Eva Gauthier—a Canadian Songbird
Women and their Work
DOROTHY G. BELL
EVA GAUTHIER, the distinguished Canadian mezzo soprano and song interpreter, stepped into the elevator after her concert. A man, bearing on his countenance evidence of an outdoor life stepped in behind her.
“Pardon me, Miss Gauthier?” he said, “but are you going to Victoria?”
“Yes, to-morrow morning.”
“You are singing there?” His question was eager.
“To-morrow night,” she replied. “Why do you ask me?”
“Because I shall go there to hear you again. I have just returned to-night from five years in the Canadian north woods and I cannot begin to tell you what your singiwg meant to me.”
Miss Gauthier smiled. She was small of stature, very dark, with a personality vivid and striking.
“I am glad if it has meant anything to you and thank you for telling me,” she said.
As the door of the lift opened at her floor she gave her hand for a moment to the big man of the Canadian north woods. “Good night,” she said simply, “and I hope you will come to-morrow.”
This man was but one of hundreds whom Miss Gauthier has helped. Though she is a marvelous musician, a distinguished singer, her real work is helping others, not only through the beauty of her voice, but through her efforts to gain recognition for other artists.
She has brought out nearly a thousand new melodies, all by composers then unknown, but now famous. Many were written by such men as Vaughn, Crist,
Griffis, Carpenter, Engle and Watts.
‘ ‘All these men hada struggle, ’ ’ declared Miss Gauthier. “There is not a composer living or dead who can make enough at first to keep body and soul together. Things move too fast for them; life is too difficult. Everyone needs some one behind his creative ability to make it a success and much beautiful music is lost to the world because of lack of support,” and Miss Gauthier to illustrate her point told the story of Charles Griffis. -
Encouraging Indigent Talent
TEACHING in a boy’s school he felt there the urge to write, but without time to do it. A chance arose to prepare some music for a Javanese ballet and hearing of Miss Gauthier’s friendliness to struggling composers he approached her for help. She gave him material from her Javanese collections and Griffis created from it a delightful melody. He struggled with it a long time and finally word came to him that if he would send the parts to a certain publisher it would be produced. To make orchestra parts would cost $300. Griffis did not have that much money. He was poor, young and proud. Rather than ask for it he set out to' make the parts himself. He worked all day in school, and all night on his music. He was worn out when at last the work was complete. But publishers do not wait. It had
taken him too long. After more bitter struggles he found another publisher in Boston'. On his way there to hear his composition produced he caught cold, developed pneumonia and died. Three hundred dollars at the moment he wanted it would have saved his life and given to the world a great composer. ’
A composer whom Miss Gauthier probably saved from a similar fate was Winter Watts. She met him first as a boy whose music did not appeal to her, then forgot about him. Five years later she received a telephone call from him at ten o’clock at night.
“I’m desperate,” he said, “I must see you.”
“Come along up right now,” she told him.
He came, a six-footer, starved and gaunt. He threw himself at her feet and cried like a child. But it was not for his physical condition that he wept; it was not starvation of body but of soul. His work was not receiving recognition. He had no place to study, no piano. “If I could have just an attic and a piano,” he pleaded, “I would be happy.”
“At present,” replied Miss Gauthier, “you must content yourself with eating. Come here for all your meals. In the meantime we will see what can be done.” Miss Gauthier told her protege one day
soon afterwards that he was to go with her to a party.
“You will play your songs,” said she, “with everything there is in you.”
He did. And after he had played Miss Gauthier told a New York millionaire of his plight and asked quite frankly for help. The man was impressed with the youth’s music.
“I will provide for him,” he said, “and he may use my studio four days a week.”
For four days a week Watts lived. It was enough and he was content. At that time there were two big prizes being given for the best compositions of the year. Miss Gauthier coached him and made him work for thoseprizes. He won both. Now he is in Rome and Miss Gauthier is convinced that it will not be long before he writes the Great American Opera.
