IT is important to have a right conception of a mental faculty. Erroneous views formerly held in regard to the nature of the mental faculties have given rise’ to mischievous psychological doctrines, the influence of which still lingers. Faculties were considered as integral parts of one whole soul, as, e. g., the different rooms in a house; the parts of a watch or steam engine; the keys, pipes, etc., of an organ; the various departments of the body politic. Faculties have also been regarded as separate and distinct organs of a mental organism, as, e. g., the organs of the human body, such as the heart, lungs, stomach, brain, etc., each being a complete machine, as it were, within a machine. Then, too, faculties have been spoken ,of as distinct agents within us, which have their respective provinces and authority, which command, obey, and perform various acts, as so many separate beings.
These views are all erroneous and prejudicial to the progress of psychological science. Even as illustrations they serve a vicious purpose. We must frame our definition of a mental faculty upon the basis of the absolute unity and indivisibility of the soul. When we classify, for purposes of study and description, the various operations of the mind and assign these operations to different powers, we are not to suppose that we can divide the mind into different compartments, like so many pigeon holes in a secretary’s letter case. No division of the soul itself is possible, either in essence or in energy. In all mental operations the acting agent is one and the same, and the energy is likewise one and indivisible. When we remember, or judge, or feel, or will, the whole soul acts, and not a particular part or so-called organ of the soul.
By mental faculty we mean a particular mode of the soul’s activity. The human hand may serve for illustration. With the same hand I can paint a picture, chisel a statue, write a letter, perform a surgical operation, read a page of raised type, hold conversation with a deaf-mute, play the piano or organ, and perform a thousand other offices. In all these operations, it is one and the same hand and the whole hand that acts. So we are to represent to ourselves the so-called faculties of the soul they are modes of exercise, forms of mental activity, definite ways in which the soul puts forth its energy. Therefore, when we analyze and classify mental phenomena and faculties, we analyze and classify modes of mental activity. In our sense of the word, faculties are simple or complex, primary or secondary, according to the nature of the mental exercise in question. From our standpoint we may speak also of a musical faculty, meaning thereby that mode of the soul’s activity which manifests itself in musical conceptions and perceptions, Musical ideals, musical emotions, etc. The musical faculty is complex in its nature, involving intellectual, moral, and aesthetic elements, the aesthetic decidedly predominating.
The Musical Faculty Universal. A question of practical interest° arises, namely, Is every soul endowed with the musical faculty? Has everybody capacity for music and can anyone learn music? The idea quite extensively prevails that musical gifts are the exclusive possession of a highly favored class of people called geniuses. Only the musical genius can learn music; or rather, music is not something to be learned at all as other things must be learned, but it is a direct gift from the Creator to the genius, and he who is not such a genius can never hope to become a musician. This idea belongs to the shadowy mysticism of the middle ages, and its lingering presence in our time has been a great barrier in the way of progress in musical science and art. It is a vain delusion which a little knowledge of psychology can easily dispel.
There is such a thing as genius which marks a broad distinction between individuals. The Latin word genius signifies the divine nature which is innate in all human beings. Webster defines genius as “that peculiar structure of mind with which each individual is endowed, but especially mental superiority and uncommon intellectual power.” The man of genius is one who is endowed with unusual mental powers. It is a matter of common observation that mental gifts vary greatly, but where the sphere of the common order of mind ends and that of the genius begins no one can determine, for there is in nature no such dividing line.. There are some rarely gifted spirits that live and move in the high peak regions and look down upon the world from “inspiration point” ; a much larger number live in middle altitudes, while the great mass of workers belong to the lower plains of life. To the first class belong such men as Homer, Plato, Virgil, Dante, Shakespeare, Beethoven, etc. Like the high mountain peaks of earth, they are few in number,and far apart in time. No one needs to be told which is Pike’s Peak or the Matterhorn among other neighboring peaks, for these giants bear the testimony of their grandeur in their own appearance; so the lofty spirits of history need no title to speak their claim to eminence, for they have in themselves the unmistakable marks of their transcendent greatness. These are geniuses in the true sense.
