from Some "Quarter-tone" Impressions
But that needn't keep anyone from trying to find out how to use a few more of the myriads of sound waves nature has put around in the air (immune from the radio) for man to catch if he can and "perchance make himself a part with nature," as Thoreau used to say. Even in the limited and awkward way of working with quarter-tones at present, transcendent things may be felt ahead - glimpses into further fields of thought and beauty.
Father had "absolute pitch," as men say. But it seemed to disturb him; he seemed half ashamed of it. "Everything is relative," he said. "Nothing but fools and taxes are absolute."
A friend who was a "thorough musician" - he had graduated from the New England Conservatory at Boston - asked him why with his sensitive ear he liked to sit down and beat out dissonances on the piano. "Well," he answered, "I may have absolute pitch, but, thank God, that piano hasn't." One afternoon, in a pouring thunderstorm, we saw him standing without hat or coat in the back garden; the church bell next door was ringing. He would rush into the house to the piano, and then back again. "I've heard a chord I've never heard before - it comes over and over but I can't seem to catch it." He stayed up most of the night trying to find it on the piano. It was soon after this that he started his quarter-tone machine.
But quarter-tones or no quarter-tones, why tonality as such should be thrown out for good, I can't see. Why it should be always present, I can't see. It depends, it seems to me, a good deal - as clothes depend on the thermometer - on what one is trying to do, and on the state of mind, the time of day or other accidents of life.
To see the sunrise, a man has but to get up early, and he can always have Bach in his pocket. For the amount of a month's wages, a grocery clerk can receive "personal instructions" from Beethoven and other living "conservatories." Possibly, the more our composer accepts from his patrons, "et al.," the less he will accept from himself. It may be possible that a month in a "Kansas wheat field" will do more for him than three years in Rome.
Every one should be as free as possible to encourage every one, including himself, to work and to be willing to stand unprotected from all the showers of the absolute which may beat upon him, to use or learn to use, or at least to be unafraid of trying to use, whatever he can of any and all lessons of the infinite which humanity has received and thrown to him, that nature has exposed and sacrificed for him, that life and death have translated for him, until the products of his labor shall beat around and through his ordinary work - shall strengthen, widen, and deepen all his senses, aspirations, or whatever the innate power and impulses may be called, which God has given man.
Everything from a mule to an oak which nature has given life has a right to that life, and a right to throw into that life all the values it can. Whether they be approved by a human mind or seen with a human eye is no concern of that right. The right of a tree, wherever it stands, is to grow as strong and as beautiful as it can whether seen or unseen, whether made immortal by a Turner, or translated into a part of Seraphic architecture or a kitchen table. The instinctive and progressive interest of every man in art, we are willing to affirm with no qualification, will go on and on, ever fulfilling hopes, ever building new ones, ever opening new horizons, until the day will come when every man while digging his potatoes will breathe his own epics, his own symphonies (operas, if he likes it); and as he sits of an evening in his backyard and shirt sleeves smoking his pipe and watching his brave children in their fun of building their themes for their sonatas of their life, he will look up over the mountains and see his visions in their reality; will hear the transcendental strains of the day's symphony resounding in their many choirs, and in all their perfection, through the west wind and the tree tops!
... a song has a few rights, the same as other ordinary citizens. If it feels like walking along the left-hand side of the street, passing the door of physiology or sitting on the curb, why not let it? If it feels like kicking over an ash can, a poet's castle, or the prosodic law, will you stop it? Must it always be a polite triad, a "breve gaudium," a ribbon to match the voice? Should it not be free at times from the dominion of the thorax, the diaphragm, the ear, and other points of interest? If it wants to beat around in the valley, to throw stones up the pyramids, or to sleep in the park, should it not have some immunity from a Nemesis, a Rameses, or a policeman? Should it not have a chance to sing to itself, if it can sing? to enjoy itself without making a bow, if it can't make a bow? to swim around in any ocean, if it can swim, without having to swallow "hook and bait," or being sunk by an operatic greyhound? If it happens to feel like trying to fly where humans cannot fly, to sing what cannot be sung, to walk in a cave on all fours, or to tighten up its girth in blind hope and faith and try to scale mountains that are not, who shall stop it? In short, must a song always be a song!