Dr. William Warfield, baritone - Schiller. William Warfield, baritone ÔMusic is the Kingdom of...

Dr. William Warfield, baritone, is one of the world’s leading experts on Spirituals and lieder, and the past president of the National Association of Negro Musicians (1985-1990). Born to a family of sharecroppers in West Helena, Arkansas and raised in Rochester, New York, Dr. Warfield won rave reviews in a sensational debut at New York City’s Town Hall by the time he was thirty. In the course of a career that has spanned more than half a century, his incomparable voice and charismatic per- sonality have electrified the stages of six continents, and earned him the title of “America’s Musical Ambassador.” Dr. Warfield has been engaged recently in the efforts of the Schiller Institute to revive a movement for a National Conser- vatory of Music, first pioneered at the beginning of the century by Antonin Dvoˇ rák [SEE news article, page 62]. The following interview was conducted for Fidelio by Lynne and Dennis Speed on November 26, 1994. Fidelio: Dr. Warfield, let me first of all thank you for being here, and partici- pating yesterday in our performance of several scenes from Amelia Boynton- Robinson’s musical drama Through the Years. Of course, this was preceded by a wonderful lecture-demonstration that you did together with Sylvia Olden Lee. Through the Years is part of our pro- ject to restore universal education and Classical literacy to the nation’s youth, starting in the nation’s capital. And in reading your autobiography, William Warfield: My Music and My Life, I was very struck by the contrast between the high standard of universal and Classical education you received, and the collapse of education that we see throughout the nation today. William Warfield: Yes, as a matter of fact, when I look back on it, and even compare the education in Rochester, then to now, it was sort of Shangri-La. It was utopian. In high school, we could take Latin, we could take Hebrew, we could take other languages. All we had to do to study any instrument, was go down to the band-room and check out an instru- ment, and we could be in the band; or check out a violin, and we could be in the orchestra. Each school had its band, it had its orchestra. One of the reasons, of course, was that the Eastman School of Music was in Rochester, and most of the people who were getting their degrees in music edu- cation, taught. That’s how they got their teaching experience, by teaching in the public schools, doing band work and things like that. We had choirs in each of the schools, and each year we’d meet together in a Choirfest. They formed an international junior choir, an international high school senior choir—I even went to the World’s Fair in 1938 as part of the senior choir from the international choir of Rochester. 67 Dr. William Warfield, baritone ‘Music is the Kingdom of Heaven, Education is the Kingdom of Heaven’ I studied Latin, German, French, and Italian in high school. I had a music teacher who insisted, that if I wanted to sing something in a foreign language, I had to take that up in school. She said, ‘You’re not going to sing German, if you don’t know what the words mean.’ INTERVIEW Click here for Full Issue of Fidelio Volume 4, Number 3, Fall 1995 © 1995 Schiller Institute, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission strictly prohibited.

Transcript of Dr. William Warfield, baritone - Schiller. William Warfield, baritone ÔMusic is the Kingdom of...

Page 1: Dr. William Warfield, baritone - Schiller. William Warfield, baritone ÔMusic is the Kingdom of Heaven, Education is the Kingdom of HeavenÕ I studied Latin, German, French, and Italian

Dr. William Warfield, baritone, is one ofthe world’s leading experts on Spiritualsand lieder, and the past president of theNational Association of Negro Musicians(1985-1990).

Born to a family of sharecroppers inWest Helena, Arkansas and raised inRochester, New York, Dr. Warfield wonrave reviews in a sensational debut at NewYork City’s Town Hall by the time he wasthirty. In the course of a career that hasspanned more than half a century, hisincomparable voice and charismatic per-sonality have electrified the stages of sixcontinents, and earned him the title of“America’s Musical Ambassador.”

Dr. Warfield has been engaged recentlyin the efforts of the Schiller Institute torevive a movement for a National Conser-vatory of Music, first pioneered at thebeginning of the century by AntoninDvorák [SEE news article, page 62]. Thefollowing interview was conducted forFidelio by Lynne and Dennis Speed onNovember 26, 1994.

Fidelio: Dr. Warfield, let me first of allthank you for being here, and partici-pating yesterday in our performance ofseveral scenes from Amelia Boynton-Robinson’s musical drama Through theYears. Of course, this was preceded by awonderful lecture-demonstration thatyou did together with Sylvia Olden Lee.

Through the Years is part of our pro-ject to restore universal education andClassical literacy to the nation’s youth,starting in the nation’s capital. And inreading your autobiography, WilliamWarfield: My Music and My Life, I wasvery struck by the contrast between thehigh standard of universal and Classical

education you received, and the collapseof education that we see throughout thenation today.William Warfield: Yes, as a matter offact, when I look back on it, and evencompare the education in Rochester,then to now, it was sort of Shangri-La.It was utopian.

