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THE TONIC SOL-FA SYSTEM.
OPINIONS OF A TEACHER.
HE musical world is surprised, and the professional portion of it not a little disturbed, by the appearance of a new method of writing and teaching music called the Tonic Sol-fa system. The first impulse of the musician is to condemn and reject the innovation. He issues a bull of excommunication against it, expecting it thereafter to disappear and take its place with the exploded theories and forgotten devices of the past. But presently he finds that his edict has failed to accomplish its purpose. The movement continues to live and shows signs of a boundless vitality. If he is disposed to be fair-minded and just, he then resolves to investigate the system in order to take an intelligent stand for or against it.
From that moment he finds himself the subject of a series of novel sensations, of which the prominent element is surprise. In the first place he is surprised to learn that the system has revolutionized popular music in Great Britain. If he visits that country, he sees its results on every side. He finds it in virtual possession of the Board (public) schools of the kingdom; he finds that all the church and Sunday-school hymnals have editions printed in the peculiar-looking tonic sol-fa notation; in many of the churches he hears sung by the congregations music of a high classical character such as only a few of the best-trained choirs in America attempt.
Being led by the visible results to a closer inspection of the cause, his sensations become even more positive than before. He sees that the educational influences of the system work with equal efficiency downward or upward. It furnishes such easy and natural steps for the elementary study of music as to bring it within reach of the children of the kindergarten, and at the same time supplies a key to the intricacies of higher art which enables the average singer, with but limited time for musical study, to master what the professional musician alone is able to acquire by the staff system. The observer finds vast gatherings of children singing Handel's Messiah and performing marvelous feats in sight-reading, hundreds of amateur societies rendering the most difficult works of the modern composers, unnumbered singers and players pursuing the study of har
mony for the mere pleasure of it; he finds that hereafter music is no more to be limited to the specially musical than the enjoyment of literature to the few who are able to produce it.
Music has two distinct sides-the instrumental and the vocal. The instrumental side is exceedingly complex. The complications are represented by the keyboard of a piano or an organ. Twelve scales are to be played, a separate manipulation being required for each. The form of the scale or the order of its intervals is preserved by the use of sharps and flats - the black keys. The staff notation grew into use gradually as an embodiment of all the possible complications of instrumental music.
The vocal side of the art is, on the contrary, of the utmost simplicity. In fact it is, in its earlier stages, rather a language than an art. Little children will often use this language, i. e., sing tunes correctly, before they can articulate. To the voice there is practically but one scale instead of twelve. It is, in effect, a musical alphabet of eight tones, produced in its different positions with no change of mental impression and no consciousness of sharps or flats. To illustrate: the singer is conscious of no difference between the key of B and the key of C, while the player uses five sharps in playing the former and none at all in playing the latter. The tonic sol-fa notation is a natural outgrowth of the vocal side of music. The following is a brief account of its origin and growth:
In the year 1844 a young nonconformist clergyman named John Curwen became pastor of a Congregational church at Plaistow, in the eastern suburbs of London. He had an unusual love for children, and great faith in music as a means of interesting and improving them. But he was, himself, musically deficient. His deficiency was so marked that a wager was made among his fellow-students at college that he could not be taught to sing the scale correctly within a given time, Mr. Curwen agreeing to receive a certain amount of drilling each day. The story goes that he accomplished the feat, but with nothing to spare. In after years he pursued the study very earnestly, and endeavored to impart to the children of his parish whatever he succeeded in gaining for himself. But the results were far from satisfactory. Hearing of a new method employed by a philanthropic lady at Norwich (Miss
Sarah Glover), he visited her school, saw, and was conquered. "Now," said he, "I have a tool to work with."
What he saw in Miss Glover's school was this. Discouraged, as so many have been, in the effort to teach the complicated signs of the staff, she had discarded it altogether, and was using in its place a notation made up of the initials of the musical syllables; the letter d standing for do, r for re, etc.
It was the farthest possible from Mr. Curwen's thoughts that through this new notation he was destined to reorganize the whole art of music, but such proved to be the case. His success in teaching the young people of his charge led a few others to make a trial of the novel device. They, in turn, carried the light to others, and thus the system gradually gained a foothold among the people. But the progress was very slow, and for a number of years the work was almost entirely non-professional. The movement was the offspring of philanthropy, and it was long dependent upon that worthy parent for its sustenance and growth. Every form of prejudice was instinctively arrayed against it,-religious, for it was a humble dissenter, and could lay no claim either to artistic or apostolic succession; social, for at first it was used chiefly in ragged schools and among the lower classes; musical, for it set at naught the traditions of the elders, and boldly proposed to show "a better way" to the professional scribes and pharisees who occupied the highest seats in the synagogues. It was indeed, as Mr. Curwen afterward described it, "a pariah in the musical world." Yet the bantling exhibited a marvelous vitality. Discouragement was its meat and drink, and misfortune was as oil to the flame.
