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“What Shall I Do?”: Paid Employment for Mormon Girls, 1927 — part 4: The Musician

By: Ardis E. Parshall - January 28, 2011

“What Shall I Do?”: Paid Employment for Mormon Girls, 1927

Agnes Lovendahl Stewart

The introduction to this series is posted here.

IV. – The Musician

Utah has always been noted for its love of music. Probably nowhere else in this country will you find so general in interest in singing and in instrumental music of every kind. In almost every home you will find a piano, and usually other musical instruments as well. Several members of the family, often, will play or sing.

Music here is as free as the sweet mountain air. Some people complain about that – they want to see the musician better paid in money for his efforts. But this we will mention more in detail later.

Nowhere is there greater opportunity for young girls and boys to develop their musical talents. The cultural value of the music which we enjoy so abundantly is beyond price.

If a girl has talent for singing, where better to find expression for that talent than in her ward choir, or in the choruses, duets and quartettes which are organized in her Mutual work? It is a wonderful inspiration to listen to the contests each year or the musical organizations of the Mutuals from all parts of the Church. Ours is a heritage of culture of which we may be justly proud, for from the very beginning the arts of music and drama were given their special place of importance in the activities of our people.

In no other church with which I am familiar, is there so splendid an opportunity given young people for the free expression of their talents – an expression which is the first essential of growth and improvement.

There are also splendid opportunities here for training. The L.D.S. School of Music offers wonderful courses in every line, with the most excellent teachers obtaining and an environment of beauty. There are also a very great many private teachers where instruction may be obtained.

Without going further than Salt Lake City one may obtain musical training for teaching. But of course one with a genuine love of music will consider the task never finished, but will go on and on and on, studying ever for greater perfection, and attending conservatories in this country and abroad.

It would be splendid if we could follow the inclination of our talent without having to worry where the bread and butter were to come from, wouldn’t it? How gladly we would give of our talents free of charge! But in this work-a-day world, even the genius must earn his bread and butter, usually, so into each consideration of one’s ability must intrude the mundane thought of dollars and cents.

If I follow music as a profession, developing my talents, how will I make a living?

First of all comes teaching. Teachers of piano in Salt Lake City receive from 50c to $2.00 for lessons of one-half hour duration – a few even higher. Teachers of voice culture usually receive from $1.50 up. those who give instruction in other musical instruments receive ordinarily from 50c to $2.00 a lesson.

There is also some opportunity for teaching music in the public schools, particularly the junior and senior high schools and the universities and colleges. But such teaching requires a very wide and varied acquaintance with all kinds of instruments, a thorough knowledge of harmony, a good voice and a knowledge of voice training. And it requires also that delightful quality of personality which is called “leadership.” It means the ability to fill the boys and girls under your instruction with a thrilling love of music, to inspire them to work together in operas, glee clubs and community singing. Such a position calls for a master of all trades in music – a jack won’t do at all! – and besides a person with executive ability of no small order. The positions are few and the requirements many.

Those who play the popular instruments of today will find an opportunity to play in orchestras. Piano, violin, saxophone and drums are probably the four most popular instruments in the small dance orchestra.

Those who are members of the musician’s union receive $5 each for an evening’s playing at a dance, with the leader getting more, his payment varying according to what he asks, and his personal popularity among the dancers which makes his orchestra a drawing card.

Many play in orchestras at the ward dances who do not belong to the union. These ask various prices, usually lower than union rates. A great many find playing in these small orchestras an excellent way to gain self-confidence and ability when they are just beginning their musical career.

The orchestras at the summer resorts pay their members $75 a week or more, but these are usually composed entirely of men and boys.

The radio is only just in its infancy, and the opportunities it offers a musician are only beginning to be realized. Performers over the radio are usually paid, but no definite sum has been fixed.

Occasionally the theaters offer opportunity for a special musical offering, but such occasions are too rare to be depended upon for a living.

Gentile churches pay their singers, as they pay their preachers, but it is one of the fine ideals of our Church that those gifted of God with the wonderful talent of music, shall give that talent freely in His service, just as our speakers and missionaries and other workers give of their time and talents freely to promote His great work.

Utah has become famous for the splendid musical talent it has produced. Emma Lucy Gates Bowen, who has been so successful in opera and on the concert stage here and abroad; Margaret Romaine of the Metropolitan Opera Company, New York; Hazel Dawn, of musical comedy fame – these are only a few of whom we are very proud, who have gone to carry Utah’s culture and talent to the world.

World-wide fame, and tremendous success in music are hard to win. It is very rare that one ascends quickly to stardom as did Marian Talley. Usually many, many years of trying and discouraging study are required for even a small success.

But if the way is hard, the reward is correspondingly great – not in money, but in the glory of giving uplifting pleasure to all who listen, of making the world brighter and better for our presence, and of developing our own talents to their fullest extent.



12 Comments »

  1. Hmmm. This career path does not seem as viable as the others so far (teacher, nurse, and shopgirl). Today I’d expect to see a comment on how giving piano lessons can be a part-time income for a mother at home.

    Comment by kew — January 28, 2011 @ 8:19 am

  2. This has a “softer” feel to me, too. But in 1927, when recorded music was of so much lesser quality and much, much rarer than it is today, there were many more work opportunities for a musician. Music accompanying radio broadcasts was almost always by a live studio orchestra; the first talkie (The Jazz Singer) came out in the very year of this advice, and piano and organ accompaniment to the movies was still performed live in each theater where movies were shown; and, like this piece says, dances couldn’t be held without a live orchestra — and dancing was even more wildly popular then than it is now.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 28, 2011 @ 8:36 am

  3. Since my city has many young LDS families who come here for graduate school, we have quite a few wives who supplement their income by teaching music (6 I can think of off the top of my head, at least as many in the ward that shares our building). I suppose there are some peculiar aspects of this area that could either make that a more or less successful endeavor than in other mid-size cities: it is a VERY musical area, with a significant musical conservatory and lots of musical lay people, meaning that more children than average take music lessons; there are also LOTS of qualified musical teachers around. More than you could shake a stick at, really. (And yet, we can never find anyone to play the piano in RS).