In high school, we could take Latin,we could take Hebrew, we could takeother languages. All we had to do tostudy any instrument, was go down tothe band-room and check out an instru-ment, and we could be in the band; orcheck out a violin, and we could be inthe orchestra. Each school had its band,

it had its orchestra.One of the reasons, of course, was

that the Eastman School of Music was inRochester, and most of the people whowere getting their degrees in music edu-cation, taught. That’s how they got theirteaching experience, by teaching in thepublic schools, doing band work andthings like that.

We had choirs in each of the schools,and each year we’d meet together in aChoirfest. They formed an internationaljunior choir, an international high schoolsenior choir—I even went to the World’sFair in 1938 as part of the senior choirfrom the international choir of Rochester.


Dr. William Warfield, baritone

‘Music is the Kingdom of Heaven, Education is the Kingdom of Heaven’

I studied Latin,German, French,

and Italian in highschool. I had a

music teacher whoinsisted, that if I

wanted to singsomething in a

foreign language, Ihad to take that upin school. She said,

‘You’re not goingto sing German, if

you don’t knowwhat the words



Click here for Full Issue of Fidelio Volume 4, Number 3, Fall 1995

© 1995 Schiller Institute, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission strictly prohibited.

Page 2: Dr. William Warfield, baritone - Schiller. William Warfield, baritone ÔMusic is the Kingdom of Heaven, Education is the Kingdom of HeavenÕ I studied Latin, German, French, and Italian

All of this was open to us and avail-able. And, I started out studying pianowith my teacher in my father’s churchat the age of nine. By the time I wassixteen, in junior high school, I wasinto music and all kinds of things. Ieven studied a little violin myself, inaddition to piano, because it was avail-able to me and my brothers. One ofthem had trumpet, one had tuba—theone next in age to me actually went onto the Eastman School of Music andmajored in tuba. Later on, he became awarrant officer in the Army, and evenup until his retirement he wouldparade with the reserve band that hewas still with. All this came out of thetremendous amount of opportunity wehad for music education, beginningeven in grade school and continuing tohigh school.

Fidelio: This was combined also with atremendous amount of languagestudy—you yourself are quite a linguist.William Warfield: Yes. As a matter offact, I studied Latin, German, French,and Italian in high school, even before Igot to college. One of the reasons forthis, was that I had a music teacher whoinsisted, that if I wanted to sing some-thing in a foreign language, I had totake that up in school. She said, “You’renot going to come in here and sing Ger-man, if you don’t know what the wordsmean.” And so, as a result, I startedstudying German in high school.

As a matter of fact, when I was asenior in high school, I participated in acity-wide competition put on by theGerman Art Society, and won first placeas a high school student reciting thepoem “Das Lindenbaum” [recites]:

“Am brunnen vor dem Tore,Da steht ein Lindenbaum.Ich trämt’ in seinem SchattenSo manchen süßen traum.So, long before I sang it, I had won

first place in the German Society com-petition for reciting German poetry—inhigh school.

Fidelio: That would appear to be inmarked contrast to what people assumeto be the case, particularly in comparing,for example, educational opportunity inthe 1920’s and ’30’s, to the 1950’s, ’60’s,and ’70’s. Yet, everyone will remember,or many people may remember, that byabout 1966-67, language study, for exam-ple, was something that was very hard tocome by. Languages were not only elec-tive, but, for example, I remember veryclearly that in high school and the prep

school that I attended, you could not takeGerman. German was not available.French was available, Spanish was avail-able, Latin was available. But only threeyears of Latin, perhaps four, but thefourth year was elective. Greek was notavailable, for example.

Yet, you’re speaking about a timenow sixty or seventy years ago, whenyou had a fundamentally better educa-tion. Could you tell us something aboutthe character of the students, and thecharacter of the time? Why Rochester?You mentioned the Eastman School ofMusic, but of course, Rochester was alsothe home of Frederick Douglass for along time.William Warfield: That’s right. It wasquite an Underground Railroad station;that is, a stopover for people comingfrom the South to the North. It was avery vital part of the Underground Rail-road, and right to this day we have a bigstatue of Frederick Douglass and Dou-glass Park in Rochester, New York.

Rochester has always been a city thatwas very forward. Mr. Eastman himself,of Eastman Kodak, who endowed theEastman School of Music, was alwaysinto art and education, into learning,into teaching, and that kind of a thing,


I lived in a neighborhood which we called ‘the meltingpot.’ My next-door neighbors were Italian. Around the

corner from us, was a Jewish neighborhood. About threeblocks down, the Polish neighborhood began. So

Washington High School was filled with Polish, Black,Italian, Jewish–the whole community. It was just a

wonderful experience.






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so it was a natural for us in Rochester.We became heir to that, as we werecoming up as youngsters.

I myself lived in a neighborhoodwhich we called “the melting pot.” Mynext-door neighbors were Italian.Around the corner from us, was pre-dominantly a Jewish neighborhood, andI remember, as a youngster, going overand lighting the stoves for OrthodoxJews who didn’t believe in doing thatsort of a thing on the Sabbath. Andthen, just about three blocks down, thewhole Polish neighborhood began. SoWashington High School then, wasfilled with Polish, Black, Italian, Jew-ish—the whole community. We calledourself “the melting pot school,” and itwas just a wonderful experience.