Mr. Curwen was a wise master-builder. His own musical deficiency was made the chief corner-stone of the edifice. Distrusting his personal ability to carry on so great a work, he gathered around him a corps of earnest and able teachers, nearly all of whom were children of the system, and, with their advice and cooperation, he slowly and patiently shaped the method. After realizing the educational power of the new notation, it was his aim to develop Miss Glover's device into a complete system, leading by natural steps from the simplest expression of music as a language to its highest revelation as an art. Being a born educator, he saw that the instrumental notation of music, the staff, needed a vocal notation as an interpreter. He also saw that the familiar musical syllables invented by Guido d'Arezzo eight centuries ago furnish the groundwork of a perfect notation for the singer, and thus create a natural highway through the world of music.
His published works are voluminous, covering all musical facts and principles, from the first lesson as given to a little child up to the most abstruse law of acoustics as set forth by Helmholtz and other eminent scientists.
The details of Mr. Curwen's work do not fall within the purpose of this sketch. The following are the leading features of the subsequent history:
A partial failure of his health compelled him to give up his pastorate, and his time was thenceforth devoted exclusively to perfecting the tonic sol-fa system and to extending the movement, till it became, as the London "Times" expressed it," the only national and popular system of teaching vocal music worthy of the name."
In 1851 he began the publication of the "Tonic Sol-fa Reporter," which has since continued as a monthly journal, and the official organ of the movement. The work spread quietly among the people, and was unknown to the general public till the year 1857, when a concert was given, with a chorus of three thousand children, in the Crystal Palace at Sydenham. An audience of thirty thousand was called together by the novelty, and one of the London papers said: "It was left for an almost unknown institution to draw a larger concourse of persons than has ever been attracted in this country to a musical performance."
This extraordinary success at once lifted the movement into national importance.
During the following year a concert was given in Exeter Hall, which, in a different way, exercised an equally effective influence in favor of the system. The programme was made up entirely of classical music, to show that the notation is as useful in high art as in elementary work. The first concert won the favor of the general public, the second, of cultivated musicians, and thus the whole ground was practically covered.
In 1867 a chorus of seventy tonic sol-fa singers went to Paris with their conductor, Mr. J. Proudman, to take part in a musical competition in connection with the International Exhibition. They won a triumphant success. Their singing excited the utmost enthusiasm. A special laurel-wreath was bestowed upon them by the Emperor, with a gold medal, a diploma, and the badge of the Orpheonists of France. Their return to London was equally triumphant. They were accorded a public reception by the most eminent musicians of the kingdom, who thus gave a recognition which some had been slow to concede to what they regarded as a musical heresy.
To gain possession of the Board schools was naturally a prominent desire of the pro
moters of the movement. To keep the system out of the schools was an equally strong determination on the part of those who preferred the old ways. The struggle lasted for many years, now one side and now the other gaining the advantage. It was a hand-to-hand contest between medieval and modern methods, and, as such, could have but one conclusion. Tonic sol-fa now has practical possession of the schools of the kingdom.
In 1875, the Tonic Sol-fa College of London was incorporated, and it is now the center of influence and authority for the movement in all parts of the world. One of the most valuable features of the system is the series of certificates issued by the college. They are carefully graded, from the "junior" for school children up to the diploma of the "graduate and licentiate "of the college. This plan renders charlatanism among teachers impossible. No one can make a claim beyond his deserts, as is sometimes done in the musical profession, as in all others. Whoever represents himself as a tonic sol-fa teacher must prove his standing by the proper certificate, or his claim will receive no consideration.
It may be thought strange that this sketch does not include a description of the technical characteristics or peculiarities of the system by which so radical a change is being wrought But experience has in the musical world. proved that any verbal statement is so inadequate as to be only a disappointment to the reader. Nor is this to be wondered at. The system is based upon nature. Nature's ways are simple. The reader could not be made to understand from a mere schedule and descrip
the lowest or foundation-tone of as technically employed in music, refers to the key-tonethe scale. "Sol-fa" represents all the musical syllables. The whole term, therefore, means that tones are studied in their relation to the central or key-tone, and that the syllables are used to aid by the power of association and by affording a natural or vocal system of notation. The movement arose in England as a reaction against the unnatural "fixed-do" method, and the name carried much weight at the outset by showing that the new system was based upon the true principle of key-relationship.
