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A Conversation with Jessye Norman

A Conversation with Jessye Norman


>>Sue Vita: Welcome, everyone. I’m Susan Vita, the Chief
of the Music Division here at the Library of Congress. This is a great evening
of celebration. First, we are announcing
the donation of the Jessye Norman Papers
to the Library of Congress. [ Applause ] The music division is thrilled
to add them to our collections. And we are so grateful
to Ms. Norman for entrusting them to us. Her papers will stand alongside
one of the premiere collections of opera scores and libretti in
the world, as well as the papers of many important opera singers. Ms. Norman’s legacy of
supreme musicianship, flawless technique, and selfless
philanthropy will be available for study and will be a
continuing source of inspiration for music scholars,
aspiring students, and opera aficionados
for years to come. Before you leave, please be
sure to take a look at items from that collection, and also
other items from our collection, which are displayed in the
foyer of the auditorium. We also would like to
thank Julieanna Richardson for her assistance in
introducing us to Ms. Norman. Julieanna is the founder
and executive director of The HistoryMakers, a
national non profit educational institution committed to
preserving, developing, and providing easy access to internationally
recognized archival collections of thousands of African
American video oral histories. Julieanna? Can you raise the lights for a
second, so she can thank you. [ Applause ] But the second reason to celebrate is simply
having the privilege of welcoming Jessye Norman to
the library and to hear her in conversation with
the Librarian of Congress, Carla Hayden. Both women have achieved great
heights in their careers, and have amazing
stories to tell. We have been looking forward
for a long time to this evening. And we couldn’t be more excited
to be in the audience tonight. And now let me introduce
Dr. Carla Hayden and the incomparable
Jessye Norman. [ Applause ]>>Jessye Norman: Thank you. Thank you very much. [ Applause ] Hello, hello. [ Applause ] Wonderful. Thank you. What a lovely reception. Thank you very much.>>Carla Hayden: Ms. Norman,
this is truly an honor.>>Jessye Norman: Oh, you’re
very kind to say [inaudible].>>Carla Hayden: Truly an honor. And to think that your
collection will be housed at the Library of Congress.>>Jessye Norman: For me,
it’s completely surreal.>>Carla Hayden: I remember. And I have to also
give deep appreciation to Ms. Julieanna Richardson.>>Jessye Norman: Yes.>>Carla Hayden: Her program
is called HistoryMakers, but she’s actually
a history connector.>>Jessye Norman: Yes.>>Carla Hayden: And
when she made sure that we could visit you
in New York, and Sue Vita, who just gave that
lovely introduction, head of our music department,
I’ve never seen her so excited.>>Jessye Norman: Wonderful.>>Carla Hayden: She
couldn’t believe it. And then you so graciously
started to show us some things. What, what, what made you
think about this gift? Because it’s truly a gift
to the nation and the world.>>Jessye Norman:
Well, that’s very kind. When one is going
along performing, we’re not really thinking
about what’s going to happen with you your programs and your
information and your papers. You’re just doing the work. And then to have someone
suggest that they would like to have your
papers, you think, really? Written all over everything. And it wasn’t always sort of the best remark I could
make about something. And people want to read that? Is that all right? But I soon became very
comfortable with the idea because I think it is
important to know, for instance, that I probably had written
in the back of a score, the reason it went well, let’s
hope the performance is as good, because we were good
today, or at an instance where I might have
written, gosh, I wish we had more rehearsal. I’ve probably written that
more than anything else.>>Carla Hayden: And so to think
that there will be generations to come that will possibly
look at a video or something of a performance, but then
be able to see those notes.>>Jessye Norman: Yes.>>Carla Hayden: And make that
comparison, or to say, wow, this is what she’s thinking. Now, as a librarian, you know, I had a chance to
reread your book.>>Jessye Norman: Thank you.>>Carla Hayden:
And if we haven’t, and I can give recommendations
for something, so this one you definitely
have to read.>>Jessye Norman: Thank you.>>Carla Hayden:
Stand up straight.>>Jessye Norman:
Stand up straight.>>Carla Hayden: And sing.>>Jessye Norman: And sing.>>Carla Hayden: And you said
your mother told you that. And I have to show
the inside cover of this lovely, lovely book. And she would tell you that.>>Jessye Norman: My mother
would tell me that, you know, at age sort of five or six
when one has a tendency to slouch a little perhaps. And actually she was a teacher,
so she wouldn’t have been happy with my sort of having
as a title something that was politically incorrect. Because what she
actually said was stand up straight and sing out.>>Carla Hayden: So, she
was quite an influence.>>Jessye Norman: Yes.>>Carla Hayden: And
so with that kind of, that phrase for you,
what did it mean? Because you talked about>>Jessye Norman: Well, it
meant, of course, you know, to stand up straight and sort of make a joyful noise
when I was a child. But, of course, later on in
life, it became very clear that standing up straight
and singing was not something that only singers do, that
there is so much that goes on in the world outside
of our own disciplines for which we have to take
responsibility as citizens, and that we have to