I did not know actual segregation assuch, personally, until later on, when Ileft the city and experienced certainthings, although I was not unaware ofwhat was going on. We used to get thePittsburgh Courier and the ChicagoDefender religiously every week, and ourties to the South, and our family, grow-ing up, made us know exactly what wasgoing on in the South. We were just asaware of lynchings as anybody in theSouth was, because that was the kind ofhome we lived in, and my father was inthe tradition and made sure that weknew what was happening to us as arace. But so far as my actual experiencewith segregation—it never happened tome until I left Rochester.

I started my career before the 1954Supreme Court decision came down, soduring that period, I experienced segre-gation by going to other cities; although Idid not experience a lot of these things inconnection with my art and performing,like here in Washington at the NationalTheater. It had all been cleared up by

people before me, like Paul Robeson andMarian Anderson. Marian Anderson hadmade it clear that she would not singwhere the audience was segregated, andso, as a result, whenever she went some-where, it had to be integrated.

Actors’ Equity had made a ruling,before the Supreme Court ruling, thatwe would not perform in any theaterthat was segregated. Therefore, theNational Theater, right here in Wash-ington, was integrated before theSupreme Court decision, because ourunion had already decided that wewould not subject people to that.

So when I got here and played Porgyand Bess in the National Theater, it waswide open. But several years prior tothat, Blacks couldn’t be on the stage inthe National Theater. So these were thethings that were going on during thattime.

Fidelio: What inspired you to want tobecome a concert artist and to performlieder and oratorio and other Classicalworks, as well as the Spirituals?William Warfield: First, let me explainsomething, which is partly an answer tothat question, because I’ve had manypeople ask me, “How did you, as aBlack youngster, come up and decidethat you wanted to be in Classical musicrather than jazz?”

There is a very good and very simplereason. If you remember, back in thatday, to anybody who was in religion,jazz was considered sinful. My fatherwas a Baptist minister, and there wasnot going to be any jazz around there.

And so, what was my alternative? Istarted studying music, I started study-ing piano, and out of that, came Classi-cal music, and the only thing that wasnot Classical then, which is now (of

course, jazz itself is “classical” now), wasthe singing of the Spirituals. Spiritualswere part of my inheritance, and part ofwhat we did in church and all of that,and that was all very good. We didanthems and Spirituals—remember,sometimes, even in our history of theSpirituals, they used to be calledanthems. We did anthems in churchand Spirituals, and things like that.

Then, as I got into school, I startedstudying to sing. And, as I said, mymusic teacher said, “If you want to singin German, you’ve got to take the lan-guage.” So I started studying the lan-guages, and out of languages camelieder, the French, Saint-Saens, Italianopera; and all of this came out of thatmethod of education that leads you intonot just thinking English.

And then I went and heard, as ayoungster—I remember they took me—a man who came to Rochester. He stoodon stage and sang German, he sangEnglish first, Spirituals, French, a littleItalian thing, and I sat there and wasabsolutely entranced. And later on, alady came there and started singingthings like Schubert’s “Ave Maria,” aswell as Spirituals. These two peoplewere Roland Hayes and Marian Ander-son. And that’s where I got the inspira-tion to do what I did, to learn and gointo the field, from those two people.

Fidelio: The story you just told, hasbeen told to us by various people.George Shirley told us this story, RobertMcFerrin told us this story also.William Warfield: Yes. That was partof it, that was what we were as we werecoming up. That was what we wereexposed to.

Fidelio: I’d like to ask you a questionabout that, because it seems that bothHayes and Anderson (I think Hayesearlier than Anderson, because actuallyAnderson heard Hayes)—when he didhis concerts, he must have been goingthrough a certain circuit, since he wasprohibited from doing a lot of the regu-lar concert halls, and certainly hecouldn’t be on any of the opera stages.When you saw him, and when he wasseen by others, how was this done? Was


Dr. Nathaniel Dett said to me, ‘Young man, when you feelthe same way about your German and your French, as youfeel about that Spiritual, you’ll be an artist.’ To this day, Ican sing Schubert, and turn around and sing a Spiritual, andthere’s basically no difference in making music. That is allpart of the universality, when your spirit comes out, andyour spirit shines.

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this done through the churches?William Warfield: No. For instance, Iheard him in connection with the seriesthey had at the Coliseum Theater,which was the big theater—it seats3,000. And they had a concert seriesthere, which included people likeHeifetz and Rachmaninoff, whom Iheard in a concert in Rochester, playingpiano. This was the concert series thatRoland Hayes was in, and later, MarianAnderson.

