Charles Aiken
Cincinnati: The Queen City 1788-1912; Vol. 4
by Charles Frederick Goss
S. J. Clarke Publishing Co. Chicago / Cincinnati,. 1912.
Pages 350-5.
Transcribed by Tina Hursh


     Cincinnati has long been acknowledged as one of the foremost musical centers of the American continent and its reputation in this regard is due in large measure to the efforts and ability of Professor Charles Aiken, who for years was acknowledged one of of the leading musical educators of the country, holding ever to the highest ideals in his work of instruction.   To him is due the formation of the plan of the organization of the system of musical instruction in the public schools.  His life history had its beginning at Goffstown, New Hampshire, March 13, 1818, his parents being Jonas and Nancy Aiken.  About 1720 representatives of the name came from Londonderry, Ireland, and settled at Londonderry, New Hampshire.    That there was an ancestral love of music is indicated by the fact that they brought their harps with them.  For his life history here compiled the biographer is indebted to the address delivered by Noble K. Royse on the unveiling of the Aiken memorial in Music Hall of Cincinnati, on which occasion he said, speaking of Mr. Aiken's ancestry:  "In him the elements were propitiously mixed for one destined to become an ardent votary to musical culture; his extraction having preceded from tow neighboring nationalities, both of which we know to be instinctively song-loving and song-producing-the Irish and the Scotch.    Then, in the transplantation which took place in 1722 from their native British heath to one singularly similar in physical aspects-the Granite State- his ancestors failed not to bring with them and domesticate in New England their harp and bag-pipe, with all their belongings of weird and touching airs.  Furthermore, in the century that nearly elapsed from the time of their arrival until the birth of the subject of our sketch the original stock and love of minstrelsy did not run out nor diminish; for every member of Charles Aiken's father's family-there were eleven of them-inherited a decided musical tendency.  This tendency, however, in our subject's case, did not prove, as it sometimes does, and all-absorbing one.  There existed along with it a taste and desire for mental culture generally as is evidenced by his four years' course of study at, and his graduation in 1838 from the famous old college of Dartmouth.  Charles Aiken's well rounded collegiate course enabled him to avoid one-sided, single eyed development and gave to his conceptions of his chosen art a broader and juster sense of its relations to other aesthetic branches.  Certainly none could accuse him at any time of a lack of enthusiasm for musical culture; but it was an enthusiasm which possessed eyes and perceptive faculties as well as acute emotionality and which, while it paid its fullest homage before the shrine of flute-sceptered Euterpe, did not fail in polite attention to her sister muses."
     From a very early period Charles Aiken recognized that music would constitute the basis of his life work and when he had received his college diploma he spent some time in itinerant work in his profession in Pennsylvania and Kentucky, arriving in Cincinnati in 1839.  He did not, however, become a permanent resident at that time but went to St. Louis where he spent three years.  In 1842, however, through the influence of Dr. R.D. Mussey, always one of his stanch friends, he returned to this city.  While other men contributed to the material prosperity and upbuilding of Cincinnati he contributed toward that aesthetic pleasure which lifts the mind and soul above the commonplace and broadens life by the beauty and pleasure added thereto.  In 1848 he began musical instruction in the public schools as the successor of William F. Colburn, who had been the first teacher of music in the public schools of Cincinnati.  In the interval of six years which had elapsed after his arrival he had been teaching music to a class of adults, "inaugurating a system of musical instruction which, allowing full credit to the labors of his contemporaries and to some extent his coadjutors in the same work-Professors Smith, Colburn, Locke and Nourse-demonstrated the possibility and suggested the desirableness of introducing music as one of the branches of study in the public schools.  By the successful performance of these-his earlies formed classes, which at first were taught free of charge, -he proved to the satisfaction of the public that vocal music was a wholly practicable and a most desirable study for the young as well as for the mature, and though he was not the first to introduce the study into the public schools, he was among the earlies of those who helped to establish it there, and while his predecessors and colaborers gradually withdrew from the work he continued, contributing each year more and more of his energy and skill toward developing his instructions into a satisfactory system.  