*** the fine arts: boys' musical costumes

The Fine Arts: Music

Figure 1.--Mothers were especially concerned with dressing their sons elegantly for recitals. This mother may have over done it a bit. This 1915 image is difficult image to interpret, but girls at the time would not have worn knickers--especially for dress up occasions. An HBC contributors confirms that the child is indeed a boy. It comes from the photo collection of the DeYoung museum in San Francisco. The photo has the caption "Boy with a harp, 1915." Click on the image for a fuller discussion.

Music is intrinsically liked with humnity, although it is not well understood just how any why. All human socities have developed music in some form. And all humanss respond to music. Capabilities to produce music, as with other skills and talenrs, vary from individual to individual. and as a result of culture, the musical creativity varies to sone degree from society to society. No society has developed music to the same level of sophistication as the west. The European tradition involves teaching music comprehensively. Individual instrumental skill training is combined with history and theory study, solfeggio, and ear training. Many children of modest abilities pursued musical instruments. Some hated it, some found it made possible a life-long appreciation of music. A few demonstrated great talent from an early age. Modern boys often at mom's urging have participated in various fine arts programs. Some boys have decided on their own to pursue interests in the fine arts, but this is probably a minority. Most boys have other things on their mind. Most are much more interested in sports. There are varying interests in different disciplines. Many boys do decide on their own to learn to play musical instruments. In many other cases, especially learing dancing, the choice is promoted by the parents. There are several musical and music associated images that we want to address. Music is one of several topics, however, on which CIH/HBC has very little core comptence. For this section we have relied very heavily on the input and suggestions of our readers. We incourage readers who have studied and are knowledgeable about music to provide their insights to help build this interesting section of our website.

Music and Humanity

Music is intrinsically liked with humnity, although it is not well understood just how and why. All human socities have developed music in some form. And all humanss respond to music. Capabilities to produce music, as with other skills and talents, vary from individual to individual. Music appears to be a characteridtic of humnity. This is not to say music, at least in basic forms, does not elude other primates. Some studies have shown that primates do not respond to human music, but some reearchers believe that primates and other animals such as song birds and cetaceans may make music too, just differently than humans do. ["Do monkeys ..."] Just when humans began to make music is an open question. We have good idea with visual art because man has left art work that can be dated. Music unfortunatly is phemeral and leaves no physical record until modern times with musical notatiion and recording devices. There is one exceptioin--musical instruments. And in the ancient era nmusical instruments have been found and there are descriptins in written works. But that still does not answer the question of when humans began to make music. We have little idea just when, how, and why musical behavior began. Like art it must have been in the neolithic era. And a problem here arisrs is that the first musical instruments would not look much like musical instruments and therefore can go unoticed in the rare instances they have survived. Recently a rather unimposing conch shell discovered in the French Marsoulas Cave with neolithic wall paintings and stored away in a museum Toulouse Cave for decades has been identified as a musical instrument. It was assumed to have been a drining cup, but holes drilled into the shell. A musician who played it produced a deep, olaintive bleat, described as 'foghorn from a distant past. Archeologists working on it believe that they have found the oldest known musical instrument -- perhaps 18,000 years old. [Fritz] Previously the eraliest known instrument, another conch shell, found in Syria was dated to about 6,000 years old. The natural spiral cavities of these shells gives them resonating properties. This is the subject of ongoing research. Humamnity with the advent of civilization has developed an extrodinary variety of melodies, themes, and rhythms that can be appreciated by humans without the coinstraunts imposed by language. The youngest babies are soothed by it. Todlers certainly enjoy it. Musical beat generates an urge to move at an early age. And they enjoy menorizing favorite tune. Young adults who may avoid literature and poetry are powefully moved by it and can dance to it for hours. And we older adults aremoved by the memries of youth it elicits. Humanity has used music to ekevate its most important rituals, including those marking birth, weedings, and death. And the great works of music are acknowledged as some of the magistetrial creations of the human mund, along with the visual arts and literature. Yes very little is known about the impact of music on humanity. Nor do we fully understand how tones and melodies impact our emotions. We do not know why musical beat inspires an urge to move, appearantly thev enesis of dance. And we do not even know if we are born with a sense of music or if we acquire it as part of our cultural mileau.

