Needs no handle to
its name!- Arthur Butterworth
Years ago there was
a familiar poster on the hoardings advertising
"Exide" car batteries. It
showed a battery and by the side of
it lay an old-fashioned starting-handle.
This was of the type that used always
to be provided in the tool kit of every
car, since batteries fifty years ago
were not as efficient as nowadays, and
electronic ignition did not exist. The
appearances of new models of cars with
transverse engines perhaps around the
very early 1950s, precluded the use
of a starting handle. How would one
crank the engine anyway – would it work
through one of the front wheels? So
starting handles became obsolete.
One of the greatest
of 19th century concert organists
was William Thomas Best (1826-1897),
famed for his recitals at St. George’s
Hall, Liverpool and associated with
the great Handel festivals in London.
He gave the opening recital on the Royal
Albert Hall organ in 1871; and was regarded
as "the best" of all organists
of Victorian times – and he knew he
was! At a time when the cathedral organist
was regarded as the most academically
knowledgeable of all musicians, invariably
holding a doctorate in music, along
with the de rigueur requirement
of a Fellowship of the Royal College
of Organists (FRCO) it was the custom
at those august oratorio performances
to print on the front cover of the programme:….."at
the organ: Dr James Bloggs, FRCO, ARCM,
LRAM,"… Whereas the soloists, conductor,
chorus-master, and leader of the orchestra
would simply appear as; Gladys Smith
– soprano, Miss Hoot – contralto, ...
and so on.
In the early 1900s
Elgar had been prevailed upon, and had
reluctantly accepted the first professorship
of music at Birmingham University. The
audience for his first public lecture
included all the great and the good
of musical society at the time; not
least Sir Charles Villiers Stanford
(1852-1924), that august Professor of
Music at Cambridge, who, along with
that other great figure in English music,
Sir Charles Hastings Hubert Parry (1848-1918)
- he of Jerusalem fame – Professor
of Music at Oxford. Both these two gentlemen
were the leading composers of the day
and were highly regarded in academic
circles and indeed by the musical public
at large, especially in the field of
oratorio. Elgar set the cat among the
pigeons by his attitude towards academicism.
As a consequence he called down upon
himself the undying wrath of Stanford.
Elgar, a self-taught outsider, had demonstrated
that the genius for music does not depend
on a rigid academic upbringing, and
that creative artists need no such academic
laurels – no "handle to his name".
Bach, Mozart, Beethoven,
Brahms, and most certainly Berlioz and
Debussy were anything but academic,
and in our own time Walton and Britten
could hardly have been said to be pillars
of the academic establishment, sporting
doctorates though these might certainly
have been accorded to them later honoris
causa. It is also true of executant
musical performers. It was at one time
the custom on printed programmes and
in "Radio Times" to print:-
"Conductor - SIR Adrian Boult"
or "SIR Henry Wood", but distinguished,
knighted British conductors have hardly
ever been accorded such august titles
when their names are printed on concert
programmes abroad. Nowadays in Germany
it is simply: "Simon Rattle"
or "Colin Davis" – never the
pedantic: "Sir Colin Davis, ARCM"
although that is what he might claim
as having been his academic entitlement.
As a young man I knew a youth of my
own age who was a fair to moderate pianist
of about Grade 5 or 6 standard, he won
dozens of cups and medals al local music
festivals. He was forever boasting of
his achievements and would seek to impress
his friends with the notion that he
would inevitably become a celebrated
musician to be looked up to "when
I get my cap & gown". This
was delusion. Mere academic qualification
- and certainly the ostentatious flaunting
of it - does not guarantee such elevated
status in the eyes of society. It more
often than not indicates a rigid pedantry
and self-conscious anxiety that one
needs to tell everyone how good one
is! As William Best, the organist knew,
there was no need to tell everybody
how good he was, it was obvious, he
"needed no letters after his name"
– his name was good enough in itself.
Now, society has changed:
in all vocations it is necessary to
acquire qualifications; whether it be
medicine, engineering, accountancy,
science, education, media studies, politics
or whatever, applying for a job, and
especially going for an interview, when
compiling a CV it is de rigueur that
one is qualified. But this hardly concerns
the public face of the arts. Concert-goers
do not need to be told on the printed
programme that the conductor or soloist
has a diploma or doctorate. Actors do
not proclaim on the bill-board of the
theatre that they have a diploma from
RADA or some other school of drama,
nor do world-class concert pianists
or celebrated conductors announce on
the printed programme: "Henry Bloggs,
Mus.Doc, ARCM, LRAM, solo violin"
or the conductor: "Dr. Sir Timothy
Bonks, MA, D.Phil, LRAM, LTCL. ARAM
(hons). This is ostentatious pedantry,
reminding one of those earnest learned
introductions one sees in miniature
scores of the great classics: "Herr
Professor Dr Wilhelm Zeitgeist".
Well, maybe the intellectual
investigation such academic insight
requires is the right place to flaunt
one’s qualities, but practical performers
have no need of this. It is out of place
and suggests the person concerned is
merely too full of his own importance.
It more often makes the audience faintly
derisive at the pedantic way the "artist"
perceives himself when he insists on
always being regarded or addressed as
"doctor" this or "doctor"
that. It suggests he does not regard
his name as being celebrated enough
without having to be bolstered up by
listing his academic achievements. It
perhaps even indicates a lack of self-confidence.
Lest this be thought
"sour grapes" at lack of such
paper qualification in myself, this
true story must end this little observation:
As a music student
I too aspired to getting the high-sounding
social distinction of the title "Doctor".
I had two professors at college. One
was a doctor of music who possessed
the diplomas of FRCO, LRAM, Hon TCL.
He instructed me in formal harmony and
counterpoint, but he was rather rigid
in his outlook on the art of music.
The exercises I did for him were regarded
in a rigid, unimaginative, pedantic
way. My other teacher had just an ARCM
on the cello. He taught me composition.
Now the august "doctor" is
long-since gone, but the unassuming
teacher who really taught me the art
of music became distinguished for his
originality and far-seeing imagination
and for having stimulated and encouraged
his students not to be hide-bound by
the dictates of conventional academicism.
He stimulated the imagination of some
of Britain’s now most celebrated composers.
This teacher held pedantic "degrees
and diplomas and such like" in
derision. He regarded them as signifying
little if anything of true musical worth.
If you’ve got it in you, you don’t need
constantly to tell the world; your name
should be distinction in itself. So
I chose NOT to burden myself with all
these "letters after my name"
and I’ve never regretted taking his