In the lower and degraded sense, a genius is one who dabbles in everything but does nothing well. If a young man be able only to play a few tunes upon each of the several horns of a brass band, immediately he is called a genius. There is much point in Josh Billings’ quaint definition, “A genius is a person who thinks he knows everything, but who in reality knows nothing, except how to spill `vittles’ on his clothes.” Such genius substitutes imaginary gifts for true merit and for hard work. It is, alas! too common a product of our age. The musical world is not without numerous examples.
Genius stands in antithesis to talent, though often mistaken one for the other. Genius is creative; talent is imitative, and inasmuch as men rarely become great by imitating others, men of talent seldom acquire universal fame. Genius makes its own laws, is, in fact, a law unto itself; it boldly oversteps those rules which minds of lower order slavishly observe; talent follows in the steps of genius and patiently submits to those rules which genius dictates. Talent learns art rules from books; genius reads them within herself. “Talent is a bird fastened to a string; genius is the bird unfettered.” Genius in a certain sense is beyond criticism. The immortal bards, musicians, painters, sculptors, etc., are kings in the realm of art by a kind of “divine right,” and they wield their scepters in serene heights above the storms of conflicting, selfishness and bigotry which rage on the middle and lower slopes. Genius dares to do things for which talent would be severely criticised. It is related that Beethoven was once approached by a young man with the request that he should examine one of the young student’s compositions. The master made a few corrections, but he was soon reminded of the fact that he himself in like manner had over stepped the rules. Beethoven smiled and said, “I may do so, but you dare not.”
Genius is the highest order of endowment. “The average man can never produce those works of art which genius produces, no matter how he applies himself, or who teaches him. Lacking, as he does, that high degree of sensibility which distinguishes genius, he fails to receive those impressions which genius alone can receive; how, then, can he give expression to the lofty inspirations of the man of genius?” When genius conceives a work of art, he does not take pencil in hand and say, Now I will write a grand symphony, nor does he prepare colors and say, Now I will paint a Madonna. True genius is not so selfconscious; he knows but faintly his own methods by which he works. In every great masterpiece of genius there is something inexplicable, something that does not yield to analysis, something mysterious. We may get nearer and nearer to the secret, but we are never quite able to lay our hand on it; in the last analysis it is inseparable from the artist’s personality, which is a thing primary and not resolvable into elements. There is in highest art something that cometh not by observation: this sacred and inscrutable something is what true genius gives us in a great work of art and what distinguishes it from a common production.
Oliver Wendell Holmes classifies intellects thus: “One story intellects, two-story intellects, three-story intellects. All fact collectors, who have no aim beyond their facts, are one-story men. Two-story men compare, reason, generalize, using the labors of the fact collectors as well as their own. Three-story men idealize, imagine, predict; their best illuminations come from above, through the skylight. They are the men of genius.”
Genius lives in a world of its own, a world into which the average man can never hope to enter. Genius is always in advance of the times and sees with prophetic eye the best things of distant ages. It is the lofty mountain peak which first catches the rays of the rising sun, while yet darkness and deep shadows rest in the valley below where the common people dwell. As the eagle soars aloft toward the source of light, while the little birds nestle in the hedges near the ground, so genius in the flights of its imagination lives in regions above the common plains. “And as little as the bare eye can count the strokes of the eagle’s wings when it appears only as a mere speck before the clouds, so little can the average man count and comprehend the beatings of the wild-throbbing heart of genius” (Mertz).
These remarks about genius truthfully represent the facts in the case as we see them in the various departments of the art world. Genius is no fiction; but a sublime reality to which the wise man will gladly show deference and reverence. With these facts before us we come back to our question,Is the Musical faculty Universal? Can anybody be a musician? Not everyone can become a great musician; not everyone can be a genius in musical art. No; that implies a rare combination of qualities, an extraordinary degree of endowment which the Creator for wise reasons has bestowed only upon few of the sons and daughters of earth. There are only few great mathematicians, astronomers, poets, painters, architects, orators, musicians. The Beethovens, Handels, Mozarts, Haydns, Mendelssohns, Liszts, Bachs are very rare. To such a high degree of excellence, not everyone may hope to attain.
