Sousa once made the statement to the American Press that in his opinion the American nation was the most musical nation in the world. He based this astonishing belief, which was violently attacked by the German-American Press, upon his observation of his audiences and by the street music, even including whistling and singing. I agree with his opinion with all my heart. In an American audience of the most common sort an instrument off the key or improperly tuned will be sure to be detected. It may be, nay, it probably is true, that the person so detecting the discord will not know where the trouble lies or of what it consists, but his ear, untrained as it is, tells him that something is wrong, and he shows his discomfort and disapproval. I claim that the ordinary American—the common or garden variety of American—has a more correct ear than the common or garden variety of German. I claim that the rank and file in America is for this reason more truly musical than the same class in the German nation, although the German nation has a technical knowledge of music which it will take the Americans a thousand years to equal. For this reason an open-air concert in America is so much more enjoyable both from the numbers selected and the spirit of their playing, that the two performances are not to be mentioned in the same day.
A criticism which the wayfaring man will whip out to floor me at this point, viz., that nearly all performers in American bands are Germans, will not cause me to wink an eyelash, for the effect of American audiences on German performers has raised the standard of their music so that I am informed by Germans and Austrians that the most annoying, irritating, and insulting factor in their otherwise peaceful lives is the return of a German-American to his native heath. They tell me that his arrogance and conceit are unbearable—that he claims that Americans alone know how to make practical use of the technical knowledge of the German—that the Teuton gathers the knowledge, the Yankee applies it. This goes to prove my point.
We Americans are a curious people. We get better music under our own vine and fig-tree than they have anywhere else in the world but we don’t know it. There is no such band on earth as Sousa’s, no better orchestra than Theodore Thomas’s or the Boston Symphony, and we hear the Metropolitan and French operas.
Take also our chamber music and from that come down to our street ballads, and then to the whistling and singing heard in the streets, with no thought of audience or even listeners.
I have followed German music closely, and I claim that German musicians, or rather let me say German producers of music, lack ear just about half of the time. Their students cannot compare with our college singing, their pedestrian parties, which one meets all through the country, singing, often from notes (and if you take the trouble to inquire, they will frequently tell you with pride that they belong to such and such a singing society) almost drive sensitive ears crazy. But they love it—they adore music, they take such comfort out of it, that one is forced to forgive this lack of ear and this polyglot pitch, or else be considered a churl.