The very first question to ask of an applicant for vocal lessons is

"what is your ambition?" By that, I mean, the teacher should know at the

very start what purpose the pupil has in study, or if he has any

purpose. The intention of the pupil should make a difference in the

consideration given to the pupil in the matter of voice trial. If an

applicant says he wishes to sing in Opera and the teacher sees that he

lacks al
capacity for such high position, he should frankly say so; if

the applicant says that he wishes to learn to sing well that he may have

pleasure in his own singing and give pleasure to his friends, that

should be taken into account. Such person, provided he has any voice and

musical instinct, can reach the height of his ambition and his study

should be encouraged.

The first visit of an applicant to a teacher is a most important event

in the life of the pupil. The importance of it is not appreciated. To

very many persons it marks a change--a veritable conversion--in their

lives. A mistake made by the teacher with regard to the future of the

pupil is a serious matter. That visit gives the teacher his chance to

plan his treatment and is akin to the diagnosis of the physician. The

pupil places himself in the hands of the teacher as thoroughly as does

the patient give himself over to the physician. The case assumes

importance from this fact. Responsibility by the teacher is assumed. The

musical future of the pupil is in his hands. It may be for the good of

the pupil that he found his particular teacher and it may not be.

"What is your ambition regarding your music?" is the safeguard of the

teacher. Knowing that, he can have a basis for examination and a ground

for promises to the student. In the large cities, teachers are troubled

with that which would be very amusing were it not for the sad part of

it. Students of music come from the smaller cities and from the country

and begin a series of visits to the different studios for the purpose of

selecting a teacher. Everyone seems to recommend a new teacher and the

student calls upon all. The result is surely disastrous to the pupil. He

or she is left in doubt as to whom to go for study. The different

promises made, the compliments paid, the hopes of ambition raised, are

all enough to unbalance the judgment of older heads than those who

usually seek the music studio. When a teacher is finally selected, it

takes a long time to settle down into confidence in him so that the best

result can be obtained. I said it would be amusing to the teacher were

it not sad. I have known persons to boast that they had had "as good as

a lesson" from the different teachers visited. I even know men who are

teaching voice culture and singing in this city who claim to teach

certain methods, and all they know of those methods is what they picked

up in the interviews which they pretended were to see about arranging

for study. As if any man of experience would give (or could give) his

instruction in a talk of ten or fifteen minutes! The men who have ways

of teaching which are so good that they bring valuable renown are too

shrewd to be caught in any such way as that. What shall be done about

such persons? Nothing. Let them alone. They die out after a time. Were

there any way to prevent other people from following their example it

would be a most excellent thing. But as society is made up, as long as

the flash of a piece of glass passes for the sparkle of a diamond just

so long will the cheater spring up, flourish and disappear.

A question more to the point is "How can the racing from studio to

studio be stopped?" I frankly say that I do not know. Generally I avoid

bringing up a subject which has not in my own mind reached solution. I

can suggest remedies if not cures.

By writing about it some little help may be given the student. The

remedy--nearly all city teachers have some special branch, a branch in

which they obtain satisfactory results. One succeeds in Italian Opera,

another in Voice Culture; one in Rudimental Study, another in Oratorio;

one has many pupils in church choirs, another forms delightful classes

of society pupils. "What is your ambition?" Find that teacher whose

general reputation is in that which you want to do and be, and commence

study with him. A very few lessons with that teacher--say ten

lessons--will tell the student whether he is the right teacher or not.

Probably the teacher will prove satisfactory. If not, by that

time--acquaintance with the teachers of the city will permit more

certain selection, the second time. "But," say you, "those ten lessons

have cost something." True, but they have not cost half as much as it

costs to settle an unbalanced mind.

