind and soul, it is evident that, without the assistance of woman, without her influence, her emotions, her intuitions and her prejudices, a full development of music would be impossible. Since music is the language of the emotions and appeals directly to the heart, it must necessarily affect strongly a being so preeminently emotional, one who consults the heart much oftener than the head. As there exists a clearly defined masculine and feminine element in the nature and construction of music, it is evident that there must also be the same condition in its interpreters.

The instrument justly considered to be most pre-eminently suited to women, because of its lightness, its form, the natural grace required in its treatment, but, above all, because of the deep poetry of its tones, its emotional qualities and its sympathetic appeals – the violin – was for years neglected by female musicians, for reasons which, plausible though they may seem, are, nevertheless, utterly without justification. Every twenty years ago it was an odd sight, and one that rarely failed to elicit visible and audible comment, not always charitable, when a girl or young woman carried a violin case through the streets of a city. Now it is quite different, thanks to a few noble women, who, not heeding this criticism as adverse as it was prejudiced, devoted themselves to the queen of all musical instruments. The violin, in the hands of a skilled female performer, appeals to the emotions of the listener as it does but rarely when played upon by a man, although the greatest depth and grandeur of which the instrument is capable have not yet been elicited by women.

Prominent among women who have composed music is Clara Schumann, who has published many more or less acceptable pieces of vocal and instrumental music. Fanny Hensel, the sister of Felix Mendelssohn, composed a number of songs and pianoforte pieces in the style of her illustrious brother. Josephine Lang, a friend of the Mendelssohns, also composed some pleasing vocal music. Louis Ruget composed songs that were admired and sung, for the time being, throughout France and Belgium. Marie Malibran, the great vocalist, was also the author of several fine songs. A few years ago an opera composed by Ingeborg von Bronsart, the celebrated pianist, was performed at Weimar under the direction of the composer. This opera met with a favorable reception both from the public and from the musicians of that great art center. Among the few women who have gained fame as writers on musical subjects are Elisa Polka, Mrs. Raymond-Ritter and Anna March, who have written some excellent sketches and essays.

But why is it that woman, who has gained the height of fame not alone as executive musician, but also as painter, poet and novelist, who has even manipulated the chisel and modeling-clay with success, and has attained renown at the bar and in the dissecting-room, has not excelled as a productive musician? Though woman is highly qualified by nature to express ideas in music as if they were the workings of her own soul, though she is peculiarly fitted to reflect the poetical nature of the art on the background of her own individuality, she cannot create these poetic reflections in compositions original with herself. Her nature is opposed to the cold reasoning and the solution of profound musical problems, such as must be encountered by the successful composer. This perhaps explains why there is not a single composition by a female musician  that bids fair to hold even the second or the third rank. As a teacher of music, except in the field of theory, woman has been eminently successful, though it is painfully obvious that some, by their incompetence and superficiality, have done much to retard a healthful growth of musical understanding. In this capacity women have a great and glorious future before them.

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Musical And Arts Criticism, Press Work for Women, 1904

There is no particular reason I’m including this on the blog except for the fact that I consider myself more a music writer than musician, and I rarely come across any discussion of female music writers from around the turn of the century. It is important to keep in mind that many of our primary sources about women musicians were actually written by men. Even nowadays, it seems as if the majority of the best arts journalists are men…or is this just coincidence, given the fact the sample size of best arts journalists is so pathetically small? Who are some of your favorite female writers on the arts – whether of the past or present?

This is from the 1904 book Press Work for Women by Frances H. Low.


Musical and Art Criticism.

This branch of journalism is, for the most part, even in the sixpenny women’s papers, for some extraordinary reason, almost wholly in the hands of men, and offers an interesting though limited field for a cultivated writer’s taste, imagination, and knowledge. Dramatic criticism involves attendance at first nights, and also some of the disagreeable features inseparable, apparently, from the stage. But as an enormous number of concerts take place in the afternoon, and as nearly all art shows can be visited in the daytime, it seems strange that so small a number of women are employed as art and musical critics. A large number of lady journalists attend private views and concerts, and describe the people and the frocks, and everything but the artistic productions; but their functions are not those of the trained critic. Seeing what a number of cultivated women musicians there are, this want of enterprise is striking; and I cannot help thinking that students who have a thorough knowledge of the theory of music, might do worse than qualify themselves as critics. The best way to bring herself under the notice of editors would be for the young critic to write a short magazine article dealing with some aspect of the musical art in an original and individual way; and with this object, it would be best to get her views printed in a journal that is not an exclusively musical organ.

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Symphony Orchestras of Women, 1913

Here is a passionate plea by music writer and founder of Musical America John C. Freund to allow women jobs in symphony orchestras. Unfortunately, nearly half a century would pass before women were consistently seen in orchestral positions. By that time, Freund was long dead.

This article appeared in The Violinist in September 1913.


Nearly six hundred million dollars, or almost seven dollars per head for every man, woman and child of the population, spent in the United States for music in every form! That is, for the purchase of musical instruments, from the mouth harmonica and the talking-machine to the concert grand, for music teachers, for concerts and recitals, for church music, for bands, for opera, and let us not forget the music in the theaters, the vaudeville shows and the “movies.” Of these $600,000,000 you may safely estimate that at least eighty-five per cent are spent by the women. And yet, with this vast expenditure, at least six to eight thousand young women, graduating with honors from our leading music conservatories as instrumentalists, have no hope of being able to learn a living at their chosen profession, except they, in turn, become teachers, descend to a cabaret show, or play slumber songs to their babies.

The great feminist movement which is taking place all over the world, in Islam, in Europe, and more particularly in the United States, where it is finding its highest and its noblest form of expression, as we saw in the suffragette parade this Spring, is in my judgment, the great reform movement of the hour, because it is going to make the world better, for it will make it sweeter and cleaner.

In this uplift music, literature and the arts will play their part with our ninety millions, just as surely as all the various movements for betterment will play their part.

Already there are not only popular but municipal and even State movements for the recognition of music, not only as a necessary and integral part of education but as a necessary integral part of that recreation which is as much a duty in human life as the providing of food, drink, clothes, sleep and sanitation.

What we need right here in New York is a symphonic orchestra composed of women and led by a woman. In the first place, as we have the material, why would we not have the orchestra?