While not all men are geniuses and have their spheres marked out in the sublime heights, yet all have God-given gifts, in higher or lower degree. We may not have ten talents, nor five; it may be we have only one; still it is a talent given us by our Creator, and it is our duty to improve that one talent to the best of our opportunity and ability. Our gift is capable of cultivation and should receive our earnest and conscientious attention; we must not, like the unfaithful servant, go and bury our talent in the earth. There are many who compose music, paint pictures, carve out statues, make verses, but do not produce such gems of art as those that come out of the workshop of genius; yet the work of these amateurs and men of talent is not to be despised because it is inferior to that of the highest genius, for it occupies an important place in the temple of art and deserves honorable mention in the history of art products.
Yes; doubting soul, whoever you may be, you have the musical faculty, you may learn music, you may achieve commendable success in the line of your desires. Application will tell the story, earnest work will decide your capability in music just as in everything else. Faithful work is the measure of success. Even men of genius have always been hard workers, diligent students. Be not deceived; genius is never a substitute for labor. There is no excellence without labor. If you do not belong to the class of geniuses, you are a fellow being, a brother, a sister of these great men, and this thought should encourage and inspire you. You have the same kind of faculties, the same modes of mental activity as the rest of man-kind. Every rational soul has by creation the same faculties, however they may differ in their degree of development and efficiency.
I know this statement is contrary to the traditional idea and to the popular notion about the matter, but I am persuaded that it rests on a sound psychologie foundation. Every normal human soul has capacity for learning arithmetic, history, languages, science, literature, the arts, business, stenography, banking, locomotive engineering, type-setting, house building, stone cutting, etc., etc.; but not everyone may be a master in each of these lines. So each and every soul has capacity for appreciating and learning music. In a public address, W. H. Cummings, principal of the Guildhall School of Music, London, said: “Not all people can be great musicians, but children are born with the musical faculty as well as with pairs of eyes and legs… If children are not taught to make good use of the faculties which God has given them, it is not a very wonderful thing that these same faculties, instead of improving, should become almost nonexistent… All may become excellent and discriminating listeners, and distinguish what is good and what is worthless. No one can tell whether a child may not turn out a Mozart, a Paderewski, an Albani, a Sims Reeves, or what not, unless its faculties are cultivated; and it is the duty of parents to give their children the highest possible education through good instructors, remembering that nothing is of any value unless it is studied with a really earnest purpose.”
The musical faculty is not an exclusive gift of the favored few. Let the mischievous delusion that has so long held sway be dispelled once for all. Musical science and musical art rest on the same psychologic basis as everything else that may be learned. Not a vague mystical theory, but solid experimental facts of mind must decide the question. To this idea pedagogical theory in all branches of instruction is gradually adjusting itself; from this foundation musical education in our day has found new points of departure. As we come to understand the psychological facts in the case we introduce musical instruction in the common schools in an exact parallel with instruction in arithmetic, geography, history, language study, etc.; we teach children the rudiments of music just as we teach them the rudiments of other subjects, and do not once inquire whether or not any of them have been destined to the high realm of musical genius. As they have ears and eyes and voices and fingers and minds, we take it for granted that they can learn music just as they learn anything else.
Who Shall Devote Himself to Music? Not those who can’t and won’t study anything else, not those who are lazy and inflated with a false notion of genius, not those who are good for nothing in other things. Who shall study law, or medicine, or civil engineering? Surely not the idiot, but those who have the finest endowments, the most enthusiastic love for study, the indomitable will, unflagging perseverance, sound mind and sound nerves. So, whoever has these general prerequisites may devote himself to music with a fair show of success.