Music and Culture

Every society in the world has some form of music. This includes the lasrgest empires and nation states as well as small isolared tribal communities. As a result of culture, the musical creativity varies to sone degree from society to society.

Music Education

The European tradition involves teaching music comprehensively. Individual instrumental skill training is combined with history and theory study, solfeggio, and ear training. Students learned not only the facts and sounds of music but also the skills to be able to write down what they hear; and sing what they play on their instrument. The This produced in students an internalization of the logic, richness and subtleties of music, leading to a fuller understanding and appreciation of its beauty, in both playing and listening. The European tradition involved training boys of great talent. Boys of modest talent were not nomally taught to play classic instruments. They may learn to play inexpenive folk instruments. This was of course particularly true of the vast majority of the population which could not aford the cost of instruction, let alone the price of an instrument. Girls from wealthy families might be trained at home, but not for public performances.

Music Appreciation

The concept of music appreciation I believe is a relatively recent phenomenon. Of course music has been appreciated since time immemorial. The issue of music appreciation appears to have surfaced in Europe and America with the industrial revolution and the emense expansion of the middleclass. Families were able to achieve income levels never before achieved by such a wide section of scociety. Many kothers were intent tht their children obtain an appreciation of culture that was often lacking in the family. Some mothers saw this as an aspect of education or social advancement. For others it was seen as an important aspect of education and a complete life. For the most part music appreciation was accomplished through family music making and instrumental lessons. We note articles in women's and family magazines about music appreciation.


Modern boys often at mom's urging have participated in various fine arts programs. Some boys have decided on their own to pursue interests in the fine arts, but this is probably a minority. Most boys have other things on their mind. Most are much more interested in sports. There are varying interests in different disciplines. Many boys do decide on their own to learn to play musical instruments. In many other cases, especially learing dancing, the choice is promoted by the parents.

Historical Chronology

The early hilstory of music like dance is much more difficult to assess because it occurred before writing was invented. This was also the cse of art, however, art is tangiable and thus there was actual prehistoric art that has been found. It is not posible to find prehistoric music. Music historians can only speculate about the origins of music. The earliest musical instruments surely was the human voice. Sonds in nature or natural expressions of human emotions might have led early man to music. Animal noices, especiall bird songs may have inspired early man. Some anthropolgists suggest that the first rhythms may have come from tool use. Pounding grains or oher work with tools may have been persued with a rythmn. This may have inspired man to create rythms for pleasure. Anhropolgists generally agree that the first musical instruments were persussion instruments. Early man began making stone tools. This involved banging/pounding rock together. Jagged pieces could be used for cutting and craping. Both pounding and scraping created sound. Over time early man appears to have actuually created musical instruments. Another sound making device was he human hand--clapping. Woodn sticks were at hand and which could be hit together to make noise. Over time man must have discovered that hitting on a hollow log amplified sound an created resonance. It is likely that the first drum was a slit frum, a hollow timber. These very primitive implements along with the voice provided man a substantial repitore of sounds. Over time man took even greate steps, creting drums with animal skins. Perhaps while steaching askin the potential was discovered. Rattles were another step. Perhaps gords were used to store useful small stones, shells, oe seed and the nise making potential discoivered. While early music has disappeaed, archeologists have discovered early musical instruments. Some animal materials were useful, especially bird bones which were hollow. Other animal bone had to hollowed out. One of the earliest instruments that has been found is the bull-roare, a piece of bone twirled over head. Whistles were developed from bone and had practical uses as well as music. Stone tools are diffiult to date. Animal and plant materils are easier to date. Flutes made from mmoh bones have been dated to about 30,000 BC. The first string instrument was surely the lyremade of wood or horn. With the advent of aricuklture we have the development of much more sophisticated societies and the appearance of more refined arts including music. Ancient Egypt had a rich musical tradition includung a wide range of musical instruments. The expanding industrial economy and rising income levels increasinly brought music instruction within the reach of an increasing number of families. Mothers in the late-19th Century and early-20th Century could be quite insistent, thinking it important to imbue their proginy with a little culture. In many cases boys objected strenuosly, but mothers had much more authority than is the case today. Thus if a cultured mother decided her son needed dancing or music lessons, it was off to clase he went.


