November 27, 2012

Unmusical New York

I thought you might appreciate a little more context to my earlier post regarding Herman Klein and 'standards' so am including Klein's thoughts on the founding of The National Association of Teachers of Singing, his role as chairman of the first organization in America for singing teachers, and the failure to bring standards to the singing teacher profession. Taken from Unmusical New York: a brief criticism of triumphs, failures and abuses (1910), you can find the text in its entirety here

The latter founded a ‘National Association; some five or six years ago, which at one time gave promise of initiating and accomplishing valuable reforms for the protection of the public and for the advantage of the profession generally.  Of that association I saw a great deal, since for nearly three years I acted as chairman of its Executive Board and resigned only a few weeks before returning to England, namely June 1909.  
The notion that singing teachers can get together and agree upon a broad definition of the technical principals of their art is universally discredited. Strange to say, the National Association did accomplish this remarkable feat and the rock upon which we split was not a matter of mechanism but a question of policy.  I held (and the majority of members agreed with me) that the first duty of the association was to examine candidates as to their fitness and ability to teach singing, and if satisfactory, to award diplomas.  The minority were of the opinion that there ought not to be examinations, and that the first thing to do was to establish a school for the training of vocal teachers. 
Upon the horns of this dilemma member after member of the executive board resigned, and the whole organization threatened to tumble to pieces. I appealed to the leader of the minority, but he remained implacable.  Then, to prevent further disruption and knowing that I was soon to leave New York, I tended my own resignation, and with regret said good-by to the National Association of Teachers of Singing. 
Thus ended a dream of unity and good-fellowship which many declared at the time to be Utopian, but which, had it not been for the stubbornness (if anything else) of the individual referred to, would unquestionably have been realized. 

(As I pointed out in an earlier post, which you can find here, The National Association of Teachers of Singing changed its name to The New York Singing Teachers Association in 1917. The organization that currently bears the acronym of NATS was founded in 1944.)

Clearly, Klein was bitter regarding his sojourn in America. Why else write a book with a title that included the word "unmusical'? Take that, New York! For its part, I imagine the land of the free and the brave wanted no part of what it perceived as Victorian orderliness, that everyone queuing to the right sort of thing. Much too tidy for the cats of culture. It still  may be.

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