MORAL MUSIC

(By An Experimenter. From the "Evening Standard.")

I am in a humble sphere of life—a hairdresser's assistant, in fact; but I have a thirst for improving my mind, and regularly attend the evening classes at our institute. It was there I read in a magazine about morals and music. The writer discussed the question whether music by itself, unpolluted by words, had any "mental significance or moral power." I left off reading, rather puzzled, but I am of a practical turn of mind. I joined our bricklaying class at the institute last term, and, although I nip my fingers a good deal, still it has made me inclined to put all new truths to the test of experiment. So I determined to experiment on myself, and see what mental significance and moral power music possessed, if any. I regulated my life very carefully during the trial, so that no outside influence should spoil the result. I weighed and measured out my food and drink, abstained from pickles and sensation literature, denied myself the exciting pleasure of Jemima's company on Thursday and Sunday, and, to counterbalance the language of some of our ruder customers, and to give morals an even chance, I slept with a tract under my pillow. I started with a quite unprejudiced mind, for the attention I had paid to music before was mostly measured by the loudness of it. I took a seat at St. James's Hall in good time, and opened my mind and morals for impressions. First of all, a man came on the platform and began, as far as I could see, to tune the piano. I thought he ought to have done this before the advertised time of opening, but when he got off the stool, the people all began to applaud him, and on inquiring, I found that the man I had taken for the tuner was really the giver of the concert, and that he had been playing one of his own compositions. So I lost this experiment altogether. However, soon after the player returned with a violinist, and they started a duet. I set my teeth. If there was any significance or moral in a violin and piano mixed, I determined to have it. I had first fleeting visions before my mind of all the creatures I had ever seen in pain. There was the squeak of a rat caught in a trap; there was the same sort of shriek Jemima gave when I took her to have a tooth out; and there was the loud wail which accompanies the conversion of pig into pork. But this was only the first chapter. The players stopped, and began again; and the next chapter plunged me among the industrial arts. Under the influence of the magic instruments I saw the foundation of England's greatness. There was an athletic carpenter industriously sawing wood. There was a grindstone putting an edge on an axe. There were a number of whirrs, which brought back vividly a loom I had seen at work at an exhibition, and there was a rather asthmatic smith striking his anvil and coughing between every blow.

But this was not all. They began a third chapter, and I was immediately among lolly-pops. All the nicest things I had ever tasted stood before me in a row. There was a pot full of apricot jam; there was some roast beef gravy, than which, taken on the knife, I know nothing more toothsome; there was a sixpenny strawberry ice, and a nice cut of lamb and mint sauce to finish up with. I was sorry when they left off, but glad to find I was on the trace of a moral. The piece was evidently a musical embodiment of a clean shave: the first part was the misery of laying your head back and having your nose tweaked; the second was the being scraped; and the last was the happy moment when you stretch your limbs, pass your satisfied hand over your smooth chin, and nod to yourself complacently in the glass. The moral was obvious; that it is a duty to get shaved, and not to shave yourself, but to go to the professional man. My next experiment was to hear a young lady sing. She came on the platform, looking lovely, and she had on a sash and a dress improver that I never saw equalled for elegance. My hopes rose at the sight of her. I felt sure that so much beauty could not be otherwise than moral. "Oh, do be moral! do be moral!" I kept saying to myself, as the accompanist opened fire on her song. A dreadful thought then arose: the words of her song would taint the experiment, which was to be on music alone. But, to my delight, I could not catch a word of what she sang. It was all pure music. Her sweet song suggested to me as follows: I first saw her running up stairs and down again as fast as ever she could, and then she sat down on the mat to rest, while the piano panted. Then she drew out from somewhere one long, straight note, thick in the middle and tapering off at each end, so seductive that I fancied myself a storm-tossed mariner listening to a mermaid. I could almost feel the waves of the Margate boat gurgle around me. Then she drew a jug of hot water out of the boiler—at least, that was its intellectual significance to me, because the note went steadily rising upwards, with little splashes in between, just like the sound of the water when I draw a jug to shave a customer. Then she ran upstairs again like lightning, and disappeared through the tiles, while the pianist banged the front door to. I am sure there was a splendid moral to all this, for she looked so beautiful and smiled so sweetly; but I am undecided whether the moral was that I was to sign the pledge, or that I was not to go to concerts without Jemima as a safeguard.

I next gave myself up bodily to what they called a "concerto." When I saw several gentlemen come on to the platform, with a variety of instruments, I thought it would be a more serious experiment than the others, and so it proved. I kept my eyes on them when they first began, but they looked so comical—one with his cheeks blown out, another with his hair as if it had just been machined, another trying to get his arm round his fiddle's waist, and another jerking his eyes out of his head—that I felt it was not giving the music a fair chance, so I shut my own eyes tight. As soon as I had done so there was no end of intellectual significance. I was in a pleasure van just starting for Hampton Court, with Jemima. There was the jog trot of the horses, and every now and then the skid put on; there was laughter and the puffing of pipes, and occasionally a loud roar, as we crossed a big thoroughfare. We soon got into the country and heard the birds chirping, and there was a sweet gurgling sound, which intimated to me that the men on the box had broached the four-gallon cask. I was just getting ready for a glass, when all at once the whole scene vanished. The music had stopped, and when it began again things were much altered for the worse. With the first note I felt a shudder go down my vitals. Something was coming, I did not know what. I felt just like being woke up in bed by a strange noise, and no matches handy, and my razors open to everybody on the table. Then I heard the bass fiddle say distinctly, "Prepare to meet your doom" several times over, while the violins tried to sneer at me, and the piano rattled chains in the corner. This was very trying, but worse was to follow. There were faint cries and sobs from the next room, as though murder was going on; there were long silences which were worse to bear than any sound; then someone began to work softly at the door with a centre bit, and there were rumblings as though someone else was letting himself down the chimney. I fancied I could almost see his leg. Then there was another hush, and thank heaven, I could tell by the hand-clapping that that part was over. It was about time, for the mental significance had got quite over-powering. There was then a total change. The music took me back in a second to the last ball I had been to—the eighteen-penny one, refreshments extra. I was dancing all the dances at once, and all the girls were making up to me, and it only made Jemima smile. That was a really delightful mental significance, and I could have done with more of it. But I doubt whether the concerto on the whole was moral. I am sure that ice down the back cannot be good for anyone, nor can I see, in cool moments, that raising the animal spirits so many degrees above proof is proper. I have not yet concluded my experiments. I have still to try the effects of a cornet solo; and the flute, as well as the concertina, the bones, and the banjo. But I have no doubt that if more people would try my plan, and honestly state the results, we should in time get at the truth of this matter of moral music.