An important factor in the development of music is the development of technology. Baroque music was made possible by the development of the violin and viola da gamba in Italy, Germany and France (17th century). The invention of the piano around 1800 also dfreated new possibilities for music. There are very beutiful works made for the harsichord by Bach himself, the tremendous sound of the "piano forte" became a functional mean to create music like Beethove's piano sonatas. It is more evident with Litzt or Chopin.

Religious Music

Music plays a major role in the Christian religion. The Christioan Church from an early point in its development incorporated music in religious celebrations. This seems to be, however, rather unique. Music appears to play a minor role or is completely absent in most other religions. Several religions use various forms of chanting, but actual music seems rare. We also do not know why Christianity is unique in this regard. This is, however, a topic that we know very little about. Hopefully HBC readers will provide some useful insights.

Instrumental Music

Boys practicing their instruments generally dressed informally. Some boys practiced at home, others at school. They sometimes, however, dressed up to have their photograph taken. Many boys studying musical instuments never play in a band or orchestra and thus never had performance costumes. Most will, however, paricipate in recitals. Mothers once insisted that boys wear their very best suits for these recitals. A wide variety of uniforms were selected, some were more popular than others.

Current Pattern

The modern boy has much more say in the activities they pursue. Sports are the leading pusuit. There is also considerable interest in the fine arts. Almost all of this, however, is learning to play a musical instument.

English prep sschool music
Figure 2.--These English boys, dressed in their school uniform, are practing for a planned recital.

Uniform and Dress Trends

Boys have participated in a wide range of musical activities, many of which required uniforms. These actvities have include both instrumental and choral music. There are costumes associated with many musical activities. Boys participating in choirs have distinctive uniforms. Bands commonly wear uniforms. A generation ago it was expected that a boy participating in fine arts programs would dress up for recitals and performance. This usually meant a boy's best suit. Until recently this would mean a short pants or knicker suit. Boys involved in the fine arts would generally be from more affluent families or middle class families aspiring to climb the social ladder. Such families would be the most likely to dress their boys in short pants suits. Some of the costume or appropriate dress associated with the fine arts include:

Music Education

Music education is the teaching and learning of music. Traditionally this has meant teaching the young to perform. Primarily in the 20th century with the demoritzation of education the idea of music education has been extended to include music appreciation to those with limited musical ability. We know very little about music education in many ancient civilizations. In fact, we do not know a great deal about music in early civilizations. Unlike art and sculpture, music compsitins are lost without notation and ancient civililations did not have musical notation. Thus all we know about music in many early civilizations are the images of instruments. And this is also true with nusic education. The first image we have fojnd of music education is Green from the first mileanium BC. Unlike many ancient civilizations we know a great deal about Greece and Rome because there literature to an extent has surved. With the fall of Rome, music survived as a church function. An musical education became a province of the church. Song schools both provided music education and church choirs. Not much informarion is available on the ages of the children involved. Only slowly did music develop outside the church. The nobility was interested in entertaiment and over time demanded greater sophistication. We areunsure how court musiucians were educated. We suspect that family tradition was a major factor. Generally in the medieval era, children inherites the roles of their parents. As the medieval economy quickened, entertaiments became importanbt in markets and fairs. Royal courts supported the arts, both for presitge and for entertasiment. And important courts founded academies to foister the arts, including education. These academies were continued even after monarchies began to decline or were replaced by republics. These acadeies sought out talent rather than inherited status. Modern schools to vsry degrees include music appreciation and sensitivity. Programs can begin in preschool. Music programs, however, are often abandoned by school destricts facig budget probelms. Educators have discussed at what age a child's music education should begin. For many years virtually no attention was paid to educating very young children. Gradually this began to change. One educator playing a major role in modern music education was German composer Carl Orff. He was especially concentrated on very young children.


