The Etude
Name the Composer . Etude Magazine Covers . Etude Magazine Ads & Images . Selected Etude Magazine Stories . About . Donate .


A Tenor's Trial.

“Hurrah! A telegram from Chicago, and I’m going at once!” cried Winthrop Delancy to his wife, as he entered the house and waved a yellow envelope. No amount of discouragement could keep Winthrop’s spirits down. He really was blessed with a fine voice, considerable musical and artistic ability, and he felt keenly the lack of appreciation in the small cities where he had endeavored to obtain a musical foothold.

His soul yearned for Chicago, the Mecca of so many musical pilgrims, and he constantly looked forward to a choir position there, after which he felt sure (poor fellow!) that the rest would be easy enough. His discouragements had been many, and another man would have given up in despair; but here at last was his reward, a telegram from a friend urging him to come to Chicago at once and try for a tenor position at the Street Church.

Upon his arrival in Chicago he made his formal application to the music committee and received in reply the following note:

“You and other tenors will be heard at the Street Church to-morrow evening. You are expected to sing Shelley’s ‘Resurrection’ and the tenor parts of Gounod’s ‘Sanctus.’”

“Oh, I am, am I?” said Winthrop, ruefully, eyeing the copy of “The Triumph of David,” from which he had planned to sing that glorious tenor solo: “How Long, Oh Lord?” and with which he confidently expected to please.

“Well if it must be, it must,” he said; and borrowing a friend’s studio for an hour or two he practiced the chosen selections until he felt himself worthy to compete with other tenors, whoever they might be.

As he arrived at the church door the next evening he was nearly upset by an excited Frenchman who flew down the steps tearing his long hair and ejaculating in tones of rage and fury:

“Sacre! Numero Dix! They call-a me number ten! Me, ze greatest tenore in ze city! I go! I fly!”

Wondering greatly over the foreign gentleman’s excitement, Winthrop entered the church, to learn the cause of it later.

The first person he saw was the editor of a rather questionable musical sheet, who had offered earlier in the day to secure the position for him for a small consideration. Some other tenor had evidently responded to his overtures, for he was overheard to remark that he had “a man in the ring.”

The chairman of the music committee came forward. He was a short, fat, fussy little man, with sandy hair, brushed out stiffly like two hair-brushes on each side of his bald head. He was a wholesale harness- maker and quite a monied man in the church. He introduced Winthrop to a smart, up-to-date broker, full of business, another member of the committee, and together they presented a third man with long hair, whom they designated the musical member. They solemnly escorted Winthrop to one corner of the church, saying:

“The tenors sit here please.” And there he found, to his dismay, at least twenty-six nervous young men, each with a copy of Gounod’s “Sanctus” and Shelley’s “Resurrection”!

Winthrop understood and sympathized with the irate Frenchman, when he found that the committee, having despaired of remembering names, had numbered the tenors and sent them up in turns to try!

Winthrop was horrified. The whole affair was so revolting to his artistic temperament, he nearly gave up in disgust. Only the thought of his wife and baby in the little Western city and their many needs restrained him. So much depended upon his success that he felt that he must not give up. Finally, when he found that he must respond to the call for number eight, he pulled himself together and mounted the choir-steps, though with a feeling of repulsion hard to overcome.

The organist reassured him with a few kindly words appreciative of the situation, and with a last thought for his dear ones he sang—and sang gloriously.

The long-haired committeeman looked wise, inclined his head knowingly, and wrote in his note-book: “Number eight, a little off key, hurried the tempo.”

“Number nine!” said the chairman, and the next victim came forward.

There was probably as great a variety of tenor voices heard that night as were ever heard at one time in Chicago. They were “good, bad, and indifferent.” Some were high lyric voices and some were of the “robusto” type. Some sang on the key, while others were hopelessly off.

At least ten of the number went home and burned their copies of the music in disgust. The last man fell asleep before his turn came and the organist was ill for weeks with nervous prostration, induced by the strain of playing the same thing twenty-seven times and in twenty-seven different ways!

After the contest the committee debated. The longhaired man favored number twelve. “What’ll he come for?” inquired the broker, “that’s the question.” When he heard that number fifteen would underbid all the rest, he said: “He’s your man,” and considered his duty done. The musical member (he played the æolian beautifully) felt offended and urged his views. Finally they became so hopelessly mixed with names, numbers, and internal dissensions they were utterly unable to arrive at any decision. So they heard another man on a Sunday and as his voice pleased the congregation, they engaged him at once.

And so poor Winthrop found his hopes of a choir position dashed to the ground. Fortunately for him, the manager of a local opera was present at that unique trial of tenors, and the result was a flattering offer, which opened up to our friend a career to which he had looked forward long and hopefully.—Annie Humphry Davy.

<< Questions and Answers.     Some Suggestions Regarding Interpretation. >>

Monthly Archives

The Publisher of The Etude Will Supply Anything In Music