The public should realize that the value of the tonic sol-fa system is fully established. It long since passed beyond the experimental stage and took its place among the educational forces of the day. But as it is still comparatively new in this country, a few facts and a reform in musical methods was needed, and statements are herewith given to show (1) that (2) that the means for accomplishing the reform First. The staff notation confuses the learner are completely supplied by the new notation. by the uncertainty of its signs. Nearly every character employed has several different meanings, and the same musical fact or truth has several different signs. This can best be shown by an illustration. A musical phrase is printed below in three different keys. It will be seen that not only is every note placed upon a different degree of the staff, thus requiring a distinct effort of the mind in reading, but nearly every chromatic sign is different in the three keys. Who but an expert would imagine that the musical idea is precisely the same in each case?
tion of the signs and symbols of the tonic sol-
The question is often asked, "Why this sin-
Second. In the tonic sol-fa notation each separate fact has a distinct sign, and each sign has but one unchangeable meaning in all the twelve keys. In the above example, as has already been stated, the different signs express (or conceal) the same musical thought. In the tonic sol-fa notation, the expression or representation would be precisely the same in each case, the pitch being indicated, according to the ordinary standard, by the words printed at the Third. The difficulties of the staff are cumutop "key of C," "key of D flat," "key of E."
lative. Every step of progress leads to new and increased complications.
Fourth. Per contra, the steps of the tonic sol-fa method are perfectly graded. Each point gained prepares for and leads to the next, in educational order. By this method the advanced stages of musical study are as easy and pleasant as the first elementary steps. Fifth. The value of the new system as an interpreter of the old is proved by statistics showing that tonic sol-fa has produced more staff readers in Great Britain than all other methods combined.
Sixth. The new notation is carried by English missionaries to all parts of the globe, and they find that the natives can learn to read the language of music from it much sooner than they can learn to read their own spoken language.
Seventh. The teachers in the London Board schools are allowed to use whatever method they prefer, but are required to produce certain results. Of the four thousand teachers in that city all, without exception, adopt the tonic sol-fa system. This establishes its value as an elementary or school method.
Eighth. All the classical vocal music is printed in the tonic sol-fa notation-oratorios, masses, cantatas, glees; from Handel's Messiah to Gounod's Redemption, and from the quaintest madrigal of Ford or Wilbye to the latest part-song of Hatton or Pinsuti. In order to supply the popular demand, Messrs. Novello & Co. are reproducing the whole of their immense catalogue of vocal music in the tonic sol-fa notation. This proves its value on the side of higher art.
Ninth. The most eminent English musicians now heartily indorse the movement. When Dr. Stainer, organist of St. Paul's Cathedral, was appointed Inspector of the Training Colleges of the Kingdom two years ago, his first official act was to appoint as his assistant one of the most prominent tonic sol-fa teachers, Mr. W. G. McNaught.
Tenth. The above statement is equally true of the best American musicians, who invariably acknowledge the value of the system as soon as they understand it.
Eleventh. Thousands of amateurs throughout the kingdom are pursuing the study of harmony by postal lessons sent out from the college, showing the incentive to thoroughness which is given by the system.
Twelfth. The tonic sol-fa classes have led in very many cases to the formation of amateur bands, proving that the notation also has great value upon the instrumental side. This was not anticipated by the original promoters of the movement, who supposed the notation to be only suitable for the expression of vocal music.
As mathematics found its key in the nine Arabic figures, so music has found its key in the seven letters of the tonic sol-fa notation. The art is virtually emancipated. It is no longer a deep mystery, to be understood only by the favored few who are born with an exceptional musical faculty. It is brought, by its new method of representation, into conditions which are as easily comprehended by the ordinary mind as the rules of addition and subtraction. For those who possess a natural talent, the tonic sol-fa notation affords the best possible channel for cultivating it. Where the musical gift is deficient, it encourages and develops the latent capacity.
Theodore F. Seward.
OPINIONS OF A CRITIC.
THE question of the value of tonic sol-fa presents itself in two phases. A serious consideration requires that we look not only upon its immediate effect upon present musical effort, but also at its ultimate sociological importance.
As a system of primary education in one department of music, tonic sol-fa has so much to commend it that it scarcely seems worth while to spend time in its discussion. It is already a strong tree known by excellent fruits. To one, therefore, who is concerned simply with local results and existing conditions, there would seem to be only one practical question left open,- How does the education which it is competent to promote stand with relation to the dominant tendency in the cultivation of music?
Tonic sol-fa is admirably adapted to the study of harmony and of singing.
It is ill adapted to the study and practice of instrumental music.
