Auditions and Lessons, 1903
Edith worked hard in New York City learning all that she could with her voice teacher Mr. Desci. She kept up a full schedule of voice lessons, ticking off a laundry list of songs to master, learning the intricate workings of New York City’s musical society, and the art of networking. She was a young lady with talent and drive, but to succeed she would need more than that. Edith was one in a crowd of others from small towns in America that wanted to make it onstage. Her upbringing in Central Vermont was accomplished with an eye to her musical future but in the end she was like many trying to get their foot into a New York City door without a major connection in a world that spun on connections.
Mrs. Schirmer, with whom she boarded, took a motherly interest in Edith’s future. She chaperoned her young charge to auditions, studios and churches often conversing privately in German with the hired pianists or organists to get the scoop. She inquired discreetly on the auditions already completed, the ones scheduled for the remainder of the afternoon, and their perspective, musician-to-musician, on Edith’s audition performance compared to the others. The pianists and organists often knew what the producers were actually looking for and which auditions they had extended as favors, but had no intentions of taking seriously.
Edith received advice from nearly everyone that she encountered. Her voice peaked their interest and it seemed that everyone had an idea. She was given advice from the piano tuner, from the other boarders at the house, from ladies of the church, the piano tuner’s brother and the piano tuner’s brother’s friend and on and on. She followed up on most of their suggestions and leads, cutting a path across the studios of Manhattan and Brooklyn and into churches of all denominations. Usually these encounters left her in dead ends with individuals assuring her that her voice was perfect but that the other details for a contract or a standing engagement could not work at the moment. They seemed enamoured of her voice and smiled while they said no.
Edith worked seriously with Mr. Desci on her song selection and she aimed high. She spent considerable time in early 1903 working on perfecting “Die Lorelei” by Liszt and “The Jewel Song” from the Faust opera by Charles Gounod. Her opera focus created a triangle that boxed her in. To get experience she needed engagements which required a parlor repertoire, but Edith concentrated on the songs that would create the career she wanted and at this moment that resulted in no engagements. The songs she was studying to perform were too “serious” for afternoon receptions and certainly not transferable to work as a Sunday church soloist. But where she wanted to be was with an Opera company and so learning such pieces was always her focus, even if it led to short term frustrations.
One such moment came when she was hired and fired quickly from a concert engagement. Here is Edith in her own words in a note to her parents a few days after the sting had faded,”Well Mr. Decsi did let me sing things that were too difficult for me to start out with in public for everyone knows that pupils can sing things better in the Studio better than they can in public where they are naturally nervous. However those people up there don’t take those things into consideration and if they don’t care especially for a thing why they want it taken away – Of course the things I sang at the second Concert were more difficult than what I sang first and while I felt that I did very well some of the people were disposed to criticize and so say that I sang music that was too difficult for me and I why did I sing “such things as the “Romeo and Juliet” waltz when they could go to the Opera and hear it sung. So of course as Mr. Rothschild’s business is to cater to “the people” and give them just what they liked best and as they didn’t care so much for my singing as for some others etc. he asked Mr. Lorlin to come down and ask me to release him from the next two Concerts. Another thing when Mr. Rothschild told Miss Schirmer the night of the second Concert that I didn’t sing as well as at the first I spoke up and said I thought I sang better. Mr. Lorlin said much made him terribly provoked and he thought it was impudent and conceited in me. I felt that I had done well and wanted him to know it – but I suppose I ought to have held my peace and let him think what he wanted to. He thinks he knows a lot and doesn’t want what he thinks and says contradicted. You see I’ve been getting more and more experience all the time but that was my very first singing and I ought but to have tried such pretentious things. There is no audience who demand as much as a N.Y. audience because they can hear the best and for that reason people usually start out and get experience singing out of N.Y. and then come here and sing as experienced singers. That’s what Miss Larimer’s has done – She hasn’t sung hardly at all in N.Y. yet but has had her experience and earned her money outside of N.Y. That’s what I want to do, Mr. Decsi agrees with me that it is the thing to do. Mr. Lorlin of course hated terribly to deliver Mr. R’s message but he came down and had a talk with Mrs. S. and then went over and saw Mr. D. which I thought was very nice of him. He thought Mr. D. ought to have had me sing as difficult things and I guess told him so. Mr. Decsi said it was “nothing at all” that every singer had to have such experiences in the beginning that they had to have their failures before their successes. He didn’t think it was anything for me to worry about. Nordica was “rotten egged” and has had the most awful things said about her and had made the most awful failures and so have all of them but they just keep on and in the end come out allright. And they all say that they learned more by their failures than by their success. – Mr. Sprise was not at the concert of course _ was dumbfounded and said he didn’t know what to make of it and that I had always sung well when he had heard me. Have not seen him or Mr. Lorlin since it happened which was quite a while ago. Of course I felt terribly at first and then after a while felt better myself but every time the thought come of telling you and Papa (who were so anxious for me to succeed and so happy over any success and been doing so much for me and I was so anxious to please) it seemed as though I couldn’t stand it.”
I absolutely love how she sticks up for herself.
While there are no known recordings of Edith Vail Ross’ voice, you can hear a sample of “Die Lorelei here
and “The Jewel” song here