The Beginning of Great Careers
G ALLI CURCI and John McCormick both owe their start to Eva Gauthier. While Miss Gauthier was studying in Milan a girl was introduced toiler. “She has talent but she is poor,” she was told. “Perhaps you can do something for her.” Miss Gauthier employed her as an accompanist at sixty cents an hour. She had more than ordinary ability and did well as an accompanist. Then one day while waiting for Miss Gauthier the pianist began to sing. So completely carried away was she that she did not hear Miss Gauthier enter. When she had finished she was startled by the voice of her employer.
“Why do you play for me when you can sing like that?” “I am poor,” replied the girl. “I have to earn my living and support my family by what I can earn from thepiano.”
After that things went on as before with one difference. The girl accompanist took lessons from Gauthier’s own teacherand coach. The result was Galli Curd!
Eva Gauthier’s acquaintance with John McCormick came about in this way:
She received a note from a Canadian friend telling her of a young man shehad heard sing in London. “He has greatly impressed me. Do try to hear him. His name is John McCormick,” she wrote. Eva Gauthier did hear him in concert and shortly afterwards John McCormick wrote her a note asking her if" she would tell him who her teacher was. In her reply she asked him to visit her. As every musician who met Eva Gauthier told her his troubles so did John McCormick. He said he had been singing in concert for five years at $160 a month and as far as he could see would go on doing it for the rest of his life. He was married and could not afford to take the risks that were necessary to win a chance of progress. It had always been his ambition to enter opera.
Among Miss Gauthier’s friends were two wealthy old ladies vdio were very influential in the operatic world. She told them of John McCormick with the
result that they asked her to bring him to their home for lunch. John McCormick came to Miss Gauthier’s apartment as they had arranged to leave together from there.
“Before we left I sponged his suit and made him scour his hands, and spruced him up as best I could,” said Miss Gauthier, laughing at the recollection. “I remember, too, telling him that he would have to sing the songs of these old ladies which were atrocious but that he would do it well. He did. They were tremendously taken with him and with his interpretation of their songs. Three weeks later he was singing in opera with Tetrazinni.”
Jeanne Gordon, too, the famous Canadian Metropolitan Opera star received the benefit of Miss Gauthier’s advice ^nd help many years ago before Miss Gordon had any thought of entering professional life.
Miss Gauthier is so interested in the work of others that it is difficult to get her to talk about her own.
“My own workemdash;what there is of itemdash;is more or less of a disease,” she laughed. “Anything new in music that appeals to me, appeals to such an extent that I feel compelled to take hold of it and put it over.”
Miss Gauthier will go down in history as a courageous pioneer, for she has pioneered through more new phases of modern music than any other musician. Miss Gauthier was the first to give vocal Chamber music, she was first to interpret in costume the folk songs of the Javanese; she was first to talk to her audiences as she sings to them; she was first to break the myth that singers are not musicians; she was first to include popular American songs in a formal programme; she was one of the founders of the Beethoven Association. In fact she is so regularly first in every musical endeavor that she has already gained the title of “Gauthier the Pioneer.”
Friendship With Albani
MISS GAUTHIER studied first in Canada. Y/hen Albani came to this country she was asked if she would hear Miss Gauthier sing. She was very busy and refused. A little later Eva Gauthier .went abroad to study and was given a letter of introduction to Albani from her uncle, Sir Wilfred Laurier. It was not a letter that could be ignored but when she presented it Albani sent word that she was not well and that perhaps Miss Gauthier would see her husband instead. Miss Gauthier thought it would be better to see the husband of Albani than to see nobody.
Before she left Madame Albani came in and asked who her accompanist was. Miss Gauthier, very young, tremendously ambitious, thoroughly determined to create an interest in the woman before her, mentioned Henry Bird, one of the greatest accompanists in Europe, a man whom she had longed to have accompany her and one who had refused to do so just a short time before. Madame Albani, was impressed and asked Miss Gauthier to return with the accompanist a few days later to sing for her.