To return to the first question, what is your ambition? Has it ever

occurred to you to wonder what becomes of all the music students--how

many are there? Who can tell? One teacher boasts of having given four

hundred vocal lessons last month; another caps that by claiming five

hundred. Allow for all exaggeration, and say that these teachers (and

thirty or forty others had as many students at work) had all they could

do. They had from thirty to fifty pupils under study. What is to become

of them, and how many ever amount to anything? The teacher has

responsibility. He who receives every person who applies, especially if

he tells him what a good voice he has and how well he can sing after a

term or two, borders very nearly upon the scoundrel, or else the fool.

If he thinks he can make a singer out of every person who comes to him

he is the fool; if he flatters a person whom he knows can never become a

singer, he is a scoundrel. He who is wise will find out the desire of

the applicant and tell him frankly whether or not he can reach the

desired goal. If he thinks it cannot be done there is no objection to

his pointing out some other channel of musical usefulness and advising

him to enter that. If the applicant has no aptitude for the desired

study the only honest course is to tell him not to waste time and money

on his voice. Any conscientious teacher feels a shudder sometimes over

the responsibility of his position when the thought comes up "what

becomes of all the music students?" We can ask "what becomes of the

pins?" and have the question answered. The material of which they are

made can be supplied anew. "So," say you, "will new pupils come." But

those who are now studying must be made something of. The day they begin

study a new world opens to them. Is it for good or ill? That remains for

the teacher to solve. Every true teacher improves every pupil who

studies with him. Some of them will become good singers and fine

musicians. These are the ones most talked about and the teacher finds

pleasure in the added reputation which they bring, but the others have

the right to demand that they shall be raised to a higher plain of life

because of their music lessons.

What becomes of all the ambitious youths and maidens who study singing?

Only one or two now and then amount to very much in professional life.

Thousands attempt to be "Patties," but who has reached her height? Some

one is at fault that this is so. Whatever belongs to the singing

teacher, let him assume, but let him keep in mind that there is

something to guard in the future. Over in Milan, ten years or more ago,

while a student there, I met a great many Americans who like myself were

there for study. I was told that at least two thousand American young

ladies were there. Probably more than half of them expected to become

successful singers in grand opera. How many successful singers in grand

opera have appeared during the last ten years? A very few surely. What

has become of the "ninety and nine?" Of that, say nothing. I saw the

wretched lives they were leading at Milan--most of them--and advised,

nay, begged, that they would go home to America and do anything for a

living if they must work, rather than to stay there. Taking in washing

would be much more ennobling than what some of them were doing. Whose

fault was it that so many were there, and that so many are there all the

time? Teachers of singing here at home must sooner or later realize that

they did it. How, when, or for what purpose? Well, much might be said

which will not be. Had an honest expression of the belief regarding the

possibility of gratifying the original ambition been given, very much of

the wrong done could have been avoided.

One of the reasons why many people try to learn to sing is because some

one has urged them to do so. The person who arouses the interest in

another does a necessary act, and yet there should be a good degree of

caution used in the matter. This article will be read by thousands who

are now students, and as the aim of the magazine is to educate, let us

see what word can be formed in the idea of this paragraph, which will

make students better able to use judgment in inducing others to study.

Do not cease in the efforts to bring others into musical work, but let

your effort be tempered with discretion. When you hear a person sing who

evidently enjoys it, whose face beams with pleasure, and whose voice

pleases her hearers; when, in a word, you hear one who has a voice, and

has intelligence enough to understand himself and his music, then learn

if he has given serious study to music. If not, urge him to see a master

at once. Do not, however, when you hear a person labor through a song,

with act painful to himself and everybody else, urge him to go a

teacher, "and learn how."