Such an orchestra will be supported by liberal-minded people, perhaps, first, for its novelty, but afterwards for its value and its excellence.

It will not provide positions for the thousands of competent women musicians, but it will act as an example, and other orchestras composed of women will be formed all over the country.

The question as to whether woman is musical or not is so easily answered that one need only mention the names of the great singers, pianists and violinists of world renown. As to whether women has creative ability as a composer has nothing to do with the question, though Musical America, two years ago, found there were in this country no less than sixty women composers whose work had merit sufficient, at least, to be printed and be profitable to the publishers.

But why should not woman prove to have creative ability in music, as she has shown she has in literature, as she has shown she has in art, as she has shown she has in science? – for it was Mme. Curie who discovered radium.

An orchestra of women would not be a fad. Indeed, it is not any new thing. There is the well-known Fadettes Orchestra of Boston; there is a fine women’s symphony orchestra in Los Angeles, with Cora Foy in the concertmaster’s chair; there is the noted Aeolian Ladies’ Orchestra in London, England, now over twenty years old, with a woman conductor; there is the Olive Mead Quartet, the American String Quartet, there are women who play in the Hartford Symphony Orchestra; not long ago, in Detroit, Mich., the ladies of the Fine Arts Society organized a string quartet, for which Elsa Ruegger was solo ‘cellist. The Soldat String Quartet is known throughout Germany, and the Nora Clench Quartet holds its own against many masculine rivals. So, you see, it is already in the working; it needs only expansion and encouragement – the encouragement given by publicity to the movement to break down the ridiculous prejudice that a great musical composition cannot be interpreted by humanity except it be dressed in evening clothes, white ties and patent leather boots.

“It may be objected that the attitude of the Musical Mutual Protective Union is opposed to having women in the orchestras. I understand that they do take women members, though this applies only to women playing in orchestras with men. My proposition is for the formation of high class orchestras of women, to give opportunity to the women who can perform the music.”

If you say, “We have already too many orchestras,” I reply, “Possibly too many in New York; possibly in one place; but we have over ninety million people who are showing every day a greater appreciation for music.”

And the women are working. There are already in this country several hundred musical clubs, composed of women, with a membership of nearly 100,000, who are the greatest factor in the encouragement of artists of the highest rank. They are the backbone of our festivals. They are, indeed, the backbone of our best orchestras, for the Philharmonic, it is a well-known fact, would have gone to pieces not so long ago but for the public spirit of the late Mrs. George R. Sheldon.

Why, at this very moment, with preparations for the great exhibition going on in California, to celebrate the opening of the Panama Canal, who is working for music? Who is doing something? The women! Only recently two women of high social standing came here from California to make the conditions under which the sum of $10,000 is offered by the city of Los Angeles for a prize opera, which is backed by $70,000 more for the production of that opera by an American composer on an American subject.

Someone may say, “Yes, you may be able to get together fifty or sixty women of superior ability to perform the finest works; but who, pray, will conduct them?”

Well, we have, to begin with, Maud Powell, a master mind, as well as a great musician with an international reputation. Here is a telegram from her, which reads:

“Of course women should play in symphony and other orchestras, if they want the work. Wanting the work implies measuring up to the standards of musical technical efficiency, with strength to endure well hours of rehearsing and often the strain of travel, broken habits and poor food. Many women are amply fitted for the work; such women should be employed on an equal footing with men. I fail to see that any argument to the contrary is valid. But if they accept the work they should be prepared to expect no privileges because of their sex. They must dress quietly and as fine American women they must uphold high standards of conduct.”

You see how sensibly she talks. She claims for woman no privileges whatever on account of her sex, and there she takes ground that is unassailable. Capacity has no sex. A person can do a thing or not, whether he or she wears pants or petticoats.

If it be said that should women invade the orchestra and concert field or the theaters, they will take the bread from the mouths of some of the men, I reply, “They will not do it where the men are competent, and if they do it where the men are not competent the public and my ears will benefit.”

When the ancients desired to represent, to typify the spirit of music, of art, of literature, did they do it in masculine terms? Did they do it with male forms? In every case the very words were feminine, as were the forms that represented the spirit of men’s nobler attributes. Why? Because they realized that in the stress and strain and struggle for existence the nobler qualities will always be submerged, and therefore it would be left to the women ultimately to put humanity on a higher plane, not only of civilization, but of aspiration and accomplishment.

This does not mean that every woman is fitted to be a musician, or that every woman who is a musician is fit to play in a symphony orchestra. But it does mean that when a woman is fit to play in an orchestra and wants to do so, that she shall have an opportunity – that is the crux of my whole position.

If women have inspired the poets, the writers, the thinkers, the statesmen, the scientists, the musicians of the world, do you not think that some of them, at least, are capable of interpreting the very works to which they have given inspiration?

One thing is certain: while a woman in an orchestra may carry, surreptitiously, chewing gum and a powder puff, she won’t have to go out in between times for beer and a cigarette.

Now, let me tell you a little story to illustrate my position: Many years ago, at a time when even a woman pianist was almost unknown here, and a woman violinist would have been almost hooted in the streets if she carried her violin case, I became acquainted with a little Russian, or Polish, Jewess who had extraordinary musical talent. Her parents were, as most of her class are, extremely poor. A German musician of great talent, but himself poor, recognized the child’s ability and gave her lessons for nothing, for years. She tried to get engagements, without success; and finally she went to the conductor of a well-known orchestra and applied for a position. He heard her play, and said: “My dear young lady, you have so much ability and talent that you would put to shame some members of my orchestra. I could use you as my first violin, but if I were to put you in that position there would be not only a riot on the stage, but one in the audience.”

For a time, her parents having died, the young girl endeavored to maintain herself, playing around in little restaurants on the East Side, till the usual love tragedy happened, with a handsome but unscrupulous young Italian singer. She had a child, which, from lack of proper nourishment, died.

In her despair she took to drink and sank and sank – till she sank out of sight.

Here was a genius, a great talent, who was told that she had no show, no opportunity – because she was a woman. And we boast of our civilization and we call ourselves a Christian people!

This whole question, wherever we touch it, wherever we tackle it, is not a question of sex at all. It presents to the thinking mind no problems. It is a matter of elemental truth, of basic, elemental justice. – Musical America.

