February 12, 2015

The Wheeler Boys

Lyman W. Wheeler (1837-1900)
One of the most popular and successful teachers of singing in Boston is Mr. Lyman Warren Wheeler, who has been connected with the New England Conservatory of Music since its foundation. Mr. Wheeler was born at Swampscott, Mass., a fashionable watering place and summer resort, in the spring of 1837. When about ten years of age he began his musical studies under the direction of Mr. C. A. Adams, of Lynn, Mass., with whom he remained four years, at the same time taking a few lessons on the piano and organ, and attending the common school. At this time young Wheeler possessed an alto voice of remarkable sweetness and unusual compass, singing three octaves without any difficulty. He received many offers to join concert companies, but his father, with great good sense, realizing the delicacy of a young voice and the readiness with which it may be entirely ruined, preferred to keep the boy at home at his studies. At the age of seventeen he went to Boston, ambitious to acquire the best musical education obtainable, and in the spring of 1853 he entered the Philharmonic Institute, where he remained two years. On leaving the institute he continued his studies in vocal music under the best English and Italian masters, and in September, 1857, he started for the west, and began teaching in different cities. During the winter of 1857 Wheeler had no fewer than 900 pupils whom he met every week. He officiated as conductor of several musical societies, and has held musical conventions in many of the principal western cities. In September, 1860, Mr. Wheeler sailed for Europe with the intention of placing himself under Garcia, the preceptor of Jenny Lind, Malibran and many other famous vocalists. He entered the Royal Academy of London, Garcia being at that time the head of the vocal department of that institution, and after devoting a year to the most arduous study of the art of singing, he repaired to Milan, Italy, where he began with Prati and San Giovanni, with whom he remained eighteen months, during a part of that time taking two or three lessons each day. At the suggestion of Garcia, he then sought the guidance of Scafati, a famous teacher at Naples, with whom Mr. Wheeler studied for five months. During his stay in Italy he studied and committed to memory the principal tenor roles of a large number of grand operas. Returning to London in 1863, he reviewed all his past instruction with his old master, Garcia, besides studying the oratorios with Smith and Perrin. At the queen's concert rooms, and also at the concerts of the Royal Academy Mr. Wheeler sang with distinguished success. He returned to his native country in August, 1863, and accepted the position of tenor in Emanuel church, Boston. His first public appearance was with the Handel and Haydn Society, when they first sang in Boston music hall with the great organ of that auditorium. Mr. Wheeler sang the tenor roles in many productions of oratorio in Boston and other cities in New England, meeting with the highest praise from the critics and the public. As a teacher he soon found all his time taken up, and he was obliged to give up singing in public, to devote himself to his class. At the foundation of the New England Conservatory Mr. Wheeler was asked to become one of the faculty, and to that splendid institution he has devoted himself and his best efforts ever since. He has graduated some of the best singers that America has produced, many of the famous artists of the day having obtained the foundation of their success under his guidance. Mr. Wheeler usually spends his summers in normal work, in different parts of the country. For some years he was associated with Mr. Wm. H. Sherwood, in summer schools of this kind, whereby his influence is more widely extended. —A Hundred Years of Music in America, 1889, page 16-17.


J. Harry Wheeler (1836-1909) at Chautauqua
J. Harry Wheeler is one of the prominent voice teachers in the United States. His pupils may be found filling responsible positions in nearly every large city in the country. Many of them are on the grand opera, oratorio and concert stage. 

Mr. Wheeler has been the principal of the vocal department at the Chautagua N.Y. Summer School of Music fifteen year; he was principal of the vocal department at the Northwestern University; principle of the vocal department at Tufts College, principal of the Boston Normal Musical Institute; was voice teacher and lecturer on vocal culture in the New England Conservatory of Music, Boston, thirteen years; voice examiner in the College of American Musicians; special voice examiner at the Toronto Conservatory of Music, Canada, 1901. Mr. Wheeler is the author of the most concise work published on vocal physiology, adapted to the requirements of voice teachers and singers, entitled “Vocal Physiology and Singing,” published by the New England Conservatory of music, Boston, Mass; also author of “The Voice and Kindred Topics,” &c. In his student days Mr. Wheeler was a pupil of the famous singing master, Manuel Garcia, London, England, the teacher of Jenny Lind, Malibran and many other world famed artists. In Italy he studied with the renowned maestro de canto, Lamperti. Both of these eminent masters taught strictly the Italian method of tone production which Mr. Wheeler unreservedly and enthusiastically pursues in his teaching of voice placement. 

Mr. Wheeler fully endorses those in this picture group. The voice teachers educate voices strictly in the Italian method, and may be relied upon as safe, reliable and first-class teachers. —Musical Courier, January 8, 1902, Page 18.


Two men with the same last name, one of them studying with García, the other with both García and Lamperti. After finding the articles above, I wondered if Lyman and Harry were related. Since the one about Lyman gave crucial information regarding his place of birth, it became a matter of tracking down more information about Harry—which led me to his book that referenced Francesco Lamperti, as well as an article which apologized for confusing the two men—who were brothers. I subsequently discovered Harry and Lyman Wheeler were born a year apart in the 1830's. Both brothers studied with Manuel García and taught at the New England Conservatory of Music (Lyman taught on the faculty from 1868-1882, then 1885-1893, while Harry taught voice from 1882-1887). Lyman was the younger of the two and had a higher profile, which may be explained by Jenny Lind remarking that Lyman was one of the best tenors she had ever heard—there being no mention of Harry's voice at all. Was there rivalry between the two? It's hard to know, but one wonders, since Harry taught at a succession of schools, while Lyman stayed at the New England Conservatory. Lyman also kept his pedagogical allegiance to García, while Harry left the father of voice science for Lamperti—García's great rival. In the end, Harry outlived his younger brother, who dropped dead at the age of sixty-three. Harry left the planet nine years later at the age of seventy-three, having married a twenty-two year old student when he was fifty-six—not unlike his famous teachers who also married much younger students. He spent the last decade of this life in New York City, teaching privately and giving lectures on the voice and vocal physiology. Like García, Harry used a model of the larynx, and presented himself as a vocologist a hundred years before the word was coined. Harry's book, Vocal Physiology, Vocal Culture and Singing (1883), is a fascinating document, which, on close examination, reveals itself to be an expression of Old Italian School teachings. I encourage the reader to mine its gold and heed Wheeler's sound advice.

Notes: The spelling of "Scafati" has been corrected in the article on Lyman Wheeler, having been incorrectly written as "Skafati." Harry Wheeler's book is also at the Hathitrust Digital Library, which can be found here. I also wish to thank New England Conservatory's archivist Maryalice Perrin-Mohr for providing the Wheeler brother's dates of employment on the NEC faculty.

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