Moissaye Boguslawski used to play the piano at cheap dance halls until his fingers bled — At thirteen, he gave lessons to other children at fifteen cents an hour — From the time he was four years old he worked, against overwhelming odds, to make himself the distinguished musician he is today.

Par 1 SOME years ago, a slender black-haired boy used to play the piano in one of Chicago's cheap dance halls. He was barely fifteen, yet he had to play there for eight hours at a stretch, two or three nights a week.
Par 2 On Sunday — known to most of us as a day of rest — he began at two o'clock in the afternoon and, with one hour for supper between six and seven, played until three or four o'clock Monday morning; twelve or thirteen hours of work altogether!
Par 3 Time and again, his fingers would bleed until the ivory keys were red instead of white. Finally he hit upon the device of putting court-plaster on his fingers. It interfered with the delicacy of his touch; but as noise was the chief essential this was not a serious drawback.
Par 4 In the small hours of the morning he would drag himself home to the tenement where he lived with his father and mother. But at eight o'clock, after a few hours of sleep, he was up again, practicing on his own poor old square piano, which had been bought, second-hand, for five dollars eleven years before.
Par 5 It was wheezy with age. The keys, however, were still intact; and he did not have to pound them now for a mob of noisy dancers. He could develop his hands and train his fingers, even though he could not evoke beautiful music from the old instrument he played on.
Par 6 The boy was Moissaye Boguslawski, now one of the best pianists in the country and one of the most successful teachers of piano playing. He has taught thousands of pupils, beginning when he himself was a boy only thirteen years old.
Par 7 He received fifteen cents a lesson then, his pupils being the children of his neighbors in the Chicago Ghetto. To-day, as one of the head professors in the Chicago Musical College, he receives fifteen dollars for a lesson; exactly one hundred times the amount of his first fee. As for his own playing, it has won the praise of the most severe critics in New York, Boston, Chicago, and the other musical centers of this country.
Par 8 His personal story is an extraordinary one; a story of almost incredible energy, courage, and patience. Then, too, there is his experience as a teacher. In probably a million American homes, right now, there is a daily discussion as to whether it will pay to have Gladys, or Dorothy, or Johnnie, or little Bill "take lessons" on the piano. Boguslawski has some interesting things to say on this subject.
Par 9 He is thirty-five years old now. It probably will surprise a good many readers to be told that Paderewski was older than that when he won fame as a pianist. Boguslawski looks younger than he really is; for he is still as slender as a boy and his thick hair is actually "as black as midnight." In his make-up he is a curious combination of poetry and practical business sense.

Boguslawski, facing right

Although his name is Russian, Boguslawski was born in Chicago in a tenement house of what was then the Ghetto. He had his first piano lessons when he was four years old, on a second-hand instrument which his father bought for five dollars. He is now one of the leading professors in the Chicago Musical College, and has won a wide reputation as a concert pianist. He is only thirty-five years old. But into those years has been crowded an almost incredible amount of work; and up to the time he was twenty it was done in the face of constant privations and discouragements.

Par 10 "I was born in a tenement on Canal Street, which was then the Jewish quarter of Chicago," he said to me recently, while he was in New York making records for the phonograph and the player piano. "Both my father and my mother came from Russia. My father made a precarious living by playing the clarinet or the flute at Jewish weddings. And my mother, before she was married, worked in a cloak factory.
Par 11 "That was what she did. But what she wanted to do was to become a singer. When she met my father —" Boguslawski smiled — "well, of course, she married him because she loved him. But I imagine it was easier for her to love him because he was a musician; at least, he played a musical instrument, and she naïvely imagined that she was, so to speak, marrying a musical career for herself.
Par 12 "Instead, she found herself living in two rooms on the top floor of a tenement, with a hard struggle to keep the wolf from the door. Her dreams of becoming a singer quickly faded. But when I put in my appearance she transferred her ambition to me, hoping and praying, from the day I was born, that I would become a real musician.
Par 13 "What I have achieved I owe in great measure to her. When I was four years old she persuaded my father to buy a funny old square piano, so that I could take lessons. It cost five dollars, and I can remember now the trouble they had in getting it up all those flights of narrow stairs. It took up so much room that we had to dispense with a dining table and use the top of the piano instead. I was so small that I ate my meals standing.
Par 14 "An old German, named Steinbach, gave me lessons at fifty cents apiece plus ten cents for car fare. I had one lesson a week, except when there was a Jewish holiday. Poor as our home was, my mother always kept it immaculately clean. Whenever a religious holiday came around, the rooms were scrubbed almost from floor to ceiling. And on these occasions p.55 I missed my weekly lesson, because my mother was not strong enough to do this scrubbing, and the sixty cents had to go to a charwoman instead of to Steinbach.
Par 15 "Later, I had a young Russian for a teacher. He was a bit better than Steinbach, but not very good. Still, it was the best my I parents could do for me; and, poor as it was, it meant a degree of self-sacrifice which you can hardly comprehend.
Par 16 "I used to practice several hours a day when I was only seven or eight years old. If I had been fortunate enough to have a good teacher — who knows? I might have been saved years of struggle; but perhaps I should have missed some of the things I got from the struggle.
Par 17 "As it was, I did learn to play, because I kept everlastingly at it. As a matter of fact, I was chiefly my own teacher. I was my own task-master too; and I drove myself harder than anyone else would have driven me.
Par 18 "When I was ten years old, I began to go with my father to play at Jewish weddings. He had hard work to collect the full fee for me, I remember. People didn't want to pay a child a man's price, even though I did a man's work.