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Two Woman’s Journal Articles, 1920-21

Here’s two articles from the suffrage magazine The Woman’s Journal that shed some light on the battle to allow women to play in orchestras. I’m still mystified by the reasoning that women couldn’t play in orchestras because the touring would tire them, when many conductors had no problem hiring women soloists who traveled even longer and harder than orchestral players did.


New Hope for the Musicians

31 December 1921

A bit of news interesting to women musicians comes from London. The Royal Philharmonic Society has abolished all sex distinctions and has admitted women to all privileges equally with men. When the Society was founded in 1813, except as singers women musicians did not appear in public. In recent years they have been admitted as fellows and associates but not to the higher grade of membership, which is considered a professional honor and is rather strictly limited in number. Many women musicians have aspired to this membership which is now open to them, and as the directors are elected annually by the members, women may now become directors also.

During the war, because of the lack of men, women were admitted to the symphony orchestras of both London and Paris, and some women musicians are still playing in them. In Paris, the famous Lamoreux orchestra is closed to them, but the equally famous Colonne orchestra has a number of women playing side by side with men. In the United States, except as harpists, women are not found in any of the large symphony orchestras.

Why Only The Harp?

14 January 1922

The conservative Old World moves ahead in some respects faster than the United States.

For some time women have been playing in the symphony orchestras of London and Paris, while they are still not accepted in the best orchestras of the United States with the exception of an occasional harpist. Conservatories and music schools of all descriptions have a large majority of women students. In all their graduating classes the women far outnumber the men. While they do not take up the wind instruments in any number, many women study the violin and a few the ‘cello. Why is the one source of a steady professional income in an established orchestra denied them? And, conversely, if the orchestras welcomed women players, would not many more women be encouraged to carry their studies to a greater proficiency?

A famous conductor recently gave two reasons why in his opinion women are not engaged for orchestra work. He claims, first, that they do not play as well as men and, second, that symphony orchestras in this country have such a long season and rehearse so constantly that women would find the work trying; further, that the large orchestras are on the road so much that it would be disagreeable for women. One might answer in regard to the last objection that women musicians travel in company with men in opera companies without embarrassment.

Undoubtedly the fact that women are not admitted to the best orchestras keeps many talented women from studying stringed instruments seriously, since the field of solo performer is possible for only a very few. What do women musicians themselves think of it? – G. F. B.

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Women and Music Summary, 1920

Here’s a summary of doozy of a paper that was presented in 1920 in Britain. In it, women were accused of reversing the progress of an entire art form, stealing opportunities from men, and having minds only good for receiving ideas rather than producing them. So far I haven’t come across anything that suggests more than a few people of this era believed this nonsense, but the fact that this paper was even presented, and considered worthy of summary in The Musical Times as late as 1920, certainly says something.

This is from 1 March 1920 The Musical Times.


Mr. James Swinburne’s paper, ‘Women and Music,’ read on January 13, proved to contain much matter for discussion. He took the line that the generally accepted idea that women were the musical sex was wrong, and that until it was given up England would remain an unmusical country. He did not desire to belittle their attainments, or to deny that there were able women musicians; but in discussing half mankind it was necessary to generalise. Brain power was coupled with large brain, and men had on the average larger brains than women, and their brains used more and richer blood. Intellect might be divided broadly into two kinds – Receptive and Productive. Everyone had both types of mind, but the proportions varied as well as the quantities of each. The receptive mind involved what was called a good memory; the productive mind not only possessed that, but its characteristic was that it compared facts or ideas and developed new ones. Women had nearly always the receptive mind only, while the productive was almost peculiar to men, though a very large proportion had receptive minds only. Women were behind in composition, and shone best as pure executants. They had done nothing in any mental branch of music. The cultivation of music by women not only did not help the art in its development, it kept it back actively. Women took no interest in the art as such; they were concerned solely with their own performances. They did not explore music for themselves; they only took up what they had heard before. They did not read the musical papers, still less did they read musical books, which was the reason why there was so little musical literature in this country, nothing compared with that in Germany, where men devoted attention to music. The assumption that women were musical had two main effects. It wasted the time of innumerable women, but the greater evil was that parents thought their daughters should be instructed in music and not their sons. Small boys were thus left, and one may hear men regretting in later life that they were never taught.

Following the paper was an animated discussion, the chairman (Dr. J.E. Borland), Dr. Yorke Trotter, and others warmly controverting the lecturer’s assertions.


Yes, one hopes they were warmly controverted, indeed.

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Interview with Maud Powell, Violin Mastery, 1919

Here is an interview with Maud Powell from the 1919 book Violin Mastery by Frederick Herman Martens. Powell is one of the more inspirational women in a field chockablock with inspirational women. She was born in a tiny town in the Midwest; became an internationally renowned performer with one of the biggest repertoires around; premiered the Tchaikovsky, Dvorak, and Sibelius concertos in this country; and championed the work of black, female, and American composers. Sadly, there are twenty-four violinists interviewed in this book, and Powell is the only woman. On the bright side, it’s a fantastic interview that touches on violin technique, Powell’s struggles with prejudice, and her championing of American composers.

For more information on Maud Powell and her legacy, head on over to the Maud Powell Society website. If you want to hear a lovely collection of late Victorian and Edwardian violin pieces with connections to Powell, take a listen to Rachel Barton Pine’s Tribute to Maud Powell.


Powell is often alluded to as our representative “American woman violinist” which, while true in a narrower sense, is not altogether just in a broader way. It would be decidedly more fair to consider her a representative American violinist, without stressing the term “woman”; for as regards Art in its higher sense, the artist comes first, sex being incidental, and Maud Powell is first and foremost – an artist. And her infinite capacity for taking pains, her willingness to work hard have had no small part in the position she has made for herself, and the success she has achieved.