Well, reader, "What is your ambition?" Have you any? If not, get one

pretty soon. I would say that before another sun sets, you should have a

settled purpose in your vocal study and follow that purpose to a

definite end. That matter settled you will do more than ever before. It

is a matter which you must settle. Others may suggest and advise, but

you must decide it, yourself. I would not continue study without a fixed

purpose. A poor purpose is better than none. Shall I tell you of some of

the ambitions which students have, and say a word about them? Perhaps

you will get a useful idea from that. The best use of lessons in music

is that you may know music and how to use it for pleasure wherever you

may be placed. This means that the study should be for education itself

and not for the financial return which the study may bring. Study for

the culture of a beautiful art--for the improvement of the mind, for the

refinement which comes with associating with that which is pure. When

one tells a teacher that this is his ambition, he will in many cases

find that the teacher wishes him to work for something besides. A church

choir is something of that sort. There is no reason why one should not

have other ambitions, but the highest ambition which one can have is to

make himself a musician of the highest and best kind. The whole journey

toward becoming such is pleasant. Whoever goes but one mile along the

road has his reward, and each additional mile brings its additional

reward. Anyone can have this ambition in his study, and he who is most

faithful and has the most intelligence will make the most progress and

do the best in a given time. People who have little or none of that

which is called musical genius can so develop that talent which they

possess that they will be accounted musical. Those who have more can do

almost anything. The class of persons who study with this ambition is

larger, proportionately, in small cities than it is in the large ones.

It is a fact that people are, in many small cities, better educated in

music in which they can participate individually, than are the people of

large cities. The students enter for long periods of study and follow

those studies which do them the most good. With them the ambition to be

musical and to have a good musical education is upper-most in mind. It

is the best ambition to have. Even if no other use is made of the

study, that education well repays one for all the time and money devoted

to it. The choicest moments of life are while directly participating in

music, or while engaged in that of which music is the accompaniment. Our

association with friends in their homes and in our own is sweetened by

music; our tired brains are rested at the concert, the opera, and the

theatre; our seasons of deepest devotion and greatest spiritual delight,

when we are at the house of worship are made more holy because the

sacred words are beautified by music. Every act which can be looked back

upon even to the child days, when the little songs of the school

children were ours, has its embellishment of music. Whatever we do to

increase our appreciation of music, to make us better able to make

music, and to add to the charm of life of our own circle, is profitable.

The good of it comes to us every day, and in addition it prepares us the

better for that higher life to which we are all hastening, because it

makes more beautiful the soul. The ambition to study for music itself

is, then, the best ambition to have.

The majority of those who present themselves to the city teacher wish to

sing in church choirs. The reason is plain. There is some chance for

financial return. There is also on the part of many a certain sense of

duty to the church which they wish to fulfil by participating in its

services. There are many things to be said on this whole subject and

when such things are spoken it should be with no uncertain tone. The

ambition to become a church singer should be held within certain bounds.

The path to become such and the gratification which comes from the work

accomplished are not such as most persons think they are. Of course the

study to become able to sing in a church choir is altogether delightful.

To prepare the voice so that it can be used as a means of interpreting

the best church music is the best part of voice culture. Tones of good

power, pure quality, evenness, and fair range, are absolutely necessary.

No greater pleasure comes into voice culture than the training to be

able to do just such work. Then the music of the church is satisfying.

There is more to it than the light music of the parlor or light opera,

more that appeals to deep feeling, more with which we can arouse our


With regard to the wish to serve the church by our vocal powers, it may

be said that while that is laudable, it is one that disappears very soon

after one has the chance to put it into practical use. The wish is a bit

of sentiment, and there is nothing like the practical to dispel

sentiment. This brings us to a consideration of the choir and whether

the ambition to become a choir singer is worth anything or not.

In small places the choir singer is at once a person of some note. That

note which the position gives has a value. The country choir becomes a

sociable club (although composed of only four persons) and the

friendship which each has for the other is a thing to be prized. Country

choirs generally practise enough to have the voices blend and to have

the singing good. There is some pleasure in singing in such a choir. But

does it pay, financially? In some places it does, and he who is in a

paying position in a country choir has the best place of any one in

choir work. How many, though, of those who go to the teacher with the

ambition to study for the choir would feel contented to take such a

place as that? No, they want a place in the city choir, and at large

salary. Have they ability enough to fill such position, and could they

hold the position if they obtained it? The competition for choir

positions in a city like New York is very great indeed. Let it be known

that a vacancy is to occur in any church choir and hundreds if not

thousands of applications are made. Only one person can have the place.