Par 19 "WHEN I was thirteen I played in a Yiddish theatre frequented chiefly by peddlers and junkmen. Inwardly, I rebelled against the environment. I hated it!
Par 20 "But I always tried to keep myself aloof from degrading surroundings. I would have nothing to do with the people. I would not drink with them — which was customary — or even talk with them."
Par 21 Boguslawski's next experience was the one I have already mentioned, the one in the dance hall, where he used to play until his fingers bled.
Par 22 "When I look back at that time," he said, "I wonder at the dogged persistence of that boy who was myself. During the intermissions between dances I used to push down the practice pedal, so that the keys would not sound when struck; and even when my fingers were cracked and bleeding I would spend the intermissions doing various exercises, especially in double-thirds, which are one of the most difficult tests for the pianist.
Par 23 "I am very grateful to that boy now," he said with a smile; "for I think I may claim to have a mastery of double-thirds possessed by very few of even the world's greatest pianists.
Par 24 "Next I set up for myself, as it were, by forming my own orchestra to play at Jewish weddings. This so-called orchestra consisted of only three pieces, and each player received three an one-half dollars a night. I took part of the money earned in this way to pay for some lessons at a cheap little music school. The instruction didn't amount to much, but it was the best I could afford.
Par 25 "About this time, I heard that Ossip Gabrilowitsch, the famous Russian pianist, was coming to Chicago. Before this, I apparently hadn't thought of trying to bring myself to the attention of any real musician. I just plodded along more or less blindly, doing the best I could by myself. But when I heard that Gabrilowitsch was coming, I determined to try for a hearing.
Par 26 "In my mind I chose a Rubinstein concerto as the piece I wanted to play; but I hadn't the money with which to buy the music. I thought about it by day and dreamed about it by night, and finally I had an inspiration. The man who ran the little music school I attended was going to send out a lot of circulars. I told him of my predicament, asked him to get the concerto for me, and to let me pay for it by addressing these circulars. He agreed; and by addressing two thousand envelopes I earned the coveted piece of music.

The Ages at Which We Make the Most Progress

THERE are two periods when human beings make the greatest progress," says Professor Boguslawski. "One is between the ages of eight and twelve; the other is between twenty and thirty.

"The intermediate period, between twelve and twenty, is the time of adolescence; a period of emotional excitement and constant distraction. The eight-to-twelve period is perhaps the most important in the life of a human being. The character is so plastic then that you can shape it almost entirely at your will.

"Parents should understand this. What they do with their children in those four years is almost unalterable later on. During that period, too, you can get a child to do more serious and more concentrated work than he will do a few years later. You can dominate him then — which you cannot do between twelve and twenty.

"When they reach their twenties, if they have the right stuff in them, you get another period of rapid development, of serious and concentrated effort. Only, now it is at the behest of their own will; not, as in the case of most of them when they were children, at the behest of some older person."