So, it was after the period you’rereferring to, that I saw Roland Hayes.By the time I heard him, he was prettywell accepted, and was singing in mostof the big concert halls. If you remem-ber, in his book, he talks about one of hisfirst experiences, during his tour in Ger-many, where he was standing there, andthey jeered him. They wouldn’t acceptthe fact that this Black man was going tosing lieder to them. So he just opened hismouth and started singing—this was inEurope—and before his concert wasover, they carried him on their shoul-ders, screaming and hollering allthrough the auditorium. He had justopened his mouth and started singing,and that stopped everything.

That’s why I said that he was theforerunner of all of us, in breakingdown that barrier of Blacks being ableto do Classical music, or singing in for-eign languages, and the like. It wasRoland Hayes.

Then, of course, later on, MarianAnderson really put the death knell tothose sort of restrictions, when shewalked out at the Lincoln Memorial andsang a recital, because the Daughters ofthe American Revolution wouldn’tallow her to sing in Constitution Hall. Afew years later, when I came along, Iwalked right into Constitution Hall, andnobody even questioned it.

That’s why I said, these were the peo-ple who were the forerunners. And PaulRobeson; we know his story, how heopened up things by just refusing to bowdown to them.

So by the time I came along, eventhough, at the start of my career, therewas not yet the non-segregation rulingissued by the Supreme Court, I was therecipient of all of the efforts of Roland

Hayes, Marian Anderson, and PaulRobeson, that had broken down thesethings. And I had very few problems,career-wise, when I came along—exceptfor opera, which was just not open toBlacks at that time. That only happenedin the 1950’s, and by that time, I’d doneShowboat, Porgy and Bess, and I was wellon my way in my specific career, and Ididn’t really need opera to have a career.

Fidelio: A couple of questions, actually,about what you just said. You men-tioned Hayes’ experience, which wasactually 1927 in Germany, when he wasable to transform an audience whichwould usually be assumed to have beena profoundly racist audience. But, in aninstant, he seems to have transformedthem. What allows a musician, a singer,to do that? What is the quality of art,and the insight into art, that allows asinger to do that?William Warfield: I think, basically,we’re in a field in which there is a uni-versal communication. Everyone,whether they’re Black, white, Ethiopian,or Swedish, Scandinavian, responds tomusic.

I was sitting in a session with PabloCasals, the great ’cellist. During the lat-ter part of his life, I was fortunateenough to be able to perform with him,and we were working on the “St.Matthew Passion,” I think, and we weresinging and talking about variousthings. And all of a sudden he stopped,and he looked at us, and he said, “Aren’twe fortunate to be musicians?” And I’llnever forget the look on his face. Thatwas international communication.

Now, to get back to answering yourquestion specifically. If you are sincerelyimmersed in a communication of music,and you just stand there and just dothat, something in every one of us isgoing to respond to that. This is true, asnight follows day. You walk out on thestreet, you see youngsters walking downthe street with earplugs in their ears, lis-tening to the boombox. I have been inplaces in which suddenly, music started,and all of a sudden it got quiet. There issomething in all of us that relates tomusic; and music is one of the big com-munication connectors, whatever form

it comes in. I have seen youngsters stoptheir “bup-de-bup-de-bup-de-bup-de-bup-de-bup-de-bup . . .,” and listen tosomething that was like, “I’m gonna tellGod all of my troubles . . .,” dead intheir tracks. Because it was a communi-cation that is automatically in all of us.

Now, if you want to go a little stepfurther, being the son of a Baptist minis-ter as I am, it is that part of us that isconnected with the Divine One. Iremember Dr. Thurman once said, Godcreated man in His own image in thedead center, so that in the dead center ofGod’s brain, there is this image of whatman is; and at a point at which manreaches the full development of thatimage, then he will be on a par with theangels.

I remember he made this sermon atthe opening of the new chapel atTuskegee, when I was down there forthe dedication. And I never forgot that:“Ah! So that’s what evolution is about!Man finally coming into the image that isin the dead center of God’s brain, ofwhat man is to be.”

And all of us, then, are endowedwith that basic thing, and music is it.That’s why we can communicate.

Fidelio: You’ve been called the “musicalambassador from America,” and I readagain in your autobiography, that youhad quite an extensive tour during the1950’s and ’60’s, and opened up many,many doors for the United States,friendship relationships, through pre-cisely what you’ve been describing, thisuniversal quality of music. Can you tellus a little bit about that?William Warfield: It was after I firstmade my debut in 1950, shortly there-after. You know, in the 1950’s, the StateDepartment had reciprocal artists goingback and forth, even with Russia. (Actu-ally, I think, the Russians started it first,sending their people here, and the UnitedStates said, “Oh, gosh, let’s get on thisbandwagon. That’s the best way to pro-mote America, is through music andthrough our artists.” And so we started todo it.) And I was one of the people who,at various times, from the 1950’s throughthe 1970’s, was fortunate enough to havebeen on quite a few of the tours.