“Too many Americans who take up the violin professionally,” Maud Powell told the writer, “do not realize that the mastery of the instrument is a life study, that without hard, concentrated work they cannot reach the higher levels of their art. Then, too, they are too often inclined to think that if they have a good tone and technic that this is all they need. They forget that the musical instinct must be cultivated; they do not attach enough importance to musical surroundings: to hearing and understanding music of every kind, not only that written for the violin. They do not realize the value of ensemble work and its influence as an educational factor of the greatest artistic value. I remember when I was a girl of eight, my mother used to play the Mozart violin sonatas with me; I heard all the music I possibly could hear; I was taught harmony and musical form in direct connection with my practical work, so that theory was a living thing to me and no abstraction. In my home town I played in an orchestra of twenty pieces – Oh, no, not a ‘ladies orchestra’ – the other members were men grown! I played chamber music as well as solos whenever the opportunity offered, at home and in public. In fact music was part of my life.

“No student who looks on music primarily as a thing apart in his existence, as a bread-winning tool, as a craft rather than an art, can ever mount to the high places. So often girls [who sometimes lack the practical vision of boys], although having studied but a few years, come to me and say: ‘My one ambition is to become a great virtuoso on the violin! I want to begin to study the great concertos!” And I have to tell them that their first ambition should be to become musicians – to study, to know, to understand music before they venture on its interpretation. Virtuosity without musicianship will not carry one far these days. In many cases these students come from small inland towns, far from any music center, and have a wrong attitude of mind. They crave the glamor of footlights, flowers and applause, not realizing that music is a speech, an idiom, which they must master in order to interpret the works of the great composers.


“Of course, all artistic playing represents essentially the mental control of technical means. But to acquire the latter in the right way, while at the same time developing the former, calls for the best of teachers. The problem of the teacher is to prevent his pupils from being too imitative – all students are natural imitators – and furthering the quality of musical imagination in them. Pupils generally have something of the teacher’s tone – Auer pupils have the Auer tone, Joachim pupils have a Joachim tone, an excellent thing. But as each pupil has an individuality of his own, he should never sink it altogether in that of his teacher. It is this imitative trend which often makes it hard to judge a young player’s work. I was very fortunate in my teachers. William Lewis of Chicago gave me a splendid start. Then I studied in turn with Schradieck in Leipsic – Schradieck himself was a pupil of Ferdinand David and of Léonard – Joachim in Berlin, and Charles Dancla in Paris. I might say that I owe most, in a way, to William Lewis, a born fiddler. Of my three European masters Dancla was unquestionably the greatest as a teacher – of course I am speaking for myself. It was no doubt an advantage, a decided advantage for me in my artistic development, which was slow – a family trait – to enjoy the broadening experience of three entirely different styles of teaching, and to be able to assimilate the best of each. Yet Joachim was a far greater violinist than teacher. His method was a cramping one, owing to his insistence on pouring all his pupils into the same mold, so to speak, of forming them all on the Joachim lathe. But Dancla was inspiring. He taught me De Bériot‘s wonderful method of attack; he showed me how to develop purity of style. Dancla’s method of teaching gave his pupils a technical equipment which carried bowing right along, ‘neck and neck’ with the finger work of the left hand, while the Germans are apt to stress finger development at the expense of the bow. And without ever neglecting technical means, Dancla always put the purely musical before the purely virtuoso side of playing. And this is always a sign of a good teacher. He was unsparing in taking pains and very fair.

“I remember that I was passed first in a class of eighty-four at an examination, after only three private lessons in which to prepare the concerto movement to be played. I was surprised and asked him while Mlle. — who, it seemed to me, had played better than I, had not passed. ‘Ah,’ he said, ‘Mlle. — studied that movement for six months; and in comparison, you, with only three lessons, play it better!’ Dancla switched me right over in his teaching from German to French methods, and taught me how to become an artist, just as I had learned in Germany to become a musician. The French school has taste, elegance, imagination; the German is more conservative, serious, and has, perhaps, more depth.


“Perhaps it is because I belong to an older school, or it may be because I laid stress on techic because of its necessity as a means of expression – at any rate I worked hard at it. Naturally, one should never practice any technical difficulty too long at a stretch. Young players sometimes forget this. I know that staccato playing was not easy for me at one time. I believe a real staccato is inborn; a knack. I used to grumble about it to Joachim and he told me once that musically staccato did not have much value. His own, by the way, was very labored and heavy. He admitted that he had none. Wieniawski had such a wonderful staccato that one finds much of it in his music. When I first began to play his D minor concerto I simply made up my mind to get a staccato. It came in time, by sheer force of will. After that I had no trouble. An artistic staccato should, like the trill, be plastic and under control; for different schools of composition demand different styles of treatment of such details.

“Octaves – the unison, not broken – I did not find difficult; but though they are supposed to add volume of tone they sound hideous to me. I have used them in certain passages of my arrangement of ‘Deep River,’ but when I heard them played, promised myself I would never repeat the experiment. Wilhelmj has committed even a worse crime in taste by putting six long bars of Schubert’s lovely Ave Maria in octaves. Of course they represent skill; but I think they are only justified in show pieces. Harmonics I always found easy; though whether they ring out as they should always depends more or less on atmospheric conditions, the strings and the amount of rosin on the bow. On the concert stage if the player stands in a draught the harmonics are sometimes husky.


“The old days of virtuoso ‘tricks’ have passed – I should like to hope forever. Not that some of the old type virtuosos were not fine players. Remenyi played beautifully. So did Ole Bull. I remember one favorite trick of the latter’s, for instance, which would hardly pass muster to-day. I have seen him draw out a long pp, the audience listening breathlessly, while he drew his bow way beyond the string, and then looked innocently at the point of the bow, as though wondering where the tone had vanished. It invariably brought down the house.

“Yet an artist must be a virtuoso in the modern sense to do his full duty. And here in America that duty is to help those who are groping for something higher and better musically; to help without rebuffing them. When I first began my career as a concert violinist I did pioneer work for the cause of the American woman violinist, going on with the work begun by Mme. Camilla Urso. A strong prejudice then existed against women fiddlers, which even yet has not altogether been overcome. The very fact that a Western manager recently told Mr. Turner with surprise that he ‘had made a success of a woman artist’ proves it. When I first began to play here in concert this prejudice was much stronger. Yet I kept on and secured engagements to play with orchestra at a time when they were difficult to obtain. Theodore Thomas liked my playing (he said I had brains), and it was with his orchestra that I introduced the concertos of Saint-Saëns (C min.), Lalo (F min.), and others, to American audiences.

