Music teaching in the late-nineteenth century: a professional occupation?

Golding, Rosemary (2018). Music teaching in the late-nineteenth century: a professional occupation? In: Golding, Rosemary ed. The Music Profession in Britain, 1780-1920: New Perspectives on Status and Identity. Music in Nineteenth-Century Britain. Routledge, pp. 128–148.



Music teaching formed an important source of income for many musicians in the nineteenth century, whether as part of a ‘portfolio’ career, to support composing or performing activities, or as part of the ‘flood’ of private teachers in the expanding market of the last quarter of the century. As such, however, it hads a reputation as a low-status part of the profession. This was particularly true given its association with female teachers, many of whom were part-time, unqualified and often ill-equipped. Sources from throughout the century suggest music teaching was a thankless task, with musicians such as William Sterndale Bennett working extensive hours in order to make ends meet, and other teachers complaining of being undercut by young ladies charging as little as 6s an hour. The first part of this chapter will explore the nuances of status and practice in the music teaching profession, using published sources on the profession as well as reports and stories from the press.

Attempts to professionalise music teaching in the last decades of the nineteenth century cast a new light on the status of this part of the music profession, and this case study forms the second part of the chapter. The Union of Graduates in Music and the Incorporated Society of Musicians were both involved in a scheme to introduce registration for music teachers, largely in response to government plans to register all secondary school teachers. While many were in favour of ousting ‘bogus’ music teachers, the practicalities of developing a formal scheme for accreditation or establishing basic professional standards were significant obstacles.

Responses to formal inquiries reveal the complexities of managing professional identity, this time from the perspective of senior members of the music profession. The ongoing difficulties in the relationship between the UGM and ISM also expose fractures within the profession, especially where formal accreditation and class identity were at stake. The ultimate failure to secure registration for music teachers was predominantly due to the lack of recognised accreditation, as well as the problems of identifying bona fide professionals among the mass of part-time and unqualified practitioners.

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