Dwight's Journal of Music
"A Down East Music Teacher"
Boston: 2 February 1853

Letter from a Teacher at the South. [Extract]

  MR. DWIGHT.—In a recent number of the Journal was an extract from the New York Musical World and Times, entitled "Music in Mississippi," which, with your permission, I wish to notice. . . .

  Numerous young ladies are sent from the South to the North to school—some for one year, some for two and some for several—be the time long or short they are expected to return proficient. A mechanic produces work according to the orders and materials furnished him. Can a teacher do more? There are delightful exceptions, where parents from experience and observation know the great amount of patience and practice necessary to do anything in music, and begin with their children accordingly. Happy the teacher who meets with such scholars! I have known girls in New York and Boston, who have studied under the best masters, "do nothing beyond strumming a Waltz or Polka on the piano, or singing a negro melody;" yet in those cities they are surrounded by music all their lives—at home or at school, at church and at play. There is music for the mass as well as the few. That this is a fact, I must deeply regret; but that it is the fault of teachers exclusively, I cannot believe. Whilst "Negro Vocalists," "Ethiopian Serenaders," and low priced third and fourth rate concerts are patronized by cultivated people it would take a legion of teachers to raise the musical taste of all their pupils to a high standard. Here [in Georgia], the early advantages are greatly inferior—their domestic music is made by the Negro. Church music among the Methodists, who are by far the greatest denomination, is Congregational singing, after the obsolete, and to many Northerners, unheard of fashion of lining the hymn. With such early preparations girls are sent to school with the expectation that they will return accomplished musicians. The teacher must work them up to a few pieces at least, and half of these songs. With all these disadvantages sometimes the finest talent is developed, a talent and enthusiasm greater than we meet under more fortunate circumstances. The novelty adds to and increases the taste. If these early promises which have been found here do not result in more than a tolerably taught scholar, it may be on account of the limited time girls study. Young ladies are too old to attend school after they are sixteen, and getting "old maids" at eighteen.

  The Mississippi lady objects to "Negro Melodies," and certainly as part of musical education they are about as appropriate as "Mother Goose's Melodies" would be for a reading book in one of your Grammar Schools—they are justly considered too as equivocal proofs of taste. But if they may be allowed anywhere, it is in this section, where the sentiment, language, expression of them is so familiar. Although first published at the North, you there know nothing of the power and pathos given them here. The whites first learn them—the negroes catch the air and words from once hearing, after which woods and fields resound with their strains—the whites catch the expression from these sable minstrels—thus Negro Melodies have an effect here not dreamed of at the North. I have spent an evening of as hearty, if not as high enjoyment, seated in state on the wide piazza, listening to a negro singing his melodies accompanied by his banjo, now grave now gay, as I ever did in Tremont Temple or the Melodeon, and as I expect to in the new Music Hall. When I heard Jenny Lind sing "Home, sweet Home" it caused such an emotion as I never before experienced; it might be exquisite home-sickness. "Old Folks at Home," as I hear it shouted from house to house, from the fields and in the vallies, has an effect scarcely inferior. I find myself often humming the chorus and even dream at night,

"Oh, comrades, how my heart goes weary,
Far from the dear friends at home."

  This has little to do with musical education in the main, but much in effect. A thing that speaks to the heart is hard to be reasoned down. We might teach all the New England songs ever published, and sing with the expression that none but a Northerner far from home can feel, "I love, I love the snow," without the effect that one of these simple melodies has. These are by no means part and parcel of the lessons taught, although they will be learned. I have heard "Songs without Words," "Wedding March," "Invitation a la Valse," &c., &c., given with as much truth and earnestness here as I ever heard from a learner in Boston. Many little fingers are improving in skill as well as delighting little heads with the sweet melodies from "Schumann's Album," number first. These may seem the A B C part to you, but can one do better than begin, in Boston? Beethoven's Sonatas are not entirely unknown here, but I confess they are by no means daily companions. . . .

Respectfully yours,