Rose-coloured spectacles LO26304

From: Magic Circ Op Rep Ens (
Date: 03/07/01

Replying to LO26287 --

In the spirit,

I came across this passage about my voice teacher during the six years
that I was in the Army Chorus. Wilkie, as his students affectionately
called him, came from a Black father and a Cherokee mother. He was a part
of that great "beat" rebellion in New York City. He had one of the
beautiful Carousel paintings of Paul England on his wall. He had been a
close friend of England in New York City. While in New York he had
studied in the William Thorner studio with Elizabeth Loguen(SP). That
studio had produced the likes of the Ponselle sisters, and Lawrence Tibbet
as well as many of the Metropolitan Opera's greatest.

Wilkie was a Black man in a White world that barely 15 years before I
studied with him, had not even been allowed to use the closest public
restroom when he was teaching vocal anatomy at white colleges in the
South. Until the advent of Television, his beautiful speaking voice was
heard often on the radio, but all of that changed when TV revealed that
the beautiful "man's voice" that was the husband of the beautiful
Brooklyn family with seven children and a beautiful WASP wife was indeed a
Black man.

As a teacher he was a man who loved the art and the human voice more than
he loved life itself. Wilkie was, at a time when the word meant something
else, Gay. The rejection of his race with the rejection of his sexuality
was saved only by his mission to help the "great voices of his own people"
to be trained and heard on the highest levels. He taught every race and
people, but there were those who came to him, like myself from the
reservation, and Maya Angelou from the streets of the ghetto, who
desperately needed the lessons of vocal health that were nurtured through
the spirit of music contained in the great art of all peoples. Today,
Wilkie's "children", sing, teach, write, and act on the highest levels.

I came across the following passage from Maya Angelou when Wilkie was one
of the teachers who rescued her from prostitution. When we look at those
one million people in prison today we should remember that such an
attitude of revenge, retribution and Calvinist belief that predestines
each of us to our misery as our genetics and character flaws had nothing,
nothing to do with the great leaders, teachers and spiritual people of the
past who believed that with help we could all find our way. Today they
will try another 15 year old as an adult, they have done it as young as
six, out of the necessity not to bear the burden of their own
responsibility in the life of that student. Not that he might not have
done it anyway, but that the fact of his decision at that age means that
some teacher somewhere failed. There are those who will deny it, but I
have seen it done differently. And I have seen it done in the teaching
studio of a man that most of those nay sayers would have condemned to the
prison heap as a pervert. Of course he was a Master.

In Maya Angelou's book, Wouldn't Take Nothing For My Journey Now, she
tells of a lesson she learned many years ago from her voice teacher,
Frederick Wilkerson. Wilkie asked Angelou to read a passage from the book,
Lessons in Truth. This passage ended with the simple line, "God loves me."
Each time, Maya read it through in just the manner she thought Wilkerson
wanted, but each time he insisted that she read it again. Finally, on the
seventh read-through, Maya Angelou began to cry. She realized the truth of
what she was reading. As she said, "I knew that if God loved me, then I
could do wonderful things, I could try great things, learn anything,
achieve anything."

I will add to this that Wilkies' lesson to me was not that the Creator
loved me, but the first line from Schubert's Morgengruess which says
simply "Good morning beautiful lady." I sang it with my most beautiful
tones and he said quietly, "You don't love her." I tried every sound in
my imagination that represented love and each time, like Maya, he insisted
that I try it again but with the sad words once more "You don't really
love her." Not being as smart as MA or maybe just more inclined to show
rather than to be, it took me almost an hour (I still have the tape)
before I understood that it was not only being able to accept love but
that I had to be willing to give it as well if I was to deserve to sing
great music.

Many years later, when I had made prayers and a ceremony for his Cherokee
side on his passing, as I was walking through the cemetery the words came
back from a song that he had taught me many years before:

"Love bade me welcome, yet my soul drew back guilty of dust and sin,
But quick eyed Love, observing me grow slack, from my first entrance in
Drew nearer to me sweetly questioning if I lacked anything.

A guest, I answered worthy to be here, Love said, you shall be he.
I the unkind, ungrateful,replied 'ah my dear I cannot look on thee.
Love took my hand and smiling did reply:
'Who made the eyes but I?'"

Wilkie taught many, eyes, ears and voices that we all are stronger, better
and more beautiful for it.

Ray Evans Harrell, artistic director
The Magic Circle Opera Repertory Ensemble, Inc.


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