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I went on a tour of Africa, all overAfrica, for the State Department. I wentto the Far East, on the same routing thatMarian Anderson had gone on earlier,from Hongkong all the way down toSingapore, and, on my own on two occa-sions, I was engaged by the AustralianBroadcasting Commission to make twotours, one in 1950, then one in 1958, ofthe whole continent of Australia.

Then, I was even sent by the UnitedStates government to Cuba, while wewere still on friendly terms with Castro,and I did concerts in Cuba under U.S.auspices.

Then, later on, I went with thePhiladelphia Orchestra as the guestsoloist, on a government-sponsored tourto Europe. That was the first time I sangat La Scala in Milan—not opera, just asa guest with the Philadelphia Orchestra.When you add it all together, I probablydid more government-sponsored tours

than any other artists. And that’s, ofcourse, why my manager went crazy!But it just happened, that one thingafter the other occurred, and I wasgoing and representing the UnitedStates government.

It was most interesting when I didthe Africa tour. Some places in Africa,of course, did have concert series andregular concert halls, and the otherswere arranged by the consulate or theembassy of wherever I was. Forinstance, I went from Liberia downwhat was called the Gold Coast. I wenteven as far as Salisbury, down in thatarea; but I never got into South Africa assuch, because that was just too difficultto manage for the State Department.But I did get into Rhodesia.

One of the things that we insistedupon, was that the native population beabsolutely represented. So wherever wewere, the State Department made sure

that there were many of the Blacks fromthe neighboring community. Forinstance, we had a whole bloc of young-sters and people that were there fromvarious schools when I was in Ibadan,Nigeria. It was very interesting to notetheir reactions, because sometimes theyresponded emotionally to what wasgoing on in the program. And theirapplause was spontaneous, and it couldcome right in the middle of a song, ifthey were moved. I was singing a littleGerman piece that was a tongue-twister—Karl Löwe’s “Hochzeitleid.”And they started saying “Ooh! Ooh!Ooh!” all through the song, right in themiddle of the song as I was singing it;they were just so excited about whatthey were listening to. And then, when Iwas finished, there was thunderousapplause.

And this was also true when I wastouring in India. I would be singing

something beautiful,“Bois épais” byLully, and they allwould say “ahhhh,”because they wereresponding. “Ahh,that’s so nice.” It wasthat sort of a thing.It was a tremendousexperience.

And, of course,there were also thetypical audiences—you know, Euro-pean-trained—whowaited after youfinished to applaud.But it was just atremendous experi-ence, with an audi-ence that had notpreviously been toldwhat they shoulddo, and how theyshould respond.

That’s why, forinstance, the StateDepartment said,“Sing anything youwant to sing. All wewant to make sureis, that you haverepresented on the


I was sitting in a sessionwith Pablo Casals, thegreat ’cellist, during thelatter part of his life. Wewere working on the ‘St. Matthew Passion,’singing and talkingabout various things,and all of a sudden hestopped, and he lookedat us. And he said,‘Aren’t we fortunate tobe musicians?’ I’ll neverforget the look on hisface. That wasinternationalcommunication.






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program songs by American composers,as well as the European repertoire.”Well, there was no problem about that,because just one group of Spiritualswould take care of that. But I did both. Iused to do a group of American songs,like Copland, folksongs and things, andthen Spirituals as well. And I must say,that I can’t think of any country I visit-ed, in which Spirituals did not evoke thegreatest response.

Fidelio: When you did your first con-cert at Town Hall in New York City, Iunderstand that one of the things youdid that was groundbreaking at thetime, was to include a Spiritual at thetop of the program, rather than puttingthem at the end.

I believe that you did a comparisonbetween the spiritual “A City CalledHeaven” and, I believe, a Twelfth-cen-tury—William Warfield: Yes, Thirteenth-century, a Conductus, it is called.

Someone asked me about that lastnight, because they said, “Well, youknow, Mr. Warfield, I was of theimpression that Paul Robeson had donethat with his program, and started offwith Spirituals,” which was before me,and I said, “Yes.”

The difference was this. The Classi-cal format is to start out with theBaroque period, in which you haveHandel and Bach, and pre-Handel, andall of that. And then you have a group oflieder, in which you do the Schubert,Schumann, Brahms, and all of that. Andthen, in the middle of the program,there’s usually an opera aria, which isusually in Italian. Then you come backand you do America, and you end upwith Spirituals—if you were Black youended with Spirituals, not necessarilyeverybody did that. But it was usuallysomething that was native or belongedto the United States, or something likethat.

Now, what I did was this. I decidedthat I wanted to make the first group areligious group, and I called it, “Songsof the Believer.” And in that group, Iput Schütz’s “Eile mich Gott zueretten,” which was German, pre-Bach;I went back and got a little Conductus of

Perotin, who was the organist at NotreDame back in the Thirteenth century. Igot a Kol Nidre, a Jewish arrangementof the Kol Nidre, I don’t remember whodid it. I did a setting of the 150th Psalmby Monteverdi. And in that group, I puta traditional American Negro Spiritual.That was what was different, the factthat I programmed that in the firstgroup, with all of these other things.

