The Helpfulness of Obedience

By Helena Maguire

Two causes there are for a feeling of disquietude in the minds of those who have an active interest in our young people. One is in the way that many of these young people are understanding, or rather not understanding, the terms “independence” and freedom.”

The other is in the fact that, of these young people who study so many different things, there are so few who do any one of these things really thoroughly and beautifully well.

Passing from generalities to the study of music in particular I have decided, after a dozen years of teaching, that the whole thing hinges on – obedience.

I have never known an obedient pupil who was a failure. I have known many brilliantly talented pupils who were most dismal failures, solely because of what we call their “erratic temperaments,” which is only one way of saying that they never learned to obey!

Obedience is the Aladdin’s lamp of the music-student. It is by its light that the pupil is enabled to reach and gather the garnered wisdom of the music world, which waits in darkness even as did Aladdin’s jewels. It is the brightness of obedience which lifts above mediocrity and commonplace. I wonder if mothers ever give much thought to the question, “Are the children obedient to their music teacher?” If they are not, then you are wasting your children’s time and your husband’s money, for without obedience no one, however blessed with talent, will succeed in music.

The hours of childhood are precious hours, and are much better spent in healthy play than in desultory, surface work at the piano. Right practice helps to correct habits of mind, muscle and morals., but practice which does not do this is much worse than none. Which kind of practice are your children doing?

What is it to be obedient? It is to place oneself’s in harmony with universal law. An hour spent in implicitly obeying the music teacher’s instruction is an hour spent in concordance with universal truth, for the music teacher gives her pupils the truth as she knows it, and instructs them in the way of making this truth a part of their very lives and being. The music teacher to whom you send your children represents for you, or should represent, the best musical instruction obtainable. This being so, if your children place themselves in willing submission to this teacher they are working in accord with the best musical thought of our day. If not, then are they not quite certainly going contrary to that which you have accepted, and are paying for, as right musical thought? And if the child goes contrary to the right, how can the results be good?

Oftentimes I believe that mothers do not realize that their children are disobedient, or that they err in never expecting exact obedience to their own commands. So that when a mother says, “Go and practice now,” and receives the reply, “Oh, I must do my home lesson now,” or “Won’t it do just as well after school,” or “Yes, mother, in a little while.” the mother does not realize that this is not obeying, the beautiful “present moment” passes by, and the practicing is not done, or else is done hurriedly at the end of the day, when brain and body both are tired.

This might be avoided if mothers would plan for their little ones an “Order of the Day,” in which music would have its own particular time, with which nothing else is allowed to interfere, and, if the habit of living by such an “order” is once established there can be no “unconscious” avoidance of practice.

Again, as to obedience in the practice itself. Every pupil should have a lesson book into which the teacher writes the various points of each lesson and how each is to be practiced, and with this book the mother should be as familiar as the teacher herself. She should know just how many times the pupil is expected to repeat an exercise, and she need not leave her sewing to ascertain whether it is done eight times or two. If the command is “eight times,” then nothing less will do. If the command is to “count aloud,” then aloud it must be, or the child is not obedient. If soft practice is commanded the mother can easily help the child to obey.

A mother can make everything so much easier, both for herself and her children by helping them to practice exact obedience. In learning to be obedient to the simple laws of home life the child is preparing to abide by the laws of the great world in which he must take his place some day to till it with honor or dishonor according as he has learned to respect law and authority. And the child who obeys his mother will obey his teacher.


Nor will this insistence upon implicit obedience make of the child a servile creature without a will of his own. There is no man so “free” as he who has learned to conform to law, and there is no one so “independent” as he who is willing to place a respectful dependence upon some one else’s knowledge.

The good teacher is always anxious for the cooperation, the intelligent cooperation of the mother. And the mother must realize that she cannot wisely leave it to the teacher to insist upon obedience, for if the child does not obey the teacher there is only one of two unpleasant courses for the teacher to follow.

Either the teacher must force the pupil to do what should have been done cheerfully and as a matter of course, and the chances are that, in forcing a pupil the teacher will also antagonize, and this once done the teacher’s influence for good is gone. Thereafter it will simply be a contest of wills; the forcing process once begun must always be kept up, else the teacher is “weakening,” and is too hard, both on teacher and on pupil. It cannot be successful.

The other course is that, the teacher, abhorring the “forcing process,” will insist to a certain point, but beyond that she will not go, and if the pupil does not obey then there is nothing to do but to drop the point without having accomplished the result wished for – and the pupil goes gleefully on her way thinking how fortunate she is in having such an “easy teacher,” never realizing, poor thing, how much she is losing both mentally and morally.

These are, indeed, unpleasant alternatives. There can be no pleasant study, no pleasant relationship between teacher and pupil unless the good and pleasant habit of obedience is practiced each day under the tender brooding mother-love which can make all things possible.

And the rewards of obedience are – happiness, affection and success.