His first assignment to duty included the school sof the first, ninth, tenth and eleventh districts and owing to the fact that in those day musical instruction was confined to the more advanced classes, only half of Mr. Aiken's instruction was confined to the more advanced classes, only half of Mr. Aiken's time was demanded for the performance of his duties, the remainder being given to the teaching of Latin and Greek in Professor Herron's Classical Seminary."  After a few months the high schools were also placed under his personal charge and it was here that his peculiar abilities found a most congenial sphere for their exercise.  He could choose the character of the music presented for study and for an uninterrupted period of nearly thirty years remained a devoted instructor of thousands of young people who spent from one of four years under his instruction, having two music lessons a week.  They "were given not only a fair knowledge of the technicalities of note reading and trained to a reasonable proficiency in their application, but were also by means of the choice selections he placed before them from the best works of the greatest composers made acquainted with not a few of the sublimest and sweetest experiences of the art."  Eventually the office of superintendent of music of public schools was created and Professor Aiken was formally placed in the position which he had previously filled in spirit.  The appointment, however, invested him with the one thing lacking to make his efficiency as widely operative as possible-authority.  He could now not simply by superior example, as formerly, incite his associate teachers to improved methods, but by his authority as superintendent he could prescribe such methods and harmonize existing ones.  And this he did, not by harsh and magisterial measures, but in the most considerate and fatherly manner.  The breadth and accuracy of his musical culture and his long experience in the practice of th art commanded the respect of all his subordinates; while his kindly unassuming manner of intercourse won their readiest cooperation in his plans.  In a surprisingly short space of time after his appointment as superintendent the labors of the various music teachers of the schools were reduced to a symmetrical system-a system, though largely that of the chief, yet not exclusively so, Professor Aiken being most emphatically a liberal-minded eclectic.  Suggestions were not only permitted but welcomed and even solicited from each member of his musical cabinet; and it was only after free and full discussion of measures that any particular policy was adopted.  Some of the marked features of the system developed mainly under Professor Aiken's direction were the extension of the study of music, even technically, through all the grades of the public schools, not even the primary being excluded; the requirement of a general knowledge of music and ability to impart elementary instructions in the same upon the part of all candidates for teachers' positions in the schools; and the establishment of annual and semi-annual examinations for testing the practical character of the work of both pupils and teachers.  These examinations were personally superintended and conducted by Professor Aiken; and the results thereat obtained of clever work done, even by teachers outside the corps of music masters, and the facility exhibited by pupils of all grades in reading exercises at first sight were so remarkable, as to compel the notice and praise of school officials in many other and older quarters.
     After Professor Aiken had taken his position at the head of musical instruction in the public schools he felt the need of efficient instruction books.  There were no books in which the work was graded and the teacher sought to partially counteract this by black-board exercises, but this method involved considerable preparatory work on the part of the teacher and the consumption of no small portion of the already limited time of the class for musical instruction.  Again Professor Aiken's ability was adequate to the need as was indicated by the fact that in 1860 appeared a nicely graded music book in two parts called "The Young Singer."  Six years later he brought forth an amended and enlarged work, "The Young Singer's Manual," and in 1875 a series of music books known as the "Cincinnati Music Readers."  All of those prepared by Professor Aiken with the assistance of his associates in the music department and became the most potent and direct means of reducing the musical instruction of the public schools to a thoroughly rational and normal system.  He met similar needs in the high school in the compilation and publication of the "High School Choralist," which was brought out in 1866 by Oliver Ditson & Company, of Boston, and when that work had served its day of usefulness, he published, in 1872, in conjunction with John Church & Company, of Cincinnati "The Choralist's Companion."  