And the reason I did that, was this.We were speaking of the internationali-ty of music, and back in the Thirteenthcentury, in Latin, Perotin said [sings]:“Homo vidi que pro te passior si esdolor sicut, sicut cor passior . . . .” Andthen you have [sings Spiritual]: “I am apoor pilgrim of sorrow, I’ve roamedthrough this wide world alone. . . .”That’s the same thing, yet they’re cen-turies apart. And that was what Sylviawas mentioning last night, she still talksabout it. It was the first time anybodyincluded a Spiritual, and it matchedsomething that was written back in theThirteenth century.

Fidelio: We should just indicate thatyou’re speaking of Sylvia Olden Lee,who is one of the great masters of theplaying and arrangement of Spirituals.

I want to ask another question, whilewe’re on the topic. You mentioned thespontaneous response you would getfrom people, and you’ve just shown usan example of the identity of the contentof the music, despite the fact that theforms, or the languages, at least, may besomewhat different—the “clothing”may be a little bit different.

But could you say something alsoabout what you think the work is thatgoes into this? For example, how oneaccurately delivers, declaims, a Spiritual,or another song? I know you’ve done alot of work on different components oflanguage, and how they directly con-tribute to doing a song well.William Warfield: Let me say some-thing about that, and then I would liketo tell you about an experience I hadonce with Dr. Robert Nathaniel Dett,when I was a youngster. As you know,he got one of his degrees at the EastmanSchool of Music, and during that time,he formed a choir, and I was a teenager

in Dr. Dett’s choir. For instance, Ilearned “Listen to the Lambs” fromhim. I’ve done that so many times, andperformed it with groups, I know exact-ly what he expected of it. And, the manytimes that I’ve conducted that withgroups, I still do it just as Dr. Detttaught me.

But, basically, let me first say this.Number one, there is a great deal oflearning and development one has to dowith the voice as a technique, to knowhow to use the voice. Then, there’s agreat deal of learning one has to do withlanguages, so that if you’re going to dolieder and opera and things like that, youknow what you’re doing. These aremechanical things that have to precedeyour being able to even utter a sound, ifyou’re going to be in Classical music.

Now, once that is accomplished, andyou know languages, and you knowhow to use your voice and it’s strictlyunder your control, when it gets back tothe projecting or the making of music,there’s no difference in doing a Spiritualor a German lied. You learn all of thetechnique of doing languages and usingyour voice, but when it comes down toso-called nitty-gritty in performing, theperformance approach is the same.

I’ll tell you why I discovered this,how I became aware of this. I was ayoungster, I was about eighteen yearsold, and I did a radio show, and Dr.Dett listened to it, and I came to his stu-dio the next day, and I said, “Dr. Dett,how was it?” and he said, “Young man,it was very fine, very fine. But what didyou think about it? How did you thinkyou did?” I had done a German piece, aFrench piece; I ended up with a Spiritu-al, and I started with Handel. And Isaid, “Well, of course, the Handel andthings, I think that went very well. Ofcourse there’s nothing new to me withthat, because we sing ‘The Messiah’ andall of that in church all the time. It wasquite natural.” And then I said, “Peopletold me that my German was excellent,that my pronunciation was fine and thatthey liked this, they liked that, and theFrench song, my French teacher told methat the pronunciation was beautifuland I did everything right.” And so onand so forth.


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And he said, “What did you thinkabout singing the Spirituals?” I said,“Oh, when I got to the Spirituals, I wasat home.” And he said, “Hhhmm.Young man, when you feel the sameway about your German and yourFrench, as you feel about that Spiritual,you’ll be an artist.”

I looked at him, and boing!, some-thing went off in my head. And to thisday, I can sing Schubert’s “Wohin?,”and tell all about the brook in German,and turn right around and sing a Spiri-tual, and there’s basically no differencein making music, whether I do it in theSpiritual, or in the German lied.

And that is all a part of this thing Icalled the universality of music. That iswhen your spirit comes out, and yourspirit shines. All right, I can sing inGerman, I can sing Italian. I can do this.But when it comes right down to it, if Iam singing an aria, and want to sing

“Heavenly Aida”—[sings] “CelesteAida . . .,”—as the tenors do in Aida,it’s the same thing as singing, “Didn’tmy Lord deliver Daniel?” It’s the samebasic emotion. You’re expressing youremotion through music. And when youdiscover that, music is on such a planethat you can sit by yourself sometimes,and make yourself weak just singing—because it’s coming out of you, it’s partof you.

