Mediocrity: Mechanical Training and Music for Girls
Recent scholarship has studied the ideology of virtuosity as it appears in the late eighteenth century. This chapter shifts our focus from virtuosity to mediocrity. In doing so, I expose ideological contradictions in the music education of girls. In particular, I consider the illogical attitude that artlessness is the pinnacle of a girl’s performance, but that this artlessness can be achieved without mechanical practice. My chapter examines the anxiety experienced by music professionals when mediocrity is a student’s goal. In such cases, master teachers are not required for students to achieve basic competency, and standardized lessons are more cost-effective than individualized ones. Finally, if we accept that the regimen of practice is a safe zone for the development of female assertiveness (given that the work of achieving mediocrity is a socially sanctioned, private space of female labour), I ask why women writers of pedagogical novels, epistolary fictions, and educational tracts—even those whose backgrounds include work with music professionals—do not address the potential of music in a girl’s developmental process. Primary texts include works by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Madame de Genlis, Adelaide O’Keeffe, music training works by Charles Dibdin and others, and pamphlets debating the merits of Logier’s chiroplast, a mechanical contraption for teaching piano keyboard skills.