The first, from 1926, is called The Great Adventure. The cover depicts a stern king (who looks a lot like a king in a deck of playing cards) enthroned in the upper right corner of the page, while down in the lower left corner a little boy holding a violin case looks up at him, no doubt with trepidation. The caption on bottom right reads, "'Why didn't you come sooner?' said the Violin King." Gulp! Yet this whole book is an attempt to humanize the process of learning the basics of playing the violin. In a preface "to the grown-ups," Stilling writes:
Remembering my own childhood days and also recalling how completely the tremendous
enthusiasm with which I had commenced my violin studies vanished after the first few
lessons, for many years never to return; Remembering this most vividly, I have endeavored
to surround the tedious work of laying a firm foundation with enough of imaginative
glamour to make it attractive to the childish mind.
Stillings then goes on to write the story of Jules, who has longed to meet the Violin King but could not find a proper guide. Having found one "who knew the way well," the author and Jules set out on their journey through rhythmic notation, counting, open strings, and all four fingers. There are delightful illustrations by V. (Vera?) Somoff throughout, and quite a few duets to keep things interesting.
The next book arrived two years later. Entitled The Giant Talks, it continues the story of Jules on his quest for violin mastery. This cover features a giant, the somewhat hapless Jules, and a pile of boots at which the giant is pointing. "'Choose!' said the giant, pointing to the piles of seven-league boots." The subtitle of the book is "Preparatory Scales for Little Violinists," and yes, the seven-league boots are decorated with the seven notes of a scale. The story begins:
As Jules climbed down from the see-saw, there stood old Giant Facility waiting for him. He
was standing by the outer wall looking very important with a large bunch of keys hanging
from his belt. "I'm glad you've come at last," he said. "I have been waiting here some time
for you. Come along with me now to my castle on the hill. You can't go further on your journey
until you are well-equipped with many kinds of the seven league Scale Boots. You need them
for there is hard traveling ahead and you would grow weary without them. You need major
Scale Boots for the pleasant days and minor Scale Boots for the rainy weather and sharp
Scale Boots for the winter days and flat Scale Boots for the heat of the summer.
This Hagrid of music theory sets Jules to the task of learning the structure of a major scale, starting with the definition, "A scale consists of a succession of tones in alphabetical order, arranged according to a definite plan." Jules seems to catch on, and is shown to "...a large sunny room. Jules stared in astonishment. The floor was covered with piles of lovely boots of all sizes and colors. Giant Facility called out, 'Choose, Jules! You'll find them a wonderful help.' Then Jules looked carefully all around because he had no wish to make a mistake. [He chose] a pair of C major (one octave) Scale Boots, plain leather without any sharps or flats." So that is the premise of the book, with boots becoming more elaborate as they gain sharps and flats, and the notated scales gaining more rhythmic and bowing elaboration. The pictures are cute, but a trifle forced; it must have been a challenge to depict boots skiing, huddling under umbrellas, or riding a scooter, to name a few. The book goes through major and minor scales with four sharps and flats, after which Jules declares that he is tired and hungry. And who can blame him?
Also from 1928, the last book, At the Crossroads, dispenses with Jules, stories and pictures. Subtitled "46 technical shortcuts for developing the violinist's left hand," it really delivers! The table of contents includes the following: Shifting exercises (one-finger and two-finger scales); Exercises for strengthening the 4th finger jumping octaves and tenths; One string arpeggios; Broken seconds for correcting faulty hand position; double stops in thirds, octaves, sixths and fourths; Exercises for gaining finger independence; Exercises for correcting finger action; Strengthening exercises and placing of fifths; Exercises for string crossings preparatory to playing scales; Arpeggios; Playing in higher positions; Harmonics; and lastly, Vibrato exercise. They are short and extremely effective. For example, she approaches thirds by first having one section played only with 1 and 3, in which you move up and then down in a three-note group, then go up a second and do it again. The notes move up from first position on the G and D strings to seventh position (and optionally higher) on the E string. The next section does the same thing, but with 2 and 4 thirds. Only after that is there a section of alternating 1 and 3/2 and 4 thirds. This is a book that really deserves reprinting! It is concise and effective, like an early version of Simon Fischer's Warming Up (go to www.simonfischer.co.uk if you don't know about this book!). In Stillings' words, "These exercises are the result of my own experience in teaching, and are designed to build a reliable left hand technic, using at the same time as little material as possible."
I hope you've enjoyed learning about this seemingly forgotten teacher. If anyone has any more information, I'd love to hear from you!