Fidelio: I’ve had the pleasure of seeing afew of your master classes with theyoungsters who are learning to sing, andI know that you have emphasized tothem a great deal, what they’re saying,what they’re communicating, gettingacross a point, and that they must utilizethe prosody which is embedded in thelanguage, be it English, or German, orFrench, to bring out the meaning, andmake an artistic presentation. Perhaps

you could give us an example of that. Iknow one wonderful thing you havedone, is in some of the Spirituals thathave a repeated phrase, where you needto really bring this out in certain ways.William Warfield: Yes. This is also truewith anything. In German, for instance,where you have phrase after phrase afterphrase repeated, and verse after verse, asin Schubert sometimes—you know, in“Ungeduld,” and things like that.

The idea is, to see, that when you dosomething each time, it has a differentemphasis, or a different accent, orexpanding the thought. For instance, Ihave a lot of fun doing Margaret Bond’sSpiritual, “Didn’t It Rain?”:

“Children, didn’t it rain?Oh my Lord, didn’t it, didn’t it, did-

n’t it?Oh my Lord, didn’t it rain?”

And she does that all the way


William Warfield sings with soloists (right to left): RobertMcFerrin, Kehembe (Valerie Eichelberger), Detra Battle,George Shirley, and the Rev. James Cokley of the SchillerInstitute, “National Conservatory of Music Movement”conference, May 1994.

I’ve had youngsters come to me, who were singingGospel with the Black choir. Once I get them tosing in the Classical medium, I say, ‘If you’re goingto have this feeling in Gospel, why can’t you have itin Bach?’ And they realize, ‘There’s something tothat!’






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through. And I get a big kick out of see-ing how many times I can say “Didn’tit?” differently than the time before.There are so many possible ways youcan say “didn’t it, didn’t it, didn’t it”;and if every time you say “didn’t it, did-n’t it, didn’t it” in a monotonous way—well, I mean, get off that box! Do some-thing with it! Get involved with “didn’tit.” See how many different ways youcan say “didn’t it?” It’s that kind ofthing.

And this is true with a little thinglike, for instance, the “Wohin?” ofSchubert, where he says,

“Wohl aus dem Felsenquell . . . Ich hört’ ein Bächlein rauschen,Wohl aus dem Felsenquell.”

And then sometimes it’s,

“Hinunter und immer weiter,Und immer dem Bache nach,Und immer frischer rauschte,[sings forte:]Und immer frischer rauschte,Und immer heller der Bach.”

It’s the same thing. He’s repeating“und immer . . .” and always it’s fresh,and you hear the brook speaking louder,

then you repeat that, and you say it dif-ferently. And this is to me the essence ofyour projecting and your making some-thing of music. It’s just not reading offsomething.

Yesterday, we had a wonderful ses-sion having to do with the Spiritual, andSylvia came out after the students haddone it, and then we got them to loosenup. And we said, “Let it all hang out.”All right. This was “Swing Low, SweetChariot.” [sings, piano:] “Swing Low,Sweet Chariot, comin’ for to carry mehome, Swing low, sweet chariot, comin’for to carry me home.” Now the nexttime, [changes accent on words] “Oh,Swing low, sweet chariot [forte:] comin’for to carry me home, Oh, swing low,sweet chariot—.”

All of that is possible, when you letyourself go, just let it come out as yourexpression of what you’re saying, andnot simply what’s on the paper. “NowI’m going to do what I feel like I wantto express in singing this.” [sings] “Ilooked over Jordan and what did I see?[piano :] Comin’ for to carry home.Ohhhh, a band of angels comin’ afterme, [forte :] comin’ for to carry mehome.” All of that, is my expression of

what I feel about what I’m singing, andyou’re not going to find it on the paper.

This is what we were doing yester-day, and the audience just respondedlike crazy, because they recognized whatwas happening. Music was expressingitself, not just being sung.

Fidelio: I wanted to say about thatexperience yesterday, that what you hiton in your description, is what I’d callthe essence of real education.William Warfield: That’s right. That’sthe whole thing.Fidelio: Because it’s re-creation. Youhave to re-create the idea inside the per-son’s mind. And certainly, in your expe-rience, from what you’re telling us,when you heard someone like RolandHayes, or Marian Anderson, this waswhat they were doing.

Could you tell us, if you had any onecriticism or one suggestion to makeabout today’s singers and the state ofmusic today, what would it be? The oneor two major things you would wish tosee different today. William Warfield: Not so much differ-ent, as I would like youngsters nowa-days to expand their interest beyond just


Dr. Thurman once said, ‘Godcreated man in His ownimage, so that in the deadcenter of God’s brain, there isthis image of what man is; andat a point at which manreaches the full development ofthat image, then he will be on apar with the angels.’ So that’swhat evolution is about! Manfinally coming into the imageof what man is to be. All of usare endowed with that basicthing, and music is it. That’swhy we can communicate.






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what they like, and become interested inother forms.

For instance, in the churches now,the big thing is Gospel. Gospel, Gospel,Gospel. And you’ll find youngsters havesometimes put blinders on. If it isn’tGospel, they’re not interested.