Par 27 "WHEN Gabrilowitsch came to Chicago, I took my precious concerto and, with my mother, went to see the great pianist at his hotel. He listened to my playing, then he said to my mother:
Par 28 "'I will be perfectly frank with you. I cannot see in your boy any evidence of genius. He has some talent, and if his mind is set on a musical career you had better send him to a good teacher and let him learn what he can. But I do not see anything of great promise in him.'
Par 29 "Well — that was a bitter pill to swallow," said Boguslawski, shaking his head. "After sacrificing my whole childhood and part of my youth, after working and slaving day and night for ten years, giving up everything in the way of pleasure and self-indulgence and now to be told that it had all been useless, that I hadn't the ability to reach the goal! As we went down in the elevator after leaving Gabrilowitsch, I didn't care whether it ever stopped going down. I wished it wouldn't stop.
Par 30 "But that was only the first reaction. Dogged determination, when it has become the habit of years, is hard to break. And for ten years I had been developing strength, not only in my hands, but in my will also. Before my mother and I had reached home this will began to assert itself.
Par 31 "Before we went to Gabrilowitsch I had said that I wanted to get the verdict of a man who was competent to judge my ability. And I had declared that I would abide by his verdict. Whatever it was, it should decide my future.

Par 32 "WELL, from my point of view, his judgment was one that condemned me. He admitted that I might become a mediocre musician; but there was no comfort to me in that. The only goal I cared to reach was a far higher one than mere mediocrity.
Par 33 "I remember the whole experience as if it had occurred yesterday. You couldn't have found, in the city of Chicago, two people more silent and crushed than my mother and myself as we walked out of the Auditorium Hotel. But we had not gone far before something in me came to life. It welled up in me, choked me, brought tears of defiance to my eyes. And as I stumbled blindly along beside my mother, I clenched my hands and swore to myself that I wouldn't abide by the verdict that had been pronounced; that I could reach the goal I had chosen, and that I would prove that I could. That experience, instead of taking the heart out of me, simply increased my determination to carry out my purpose.
Par 34 "There is a sequel to that incident which may interest you," said Boguslawski with a little gesture of apology. "A few years ago, after one of my recitals in New York, Gabrilowitsch came back of the stage to speak to me. It was the first time I had seen him since that afternoon when he had passed judgment on my playing. He came up to me, put his hands on my shoulders, and said:
Par 35 "'Well, my boy, time has made great changes!'
Par 36 "Before he left, he engaged me to appear as soloist with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, of which he is the conductor. I think that has meant more to me than any other recognition I have received.
Par 37 "Gabrilowitsch, p.136 in that first unhappy interview, gave me one piece of advice: to study with some good teacher. I never had done this, because I never could scrape up enough money. But now I redoubled my efforts, went without everything except the bare necessities of life, and so was able to have some lessons from Rudolf Ganz, the celebrated Swiss pianist who was then teaching in Chicago. He went back to Europe after a time; but meanwhile I had gained a great deal from his instruction — the only really good instruction I ever had."
Par 38 "It seems too bad that some wealthy patron, or patroness, did not take an interest in you," I said.
Par 39 "'I'm not so sure of that," replied Boguslawski. "As a matter of fact, a rich woman did seem inclined to take me up at one time. But it involved a sacrifice of my artistic independence to which I could not consent. If the chance had come when I was a child, my parents and I probably would have taken advantage of it. But the struggles I had gone through made me old for my years. They had also made me strong in my determination to own myself.

Par 40 "WHEN a young artist becomes the protégé of some wealthy benefactor, this benefactor almost inevitably assumes a sort of proprietorship. The artist is at his patron's beck and call; and this, it seems to me, must inevitably undermine his independence, personal and artistic.
Par 41 "It is quite different when the money is advanced as a loan to be repaid later. Some companies which manufacture pianos have done this. They finance a young artist, launch him, and advertise him. He repays the money out of the receipts from his concerts when he begins to give public performances.
Par 42 "Even pianists who already have made a reputation, and who wish to give a season of recitals, are sometimes financed in this way. One very well-known man, a really distinguished pianist, told me recently that when he has repaid the advances made to him, and all the expenses of his season, he is lucky if he has four thousand dollars left for himself.
Par 43 "I have never regretted that I decided to stand on my own feet. I continued to do this, by teaching and by playing at the everlasting round of Jewish weddings, until I was almost twenty. Then, one day, I met a musical friend who told me that the Kansas City Conservervatory of Music needed someone to be at the head of its piano department. When I said that I would apply for the position, he laughed at me.
Par 44 "'What!' he said. 'You think you could fill that position?'
Par 45 "'Yes, I do!' I declared. 'I simply haven't had the opportunity to show what I am capable of. This will give me the chance. It will be sink or swim. But if I have to swim, or drown — well, I won't drown! I can promise you that.'
Par 46 "He looked at me for a moment, then p.139 he said, 'All right! If you have that much confidence in yourself, I have enough confidence to recommend you for the position.'
Par 47 "I wrote my application and my friend did recommend me. The director of the Conservatory was to be in Chicago in two weeks. I spent the interval raising a mustache, so that he wouldn't think I was a mere boy. And I got the appointment.
Par 48 "I went to Kansas City on a salary of fifty dollars a week — which was more than I had ever before earned. The conservatory charged pupils one dollar a lesson; and sometimes I gave as many as eighty-five lessons a week. That was about fourteen lessons a day, six days in the week. After teaching all day long, until six o'clock, I would snatch a hurried meal, then practice until midnight.
Par 49 "The second year I was there I persuaded the board to raise the fee to two dollars a lesson. It is never right to continue to sell goods for less than they are worth; and I knew our 'goods' were worth more than we were getting for them.
Par 50 "I also convinced the heads of the school that it would be to its advantage if I appeared in public recitals. Art is no exception to the rule that advertising is necessary, if the public is to see and appreciate what kind of 'goods' you have to sell.
Par 51 "My immediate object was to become known in and around Kansas City; because that was the field from which the conservatory drew its students. So I began to give local recitals. You probably will laugh" — and he laughed himself, — "when I tell you that while I was working on a program for a recital I used to try the pieces on the janitor.