In spite of the multitude of fine phrases that find their way into books and newspapers, the fact is that in this country music is as yet looked upon as a mere accomplishment. Its science is neglected and its popular practice is, as a rule, limited to that phase which yields the most generous (or sonorous) results with the least expenditure of emotional and intellectual force-that is to say, to pianoforteplaying. We may regret this state of affairs, but we are bound to recognize its existence. Now, so long as we confine our efforts to skimming over the surface of music, so long as we continue to vote harmony and the deeper things of the art unessential to popular musical education, and so long as we go on with our present one-sided cultivation of instrumental music to the neglect of vocal, so long we
shall have no need of tonic sol-fa. To the instrumentalist the system presents an utterly inadequate notation, one which places many more obstacles in his path than it removes from the path of the singer. The complexities of the staff notation do not provide embarrassments for the instrumentalist in the degree that they do for the singer, and it is possible that some of them may, in time, be removed. (Wagner's treatment of the parts of some of the transposing instruments in his later orchestral scores might be cited as an indication of a determination to consider simplicity even at the cost of grammatical accuracy.) For instrumental music the staff notation is so beautiful and efficient a system of symbols, however, that an improvement on it is scarcely conceivable. One thing is certain,- no system will supplant it that ignores the pictorial element which is so potent a factor in indicating pitch and time. On this I wish to lay special stress. Our music is growing more and more rich and complex in rhythms, and with every step in this progress toward a greater rhythmical heterogeneity the time signs of the staff notation must advance in our admiration. Try to imagine what a page of Wagner's "Meistersinger" would look like in tonic sol-fa notation. The hopelessness of an attempt to read it as one can read it in our ideographic staff system is apparent at once, and compels a recognition of the inadequacy of tonic solfa for all modern music except that written for voices.
But tonic sol-fa has cast away whatever ambition it may once have had to drive out the staff notation. Advocates of the system now confine themselves to urging its peculiar value in teaching vocal music and harmony, and say that it simplifies the study of the staff, a knowledge of which they admit to be necessary for all who wish to cultivate instrumental
In both respects their claims are amply justified; indeed, they have so convincingly demonstrated the correctness of their opinions by exhibitions of attained results, that the case has been taken out of court with judgment in their favor on all the pleadings except the demurrer of the instrumentalists. The adjudication is not only complete, but in the obiter dicta of the decision are contained the most valuable lessons taught by the controversy. On some
of these lessons I should like to offer a few suggestions, keeping what I have called the "ultimate sociological importance" of the system in view.
There is no doubt in my mind that tonic sol-fa is the fittest means at our command for the promotion of popular choral culture; and a more general, more zealous, wiser cultiva
tion of choral music is the greatest of the socioeducational needs of the United States.
The claim of the tonic sol-faists, that the true method of teaching vocal music is by the intervalic relation of tones, and not by absolute pitch, is unquestionably sound. A sense of absolute pitch is the possession of the few— a highly favored and exceptional few, even among professional musicians. There have been great composers who did not have it — Raff, for instance. To acquire it is all but impossible; to teach it to the masses in schools and choirs is utterly impossible. To bring to the pupil a knowledge of intervals independently is the aim of other methods of instruction; but tonic sol-fa teaches all intervals in their relation to a fundamental tone, the key-note; and in this fact lies its superiority. Tonality, which is impressed upon the mind by this means, distinguishes the complex modern art from the comparatively simple and halfdeveloped art of the Middle Ages.
Tonic sol-fa is in accord with the scientific basis of music. While it teaches sight-readingthe first aim of every system of musical instruction--just as thoroughly (to say no more) as its chief rival, it teaches it more quickly, and by keeping before the learner an ever-accessible starting-point to which he may recur in moments of perplexity, it inspires him with confidence in himself and interest in the composition. There is nothing surprising in the fact (which I believe to be indubitably established) that learners by the tonic sol-fa method acquire a remarkably deep and enthusiastic interest in music. Each successive step in the study of a work lays bare something of its harmonic structure and affords a glimpse to that extent of the operations of the composer's mind. Every such perception creates a bond of interest. Choir-singers know what this means; they know that at no other time do they feel themselves so close to the heart of a composition as while they are helping to sing it. ` A German writer, Hermann Kretschmar, has appositely stated one of the benefits derived by the individual from the cultivation of choral music, in these words:
study is wisely conducted, at each performance accom"Whoever belongs to a singing society in which plishes a work and receives a reward analogous to those of a painter who has copied a masterpiece. And he who has spent a generation in such a society can cherish his recollections like a museum."
Schumann emphasizes over and over again the advantages to be derived by the musical student from singing. "Sing diligently in choirs, especially themiddle parts; this will make you musical," he says in one of his "Musical House and Life Rules," and in another he gives utterance to words which might have