“The fact that I realized that my sex was against me in a way led me to be startlingly authoritative and convincing in the masculine manner when I first played. This is a mistake no woman violinist should make. And from the moment that James Huneker wrote that I ‘was not developing the feminine side of my work,’ I determined to be just myself, and play as the spirit moved me, with no further thought of sex or sex distinctions which, in Art, after all, are secondary. I never realized this more forcibly than once, when, sitting as a judge, I listened to the competitive playing of a number of young professional violinists and pianists. The individual performers, unseen by the judges, played in turn behind a screen. And in three cases my fellow judges and myself guessed wrongly with regard to the sex of the players. When we thought we had heard a young man play it happened to be a young woman, and vice versa.

“To return to the question of concert-work. You must not think that I have played only foreign music in public. I have always believed in American composers and in American composition, and as an American have tried to do justice as an interpreting artist to the music of my native land. Aside from the violin concertos by Harry Rowe Shelly and Henry Holden Huss, I have played any number of shorter original compositions by such representative American composers as Arthur Foote, Mrs. H.H.A. Beach, Victor Herbert, John Philip Sousa, Arthur Bird, Edwin Grasse, Marion Bauer, Cecil Burleigh, Harry Gilbert, A. Walter Kramer, Grace White, Charles Wakefield Cadman and others. Then, too, I have presented transcriptions by Arthur Hartmann, Francis Macmillan and Sol Marcosson, as well as some of my own. Transcriptions are wrong, theoretically; yet some songs, like Rimsky-Korsakov’s ‘Song of India’ and some piano pieces, like the Dvořák Humoresque, are so obviously effective on the violin that a transcription justifies itself. My latest temptative in that direction is my ‘Four American Folk Songs,’ a simple setting of four well-known airs with connecting cadenzas – no variations, no special development! I used them first as encores, but my audiences seemed to like them so well that I have played them on all my recent programs.


“The very first thing in playing in public is to free oneself of all distrust in one’s own powers. To do this, nothing must be left to chance. One should not have to give a thought to strings, bow, etc. All should be in proper condition. Above all the violinist should play with an accompanist who is used to accompanying him. It seems superfluous to emphasize that one’s program numbers must have been mastered in every detail. Only then can one defy nervousness, turning excess of emotion into inspiration.

“Acoustics play a greater part in the success of a public concert than most people realize. In some halls they are very good, as in the case of the Cleveland Hippodrome, an enormous place which holds forty-three hundred people. Here the acoustics are perfect, and the artist has those wonderful silences through which his slightest tones carry clearly and sweetly. I have played not only solos, but chamber music in this hall, and was always sorry to stop playing. In most halls the acoustic conditions are best in the evening.

“Then there is the matter of the violin. I first used a Joseph Guarnerius, a deeper toned instrument than the Jean Baptista Guadagnini I have now played for a number of years. The Guarnerius has a tone that seems to come more from within the instrument; but all in all I have found my Guadagnini, with its glassy clearness, its brilliant and limpid tone-quality, better adapted to American concert halls. If I had a Strad in the same condition as my Guadagnini the instrument would be priceless. I regretted giving up my Guarnerius, but I could not play the two violins interchangeably; for they were absolutely different in size and tone-production, shape, etc. Then my hand is so small that I ought to use the instrument best adapted to it, and to use the same instrument always. Why do I use no chin-rest? I use no chin-rest on my Guadagnini simply because I cannot find one to fit my chin. One should use a chin-rest to prevent perspiration from marring the varnish. My Rocca violin is an interesting instance of wood worn in ridges by the stubble on a man’s chin.

“Strings? Well, I use a wire E string. I began to use it twelve years ago one humid, foggy summer in Connecticut. I had had such trouble with strings snapping that I cried: ‘Give me anything but a gut string.’ The climate practically makes metal strings a necessity, though some kind person once said that I bought wire strings because they were cheap! If wire strings had been thought of when Theodore Thomas began his career, he might never have been a conductor, for he told me he gave up the violin because of the E string. And most people will admit that hearing a wire E you cannot tell it from a gut E. Of course, it is unpleasant on the open strings, but then the open strings never do sound well. And in the highest registers the tone does not spin out long enough because of the tremendous tension: one has to use more bow. And it cuts the hairs: there is a little surface nap on the bow-hairs which a wire string wears right out. I had to have my four bows rehaired three times last season – an average of every three months. But all said and done it has been a God-send to the violinist who plays in public. On the wire A one cannot get the harmonics; and the aluminum D is objectionable in some violins, though in others not at all.

“The main thing – no matter what strings are used – is for the artist to get his audience into the concert hall, and give it a program which is properly balanced. Theodore Thomas first advised me to include in my programs short, simple things that my listeners could ‘get hold of’ – nothing inartistic, but something selected from their standpoint, not from mine, and played as artistically as possible. Yet there must also be something that is beyond them, collectively. Something that they may need to hear a number of times to appreciate. This enables the artist to maintain his dignity and has a certain psychological effect in that his audience holds him in greater respect. At big conservatories where music study is the most important thing, and in large cities, where the general level of music culture is high, a big solid program may be given, where it would be inappropriate in other places.

“Yet I remember having many recalls at El Paso, Texas, once, after playing the first movement of the Sibelius concerto. It is one of those compositions which if played too literally leaves an audience quite cold; it must be rendered temperamentally, the big climaxing effects built up, its Northern spirit brought out, though I admit that even then it is not altogether easy to grasp.


“Violin mastery or mastery of any instrument, for that matter, is the technical power to say exactly what you want to say in exactly the way you want to say it. It is technical equipment that stands are the service of your musical will – a faithful and competent servant that comes at your musical bidding. If your spirit soars ‘to parts unknown,’ your well trained servant ‘technic’ is ever at your elbow to prevent irksome details from hampering your progress. Mastery of your instrument makes mastery of your Art a joy instead of a burden. Technic should always be the handmaid of the spirit.

“And I believe that one result of the war will be to bring us a greater self-knowledge, to the violinist as well as to every other artist, a broader appreciation of what he can do to increase and elevate appreciation for music in general and his Art in particular. And with these I am sure a new impetus will be given to the development of a musical culture truly American in thought and expression.”

