To the many girls and women who are desirous of using their musical gifts to the best advantage in a professional sense, the encouraging words of Miss May Mukle in this article, specially written for " Every Woman's Encyclopaedia" will appeal with peculiar force. This famous ' cellist shows how, even in the congested ranks of the musical profession, there are many good openings for those who are really proficient on the instrument she loves, and of which she is such an able exponent. Her words should inspire many with hope and confidence.
took to 'cello playing by accident. I happened to be almost the youngest of my family. We were all born musicians. Amongst us, it was never asked if the newcomer should play an instrument - that was taken for granted. The question was, what instrument should he or she play ? This was always decided by the needs of the family orchestra. In my time a 'cello was wanted, and it naturally fell to me to play it, in spite of my being a girl.
For this accident I can never be sufficiently thankful, for by the time the brother who is younger than I had reached what I may call the orchestral age, there was nothing left for him but the triangle and the drum.
I am sure I could never have made a reputation as a solo player had I spent the years of youth on the triangle and the drum.
There are other reasons which make me thank the accident which made me a 'cello player. In the first place I am well adapted, physically, to the instrument. When I was a child I had precocious hands ; they were always a size or two bigger in proportion to the rest of my body. Now I have always to have my gloves made for me. I have found my big hands and long fingers of the greatest use to me in 'cello playing. It is quite possible that they would have got in my way if I had been a violinist.
And there is another reason for which I am glad that I am a 'cello player. When I began as a child player, twenty years ago. the position of the woman musician was not the same as it is to-day. That is not to be wondered at when we remember that thirty-five years ago a woman professional violinist was considered a sort of monstrosity.
When I began, the 'cello was still thought to be a man's instrument, because of its size. People saw something bizarre in a girl 'cellist. I found this of use to me in attracting the attention of the public. In the beginning people listened to me because I played the 'cello. I hope, by the way. that they still listen to me because I play the
'cello, though audiences no longer see anything droll in a woman 'cellist. I am glad to have helped to prove that, in 'cello-playing at any rate, my sex is not at a disadvantage. I have said that I found the novelty of my instrument a help in making a reputation. I should like to draw the attention to this of girls who think of adopting music as a profession. The more popular instruments are done to death. It is very difficult to make a good living either as a pianist or a violinist without great talent and even greater influence.
A Word to the Ordinary Girl
A girl who takes up a less popular instrument, like the viola, or even a wind instrument, stands a better chance of making an immediate regular income. Her engagements would be, of course, orchestral engagements, and one does not make one's fortune by playing in orchestras ; but for a girl of moderate talent who wants to earn a living by her art it is better to take up an instrument that is a little unusual.
Very great talent will be recognised sooner or later, and if you are a genius you may take up the violin and be assured that some day you will have fame and prosperity. However, there are many violinists who are neither famous nor prosperous ; and for the woman who wants small and sure gain from her work I recommend a less common instrument. Some girls nowadays tackle the double bass, and make very good players.
The position of the woman orchestral player is not as good as it should be, for women are excluded from most of the best orchestras. There have been so many changes of late years that we may hope that before long a player will be judged by her art and not by her sex.
Now that I am giving an account of my work, I feel that I should say something about my early struggles. I would willingly do this if there were anything to say. As a matter of fact, I was always fortunate enough to find people who were interested in my work, and were willing to give me help and work as I needed it.
About the " guinea fee period " I had a great deal of practice in playing all kinds of music in all kinds of places. This experience has been of the greatest use to me. It has made me a very quick reader, and has also given me a wide musical sympathy. It is a good thing for the young player to know how to play and appreciate music of all types. However one may enjoy serious music, one need not despise the lighter kind.
Each has its place and its meaning. I personally would rather hear light music well played than serious music badly played. There are many would-be musicians who do not mind how badly they play so long as they are classical.
My early practice in playing in public made me quick at memorising. This is a very important part of one's work. I have never believed in overlong and strenuous practice. I think a little careful practice is a great deal better than hours at the instrument without the attention centred on the work. We must always remember that the brain has really more to do with the playing than the fingers. It is essential to think of one's work. I have always done a good deal of my work away from the 'cello ; indeed, I do it in trains as I go from engagement to engagement. I sometimes even work in bed.
It is very necessary that the player should not strain her attention ; the best work is always done when one is fresh. One must also avoid self-consciousness, and any of the various forms of fear.
This brings me to the subject of ordinary stage fright. Like most performers, I have suffered from this. When I was about eighteen I became so nervous that my work was a misery to me. If I had not been able to conquer my fright, I could not have gone on.
I was fortunately able to argue myself out of it. I have arrived at a sort of " fatalism." I do the best I can, and leave the rest. Sometimes the old qualms return, but that is generally when I have been doing a little too much work. I then find that a long walk and a few days away from music and music-making soon restore my nerve. I know that it is possible to conquer stage fright. And to those players who suffer from it, I say, " Keep yourself fit, take plenty of exercise, and if you have any nerves left forget about them, and remember how clever you are. Your life will not be worth living until you have done this."
I have always found my knowledge of the piano very useful, and I would advise all string players to learn this instrument. It enables one to get a knowledge of the whole composition one is studying, and saves many rehearsals with the accompanist.
One difficulty a 'cellist experiences is the size of the instrument. I often envy the violinist, who carries his fiddle in his hand. My "Monty" goes about in a great box, and is almost as awkward to travel with as an elephant. He is also an expense, as he has to be paid for on the railways, and if I take him only a few blocks away I must have a cab. In the days of guinea engagements this is a consideration, and young players find the 'cello an expensive instrument.
My " Monty " is a Montagnana. He is worth a thousand pounds, but I would not sell him for any gold, for if I lose him I lose myself. I am never quite easy in my mind when I am travelling with him, for it would be an irremediable loss to me if a disaster happened.
I am often amused as I travel to hear very different opinions expressed about the musical profession. Some consider it a very easy business, all success and applause ; while others consider it terribly difficult and exhausting. I do not think either of these views are true. If one wants to succeed at music, one must be prepared to work hard ; no musical aspirant need hope to "arrive" without long and strenuous effort. On the other hand, there is a great pleasure in earning one's daily bread by work which one really enjoys. Many fatigues are made up to the artist, because she is always in touch with beauty.
I never weary of my art. In my darkest hours I know that I would never change my work for anybody else's work. I feel that I have found my right place.
Playing for Pleasure
Though I am never tired of playing, I am often tired of playing at concerts, with their sameness, formality, and publicity. One feels that it is not the ideal way to make or to listen to music in a crowded room in the close air of a town. I often feel as if I would like to take " Monty " into the country, even though he is a cumbersome traveller, so that he might speak where there is silence to break and beauty to listen to him.
I enjoy playing out of doors ; music sounds very beautiful when there are no walls to hold it. However, if there were no public there could be no artist (for there would be no one to pay the baker). So generally one plays where people will come to listen, and one is content.
But sometimes it is delightful to get together a quartette of keen musicians and play for hours at a time, with no thought of gain or applause, with no thought but to express the beauty of the music.
Quartette playing is the pleasantest part of my work. For years I played with the Norah Clench Quartette ; and lately I have joined forces with Madame Beatrice Langley, and we have formed what is called the Langley-mukle Quartette.
Another thing I enjoy about my life is the travelling. In the spring I fulfil engagements in Austria, Hungary, and Bohemia ; later in the year, I return to America for the third time. If ever I feel I would like to have the travelling without the concerts, I remember that if there is no play there is no pay. so I take one thing with another, and on the whole I am very well satisfied.