One question we have is if there is a relationship between music and academic achiebement. Here we are interested in both overall academic achievement and the study of mathematics in particular. There is of course a relationship between music and mathematics expressed in beats and tempos and other aspdects of music. It seems to us that children with musical talent often do quite well in school studying mathematics. We are not sure, hosever, if any research exists on this subject. A related topic is if the children leaning a musical instrument do better in their mathematics studies. And or that mater visa versa. Again we are not familiar with any studies which may have addressed this topic, but understand that research has shown that music lessons to result in improvements in a child's literacy, math, and soatial skills. Educational experts debate the results of these studies because they often did not control for family differences. And it might be family differebces that explain the different skill levels. A reseacher has published a study which he believes shows that children who study music to show small, but definite improvements in IQs. [Sdhallenberg]

National/Ethnic Music

We note various kinnd of ethnic or national music. This is a topic we have just begun to consider. There are a variety of different types of music that occur to us here. America is known for both country-western, gospel, and jazz as well as rock and roll. Gypsey music has been influential in several areas of music. Poland is noted for pola music which is popular in neighboring music as well. Polka music is very popular in Poland and some neognoring countries.

Country Trends

Our information on music in general is limited. We have not yet compiled extensive information about music trends in different countries. There are basic similarities among many countries, especually in Europe. There are some countries that are especilly importnt. Here Germany seems to stand out, but severl other countries are important. America becomes important in the 20th century. And there are ethnic traditions as well both within countries and that transcend individual countries. There are also important differences as to the involvement and pursuit of music by children. We have begun to develop music pages in several of the country sections: America, Canada, England, France, and Germany.


There are many famous child music prodigies. The most famous is certainly Mozart in the 18th Century, but there have been many others in the 19th and 20th Century. The clothing they wore for their performances were often examples of contemporary formal boys' clothing. Often as they began to grow up their parents liked to keep dressing them in juvenile clothes to emphasize that they were childhood prodigies. I've just begun this page, but would be interested in any comments or contributions by HBC viewers.


Opera like many modern art forms is an Italian creation energing from the Renaissance. The Italian states were small, but the developing economies of these states providing the financing for for art at the same time that the creative spirit was being aroused by a new spirit of learning. The Italian courts were among the most illustrious in Europe estanlishing fashion and style for courts throughout Europe. This included music and entertaument. An important part of the Renaissance was a recived interest in the pre-Christian classical civilizations. Some Italian courts began staging Roman plays on festive occassions. Roman plays were chosen in part because of the spirit of the Renaissance and because there were not yet any Italian or other European plsys to chose from. Gradually during these plays, the custom developed of inserting musical pieces called intermediate pieces (intermezzi) between the acts. This is of course the origin for the modern term intermission in plays. Roman plays can be a little heavy going and apparently the musical interludes helped lighten the entertaiment. Many guesrs preferred the intermezzi to the plays. Over time the intermezzi became more a more elabotate with costumes and scenery as well as singing abd dancing. Isabella d'Este of Ferrara described a performance of Plautus with intermezzi which included satyrs pursue wild beasts set to a musical clock, Swiss guards engage in a dance of war, and a golden ball melts down to reveal four Virtues who sing a quartet (1502). Isabella confines that she preferred the intermezzi to the play. Apparently many Italians agreed. The first detailed view availablt to history of these entertainments were etchings done to record a wedding at the Medici court in Florence (1589). We see the charaters in elaborate scenery including clouds, gardens, and caves populated by a dragon and mermaids. These intermezzi evolved into our modern opera. We haven't done much work on opera yet. Several have children's parts and many more have children on the stage without notable parts. One German opera is "Hansel and Gretel". Opera is not a musical form that has attracted mch interest among children. A German reader tells us that there is some interest among German children.

Political Connotations

One fascinating aspect of music making is the impact on people. In democratic countries, leaders tend not to get involved in attempting to direct music making. Thus young people are generally free to pursue their musical interests, sometimes to the despleasure of their parents. Muscians in recent years have taken to expressing their political views along with their music making. Many are impassioned about their views. Few are very knowledgeable. Unfortunately, passion is not a good substitute for knowledge. But more interest thant that is that while democratic leaders tend not to get involved in music other than their own music making, dictators tend to take a very different. Many have been determined to impose their own musical values on their subjects, just one aspect of their desire to control the population. Precisely because music can move people, dictators wish to control it. Another factor is the penchant to convince themselves that their judgemnent is correct in all manners of area.


Fritz, Carole. Reseaarch team at the University of Toulouse. Science Advances (February 2021).

Schallenberg, E. Glenn. Psychological Science (2004). Schallenberg is a researcher at the University of Toronto.

"Do monkeys respond to music like we do?" Science + Religion Today (September 4, 2009).


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Created: December 31, 1998
Last updated: 5:43 AM 2/22/2021