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Article: How To Play the Violin, Girl’s Own Indoor Book, 1880s

Here is a chapter from The Girl’s Own Indoor Book. There is no date, but it appears to date from the 1880s, possibly 1883 or 1888. It is indicative of the popularity of the violin amongst girls in this decade that an essay on how to play the violin was nestled between such uncontroversial chapters as “How to Paint on China”, “Bridal Etiquette”, and “Salads in French Cookery.”

Aside from the fascinating glimpse of how Victorians viewed women violinists, this article is also interesting for the many wise tips the author shares, most of which are still relevant today. This piece was written by a woman named Caroline Blanche Elizabeth FitzRoy, who, after her marriage, became Lady Lindsay of Balcarres. I can’t seem to find much biographical information about her, save that she was a patroness of the arts, a painter, a writer, and a violinist. She eventually separated from her husband and moved between London and Venice. Here is a beautiful 1874 portrait of her, courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery.


I have been asked to write upon the art of violin playing, but, whilst doing so, I am well aware that it is far easier to say how the violin should be played than to play it, and many a girl who reads this chapter, and who has grown discouraged and despondent over the manifold difficulties of her favourite instrument, will doubtless agree with such a statement. Still, there are some beginners and students who, though persevering and conscientious, are uncertain whether they are really following the wisest course of study; to them much conflicting advice is usually given, until they scarcely know what they should do or leave undone, and to them, perhaps, a few words of explanation and encouragement from a fellow-worker may not come amiss.

First of all, there is no doubt that the violin, whilst it is perhaps the most beautiful and fascinating musical instrument we possess, is difficult in absolute proportion to its beauty. No one should attempt to learn the violin who is not prepared to give up much time to it, to make many sacrifices for it, and to serve, like Jacob, many years for his beloved object. Very much work is required for the smallest result. The beginning is possibly not so difficult as might be fancied; our friends and we ourselves are surprised to find that we can pick out a popular tune on four strings. We are delighted; but, as time goes on, and we leave the comfortable harbour of the 1st position and the safe anchorage of open strings, and sail out amongst the stormy seas of the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th positions, grappling with double stopping, arpeggios, and passages, the intricacies of which are felt much more keenly by performers than listeners, we begin to know something of the hard work and toil that lies before us, growing seemingly ever harder and more uncompromising.

Yet such work is not without its reward. The greater the struggle the greater the reward, and it sometimes happens that, as it is darkest before dawn, when we are most out of heart we are making the most progress. It is best to place our standard of excellence high from the very first, however far off and unattainable it may appear. After all, it is like climbing a hill to see a fine view. Though it be a steep hill, we may get a good deal of pleasure during the ascent; it is not all fatigue. Nor is the view, when we at last come within sight of it, the only gratification we shall have gained. Surely a walk on a summer’s day, as we go cheerfully up the hillside, is worth something; there are many lovely sights and glimpses of pretty country on the way, and, above all, we have pleasant companionship. For, as we toil up the side of the steep and rugged hill of musical knowledge, it is not necessary to wait until we become first-rate performers to spend many a happy afternoon or evening of music, to grow keenly interested in our own practising, and glean much delight from the playing of others, nor, more than all, to enjoy the companionship of the great composers who have written so much for our benefit, and whose works no one can thoroughly know or appreciate without learning to play them.

Perhaps of all instruments, the violin is the one to which the performer – and, therefore, as a rule, the owner – becomes the most attached. Its great advantages over other instruments are: –

1. Its extreme portability. You need never part from your instrument, need entrust it to no one, and, carrying it about with you, can always play on the same violin, and are not therefore puzzled or dispirited, like many unfortunate pianists or organists, by the complications of a strange or inferior instrument.

2. The violin greatly resembles the human voice in its tone, and whilst possessing a far wider range of compass than the voice, has a similar capability of creating a responsive vibration in the hearts of its hearers, together with the same power of portamento, that is, of blending or carrying one note into another.

3. The notes are not ready-made, but have to be created by the player. Every player brings out a different quality of tone to that of other players, even when using the self-same instrument, and this adds much to the charm and personality of the music.

4. The violin is tuned in perfect and natural tune, and not according to the tempered scale, as are of necessity all ordinary keyed instruments (where the notes are divided), such as the piano, for example. Its vibrations are, therefore, infinitely more pleasing to the ear than the sound of any instrument tuned according to the tempered scale.

5. The violin is less monotonous for practising than many other instruments: it is more interesting to train the ear, together with the hand, in seeking after beauty and quality of tone, and not mere manual dexterity. Also, music written for violin is often simple, and so easily learned by heart that much practising may be gone through by moderately-advanced students whilst walking about the room, thus gaining a pleasant change and rest, though such a method is scarcely to be recommended for careless players.

6. Lastly, and not least, the violin is the leader in an orchestra, as in a quartet; and, even among its own family of beautiful stringed instruments, it is more brilliant and more capable of variety of tone than the viola or the violoncello.

It is not very long since the violin was considered an ‘unladylike’ instrument, ungraceful and impossible for women. I remember, as a child, reading in a story-book of a little girl who had surreptitiously bought a red fiddle, and who delighted her schoolfellows by playing to them in secret. This unfortunate girl was not allowed to become a great violinist, but was, on the contrary, reprimanded by the schoolmistress, who advised her to choose a more ladylike occupation for the future. I have also in former days known girls of whom it was darkly hinted that they played the violin, as it might be said that they smoked big cigars, or enjoyed the sport of rat-catching. But now all this has changed; there is scarcely a family of girls where there is not at least one who plays the fiddle. (I heard lately of a lady whose six daughters are all violinists!) Classes are held for female violinists, who likewise play in the orchestra of the Royal Academy of Music, and in that of the Royal College of Music, and it is no uncommon sight in our streets to see a girl carrying her fiddle in its black case. Besides this, in almost every programme of a concert we find the name of some lady violinist, who probably plays with fine tone and execution, for there are many good artists among us now.

For this change we are indebted to Madame Norman-Neruda (now Lady Hallé). She, by uniting with the firmness and vigour of a man’s playing the purity of style and intonation of a great artist, as well as her own perfect grace and delicate manipulation, has proved to the public at large what a woman can do in this field. Madame Neruda’s masterly playing is not to be surpassed by any one, whilst her feminine ease and elegance add an unusual charm to violin-playing.

