When I said goodbye to my concert audience in New York in 1951, in the beloved Town Hall that was like my home, I believed that I was now going to retire completely from all musical activity. I had served the world with my singing for a lifetime and felt that it was time to devote myself to my “hobbies” and, so to speak, to indulge in the joys of life, of quiet and contented old age. Unfortunately, I wasn’t born for idleness… I find it repugnant to just live for the moment and wait for what’s left of the future and happiness.
Then came the offer to me from the Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara. [Which Lehmann had helped found in 1947.] For a few hours a week, at my own discretion, I was to teach a class in the interpretation of Lieder, perhaps even an opera class if I wanted to. I had already very sporadically given a few lessons. [Mostly to already-professional singers in New York]. But now to face a class, to give lectures about singing, about an art that I had always taken for granted—that was a terrifying task. However, along with the fear was also LIFE again in my existance… So I said yes.
Many students have passed through my hands, many achievements have been made and sometimes I think teaching is actually the very best thing I have done because it is something that benefits others and not myself. Many [of these students] have good engagements in Germany. It’s a sad fact that Europe still does more for young singers than great America. In the U.S.A. they always only want NAMES – but how can young people acquire a name without stage and concert opportunities, that is the big question. Thank God people are already starting to take an interest in opera and song, but there are still no opera houses that play all year round with paid holidays, as was the norm in Europe and I think still is. –
Everyone dreams of a great international career. Many are called and few are chosen. For the teacher it is like a miracle, when a uniqueness shines out of the long line of talented ones. For me then, it is the glorious fulfillment of my dreams, the reborn ME, only in a completely different artistic form. But that’s not just the only beautiful thing to know: I helped open a door, to hone a shaping of a genuine assumption of a role, a song. And further then to see the individuality of the young person who translates what he has learned into his own personality. Imitation is a sign of inner weakness. Growing from what you have learned is the ideal.
This was my goal and my prayer for all who came to me, in order to learn…