Despite currently having approximately 30-40 books on my desk in the library I only spent this morning reading through the first few as I had some other work to do on my laptop requiring me to be away from all the lovely texts I have yet to read. The reason for so many books is that this project is partly a fishing expedition (and if you want to know more about what I am doing please read my previous post). I have some clues as to where I will find accounts of the female perspective on music education but some of the most interesting discussions I believe will be in novels that one might not typically expect! So I have the onerous task of reading through many, many 18th & 19th-century novels written by ladies such as Austen, Montagu, Gooch and even those ‘by a Lady’ who dared not share her name.
Once again, I found a rather intriguing book called ‘A child’s introduction to thorough bass’ which I had never heard of before despite it appearing in a few other catalogues. Published in 1819, it is set as a conversation between a mother who taught her 2 young children (both under the age of 7) to correctly interpret and play thorough bass. Unlike other music manuals which use highly technical language to discuss the rudiments of musicianship and performance, these conversations highlight the difficulties a young student faced in understand complex music theory and how a mother attempted to break these down and continuously reinforce instruction. It is perhaps a much better reflection of how music education was delivered in the domestic setting than the many manuals written by ‘professors of music’.
This is backed up in another book I read called The Mother’s Book written in 1831 by Lydia Maria Child who pointed out that not all families could afford an expensive music master to teach their daughters. But if her daughter showed a specific personal interest to learn music, then as a mother, she would ask the father to hire such a music master to provide their daughter with instruction. This would be on the basis that once she had obtained enough skill, she would impart her knowledge on her younger siblings. In this light, music is seen as a addition and not a requisite to learning but could be used as an investment in the future career of a daughter and her siblings. Child is also quick to criticise vain families who obtained lessons for their daughter to show off but often the child would have neither the skill nor talent for it.
This idea of the musical genius is absent from these texts and almost all that I have read has point out the hard work and repetition required to really hone the art of music making. This may seem like common sense, but the traditional music manual, which at times were written for domestic use and at times for the pursuit of the profession can paint a different picture. They give the instructions to learn, while these books reveal the realities of learning!