Even in former years there were some notable exceptions to the universal custom which precluded women from such performances, viz.: the sisters Ferny, the sisters Milanollo, and others; but these ladies, while achieving much reputation, seem to have had but small influence on others. It was reserved to Madame Norman-Neruda to head the great revolution, and to enlist an enormous train of followers. And yet it is difficult to say why a prophet should have been so sorely needed, for in the Middle Ages, and later even, women and girls were taught to play on viols and similar stringed instruments, held sometimes downwards like violoncellos, but also often beneath the chin as we hold our violins, whilst in the old Italian pictures, in the works of Fra Angelico, Bellini, Raphael, and many others, angels and feminine figures are constantly depicted playing on the violins of the period, so that we may assume that, in the eyes of the great painters, such doings were by no means unwomanly or ungraceful. Be this as it may, the question need no longer arise, the crusade need not be fought anew; Madame Neruda, like a musical St. George, has gone forth, violin and bow in hand, to fight the dragon of prejudice, or rather, like a female Orpheus, has made captive all the wild beasts about her by the sweet sounds she has evoked. Certainly, no one requires now-a-days to be encouraged to learn the violin, but rather the contrary. Nay, sometimes, I am haunted by the fear that all ‘girls of the period’ of the next generation will scrape unmercifully on their fiddles, with much complacency, perhaps, but with little time or tune. There will be no one left who does not play the fiddle, and with our modern system of mental cramming, patience and leisure will alike be wanting for necessary practising; consequently, but few will play well, and, alas! the pianoforte, the harp, the organ, the guitar, the zither, and many other beautiful instruments will be altogether laid aside, or left to the sterner sex.

The best axiom, therefore, for our present times seems to me: Let no one learn the violin who has not a distinct and earnest vocation thereunto; and let whoever is determined to learn, learn well and thoroughly. Or, as Mr. Haweis wisely says: ‘Do not take up the violin unless you mean to work hard at it; any other instrument may be more safely trifled with.’

To those who work, and want to work, I would venture to give a few practical hints.

Use every endeavour to learn from a really good master at the very outset, and to have as many lessons from him as possible. Later on it will be easier for you to practise alone. At first, by working alone (however carefully, even with the help of books written for students), many bad habits are engendered that are afterwards hard to cure: the violin is held wrongly, or is imperfectly tuned; the bow is not drawn straight, nor is the whole length of the bow used; the wrist of the left hand is allowed to support the instrument for the comfort of the player.

When you have advanced sufficiently to play fluently you can get on tolerably alone, though by no means so quickly as under the guidance of a master. But, having a naturally correct ear, you can make progress, using a metronome, a practical school of violin-playing, and, occasionally, a looking-glass.

Remember that each hand has its special work to do; each different, yet very necessary to supplement the work of the other. Your right hand represents tone, your left hand tune. Your right hand gives expression, your left hand correctness. Most people think that the left hand does all the work – that bowing consists of sawing the bow up and down across the strings. Yet the right hand has perhaps the harder task of the two, as its duties are manifold, pure intonation and careful fingering, though important, being the sole occupations of the left.

It is very difficult to bow well; to hold the bow aright, lightly, and in what seems a constrained attitude; to keep the thumb steady, and the four fingers straight (not curved outwards), the tips resting firmly on the bow. It is very difficult in slow passages to bring out a full and mellow tone, to give fine expression, to draw the bow to its utmost limit (for there must be no tell-tale greyish mark on the horsehair near the nut to prove that the whole length has not been in constant use), also, to learn the different short, quick styles of bowing, staccato, saltando, etc., to mark a crescendo or diminuendo by more or less pressure, to prevent the bow from squeaking or slipping on the strings, or from giving a little grunt of disapprobation whenever you come to the end of an up or down bow, and proceed to draw it in the opposite direction. All these difficulties and technicalities can scarcely be overcome without the help and counsel of a master, whose patience and endurance must equal the docility of the pupil. But these are the difficulties of all beginners – nay, or all students, and many a moderately good artist has by no means conquered them.

It is absolutely necessary to stand well in a steady, upright, yet graceful attitude. Many girls, whose movements are natural and positively pretty before playing, undergo an extraordinary transformation the moment they take a violin in hand; they contort their features, turn their heads overmuch round, place their elbows and wrists at fearful angles, and look as though they were enduring frightful torture. Believe me, if from time to time you attempt a few bars before the looking-glass, it will by no means feed your vanity, but rather prove a wholesome lesson of humility.

It is very ugly to see a girl place a pad like a large pincushion on her left shoulder before playing, or to see her use a piece of wood like a patch of black sticking-plaister on the violin itself. All that is required to prevent the violin from slipping under the chin (thus causing premature double chins and all manner of wry faces) is, to raise the shoulder very slightly, keeping the elbow well forward and a little turned inwards. Hold the violin high, that is to say, quite horizontally, and you will soon forget that it was ever disposed to slip away. Habit will become second nature; even in changing the positions the attitude that at first was so trying will grow perfectly easy; you must, however, remember that in the lower positions the wrist must never be allowed to touch the violin, but your hand must slide comfortably up and down, the neck of the violin merely resting between the thumb and first finger.

In all this, I fear, my hints are chiefly negative. It is easier to point out probable faults than to give instruction on violin-playing merely by writing. As I said before, the practical teaching of a master is absolutely necessary to all beginners.

I will, however, now suppose that you have mastered the first difficulties, that you have had a certain number of lessons, and have profited by them sufficiently to play little pieces and moderately difficult exercises fairly well. I will suppose that you are in the country, unable for some time to come to obtain any further instruction, yet anxious to ‘get on.’

I should recommend you, above all, to practise regularly – that is, every day at stated times, one, two, three hours, as the case may be. Practise regularly, even though you are disinclined; unless you are really ill, a little weariness or fatigue soon goes off, and after playing for ten minutes you will probably feel fresher than before you began. Play good music, but do not disgust yourself with well-known beautiful things by playing them badly. Preserve them rather for by-and-by; pull them out of the drawer every few months, and play them through once or twice; then you will see how much progress you have made.