In this connection Noble K. Royce said: "Just as Professor Aiken, in the instruction of pupils of the higher grades, found his most congenial and properest employ, so, in the preparation of these higher-grade musical text-books did his large knowledge, discriminating taste and rare skill in arrangement find their fittest scope.  Run your eye down the table of contents of these two works and not a name of those eminent among composers will occur to you that is not to be found there represented by some worthy and characteristic specimen of his genius.  the sweet Mendelssohn, the sublime Handel, the profound Beethoven, the sparkling Mozart, are the most conspicuous and the most frequently heard members of this distinguished choir; but, at intervals, we may last detect the simple, pleasing notes of Silcher, Reichardt and Nageli; the gleeful strains of Spofforth, Collcott, Danby and Bishop; and the worshipful melodies of Palestrina and Himmel.  A generous variety here, surely-a strain suited to every mood of the music-loving soul, and not a frivolity or vulgarity in the whole repertory  Educated in the midst of such company as this, was is possible that the young people of our high schools could go hence uninfluenced by the best in impulse and example that the science of music is capable of bestowing? And as, in time, these youths identified themselves with the various choral organizations of this city was it not inevitable that they should, in a measure at least, shape the courses of those organizations in harmony with their own pure and high training?  There is no question, either among ourselves or abroad, but that this community possesses an extraordinary love and aptitude for the higher grade of musical culture and that its achievements in this direction are not a little wonderful.  And, in casting about for the causes of this preeminence while some of them are to be traced unmistakably to the divers musical societies that have always existed in our community, we feel justified in assigning, as the chief cause of our present ripeness, the sweetening and mellowing influence of the long course of judicious musical training in our public schools.  And, if this be so, there inference is unavoidable that Charles Aiken, as the foremost music teacher of our youth for the thirty years late past, as he who, above all others, gave normal direction to their efforts and familiarized them with the best of musical models-that he it is to whom this community owes a debt as large as the local achievement is eminent, and as enduing as our reverence for the art itself."
     Professor Aiken was united in marriage to Miss Martha S. Merrill, a daughter of Nathaniel Merrill, of Grand Detour, Illinois, and unto them were born six children: Walter Harris; Louis Ellsworth; Alice Cordelia, the wife of C. H. Avery, of Cincinnati; Carrie Dewing, the wife of Thomas Bagley, of Cincinnati; Susan Merrill, the wife of Harry Pounsford, of Cincinnati; and Herbert Pinkerton, of whom mention is made elsewhere in this volume.  The death of Professor Aiken occurred at College Hill, October 4, 1882, and a week later a meeting of the officers, principals and teachers of the public schools was held at the Hughes high school and measures were taken for commemorating in a permanent manner his services to the musical life of Cincinnati.  the result was that on the 15th of November, 1884, the Aiken memorial was unveiled in the vestibule of Music Hall.  It consists of a portrait bust slightly larger than life size, of pure white statuary marble surmounting a lyre-shaped pedestal of blue and black veined marble resting upon a base of polished Knoxville marble.  The whole rises to a height of eight feet and is a work of Preston Powers, of Florence, Italy.  The occasion was one long to be remembered by those present and gathering  was a representative one of Cincinnati's prominent musical people and music lovers.  We again quote from the address of Mr. Ryce, who said: "Charles Aiken was never born to wield a baton, but rather four of them at a time, one for each hand and foot.  Music seemed to have been in his case a mighty charge of electricity which ramified, dominated and threw into responsible and similtaneous action every part of his body,.  His countenance, which was an uncommonly alert and intellectual one, was, when confronting his class, in itself a musical score, whereon all the lights and shadows of harmonic expression were most legibly depicted; and though, to the spectator, his tossing hands and restless feet and swaying body seemed mainly to note and direct the march of the music, to those engaged in its rendition his mobile face proved the real marshal's wand.  Other leaders might rival him in precession of movement and in the niceties of modulation, but none in the measure of correct and intense feeling experienced both by himself and his chorus.  As compared with other leaders of youthful singers, Professor Aiken may be likened to M. Colonne among the number of eminent living French conductors, both  alike being the generators and radiators of musical enthusiasm, the magnetic apostles of the very soul of the gospel of harmony.  