The first thing Miss Gauthier did when she left Albani’s house was to wire the accompanist of whom she had spoken, asking him if he would play for her to sing before Madame Albani. His reply brightened her heart and her conscience. It consisted of one word, “Delighted.”
The next day Miss Gauthier rehearsed with him. He was pleased and enthusiastic. In fact, Miss Gauthier declared that no one had ever been quite so enthusiastic about her work before. Yet she was nervous and excited when she appeared before Albani, for the approval of the famous artist meant more to her than anything else in the world.
“I do not blame her for her little smile when I announced that I would sing The Air of the Prophet,’ she declared, laughingly, “for I was only seventeen, I was very short, my clothes were homely and I must have looked awful.
“I sang very shakily at first. But I soon lost myself in my music and when I had finished Madame Albani was crying. She came over to me, took me into her arms and we cried together. From that moment Albani became the most wonderful friend I have, and I owe everything to her.”
Before Eva Gauthier could make her debut in Paris a friend had to give her 800 francs to buy a dress, for she had come to France as a young girl with a pigtail and
short dresses. Immediately afterwards she joined forces with Albani and they came to Canada. She had intended to go on to New York to enter light opera bqt, before she had been in Canada long, received a cable from England asking her to sing in the Coronation Choir, a part which had been declined by Albani.
For five years she stayed with Albani and when that great artist died she declared that she left Eva Gauthier as a legacy to Canada. Miss Gauthier has not forgotten that and much of her work has been for Canadians. But she feels keenly the lack of interest Canada takes in her own career and the career of other Canadians.
“It is not a pleasure to come home to one’s own country and have those who bring you here lose money on you,” she said, “and that is what nearly always happens to Canadians who present their talents to the Canadian public.” Miss Gauthier might have been indignant on this point but she only regretted it. p “Burke, Johnson, Gordon are all Can-' adians; yet they are all being advertised and presented as American artists,” she said. “Canadian people can not have thought seriously of what this means or they would not allow it to go on.”
AFTER Miss Gauthier left Albani there came a point in her life when she did not quite know which way to turn. She turned finally to Java and marriage. During the five years that she stayed among the Javanese she studied and revelled in their music. The natives could not understand how a white woman could feel and love their music as she did. Because she could speak their language, because she was small of stature and very dark like the natives themselves, they began to doubt that she was really white. This idea took hold of some of them with such conviction that one was detailed to try to rub the white off her face. They were convinced of their mistake only when the spot became red instead of black.
When Miss Gauthier entered professional life again it was in the first year of the war. She went to Australia and worked with Elman for a time but conditions were bad and there was but one refuge— America. She came to New York and did thirty-five weeks of vaudeville.
“It was there that I learned how to face any audience,” said she. “I was engaged to do the Javanese music I had brought over with me but it didn’t go well. Then I met Roshanara. We joined forces. She interpreted the music of the Hindu and Burmese through her dancing, while I interpreted that of the Javan and Malay through song. We combined Mohammeden, Russian, French, and Greek, and the performances were a great success. It was then I learned that after all people were interested in what I had to give but there was still the barrier that so often exists between the artist and the people. I determined to break it down. I tried at first with the printed word, telling them on the programmes about the songs. It failed to reach. Then one night some one called out to me ‘Give us some jazz!’ The audience discussed with me the form it should take. The discussion gave me an idea. I would talk to them, tell them what they had to know, to understand and appreciate these songs. I have been doing so ever since and now no matter what the audience is,it never fails.”
Miss Gauthier’s audiences have often remarked that her clothes are characteristic of herself—so entirely different. The reason is, she not only designs her own clothes but sews them together, herself. “I usually decide to have a new dress about twenty-four hours before a concert,” said she, “and sit up all day and all night making it, so that I am tired out by concert time, but I never let anyone else make it. Where I am known people may not want to hear me sing but they will come to see what I wear!”