Saturday, January 20, 2018

The Awakening

An editorial by James Frances Cooke

Prudery an Injury

Nothing could be more disastrous to American music and American drama than an ear of prudery. The kill-joy earnestness of the zealots continually seeking a Cromwell, to exchange bloody rebellion for some other form of mental and bodily activity, rarely lead to permanent forms of art. Every instance of narrow Puritanism, however necessary it may have been at the time, has been suffocating to higher artistic development. Contrast the products of our own picturesque William Billings, with those of his European contemporaries, Haydn and Mozart.

The enemies of prudery do not plead for licentiousness. They seek to secure decency coupled with common sense. They do not seek to evade the broad human problems that discipline the mind and fortify the soul. They do not strive to escape the vital sociological questions which since the time of Euripides and Aristophanes have been answered in the theater with the greatest possible force. The canyon between Ibsen's Ghosts, Pinero's Second Mrs. Tanqueray, Hauptmnann's Hanele, Henry Arthur Jones' Mrs. Dane's Defence, or even Brieux's unnecessarily clinical Les Avaries, and some of the hopelessly degrading musical shows of the last five or ten years is as wide and as deep as the Colorado.

How the Objectionable Song Is Popularized

How does the infamous song come into existence? Harry B. Smith, author of the libretto of Robin Hood, and dozens of other pieces, has given us a hint. The composer and the librettist hand in their completed work to the manager. The rehearsals commence and the stage door is besieged by representatives of microscopic publishers, all fighting like vandals to get a hearing for their songs. Sometimes the songs have real merit, sometimes they are absolutely worthless products of the cheapest kind of untrained intellect. Sometimes they are filled with the venomous virus of the social ulcers of the megalopolis. Never does the song have any direct bearing upon the subject of the libretto, or bear any relations to the composer's musical scheme. The manager is either moved by the personal persuasion of the publisher, the whim of one of his singer, a bribe or his own belief that the song may "carry" the piece. In the last point he has good precedent because some pieces have been "carried" by particularly taking songs. Even Robin Hood owed a lot to Oh, Promise Me.

False Success

The song gets on. The galley is packed with whistlers, claquers, etc., etc., all of them Hessian hirelings of the song publisher. The song is greeted with a kind of uproar from the gallery. It is demanded again and again. The people in the lower part of the house have little idea that they are being buncoed into taking part in making a worthless song a valuable property for some trifling publisher - soon lend themselves to the psychological influence of the mob and find themselves applauding sentiments they would be ashamed to think about in their own homes. The songs has a run - some publishers report that the run rarely survives six months. If the song is merely illiterate, meaningless, bathos or sickly sentiment it can do but little harm, but when it is reeking with the offensive allusions found in some of the songs of the day, it is time that a musical Board of Health be appointed to disinfect the whole nauseous matter. We do not believe that the people of this country want songs of the pestilential kind. We believe that the so-called hits of this order are entirely artificial. We are confident that the offensive musical numbers do not exist because of the genuine demand, but because they are pounded into the people with theatrical sledge hammers by the panderers that the respectable publishers of New York and every other city are all anxious to annihilate.

How You May Help

Reaching the eyes of many people, Manor Selby Journal may become a great force in safe-guarding the spirit of decency. Its readers may take an active part in exterminating the bad influence of the questionable song. How is it to be done? Certainly it cannot be accomplished by muck-raking. Denouncing special songs advertises them. Their publishers count such notoriety. In England audiences have a custom of booing and hooting anything which does not meet popular approval. In this country we resort to the deadly silence. Theatrical performers virtually live upon applause. Let self-respecting people lose no opportunity to show their attitude toward music and plays surrounding suggestive ideas and the managers will soon have their ears to the ground.

- edited by Boulevard Denim