a home. Your dear boy may feel that he is going to enter，
Chinese music from an occidental standpoint has been unjustly described as "clashing cymbals, twanging guitars, harsh flageolets, and shrill flutes, ear-splitting and headache-producing to the foreigner." Such general condemnation shows deplorable ignorance.* The writer had apparently never attended an official service in honor of Confucius, held biennially during the whole of the Ching dynasty at 3 A.M. The "stone chimes", consisting of sonorous stones varying in tone and hanging in frames, which were played on those solemn occasions, have a haunting melody such as can be heard nowhere else. China, I believe, is the only country that has produced music from stones. It is naturally gratifying to me to hear that Chinese airs are now having a vogue in London, and that they will soon be heard in New York. It will take some little time for Westerners to learn to listen intelligently to our melodies which, being always in unison, in one key and in one movement, are apt at first to sound as wearisome and monotonous as Madame Patti's complicated notes did to me, but when they understand them they will have found a new delight in life.
-- * Wu Tingfang is quite correct to deplore this statement as a description of Chinese music. However, in all fairness, it is an accurate description of how a Western ear first hears CERTAIN types of Chinese music. After successive hearings this impression will fly away, but until then CERTAIN types are reminiscent of two alley-cats fighting in a garbage can. This is not meant as a degrading comment, any more so than Wu Tingfang's comments on opera. Some music is an acquired taste, and after acquirement, its beauty becomes not only recognizable but inescapable. Certain other types of Chinese music can easily be appreciated on the first hearing. -- A. R. L., 1996. --
Although we Chinese do not divide our plays into comedies and tragedies there is frequently a good deal of humor on the Chinese stage; yet we have nothing in China corresponding to the popular musical comedy of the West. A musical comedy is really a series of vaudeville performances strung together by the feeblest of plots. The essence seems to be catchy songs, pretty dances, and comic dialogue. The plot is apparently immaterial, its only excuse for existence being to give a certain order of sequence to the aforesaid songs, dances, and dialogues. That, indeed, is the only object for the playwright's introducing any plot at all, hence he does not much care whether it is logical or even within the bounds of probability. The play-goers, I think, care even less. They go to hear the songs, see the dances, laugh at the dialogues, and indulge in frivolous frivolities; what do they want with a plot, much less a moral? Chinese vaudeville takes the form of clever tumbling tricks which I think are much preferable to the sensuous, curious, and self-revealing dances one sees in the West.
Although musical comedy, or, more properly speaking, musical farce, is becoming more and more popular in both Europe and America it is also becoming proportionately more farcical; although in many theaters it is staged as often as the more serious drama, in some having exclusive dominion; and although theater managers find that these plays draw bigger crowds and fill their houses better than any other, in the large cities running for over a year, I cannot help regarding this feature of theatrical life as so much theatrical chaos. It lacks culture, and is sometimes both bizarre and neurotic. I do not object to patter, smart give and take, in which the comical angles of life are exposed, if it is brilliant; neither have I anything to say against light comedy in which the ridiculous side of things is portrayed. This sort of entertainment may help men who have spent a busy day, crowded with anxious moments, and weighted with serious responsibilities, but exhibitions which make men on their way home talk not of art, or of music, or of wit, but of "the little girl who wore a little black net" are distinctly to be condemned. Even the class who think it waste of time to think, and who go to the theater only to "laugh awfully", are not helped by this sort of entertainment. Such songs as the following, which I have culled from the `Play Pictorial', a monthly published in London, must in time pall the taste of even the shallow-minded.
"Can't you spare a glance? Have we got a chance? You've got a knowing pair of eyes; When it's 2 to 1 It isn't much fun," This is what she soon replies:
"Oh, won't you buy a race-card, And take a tip from me? If you want to find a winner, It's easy as can be When the Cupid stakes are starting, Your heads are all awhirl, And my tip to-day Is a bit each way On the race-card girl."
Yet this, apparently, is the sort of thing which appeals to the modern American who wants amusement of the lightest kind, amusement which appeals to the eye and ear with the lightest possible tax on his already over-burdened brain. He certainly cannot complain that his wishes have not been faithfully fulfilled. It may be due to my ignorance of English, but the song I have just quoted seems to me silly, and I do not think any "ragtime music" could make it worth singing. Of course many songs and plays in the music halls are such as afford innocent mirth, but it has to be confessed that there are other things of a different type which it is not wise for respectable families to take the young to see. I would not like to say all I think of this feature of Western civilization, but I may quote an Englishman without giving offense. Writing in the `Metropolitan Magazine', Louis Sherwin says: "There is not a doubt that the so-called `high-brow dancer' has had a lot to do with the bare-legged epidemic that rages upon the comic-opera stage to-day. Nothing could be further removed from musical comedy than the art of such women as Isadora Duncan and Maude Allen. To inform Miss Duncan that she has been the means of making nudity popular in musical farce would beyond question incur the lady's very reasonable wrath. But it is none the less true. When the bare-legged classic dancer made her appearance in opera houses, and on concert platforms with symphony orchestras, it was the cue for every chorus girl with an ambition to undress in public. First of all we had a plague of Salomes. Then the musical comedy producers, following their usual custom of religiously avoiding anything original, began to send the pony ballets and soubrettes on the stages without their hosiery and with their knees clad in nothing but a coat of whitewash (sometimes they even forgot to put on the whitewash, and then the sight was horrible). The human form divine, with few exceptions, is a devilish spectacle unless it is properly made up. Some twenty years from now managers will discover what audiences found out months ago, that a chorus girl's bare leg is infinitely less beautiful than the same leg when duly disguised by petticoats and things."
Chapter 16. Conjuring and Circuses
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