The Etude: My Stuff & Stories, May 22

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On the left, an Etude from May 1939, and on the right, the May 1952 cover featuring composer Ignace Jan Paderewski (1860-1941), looking not nearly as pleased as the young ukulele player

When I was a fledgling piano student, the most exciting event of each month was the arrival of “Etude” music magazine in the mail. My piano teacher, like most, taught according to a “method,” a series of music books that guided students from a basic beginning to gradually more complex music. Didn’t matter what a student’s individual interests or abilities were, the “method” was followed religiously, page by page. No chance of moving on to triplets until AFTER you’d mastered eighth notes.

That’s why the “Etude” was so delicious. Tucked into its pages between essays about great composers and advice columns for music teachers, was actual sheet music, including music for young players like me. The pieces were graded, so I knew I could just sight-read Grade 1 music and maybe be challenged a bit by Grade 2. I was thrilled when I mastered a Grade 3 composition. I would spend just enough time practicing my assigned “method” pages to assure my teacher that I was progressing. Then I’d play from the “Etudes” for my own pleasure. My mother didn’t know that I wasn’t practicing, but playing. It was all music to her.

I have collected “Etudes” over the years, partly out of nostalgia, but mostly because I still prefer playing over practicing. I have nearly two hundred of the more than eight hundred “Etudes” published by Theodore Presser Co. between the years of 1883 and 1957. The oldest magazine in my collection is from July 1907; the newest, December 1954. Each month I pull out the magazines that were published in that particular month and play some of the music, everything from classics to contemporary composers of the day. I’m proud to announce that I can pretty much sight-read my way through grades 4 and occasionally 5. Many of the “modern” compositions are extraordinarily corny, occasionally with politically incorrect titles referencing various ethnic groups. Much of the music, however, has withstood the test of time. So have many of the essays and advice columns.

There isn’t much of a market for “Etude” magazines. My antique dealer friend, Harley, has been trying to sell duplicates from my collection with no takers. On-line I’ve seen offers ranging from $1.50 per magazine (that’s what it cost for an annual subscription in 1907) to one being offered on etsy.com for $104.96 with free shipping. I wish that purveyor well, but I suspect they’d be better off playing instead of selling.

(To celebrate my 75th birthday this month, I’m posting daily stories about the stuff I’ve acquired over a lifetime and can’t let go of. I invite you to consider the stories attached to the stuff you treasure—maybe even share them.)

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