I’ve been reading J.J. Fux’s treatise on counterpoint, Gradus ad Parnassum (1971 ed. of Alfred Mann’s tr. for Norton), and have run across a number of gems. The book is written, as was common at the time, in the format of a hypothetical conversation between a teacher and a student. Aside from the valuable explanation of 18th-century views on composition, here are some of the quotes touching on music education, garnished with my two cents.

  1. “Some people will perhaps wonder why I have undertaken to write about music […] at a time when music has become almost arbitrary and composers refuse to be bound by any rules and principles, detesting the very name of school and law like death itself. […] I shall not be deterred by the most ardent haters of school, nor by the corruptness of the times.” (Foreword, p17)
    Shall I hang this on my office wall? 
  2. On his use of Latin: “I would rather be understandable than seem eloquent.” (p 18)
    That can go on my other wall. 
  3. To the student who would learn to compose: “You must try to remember whether even in childhood you felt a strong natural inclination to this art and whether you were deeply moved by the beauty of concords [i.e., beautiful music].” (p19)
    In other words, “Were you born for this?” Every music educator struggles with the challenge of teaching students with high natural aptitude versus those students who must work significantly harder to progress. But today most teachers wouldn’t dare throw this kind of you-have-it-or-you-don’t at a student! I suspect this is partly due to research, partly the the result of seeing   enough hard-working students outperform the “talented” ones.
  4. Again, to the student who would pursue a career in music: “Whoever wants riches must take another path.” (p20)
  5. And again: “…One should be content with a simple way of life and strive rather for proficiency and a good name than for wealth…” (p20)
    This might seem unremarkable, but it’s valuable if you live in a culture that’s obsessed with artists who “hit it big,”  songs that “top the charts,”  videos that “go viral.” Even in ministry, we’re eager to serve the Church but sometimes forget our church (see what I did there?). Do dreams for fame distract me from faithful, honest, hard work for God’s renown (Eph 6:6)? Bach may not have been extraordinarily famous during his lifetime, but perhaps that’s what freed him to focus on producing solid art.
  6. “This slight error need not worry you, because it is almost impossible for a beginner to be attentive enough to avoid every mistake. Practice is the key to all things.” (p32)
    I might print this in the Theory III syllabus.
  7. “I want to remind you again and again to make every effort to overcome the great difficulties of the study you have undertaken; and neither to become discouraged by hard work, nor to allow yourself to be deterred from unflagging industry by flattery of such skill as you have already achieved.” (p48)
    Another one for the syllabus.
  8. From student to teacher, on receiving his corrected “homework” back: “Why did you mark a mistake in the first and second bar, venerable master?” (p31)
    and again…
  9. “I shall always follow your advice as law.” (p65)
    I’m confident that someday I’ll get these in an email. Still waiting.