To one who had been so long, so intimately and so prominently identified with the development of a most admirable department of public instruction there might well be pardoned a high sense of personal pride and satisfaction.  And, no doubt, Professor Aiken did feel proud of the good work achieved and of his distinguished part in it.  But he had a very unobtrusive way of manifesting it.  To see him among his associates in the music and other departments of the schools there was nothing, either in his bearing or conversation, that savored in the least degree of the egotist; but, on the contrary, there were those pleasantries of talk and that frank, familiar manner, that bespoke the genuine comrade. Though not a composer of music, yet the skill, knowledge and taste manifested in his two compilations for high schools and choirs were such as entitled him to a place not far below that of the successful writer of music.  Nevertheless when asked why he had not permitted his name to appear on their title pages as that of compiler, he modestly replied in substance that he did not feel worthy to appear even as a cup-bearer in the midst of such distinguished guests as sat around their table of contents.  The ample and honorable career, outlined merely in this address, closed at College Hill on Wednesday, October 4, 1882, some three years after its subject had dissolved his connection with the schools.  Three days later his remains, escorted by representatives of the various departments of the schools, were committed to rest within the peace-and-beauty-breathing precincts of Spring Grove cemetery.  Personally his distinctive life work closed in 1879; but methinks it would take an uncommon astute forecaster of human influences to fix the future limit of the duration of his wisely conducted services.  That he has taught is not more true than than he still teaches; and both are sureties of the fact that, in the gradual unfolding of the vital and hardy seed that he sowed up and down the virgin furrows of this community for thirty years of incessant activity he will continue indefinitely to exercise a clearly discernible influence upon the musical status of this people.  In view, then, of these important and distinguished services rendered by Professor Aiken to the cause of musical culture in Cincinnati it may be claimed that it is a sense of justice as well as of gratitude that dedicates a marble memorial to him today.  True, the story f his achievements and the picture of his personal peculiarities are still vivid in the memories of multitudes of adults and youths; but it is likewise true that, in an age like the present, in which worthy exploits fairly tread upon one another's heels, and wherein the fashion of the world changes with the rapidity of cloud forms, the day soon comes when the places that once honored us shall know us no more.  It is therefore proper that those of us who have shared in the benefits accruing from Professor Aiken's labors should so attest our appreciation of them that, when our lips of flesh shall no longer be present to tell the story it will then be taken up and echoed along the aisles of the far future by the sculptured lips which we today uncover.  But not only is the memorial itself at fitting tribute, the place of its erection is also a most appropriate one.  This noble building is most emphatically Music's own shrine-her consecrated temple.  Herein come together form time to time her multitudes of devotees to partake of the refreshing and nourishing feasts prepared for them by her high priests and votaries- the soloists, chorus-singers and instrumentalists.  It is eminently proper, then, that in the vestibule of this temple we should be tangibly reminded of one who, in his day, rendered signal service before the high altar- who himself did much toward suitably preparing the minds and hearts of many now ministering there, and who aided largely in attuning the ears of the vast auditory to an appreciation of the splendid service.  And, while we view with unmixed satisfaction the act of justice which we today signalize, may we not venture to hope that it is only the beginning of a movement which, in its future course, is destined to uprear in their place many similar memorials of men who, like him we now honor, shall distinguish themselves as contributors to the musical advancement of this community.  Then, with the stature of that princely lover and patron of music, Reuben R. Springer, as its century figure, will this proud edifice not only answer, as now, to its title of Temple of Music, but will also be acknowledged as the Parthenon of the musical celebrities of the Queen City."



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Cincinnati: The Queen City 1788-1912; Vol. 4
by Charles Frederick Goss
S. J. Clarke Publishing Co. Chicago / Cincinnati,. 1912.

Transcribed by Tina Hursh


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