Saturday, January 10, 2009

Further Father Fundamentals...On Wib part II

1921-1925: West Philadelphia High School For Boys -


He would say of his high school days, they were "immemorable, frustrating... as the faculty consisting of very, inefficient men and women who never went out of their way to teach their subjects....”

  • He credits his music teacher Louis Kazze who fired up his imagination about good music.
  • He enjoyed physical training and was the only boy in his class who could climb a rope (45ft) -without legs- using only his arms. Wib was strong and ended up on the wrestling team, was a swimming instructor and life guard, and enjoyed the reputation as the school’s number one athlete. He planned to major in and teach physical training.
  • Photo (at top right) is of a twenty year old 'Wib' the day he graduated from high school and learned he had won a two year scholarship at the prestigious 'Curtis Insitute of Music'.
  • He scored a “personal success” in his high school production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Mikado” as “Koko, The Lord High Executioner”.
  • He credits his English teacher George Montgomery......“who didn’t teach me much about English....but would read Hamlet with me day after day....”. Mr. Montgomery was a graduate of Haverford College and urged Wib to apply. He flunked the Haverford College Boards.... “too much Hamlet, not enough English!”. “I was forced to major in music!” He graduated West Philadelphia High in June of 1925- Singing for Marcella Sembrich and Emilio de Gorgoza of the Curtis Institute of Music, winning a two year scholarship there, beginning the following September.

In his notes to me he writes:


“Let me explain how I discovered (he detested Horatio Connell, his first voice coach) that Connell was an inferior vocal pedagogue. I started with him Sept.1925. Two one half hour lessons per week. Technically Connell would say- “Place the voice in the nose- for resonance”, not a word about throat-opening -tongue relaxed-breathing or support! I learned about these factors from vocal books! Connell preached “Cover your tone”!! With what!?! and why? His teaching only resulted in : Constriction and Restriction of the voice! via Placement!”


“Ergo- we learn that Placement is not good -in fact it is a terrible concept! When my voice was really bottled up Connell said I should be a Mozart singer! My God- what about Mozart’s 'Don Giovanni'! I never heard a baritone sing with a bottled up voice-did you? The voice has to be released to soar out into the opera house-doesn’t it?? Yes! yes! Again Connell proved he had no brain!”


“After a year I started my first move- and now the head of the Voice Department was one Marcella Sembrich- a very famous and outstanding coloratura soprano in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. She was old and could no longer sing! Due to her great reputation she came to Curtis to head the Voice Dept. (Connell had no reputation other than as a church baritone!) Sembrich could hardly speak English. I asked the Dean if I could speak with Madame Sembrich about how displeased I was with Connell. In order not to create waves the Dean turned me down and I was shunted away! That was the end of my first year, so I had to return to Connell.”


“I continued to do research on all the vocal books I could find and discovered so many things about vocal techniques that Connell never mentioned or didn’t know! Many of these vocal books turned out to be utter trash- written by inferior teachers-who couldn’t make a living singing- so they taught and wrote books.”

“However, I must mention one book which I prized for it’s wisdom and had all the fundamentals I valued, it is called “Vocal Wisdom” based on the maxims of a great Italian teacher- Giovanni Battista Lamperti- recorded and translated by his pupil William Earl Brown. It is recorded that Lamperti was the teacher of Sembrich! Note: Vocal Wisdom- Distributor- Ms. L. Strongin, 22 Stoddard Place Brooklyn, NY. Fourth printing listed 1957. Printed by Hudson Off-set Printing, 636 11th ave NY NY 10036. I appreciated W.E. Brown’s advice in his writing- “Listen and learn, but trust yourself for you must go your own path and not another’s.” That I did! I was amazed at Connell’s inability!”


“Continued with Connell showing no improvement at all! Great coaching lessons with *Richard Hageman- splendid repertoire from him” (Richard Hageman; musical director for my mother's second film“There’s Magic in Music,” in 1940 also former Metropolitan conductor).


“Other Curtis instructors tried but made no real impression on me. I had no respect for them!” “I continued vocal research with Victor Red Seal recordings at home listening to world famous baritone and basses. A wonderful source to learn singing and repertoire. Choose the songs and arias you can sing! Listen to the German, Italian, French pronunciation by native singers- study those languages! That’s Culture with a capitol C. Go to the opera- The Metropolitan was the very best in my day! I heard many of the great singers on Victor Red Seal records at home. At the Academy of Music in Philadelphia they performed a grand opera every week- Tuesday nights and were always sold out. Curtis gave me tickets to the opera -thank God they did!”

“In February of 1927 I went to the Metropolitan production of Giordano’s opera “La Cenq delle Beffe” with Gigli, Alda and Ruffo!! Whom I had never heard in person- only his records! So I had no idea of the Volume, hence Release, of his magnificent voice.”


“I was absolutely stunned by this great, great baritone! And remember this was near the end of his singing career- he retired in 1929. His voice was thrillingly beautiful- they called him the Bronze Baritone and of such huge volume, I was knocked back in my seat! Everyone had responded to Ruffo as I had - with the wildest acclaim! I thought My God is this the baritone type of my competition in the opera field- I abandoned every thought of an opera career then and there! I was certain too, that Connell was again so incorrect in his concept of vocal techniques!" Mainly his concept of “cover the tone”- not good for opera work-but proved to be excellent for the infant industry now emerging called Radio Broadcasting! Which had in those days classical music on live broadcast!”


Sound likes he noshed a little humble pie on that one.



Curtis class 1926- Wib: top row second from left. Horatio Connell sitting far right.


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