The Benefits of Music
Timothy Shay Arthur, 1856
The old notion, that music could be learned only by those who had a peculiar gift or ear for it, seems to be pretty nearly exploded. It seems to be everywhere conceded, by those who have paid much attention to the subject, that music may be as generally and as successfully taught to young people as other branches of knowledge. There will, of course, be different degrees of talent and aptness to learn manifested in this as in everything else, and the amount of attainment will vary correspondingly.
But does it follow that an art should not be taught at all, because the highest excellence cannot be attained in it? Not one child in a thousand can excel in penmanship, in drawing, or in mathematics. But who would consider that a sufficient reason for not attempting instructions in those branches? Since the introduction of music into common schools in this country it has been sufficiently demonstrated, that it may be taught with as much success as reading and writing.
Aside from its importance as a part of public worship, and as a personal accomplishment, it exerts a marked and very beneficial influence in promoting social enjoyment and kind feeling in the family. In this view it presents itself to parents in a very attractive light.
Music serves to make a home pleasant, by engaging many of its inhabitants in a delightful recreation, and thus dispelling the sourness and gloom which frequently arise from petty disputes, from mortified vanity, from discontent and envy. It prevents, for the time, at least, evil thoughts and evil speaking, and tends to relieve the minds of both performers and hearers from the depressing effects of care and melancholy. Young people need, and will have amusements. If an innocent and improving kind is not provided at home, they will seek for some kind elsewhere. If they find places more agreeable to them than their homes — those homes will be deserted, and thus the gentle and holy influences which ought to encircle the family fireside, will be in a great measure lost.
The discipline of the heart, afforded by music, is not unimportant. It is a language — an expression of sublime thoughts and pure affections. It is a heavenly employment — the delight of angels in another and a better world. It begets and perpetuates love; and love is from God. Everything which promotes affectionate fellowship between parents and children, and brothers and sisters, is of great value in giving purity and strength to home influences. In these latter days, when improper places of public amusement are so numerous and cheap; when vice is arrayed in all the charms of painting and sculpture, of poetry, eloquence, and music — concerted and vigorous efforts should be made to preserve the young from their pernicious influence. To do this, they must be kept at home; and to keep them at home — they must be made to love their homes. To secure that love, home must be made agreeable; and, for this, music is unquestionably one of the cheapest and most efficient means.
No families are so pleasant as those where the voices of parents and children mingle in sweet, solemn, and exhilarating sounds. No scenes present themselves to the memory, later in life, with more delightful associations than those in which favorite tunes and fragments of well-remembered verse are connected with the familiar faces and fond endearments of the domestic hearth.
Again, music is not without use as an intellectual and also as a physical exercise. The study of it as a science is, perhaps, as good discipline as the study of other sciences, for it exercises the same faculties of the mind; while the practice of it as an art gives flexibility, clearness, and strength to the voice, develops the chest, and invigorates the whole frame.
A strong prejudice against music has arisen in the minds of many people, from the excess to which it is sometimes carried. If children are taught to sing, it is alleged, they will be so fond of it as to cause it to interfere with more serious and weighty matters. In some instances it may be so. But it should be remembered that the objection implies the abuse of a thing good in itself, and applies with equal force to social visiting, to reading, and every kind of recreation. Fruit is good; but to be indulged in with impunity, it must be eaten in moderate quantities and at proper times.
Just so with music: if practiced to such an extent as to cause a waste of time needed for other purposes, or in such a manner as to be a pander to vice — it becomes a source of corruption. But under the control of an enlightened understanding and conscience, it is the handmaid of virtue.
Like woman, another of Heaven's kind gifts to man, music "doubles our joys and divides our sorrows;" and, like her, too, it finds its most appropriate place, and its sweetest influences, in the bosom of the family.