Yesterday afternoon, my friend Kirk and I went to see Marilyn Horne give a masterclass at Harvard. The location was incidental, as the event was actually sponsored by Oberlin, where Horne is Distinguished Professor of Voice, and the four singers had all worked with her there. (Many thanks to Oberlin alum Elissa, who scored us the tickets.)
The masterclass took place in Harvard’s Paine Hall, whose interior walls are on three sides inscribed with the names of 26 composers, chosen when the hall was being finished in 1913-14. It’s all dead great European men from the 19th century and earlier. Some of the names have worn better than others. At one point, while guiding a young soprano through “Porgi, Amor,” Horne happened to glance up at the frieze of names and exclaimed “Couperin?! How did HE get up there?” And worse was to come when Horne noticed that her career stalwart Rossini was absent from the roster.
It made me wonder who the names on a children’s-book frieze would be, if we used a basic criteria of “dead but important and still singing to readers.” Let me take a stab at 26: Alcott, Andersen, Barrie, Baum, Bemelmans, Burnett, Carroll, Collodi, Grahame, Grimm, Keats, Kipling, L’Engle, Lewis, Lindgren, McCloskey, Milne, Perrault, Potter, Seuss, Spyri, Stevenson, Wilder, Twain, Travers, White. Hmm, all white and mostly male. Is that me, the canon, or both?