The opportunity to sing at Carnegie Hall under the baton of Leopold Stokowski lay before me. The day prior to the event, the music teacher at school gathered us together for the final rehearsal.
As we sang the familiar words about a barge-pulling mule - "I've got an old mule and her name is Sal, /Fifteen miles on the Erie Canal" - the teacher scowled. Something was wrong. Terribly wrong. A discordant sound was heard. Maestro Stokowski would be displeased.
Up and down the line of singers the teacher went in an effort to identify the offender. He stopped in front of me. "Dean," he said, "you're a croaker."
And so I never appeared at Carnegie Hall under the baton of Leopold Stokowski.
Recently, when reading "The Table Talk of Samuel Marchbanks," by Robertson Davies, I was reminded of my experience. He wrote: "All the children must sing, and are divided by the teacher into canaries (the best singers), robins (fairly good singers), bluebirds (definitely not choral material), and pigeons (creatures who croak moodily upon one note)."
Alas, I am both croaker and pigeon. (A city bird; how appropriate for an urban dweller.)
Was I seared by the experience? Not at all. Each Christmas I vigorously sing carols. At summer campfires, I join the singing with gusto. Throughout the year, I hum, whistle, and sing songs. Singing is fun!
Indeed, the Metropolitan Opera came to be the site of my greatest triumph. Here I appeared in eight performances of Verdi's "Don Carlos."
True, mine was a nonsinging role. I appeared in crowd scenes as a supernumerary. But my colleagues on stage were not a ragtag bunch of eighth-graders belting out "The Erie Canal." They were Placido Domingo (as Don Carlos), Mirella Freni (Elisabeth of Valois), Nicolai Ghiaurov (King Philip II), with all of us performing under the baton of James Levine.
Every singer dreams of performing at the Met. Few of us realize the dream.
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