The work of selecting one person out of the many applicants begins. It

is at this point that the student feels the sentiment regarding singing

in church begin to disappear. She feels that she is not being given a

fair chance. She supposes that that which would give her the position is

good voice, good singing and a good character. As sad as it may seem,

she is decidedly wrong.

That which is wanted in most city churches is "style" in body and dress,

a comely face and vivacious manner. If the applicant lacks these she may

as well not try, no matter what her musical acquirements may be. In

fact, there are many singers in church choirs of New York and Brooklyn

who haven't the least claim to be singers at all. Then regarding pay for

choir singers in these cities. There is very little money in it.

Salaries have been reduced and there are always those content to take

the places at the lower figure. The majority of singers in these cities

get less than $300 a year. Deduct from that the cost of car-fares, extra

clothing, and the little incidentals which count up, and not one half of

that amount remains as income. That does not pay to work for. The time

and labor used in earning it could be better used in something else. A

better money return could be had from that time in a dozen different

things by any person who has ability enough to become a singer in a city

church on salary. Nor is the possibility of obtaining a greater salary

in later years to be taken into account. If an increased salary does

come increased expenses come with it. Even if, after years of waiting,

the student makes herself a fine singer and is competent to take a high

place, she finds herself set one side for a fresh face and a new voice.

That is a picture which is not pleasant; but which is true to life.

One may ask if there is no work in choir or church for which one can

prepare himself and which will be pleasant and desirable. Yes, in two

directions;--first, when one is so trained that she is very desirable as

a solo singer--one who can sing sacred songs well--she can find a

position in which she has this and no other work to do. She then avoids

competition, because her fame attracts the church to her. She has no

long and trying rehearsals and she can be an artist as well as a church

singer. But how many years of study this takes! Is your ambition equal

to it? The second line of pleasureable work is, that of the

choir-leader. Unhappily for singers, in most of the city churches the

organist is made choir-leader; even in the vested choirs of the

Episcopal church. This is not well for the choir or the church, but we

must take things as we find them. When one is competent to superintend

the music of the church and can find a choir to take charge of he is a

happy singer. These two positions--of professional choir soloist and of

choir-director--are the only satisfactory ones in the large cities.

In connection with this it may be said that if one wishes to take a

prominent position as concert singer it is almost necessary that he

should hold a church choir position. At least he needs that until his

fame as a concert singer is great. Managers of concerts in various

sections of the country ask the very first thing, "Where does he sing?"

If he is connected with a city choir he is placed. The choir gives him


Concert singing is the field most widely opened and most easily filled

of any to which a singer can aspire. Every year the concert field

broadens. The so-called "grand" concerts of the last generation have

disappeared, and that is better for the singer. Concert singing is more

thoroughly a business and it is one worthy the ambition of any vocal

student. Not that it is always pleasant business--what is, for that

matter?--but it is something which can be entered upon on business

lines, and one can make a place for himself in it. His first work is, of

course, vocal and musical preparation. He should begin as soon as he can

sing well enough to appear before an audience at all, to sing whenever

and wherever he can get the chance. This is for practice and not for

pay. No one ought to expect pay before he has sung at fifty or sixty

entertainments without pay. He must have that amount of practice on his

audiences. If he has improved his opportunities his name will be known

by the time that period of experience is over and he can then begin to

demand a small fee. The smaller the better for him. He can then begin

to send his name abroad as an applicant for more remuneration. Step by

step he can improve in ability and increase his income. It is a work to

which all can be directed. It takes years to make any goodly success at

it. Three years are needed to make a good beginning, but when one looks

back over a life, three years of preparation do not seem long.

With regard to singing in opera and theatre a word can be given at

another time. An outline of what might be said is this:--grand opera is

very limited, and only few can become opera singers in grand opera;

light opera presents a good field for the gratification of ambition,

under certain conditions; the theatre presents a good field for

vocalists to those who feel inclined to enter theatrical life.