March 13, 2012

Save the stacks at the 42nd Street NYPL

Do you see this magnificent room? It's the Rose Reading room at the New York Public Library at 42nd Street here in Manhattan. I've been there many times, researching 19th and 18th century vocal pedagogy. The room - indeed - the whole building was built for research. Hand in a call slip and your book is brought to you from a central desk, which underneath lies seven floors of books. Guess what? A plan is afoot to move most of the books to New Jersey. I can't tell you how upsetting this is to someone like me. I've already had to deal with 'off-site' material at the Lincoln Center Library for the Performing Arts since its renovation. It's a pain in the ass. Half the time the material never shows up, is missing, or is otherwise inaccessible.

There is a great article about all this in The Nation. Please take the time to read it here. It reveals that a great building is in danger of being torn apart.

Devotees of New York City architecture are also growing alarmed. Charles Warren, a Manhattan architect who co-wrote a 2006 book about Carrère and Hastings, says, “The building is a machine for reading books in. The stacks are part of what the building is. There’s an idea there: that the books are in the center and they rise up out of that machine into the reading room to serve the people. It’s a whole conception that will be turned on its head by ripping out the stacks. It’s a terrible thing to do.” 

I agree that it's a bad idea. Please add your voice in demanding transparency and full disclosure to an otherwise secretive process. If you've liked what you've been reading here, you already know that research matters.

March 7, 2012

Little Old Yoga Man

St. Pancras Hospital

A curious fellow, Alfred Charles Nunez Arnold (1828-1941), like his teacher Manuel García, lived to be a centenarian. While García credited daily exercise, a modest diet and the correct use of his voice to his longevity, Arnold sang the virtues of hatha yoga - pranayama specifically - which he practiced in the morning and evening. A newspaperman, he was also was a grand master (1905-1938) of the Order of the Temple of the Nazarene Gnostics. The stories he could have told.

In a Liverpool convalescent home last week death came to a trim little Briton named Alfred Charles Nunez Arnold, who had apparently lived 112 years. Alfred Arnold could never prove his age. There were no such things as birth certificates when he was born. He himself admitted that the only evidence he had was a book an uncle had inscribed to him "on his twelfth birthday, Nov. 9, 1840." But people who knew Alfred Arnold never questioned this evidence. For one thing, Alfred Arnold never tried to capitalize on his age. He had much else to do. His life was as full as it was long. Orphaned when a few months old, Alfred Arnold was raised by a London uncle, a diamond merchant. In 1838 the uncle took ten-year-old Alfred to see the coronation procession of slim young Queen Victoria. Little Alfred, who never grew to be five feet, was bowled over by a surging crowd near the old Temple Bar. Around this time, also, the uncle took Alfred to tea with Charles Dickens and Disraeli; while still very young the boy also met Jenny Lind and Lord Macaulay. Alfred intended to be a singer, studied with Jenny Lind's great teacher, Manuel Garcia, who lived to be 101. But instead Alfred shunted into newspaper reporting. He spent many years newsgathering on the Continent. Then he returned to England and spent many more years in light opera on the road. As dewy youth passed and Alfred approached 60, he began thinking of foreign parts again. In the early '90s he went to Malaya to edit a paper, moved on to Japan to become European editor of Tokyo's Japan Times. In 1899, just after the beginning of Philippine-U.S. hostilities, Alfred arrived in Manila. Filipinos arrested the ambitious newshawk of 71 as a spy, left him bound and stripped in the jungle to be slowly devoured by flies. U.S. troops rescued him. Later he went to the U.S., worked on a San Francisco paper. In 1902 Alfred went to India. In Benares he met an eminent yogi, Chakananda Swami, who was then 147 and who taught Alfred the hoary Hatha-Yoga secrets of vitality. These stimulated Alfred to an even more intrepid period of reporting. During World War I, a ripened newsman of 86, he entered Germany on a forged neutral passport, was arrested at Frankfort on the Main, was saved by the sportsmanship of the consul of the country from which Alfred supposedly came. In 1926 the mature reporter of 98 was arrested in Portugal, condemned to death, thrown into a dungeon. He escaped with a jailer's help and got back to England. As middle age passed, Alfred settled down to quieter labors. He made translations (he had learned six languages). In 1933, at 104, he appeared as a fireman in a British film. At 106 he said: "I have always been a boy. I am still a boy. How old do I look? Forty? Perhaps fifty. . . . If I had not met a great Indian Yoga teacher in Benares ... I should not even have reached my century." A few years ago he found it convenient to live in London's St. Pancras Hospital. And so, when World War II began, he took singing lessons again "in order to entertain the soldiers, since they won't let me fight." Sometimes he found it helpful to wear spectacles. His hair began to grey. Said he: "I smoke, drink and stay up late and always shall." When the Luftwaffe began blasting London, Alfred was removed to the Liverpool convalescent home. There, as for years, he continued to follow the teachings of Chakananda Swami. The great Yogi, Alfred declared, had taught him "how to link up all the physical, mental and spiritual forces of the body by concentration and rhythmic breathing. Under his guidance I gave up meat eating. I perform these breathing exercises morning and night. They are not the kind of thing for a lazy person. They need immense mental concentration. ... As I perform these exercises I feel the living ether streaming into my body and pervading it right from the nape of the neck to the feet. That is real living."
Time Magazine 1941 

March 6, 2012

Park and Sex

Park Theatre

I'm flummoxed.

I had known that women singers of the 19th century were considered little more than prostitutes by those in Society, but it never occurred to me to as to why. Real smart, right? Well. After I wrote yesterday's post, I looked for the theatre where Manuel García performed in New York City in 1825 with his father's troupe. It turns out that it was at the Park Theatre which was located close to where City Hall is now. It was the only theatre in the city at that time and had close to two thousand seats. Guess what happened in the upper balcony according to this link?

Lower class men sat up there as well as ladies of the evening. Yep. Sex in the Family Circle- as it were. The police did nothing about it, a circumstance that was common to both Europe and the New World. 

So. Was another performance taking place when García was singing Leporello in Don Giovanni alongside his famous father as the dragged-to-hell-because-of-sexual-immorality Don?

I'd like to think the legendary tenor's singing stopped the show. But you never know, human nature being what it is. And you thought cellphones and texting interruptions were a big deal. Hello! 

March 5, 2012

García's Singing Lesson

Manuel García (1805-1906)

Stories of Manuel Garcia, the famous centenarian musician, who died a few days ago in London, are in order. An indomitable will power gave him great ascendency over each pupil: his science and cleverness enabled him to know at once if he had to deal with a pupil of promise or not, and unlikely apsiranis were not allowed to waste his time and theirs. An acquaintance describes a typical incident: "I remember a notable case in point. A very rich woman offered the master any price if he would only teach her daughter. He refused, knowing well he could never obtain serious work from her; but as the mother persisted, he hit upon a compromise. He asked the women to be present during a lesson, and he undertook, if the girl still wished to learn singing after hearing it taught, to teach her. The lesson began. The pupil, who seemed to the listeners an already finished singer, had to repeat passage after passage of the most difficult exercises before the master was satisfied; he insisted upon the minutest attention to every detail of execution. Mother and daughter exchanged horrified glances and looked on pityingly. The lesson finished, the master bowed the women out, and, in passing the pupil. the young girl whispered to her. "It would kill me!" Senor García, returning from the door, said contentedly, "They will not come again; thank you, mon enfant, you sang well."