Singing a Way of Life for Me
I WAS happy, excited and quite nervous. The hour had arrived for my concert in a national gallery in eastern Europe. All entertainers experience nervousness at the beginning of a performance, even veteran professionals, and this feeling was nothing new to me. Why, then, was I feeling so excited and happy? For the first time my son, an accomplished pianist, would be my accompanist, and we wished to do very well.
At the appointed hour we were on stage, and a director of the gallery introduced me and my son. Over the footlights I could clearly see the faces of the audience in the well-lighted hall. Out there among them were professors associated with the gallery and other persons with considerable knowledge of music. They understood German, the language in which I was singing, and so could follow both words and music. All were giving us their complete attention.
I began with selections from Brahms and then sang some from Schubert and Mozart. My son and I were performing as one. In a few minutes the nervousness vanished as that inward feeling of having won contact with the audience was felt. After each rendition there was enthusiastic applause. At the end of the concert there were greater applause and encores. Backstage, many were the congratulatory expressions by visitors.
That concert was ten years ago, yet it stands out as a high point in my fifteen-year professional singing career. A more recent concert in Washington, D.C., in July 1971 is also a pleasant memory. Here, as in other places, I found that music lovers enjoy the music and the singer’s ability to interpret it properly, even though they may not understand the language in which it is sung.
As a lyric soprano, I do specialized singing of classical and light opera selections. This is very demanding on the voice and requires much technical ability and long years of preparation. However, it has been my way of life and has brought me happiness and pleasure.
My early childhood was spent in southern Germany, near the city of Strasbourg in France. As far back as I can remember, I loved to sing. I was always singing. My mother realized that I had a good natural voice and encouraged me. So did my friends. By the time I was twelve years old I was singing in the school and church choir. Also, I enjoyed having a role singing in school programs and Christmas plays.
Madame Mischkin from the Paris Opera was my first teacher. Beginning in 1946, twice each week for a year and a half I traveled to Strasbourg to study under her. We students had to learn many new things, the most important of which was how to breathe properly. We had to learn to breathe from the diaphragm so that we could control our supply of air and use it to best advantage in producing musical notes.
Madame Mischkin would remind us of how nicely a dog trotting on the road coordinates his breathing with his motions, breathing from his diaphragm. It was very difficult to master. We would think we had it, only to realize later that we still had not acquired full control of our breathing. Proper control enables one to do all kinds of singing, such as staccato: “Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha!” To develop technique in one’s singing voice requires two or three years of practice.
We had many lessons singing with piano accompaniment to learn to use what we call “the head voice.” It is the voice persons normally use, but which sometimes appears to come more from the back of the head or the nose rather than the mouth. This head voice, when properly trained, gives the voice carrying power so that it can be comfortably heard in large concert halls and opera houses without amplification. As we progressed, we were given assignments to sing in Madame Mischkin’s home to house guests. This gave us experience and confidence.
We had to learn how to sing in all positions: standing, sitting, bowing, even lying prone. In one opera the dying heroine sings her final aria while lying on the stage.
In 1948 I began studying with Professor Salvatore Salvati at the Conservatorium Mannheim in Germany. This was a higher level of training. Special attention was given to determine whether we were able to recognize notes. This is very important in singing. I had an “ear” for music, finding it easy to hear a composition and to learn the melody or music. It took more effort for me to learn the words.
During the year and a half of studying under Professor Salvati, I made more progress. To improve in technique and audience contact, I often sang in the school auditorium for friends and fellow students. Then I began to make public appearances.
In 1951 I married. My husband, too, appreciated music and the qualities of my voice. So he encouraged me to continue my singing and to pursue advanced training with a view to becoming a professional singer. I was eager to do so, and soon found myself struggling to shape my natural voice abilities into those of a trained performer.
Professor Hans Emge, who taught in Cologne, Dusseldorf and Karlsruhe, was my next instructor. He helped me to attain to professional status. He taught me to listen to my voice while singing, and to analyze it. I learned to sing both forte and pianissimo, very loudly and very softly.
Forte is not so hard for the singer with technique, but pianissimo really is difficult. One must be able to sing very softly and yet have resonance so that the voice can still be heard all over the auditorium. To attain this skill our exercises became more and more involved and difficult.
Of the selections that we sang, Mozart was among the most demanding. Anyone who can sing Mozart well has achieved the peak in singing ability. There was a time when I thought I would never make it. But I kept trying. Even when I was not able to be personally under Professor Emge’s observation, I made tapes and sent them to him for criticism and suggestions. Finally, after about six years, I gained my diploma.
I studied a further three years in eastern Europe. This put the finishing touches on my voice control and singing technique. A wonderfully gifted Romanian composer gave me extremely difficult dramatic exercises in order to get the most out of my voice. I had always done lyrical singing, but now I was learning dramatic singing. These exercises required me to sing dramatic arias such as the Contessa from Figaro and selections from Verdi. The professor made me sing these exercises until he was satisfied. At last I acquired professional status as a lyric, dramatic soprano, and was given a certificate as a qualified teacher of voice.