Par 52 "YOU see, I felt this way about it, and, what is more, I still feel the same way: I had two things to accomplish: First, my execution must be technically good. The janitor was not qualified to judge me on this point, but I didn't need him for that anyway. I was my own severest critic in technique. But the other thing I had to do was to interpret the music; get its message across to the audience. I do not care how mechanically perfect a man's execution may be, if his playing leaves his hearers cold, if he has not made them feel the meaning and the beauty of it all, then he is not a great musician.
Par 53 "He does not have to choose between playing to the critics and playing to the crowd. He must, of course, have a mastery of technique. But the humblest listener, who doesn't know one note from another, can be made to feel the beauty of music.
Par 54 "That is why I tried my pieces on the janitor. I could take care of the technique myself; but I wanted to know whether I could make music that would reach and satisfy others. He wasn't easily satisfied either! I can assure you that I felt as happy as if I had received the plaudits of the multitude when he would say, in his blunt fashion:
Par 55 "'Well, Mr. Boguslawski, you done that fine to-night, I like it!'
Par 56 "For several years, I went on building up a local reputation. Then I thought the time had come to meet the acid test of a New York hearing. This city is the great clearing-house of musical opinion. The critics hear probably ten times as much p.140 good music as anyone else in this country. They are almost fed up on it. Even if I should give a recital here, I didn't know whether the leading critics would come to hear me. But I determined to try it, at any rate.
Par 57 "It costs a lot of money to hire Carnegie Hall or Aeolian Hall, much more than I had saved at that time. But thanks to the late Mr. W. R. Nelson, of the Kansas City 'Star,' the matter was arranged, and my wife [Lillian?] and I came on. I was so frightened by the ordeal ahead of me that I was sick in bed for twenty-four hours before the recital. When I reached the hall I was so white that even the stage attendant was moved to pity.
Par 58 "'Don't take it so hard, sir!' he said, patting me on the shoulder as if I had been a scared child. 'Why, the last time Mr. Paderewski played here, he was so nervous that his friends had to take him and shove him onto the stage! You'll be all right when you get out there'."
Par 59 Evidently the attendant was a good prophet; for I have seen the notices which appeared in the New York papers the next day, and they must have brought intense happiness to the young musical Lochinvar who had come out of West. The great critics did go to hear him; and Boguslawski returned to Kansas City carrying the laurels of a well-earned success.
Par 60 He stayed there several years longer. Busoni, one of the most famous pianists in the world, gave a recital in Kansas City during that time, heard Boguslawski play, and begged him to go back to Europe with him and study with him.