It is a good thing when you are working alone to vary your form of practice on alternate days. Let one day be devoted to difficult exercises, and to studying hard whatever pieces are to be studied. The following day, go through only a certain number of finger exercises, and then read at sight some easy sonatas, with or without pianoforte accompaniment, according to your opportunities.

In practising pieces that you have learned, but cannot quite conquer, do not play them all through, or you will tire of them quickly, but pick out the difficult passages, and leave the easy ones to take care of themselves.

Invent small exercises and new combinations for yourself; try to add thirds and sixths to notes in different positions, thus accustoming yourself to play chords; learn by heart as much as possible, for two reasons, viz., that you should not always have the trouble of preparing a music-stand, candles, &c., also because you will never play any piece really well that you do not know by heart, even though you play it from the book before your friends.

Whenever you are studying any new music, play it through once or twice with a metronome. Even though no metronome time be marked, the indications of allegro, andante, or adagio, will give you an idea of how to adjust the pendulum.

It seems to me more difficult to play in time on the violin than on the piano, because there is no bass for a foundation. The bass in pianoforte music is almost to the eye what a metronome is to the ear, and is a natural guide. In violin music you have but one stave; you cannot see what is going on below, and cannot, therefore, grasp the true nature of the composition.

A correct appreciation of time is very requisite. We often hear of amateurs who play charmingly, with wonderful genius and expression, but without any sense of time. That is very dreadful. Never allow your love of sentiment to put more rallentando passages into the music than are absolutely marked by the composer or dictated by your master.

It is a good thing to play often with pianoforte accompaniment, so as to learn the piece as a whole, to grow accustomed to the sound of the piano, and also to learn to play in time. But if you have no accompanyist, play the violin part once or twice from the book in which both violin and piano parts are written. Or, if you are a sufficiently good theoretical musician, look at it well and study it, and hear the whole composition, as it were, in your mind. But the best plan of all is to play the accompaniment yourself on the piano, for, indeed, every violinists should be somewhat of a pianist also. In most conservatoires a slight knowledge of the piano is obligatory. The pianoforte is, in our drawing-rooms, the nearest approach to an orchestra; on this instrument alone can you get any orchestral or complete effects; and, as a musician, if you do not study it at least a little, you will debar yourself from much musical knowledge and advantage.

In playing before an audience, however limited, however friendly, you will probably be nervous, more or less nervous according to your nature. Some people unfortunately never quite get over nervousness; but it is best to do our utmost from the very first to struggle against it. Do not begin to play without careful consideration; see that your bow has a sufficient amount of rosin; tune your violin steadily; try to avoid being flurried. Practise the art of beginning well, not with a scrape nor out of time, so that the accompanyist must needs begin again.

Wash your hands always before playing (as, indeed, before practising), and keep your violin nice and clean, carefully wiped before putting it away within its case under a silk handkerchief and flannel coat, the strings always in good order.

If you know that you are to play to an audience, try the strings a little beforehand. If you put on a new E-string, play on it for an hour or two in your own room before using it in public. Play enough beforehand to be in good practice, and to feel your fingers comfortably supple. Avoid if possible practising at the very last the piece you have to perform. Chopin, who usually performed his own pianoforte compositions, used immediately before his concerts to practise Bach’s fugues.

As you progress in your art, you cannot fail to grow more and more devoted to it; violinists are, as a rule, as enthusiastic and ‘shoppy’ in their talk as the keenest sportsmen, racing or hunting men, golfs, &c. To play or even to practise will be your greatest delight; you will lament the very shortest separation from your dear violin.

Do you remember the old rhyme? –

“Jacky, come give me thy fiddle,

If ever though hope to thrive.”

“Nay, I’ll not give my fiddle

To any man alive.

Were I to give my fiddle,

The folks would think me mad;

For many a joyful day

My fiddle and I have had.”

If possible, go often to good concerts, and hear good music, which, like good pictures, and indeed all good art, is thoroughly inspiring. We may be depressed by hearing a moderate player, but we become ardently anxious to work as we listen to something really great and fine. Such a performance incites our best efforts at imitation; we feel that it is worth while to work. You will learn a great deal by going to the Saturday or Monday Popular Concerts, by hearing and seeing Madame Norman-Neruda, the queen, and Herr Joachim, the king of violinists; or Signor Piatti, to whom his mighty violin of larger growth is a true slave of the ring, a potentate that conquers us but obeys him. You will learn more of bowing, phrasing, more of attitude, more of style, tone, or tune, than can be taught by a mountain of books or essays. You will learn, in fact, if not how to play the violin, at least how the violin should be played.

I have said nothing about books, violin-methods, or schools, as they are called. Any master you learn from will probably prefer one or another. To me, the elementary or first part of De Bériot’s violin-school seems the best and easiest for beginners. Berthold Tours’ Violin Primer (Novello) is also useful for beginners, and very cheap. At the commencement of De Bériot’s and many other schools, you will find drawings of mild young gentlemen, in different attitudes, that will show you clearly how both the violin and the bow should be held. As you progress, you will probably learn to play the exercises of Kayser, Dont, Kreutzer, Dancla, Léonard, Ries, and others. As for drawing-room pieces, there are a great many, more or less pretty. You must choose these for yourself. Messrs. Stanley Lucas, New Bond Street, can provide you with as many as you wish, especially those published in cheap German editions. As you gain mastery over your instrument, you will love more and more the Mozart and Beethoven sonatas, the old music reprinted in the Hohe Schule; by-and-by, trios, and quartets.

We have no space, unfortunately, for the history of the violin. It is an interesting history through these last three centuries, during which time the instrument itself has been scarcely altered in any way. ‘What a little thing to make so much noise!’ says the ignorant observer. ‘What a little thing to have so stirred the hearts of men!’ responds the philosopher. And, as we hold the treasure in our hands, reverently and affectionately contemplating the delicate work of Stradivarius, Guarnerius, or Amati, we wonder through whose hands before ours our fiddle has passed, whose magic touch, long since silent and dead, evoked sweet melodies resonant from the brown wood that still shines with its fair coating of varnish almost as of yore. We seem to hear divine and strange harmonies; we can almost see the shades of Corelli, Tartini, Haydn, Spohr, or Paganini, beckoning us to follow their example, leading us on in the path of music, and teaching us in truth, by those traditions that are our tangible heirlooms, how to play the violin.

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