I always admonish them to look fur-ther: “That’s wonderful. Do what youare doing, but be aware that there areother things musically around, anddon’t just close your eyes or your ears tothem. If you open up your ears and lis-ten, you might find the same thing inthis piece that Bach wrote, that you’rerelating to in the Gospel you’resinging.” And that’s the one thing I tryto convey. And most of the time itworks.

A lot of times I’ve had youngsterscome to me, who were singing Gospelwith the Black choir, and so forth, butthey were also interested in Classicalmusic. They had come because theywere interested in Classical music. Andthey would know exactly what I’m talk-ing about, because, within the frame-work of what they were doing in theClassical medium, they could see a con-nection with what they’re doing in theGospel.

Once I get them to sing it, and lookat it, I say, “If you’re going to have thisfeeling in Gospel, why can’t you have itin Bach?” And they look at me verystrangely for a minute, and they realize:“You know, there’s something to that.”If you want to say, like the RolandHayes thing [sings],

“Bist du bei mir,geh’ ich mit Freude,zum Sterben und zu meiner Ruh,zum Sterben und zu meiner Ruh”

—where Bach is singing, “If thou artwith me, I will go to my death and mypeace, if thou art with me”—I say tothem, “isn’t that the same expressionthat you’re saying, when you sing, ‘Godstay by me’? [sings] ‘If the Lord goeswith me, I will go . . . .” It’s the sameemotion. And they think about it for awhile, and they say, “Dr. Warfield,that’s very, very good.” And their Bachis not going to be the same any moreafter that, once they discover that.

Fidelio: There is one other thing I wantto ask, about the arts and the support ofthe arts, whether we’re talking about theFederal government, or we’re talkingabout private funding. I wanted you tomake some comment, because, as youknow, Antonin Dvorák came here in1892, and tried to start a National Con-servatory of Music at the time, but didn’tget the necessary financial support tomake that really go. And often, thisquestion comes up, but it’s bandiedabout in a lot of red tape.

What would you say would be theproper mission of a National Conserva-tory of Music, or of support in somenational way for the promotion of thearts—particularly, Classical music formsas we’ve been discussing them?William Warfield: In Europe, ofcourse, this is a tradition. The nationalgovernments, like Germany, France,Italy, they think first of financing thearts, and then the other things comeafter it. It’s just a foregone conclusion,it’s so basic to them. But in this coun-try—that’s why we’re in the shape we’rein with education. The first thing westart cutting out, is things that have todo with art, language, music: “Oh, thoseare not necessary.”

In some way or other, we have got toget our legislatures and our nationalCongress, our local legislatures, to cometo recognize that, first, “Seek ye thekingdom of Heaven, and then all thesethings shall be added to you.” Becausethey seek the other things, and let thekingdom of Heaven go, you see.

Music is the kingdom of Heaven.Education is the kingdom of Heaven.But on our priority list, they’ll vote inthousands of dollars to make sure thatthe football team gets equipment, andthen won’t give you a thing to buymusic for the music department. It’stheir thinking; and I don’t know howthat’s going to change unless people likeyou and me, and the work you aredoing at the Schiller Institute, just makepeople aware that these things thatwe’re cutting out, are basic. The otherstuff is not basic; these things are basic,you know. This comes first. Until weget that kind of thinking, we’re notgoing to change it.

Several years ago, when the Califor-nia state legislature was about to makesome cuts in education, I was asked, asan artist, to appear before the legislatureout there. And one of the things that Icentered on when I spoke to them, was,forget that it’s art. Just think financially.I said, “Supposing these kids don’t haveany music. How much money will youlose from that?” They never thought ofit that way. This is a booming industry.And if you don’t educate people to playmusic, and you don’t educate people toknow how to sing, what’s going to hap-pen to the record industry? What’sgoing to happen to just any theater inwhich you have to have backgroundmusic? Or the movies, where you haveto have background music, and com-posers to write it? Where are they goingto learn to do this? I said,“You areattacking a financial structure whichwon’t exist if you don’t train people todo it.”

They understand that kind of thing;they see where I’m coming from. Put iton this basis: Look, this is money in thebank. What are you doin’, cuttin’ it off?Somebody’s got to learn to do this. Andthen, maybe, that will make them say,“Oh, yeah, I see what you mean.”

Fidelio: We only have a few more min-utes, Dr. Warfield. Is there anythingyou’d like to say in summary, or any-thing that we haven’t covered that you’dlike to convey to people?William Warfield: I didn’t realize thetime was passing so quickly. I’m alwaysat a loss when someone asks me to sumup. How can we sum up what we’vetalked about this morning? It’s just somany things.

But I think, basically: The one thingI would like to leave with the youngpeople is, don’t have blinders on youreyes. Open up your ears, listen, find outwhat’s going on around you, and beaware. Choose then what you like to do,but also be aware of all the boundlesspossibilities of wonderful things that aregoing on out there, that you don’t wantto miss out on.

Fidelio: Dr. Warfield, thank you sovery much for talking with us today.