    Title IX has, from my perspective, negatively affected the number of children involved in music. There are just so many more options for recreation for girls, who, I am quite certain, made up a significant number of musical students of years past. Not that I am against title IX!

    Comment by ESO — January 28, 2011 @ 9:28 am

  4. Emma Lucy Gates Bowen. Now that is a name I recognize. She was studying music in Germany at the same time as my great-grandmother. Here is a post that mentions the names of some of the Utah musicians studying in pre-war Berlin including Alfred Best and Willard Andelin and Rita Jackman, who was an influential piano teacher in Salt Lake City for many decades.

    Comment by Researcher — January 28, 2011 @ 9:58 am

  5. It would be splendid if we could follow the inclination of our talent without having to worry where the bread and butter were to come from, wouldn’t it?

    Yes, it would!

    A few things about this post stuck out to me:
    1) There’s no mention of the evils of jazz, round dancing, working late hours in unwholesome environments, etc.
    2) It cracks me up how “Utah” and ‘Mormonism” are used synonomously (see 3rd from last paragraph, for instance).

    I agree with the comment that radio and recording music had a huge effect on the viability of music as a career.

    Comment by Clark — January 28, 2011 @ 11:00 am

  6. Also, I wonder where the strong LDS tradition of music comes from. On one hand, BYU has so many talented musicians that requirements for a degree there are notoriously difficult. On the other hand, it has become so difficult to find decent ward pianists and organists that the new CHI allows meetinghouse equipment to be used for private music lessons.

    I blame the rise in popularity of Karaeoke machines.(just kidding, kind of) Teenage parties no longer involve standing around the piano and singing, as they did in Spencer W. Kimball’s youth.

    Comment by Clark — January 28, 2011 @ 11:05 am

  7. I’m reminded of a comment a friend made (he was a band teacher at a junior high), about the phrase that every professional musician needs to know while waiting for his or her next gig:

    “Would you like fries with that?”

    Interesting segment on NPR last evening, talking about the decline of CD sales, and the rise in file sharing and downloads. Record companies (is that even an accurate description anymore?) are in disarray, and independent and emerging musical artists are not so much looking for the lucrative recording contract. NPR gave several examples of independent musicians, with a few free downloads, youtube videos, and some downloads for just a few dollars, along with some live gigs, can actually make an acceptable living, pay a manager, and a web lackey to keep their site current.

    The takeaway was that it is probably easier right now to be a professional musician, and make an actual living, than ever before. You probably won’t be making millions, but you can get by.

    Comment by kevinf — January 28, 2011 @ 11:21 am

  8. As far as the decline in church level (contrasted with professional level) musicianship, I really think it has to do with the shift from participatory recreation to passive entertainment. There’s little “market” (quotation marks used because I’m not referring to economic remuneration) for music unless you’re so good at it that you can be paid to do it. We’ve lost the “market” for community singing and talent competitions on a less than national network scale.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 28, 2011 @ 11:57 am

  9. There will always be a market for rodeo singing…..

    (Stuffs Simon Cowell back into the bottle he came from)

    Ardis, I think you are right about the shift from music as recreation to passive entertainment. American Idol, especially in the audition episodes, has helped to turn sarcasm and ridicule into an art form. We watch those episodes for the train wrecks, not in hopes of seeing the next Susan Boyle. And the Chinese Tiger Mom apparently has totally devalued any musical art forms other than piano or violin. We have little tolerance for the modest talent, or someone who plays or sings just for the fun of it. Almost all of my opportunities to play guitar in from church settings, but as you might guess, those only happen once or twice a year, and sometimes only if I promote myself. Reminds me of the old MIA speech contests from my youth days.

    Comment by kevinf — January 28, 2011 @ 12:28 pm

  10. I don’t know if i’m on board with the active vs. passive entertainment thing. I think the difficulty in finding pianists is simply because the piano isn’t the default instrument anymore—if a kid’s gonna learn an instrument, a guitar is a lot cooler, not to mention more portable.

    I strongly suspect that fewer homes have pianos now than 50–60 years ago, and that factors into it—i mean, even families who’d like to have a piano around (like mine) often don’t simply because of the amount of floor space they take up.

    Comment by David B — January 28, 2011 @ 1:29 pm

  11. You may be right, David; my hunch is only a hunch. But I also suspect that if we (Mormons or wider US) were still a culture of participating in the creation and performance of music, the piano would still be just as cool — if kids in the dorms or after youth activities were in the habit of gathering around the piano to sing, who’s cooler than the pianist? And while many homes don’t have the floor space to devote to a piano that is rarely used, a piano that was the focal point of a living room because it was used daily for lessons and practice and for family sings would take the place of the space now used for electronic entertainments of all kinds. (The average home hasn’t been getting any smaller in the past two generations, I don’t think!) Does a piano take more room than a Wii and the space to play it?

    I agree with your suspicion that fewer homes have pianos today — I just suspect that the reasons for that are different from the reasons you suspect.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 28, 2011 @ 1:41 pm

  12. Yeah, now that i think about it, you’re probably closer to right than i am. I’ve just had some experiences the past couple weeks that have made me a bit twitchy around “Those durn kids are ruining the world”-type discussions. Sorry.

    Comment by David B — January 28, 2011 @ 4:04 pm

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