The next two posts pick up where I left off during a prior week as guest author. I once again dug out my old Etude magazines and once again was not disappointed. The language found in these older magazines is at once a quick and easy source of amusement but also fairly decent cultural food for thought in 2016, almost a century later.
“Why Not Give An Etude Radio Recital” read the title of an article in the January 1934 issue of The Etude music magazine. Why not indeed? Frankly, I became intrigued to read on just after seeing the words radio and recital in the piece’s title. I am so often on some kind of unproductive tear about the shortage of letter writing, or any kind of writing by hand, and the sinking feeling that we are collectively being swallowed up by devices made of plastic, chips and batteries—that the idea of listening to a recital on the radio sounded novel and exciting. I realize the radio was a device of its own and a precursor to those that envelop us now, but the kind we are talking of here were not yet pocket-sized. Not yet, anyway. In many homes, during its Golden Age, the radio was the apparatus that connected listeners to the world-at-large whether through the broadcasting of news, musical programs, radio plays, poetry reading, talent shows, or the great wide world of sports.
The author of this piece, Theon La Marr, certainly does his very (though hardly subtle) best to convey just how exciting, enlightening, educational, practical, rewarding, essential, captivating and fun these radio recitals can be, for music teachers and pupils alike. It seems he also feels all of mankind should be tuning in. Apparently, The Etude was offering regular programs on the radio, one of which La Marr describes in a section called “What Makes Radio Valuable”:
“Ladies and gentlemen of the radio audience. We shall have the pleasure during the next period of listening to a recital of compositions taken from the Music Section of THE ETUDE MUSIC MAGAZINE for July, 1933, and played by pupils of Theon La Marr, who is making this announcement. You who are listening over this marvel of marvels must realize that, if it were not for music, the charms of the radio would be reduced about ninety per cent. The radio needs music just as much as the earth needs sunshine and rain. It is difficult to imagine the radio without music.”
The article reveals that part of the program included the Album Leaf by Debussy, followed by more zealous commentary from La Marr.
“A happy frame of mind is a priceless possession and music possibly more than anything else tends to promote this condition. Therefore, music and industry, music and life, should always go hand in hand. Thousands have acclaimed THE ETUDE MUSIC MAGAZINE invaluable to them in helping to preserve this condition. Are you among those who cannot get along without this magazine? If you are a lover of music or if you have children who are studying music you can ill afford not to have THE ETUDE in your home.” (Here the music comes to an end.)”
No one could argue that La Marr was not a fan of The Etude and perhaps his certitude and hyperbolic style of speaking is a bit much. And yet, even though people likely would have survived 1934 and the years to follow without monthly issues of The Etude, he delivers some valid notions about the importance of music, of industry, of a happy mindset (and music as a vehicle for this) and of radio (especially music on the radio). Notions that I imagine were appreciated and applauded then by faithful readers, and perhaps too by modern day readers looking back to an era when a radio program very well could be the highlight of the week, or even month.
This was also a time where receiving a magazine in the mail was cause for excitement, anticipating its arrival for weeks and eagerly flipping through its pages to see what was in the latest issue. And long before the invasion of the box, otherwise known as the television, radio programs offered listeners something to look forward to each day, week, or month. As much as I applaud his ardor for all things musical, it’s worth mentioning that La Marr might have been a tad biased in declaring that “if it were not for music, the charms of the radio would be reduced by ninety per cent.” 90 %? Listeners who were anxiously awaiting the next installment of The Green Hornet or The Lone Ranger might take issue with this. For starters.
But back on point, which is the overwhelming volume of art, music, literature, reality TV, film, world news, YouTube videos of pets or intoxicated celebrities standing on their heads or brushing their teeth—of anything and everything. Continuous exposure and access to this must have some impact on our level of excitement. If something is always in hand, one tap away, one second away, where does the anticipation go, as well as its first cousin, patience? The information and resources, musical, literary and otherwise that we now have more or less immediate access to, is, to be sure, a marvel of its own. And a formidable tool. But I wonder what Mr. La Marr might think of this marvel compared to the marvel he writes of.
In a section called “The Magic of Transmission” he writes this of the radio:
“First there is the mystery of the thing—how the sounds are shot out to the world over invisible channels. This captivates the pupil’s imaginations. “
Mystery. The mystery of the thing. Has that possibly fallen into the sinkhole too? Along with cursive writing, old school thank you notes (not thx on a text), anticipation, patience (waiting more than 3.5 minutes for someone to “like” your post on Facebook before becoming agitated) and dare I say it, curiosity?
Or am I being as hyperbolic as Theon La Marr? I wonder, are we curious about the mystery of our current things? I admit I would be hard-pressed to intelligently, or unintelligently, explain how my smart phone works. (I can picture my scientist father’s look of dismay.) I do, however, become rather curious when it stops working as it should, when icons suddenly disappear never to return, or when, God forbid, the screen goes blank. “The Future Tense” written by Teddy Wayne is a wonderfully written monthly New York Times column that uniquely addresses “the anxieties over our cultural and technological evolutions”.
Figurative sinkholes and technology aside, a radio recital or even a good old-fashioned piano recital sounds good to me. And thank God they still have those around, and I do have to wait to see Sir Andras Schiff, at least in person, and on an actual stage, in real time. This past October I sat in my seat at Carnegie Hall waiting with a child’s enthusiasm to hear the first measure of Schiff’s Haydn to be played.
And, less enthusiastically, for the first phone to ring.
I’m happy to report that not one phone rang and Schiff responded to his admiring, non-phone ringing audience with a beautiful encore performance of the opening aria from the Goldberg Variations. Being physically able to attend this concert, for me, was meaningful for a host of reasons---and a reminder too that whether it is 1934 or 2015, an evening like this can be the highlight of one's day, month or year. All of the above in my book.