My Singing Career
During my years of training and professional singing, my husband’s work required much moving from country to country. Rarely were we more than three years in one country. I didn’t join any opera group or enter into contracts for long periods, but concentrated on concerts where usually I was the only singer. Since I wasn’t interested in acquiring wealth, most of my public concerts were for charitable purposes. The admission fees were turned over to some charitable organization, and it brought me satisfaction to help some worthy cause.
Although I was a Protestant, I had little interest in church or religion. I didn’t know much about the Bible, yet I felt a certain closeness to God due to the influence of my mother and my music. The compositions I specialized in were by men with strong religious sentiments. From them I knew that God’s name is Jehovah. Franz Schubert, for example, composed a song entitled “Jehovah Is Great.” Schumann also used Jehovah’s name in “Belsazar,” as did Stradella in “Pietà, Signorei” I sang these songs and so had this much information about God.
Life was pleasant for me, although I did observe with concern the poverty and hard life of many, especially when we lived in Africa. But another thing particularly troubled me. It just didn’t seem right to me that death should end forever our life on earth. I so much enjoyed living with friends and family, and I felt it unjust that we should so quickly be deprived of these things.
A Better Life Comes in View
I knew very little about Jehovah’s Witnesses, although I had heard of them while living in Germany. Then one day in 1960, when I was living in Ceylon, now known as Sri Lanka, Witnesses called at my home. Even though my English was then very limited, I enjoyed what they were saying. They explained that death did not have to mean the end of our earthly prospects, for it is God’s unchanged purpose that humans live forever in an earthly paradise.
This thought really appealed to me! It seemed so reasonable that Jehovah God purposed for the earth to be inhabited by righteous humans, for does not the Bible tell us that God created the first human pair perfect and placed them in an earthly paradise? How happy I was when the Witnesses told me that such a paradise would be restored! To verify this, they read to me from the Bible book of Revelation, chapter 21, verses 3 and 4, which says:
“I heard a loud voice from the throne say: ‘Look! The tent of God is with mankind, and he will reside with them, and they will be his peoples. And God himself will be with them. And he will wipe out every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more, neither will mourning nor outcry nor pain be anymore. The former things have passed away.’”
Surely this is quite clear! It indicates that right here on earth, where untold millions of tears have been shed in mourning due to the sickness or death of loved ones, these lamentable things will be eliminated! It brought joy to my heart to learn that the Bible holds out the promise of everlasting life on earth, as Psalm 37:29 says: “The righteous themselves will possess the earth, and they will reside forever upon it.” In time, my hope grew that I could be one of those who could reside forever on a paradise earth.
Finally, Living for God’s New System
Joyce, the Witness who had called, began a study with me in the Bible aid entitled “From Paradise Lost to Paradise Regained.” When my husband showed some interest, Joyce’s husband accompanied her. Both my husband and I were greatly impressed with the zeal and sincerity of these Witnesses. They used a light motorcycle in their work, and even the monsoon season with its pouring rains would not stop them. We made some progress in our studies, but then we had to leave since my husband was transferred to Norway.
Here I located Jehovah’s Witnesses by looking in the telephone directory. But we again had a language problem, so we attended a university for three months and learned to read and speak Norwegian. We again became acquainted with a fine Witness couple who would call to take me to the meetings, sometimes in weather thirty degrees Fahrenheit below zero (-34.4° Celsius). However, my husband, being so wrapped up in his work, did not accompany us, and even tried to discourage me.
His attitude began to affect me. Also, I became overly interested in my career, enjoying the stimulating experiences of traveling to many lands and giving concerts in world capitals, including Washington, D.C., Addis Ababa, Colombo, Oslo, and so forth. So for quite a number of years I had little contact with Jehovah’s Witnesses. Yet during that time those Bible promises about a better life in God’s new system of things remained in my mind.
Eventually, in 1970, we moved to the United States, and I became friends with a woman who spoke fluent German. About this time she arranged to study the Bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses, and I joined in the study. So again I started going to the meetings of the Witnesses, in Kensington, Maryland.
I realized now that if I really wanted to live in God’s new system, I would have to prove it by putting God’s service first in my life, even before my interest in singing. I began doing this. The Christian elders gave me good counsel about being selective in preparing songs for future concerts. I discontinued singing songs that contained teachings of false religion, or that were nationalistic. Finally, in February 1973 I was baptized by Jehovah’s Witnesses in symbol of my dedication to serve Jehovah God.
In June 1973 my husband and I moved to Trinidad and, along with nearly 3,000 fellow Christian witnesses there, I have kept on in Jehovah’s service. With full confidence in His promises, I look forward to continuing in God’s service forever. And it is my keen hope that both my husband and son will eventually appreciate Bible truth to the extent that they, too, will dedicate themselves to serve our loving Creator.—Contributed.