Par 61 "IN ONE way, that was a temptation," said Boguslawski to me. "I had the greatest admiration for Busoni. But I felt that I wanted to stay in America; that, such a[s] I was, I was the product of America. So I decided to keep on as I had begun. After a while, the offer came of a professorship in the Chicago Musical College, one of the leading musical conservatories of this country. I took it. I am there associated there with men like Felix Borowsky, Percy Grainger, and Leopold Auer, the most famous violin teacher in the world.
Par 62 "Chicago and the entire Middle West are a wonderful field for the musician. From Minneapolis to St. Louis, and from Detroit to Denver, a great musical awakening is going on. It is a wonderful thing to have a part in this. As a boy I used to dream of personal recognition. That has come; and of course it is very gratifying. But I am sincere when I say that if I had to choose between personal success as a soloist and helping to make music a part of countless other people's lives, I should choose the latter.
Par 63 "For instance, I love to teach. I really do. People have an idea that a musician teaches under protest; that he does it simply for his bread and butter. My teaching brings me not only the necessities but all the luxuries I have any real use for. But it brings me far more than that. Every new pupil is just one more opportunity for me to enrich people's lives. For that is what an appreciation of good music does; and if the student gains nothing else from his study, he does gain this appreciation.
Par 64 "I suppose there are hundreds of thousands of men and women who took piano lessons when they were children and who p.144 almost never touch a piano now. But that does not prove that the time and money spent on their lessons were wasted. I feel confident that the audiences at all the best concerts and recitals are composed very largely of these people.
Par 65 "They will tell you apologetically that they haven't 'kept up' their music. But they have kept it up! You play a piece of music yourself in order to, I might say, possess it. If you enjoy and appreciate it when someone else plays it, then it is yours in the highest sense."
Par 66 "But do they get this appreciation even though they have no great talent themselves?" I asked.
Par 67 "Yes, they do," was the earnest reply. "Talent is rare."
Par 68 Boguslawski stopped, thought a moment, then shook his head.
Par 69 "That is not true," he went on. "Talent is not rare. It is less rare than it used to be. In fact, it is not uncommon. The thing that is rare is the force that makes it possible to develop talent to its highest possibility. If you ask me what is the one thing I look for in a pupil, the one sign that tells me the boy or the girl will achieve something worth while I can answer you immediately: It is the will. I would rather have a pupil with just an average degree of talent, but with a supreme and unshakable will to conquer by hard work than to have a brilliant, but careless and indolent genius.

Par 70 "I THINK I am safe in saying that some of the most distinguished musicians are not geniuses at all. They have become great by pure force of will. I have one pupil, a little boy of eight, who is almost certain to achieve something far beyond the ordinary. Not because his talent is remarkable, for it is not. Sometimes he seems almost dull. He is timid and lacks personality. He speaks so low that I have to bend my head to catch what he says.
Par 71 "But the child has the will to conquer. He just stubbornly goes at the job as if it were his only concern in life. He practices four hours a day. Not because anybody else makes him; but of his own will! He will succeed. He will do it by main force — but he will do it. And that is the quality I look for. It is what I would look for if I were sizing up people for any other kind of a career. Give me the person with the will to do and to achieve, and you may take all the brilliant ones who think they have genius, and therefore can succeed without any particular effort.
Par 72 "I have found that girls possess more talent than boys. By 'talent' I mean natural ability. They also learn more quickly and they work more conscientiously.
Par 73 "With these points in their favor, you would naturally expect that they would reach a higher goal — but they don't! Not as pianists, at any rate. Even the greatest women pianists cannot be put on the same level as the greatest among the men.
Par 74 "I think I can explain this. Here is one significant detail: Women play too fast! That doesn't sound important; but the explanation of it is very important. Men have a sort of patience which women lack. They can 'bide their time' better than women can.
Par 75 "Suppose a man and a woman play the same composition, perhaps a long and p.147 intricate one. The woman plays it with a great rush of feeling. She is swept forward by her emotions. She is in their power — they are not in her power. But the man will not be hurried; he builds up his effects with undeviating design; he has his emotions, but he keeps them in their place, so to speak.
Par 76 "His is the patience of conscious purposes and conscious power. 'I know what I want to do,' he seems to say; 'but I will take my time in the doing.' So his grasp is more deliberate, and therefore stronger. The woman wants to show you everything in almost feverish haste. The result is that she may stir your emotions, but she won't give you the impression of mastery and controlled ability which the man conveys.
Par 77 "However, when it comes to appreciation of music I think the women are superior to the men. I am speaking now of the average audience, not of exceptional cases. The average man wants 'fireworks' in his music; something like the 'Rakoczy March' for example. He likes brilliant effects; the obvious in extremes. Women have a much subtler perception. They appreciate the finer shades, both in meaning and in execution.
Par 78 "Possibly this is because of the very thing we were speaking of just now. A great many more girls than boys receive piano lessons. And perhaps this explains why more women than men appreciate good music. Those early lessons were not thrown away. The few hundred dollars which their parents invested in lessons are paying dividends now in a pleasure and a satisfaction which I do not think would otherwise have been possible. The little girls who are practicing their exercises today will largely make up the music-loving audiences of twenty or thirty years from now."