protest nonsense, evil. [ Applause ] The lack of humanness,
the lack of tolerance. I have to say, I don’t know
[inaudible] might be here, but there were many
times when I had to rearrange my class schedule
because we had to go down and protest the Vietnam War. [ Applause ] And growing up in Augusta,
Georgia, I was lucky not to grow up in Southern Alabama or
Montgomery where things were hot as it seemed all of the time. But there was enough reminder of
segregation and Jim Crow’s laws in the City of Augusta to
remind us on a daily basis that we were not
considered full citizens. And even at a very young
age, I questioned that. There was an opportunity when I
was very young, must have been, what, four or five, and we were
going up on the train, my family and I, to visit our
relatives in Philadelphia. And we were going to take
the train all the way, which I just adored, I
just love riding on trains. And at the train
station, and, of course, there was a section sort
of colored and white. And it was not a very busy day, and so there was no one
sitting on the white side. And so, of course, I got
up from my chair and went to sit on the white side. And I said to my mother,
the seats are the same. And so then to be
absolutely certain that I knew what I
was talking about, I went over to the water
fountain that said colored and turned it on and said,
mhmm, and then I went over to the other section
to turn on that water. I said, now, what is this about? Because certainly if
the chairs are the same and the water is the same
and we are all going to get on the same train,
perhaps not sort of sitting in the same section,
what does this mean? And it was explained
to me very carefully that segregation was legislated
apartheid in this country, and that even as a very
young child understood that it was wrong. And I still think it is wrong. I know that it is wrong. We all know that it is wrong. But that we would
have had legislation that would have decided
that separate but equal was a nice idea. Can you think of any
more stupid or useless? So, the idea of protesting
against what I saw and understood as being
an injustice was something that I stood and was doing
at eight or nine years old. So, by the time we
needed to protest within the Civil Rights
Movement and refused to go to a restaurant serving, or
to anywhere where the jobs that were offered to African
Americans were only menial jobs, that you didn’t see a person in a grocery store
that looked like me. They would be a person
that was either opening and closing the door or giving
you your shopping cart, or, you know, saying,
have a good day because they’re helping you
put your groceries in the car. And so when we decided, I
think I must have been about 10 at the time, that
there was a big store. It’s still, it still
is in Augusta. It’s called the Fat
Man’s Corner. And it’s a great big store where
they sell all kinds of stuff, you know, all kinds
of groceries. You can buy Christmas
decorations in April. And so it was in mostly a black
community, a black neighborhood, and but still, even though
there were all these shoppers that looked like me, they didn’t
have anybody that looked like me that was at the cash registers. Or also to help you to find
whatever it was you were looking for in that store. And so I was pleased to
be a part of the protest against this particular market. And we stopped, for
instance, a bit later on, sort of taking the
Augusta Chronicle because it’s still right wing,
and it was even more right wing, you can imagine, in the 60s. And so we took the Atlanta
Journal and Constitution. And so there were
things that were done in a very seemingly
small way that taught me that it was important
to say, no, this is right and this is wrong. So, by the time I got to Howard
University and the Vietnam War and everything else seemed to
be on fire, it was not difficult for me to say, well, I need
to go and see if I can take that class later in the week
because I have to go down, I have to hold a sign. And even after that when I was
a few years older and working in Munich, Germany, I always say
that there will be no film found of my holding a sign against
the Vietnam War unless I run for office. Then they will be
found somewhere. There I am in a foreign country, protesting the Vietnam
War, and there you are. I’ve never seen one, but I know
they must be somewhere waiting to be used.>>Carla Hayden: I
think there are people that would like you to run. [ Applause ] Now, in your book, and you talk
about your mother saying stand up straight and sing, you
talk about the influence of other strong women, and
your mom being a teacher and education, you are
surrounded by strong women that were in your life.>>Jessye Norman: Well, there
were lots of strong women on both sides of my family. And I just thought that’s
the way women behaved. I didn’t know that my Aunt
Louise on my father’s side of the family, who spent a lot
of time going back and forth to Ghana, and wearing wonderful
sort of dress from Ghana, I thought that was just the
normal way that life worked. And another aunt
on the other side of the family became a preacher. And she had her own
small congregation. And she somehow became
a bishop in Atlanta, Georgia in this congregation,
and she wrote books about, about life and understanding
of faith and so on. I just thought that’s
what aunts did. I didn’t understand
that this was something from which I was learning a
great deal about what it means to participate as a full
citizen in this world, and to try to contribute
something, and to try to understand
other countries, to understand the motherland,
to try to understand Africa, and to try to understand
what it must have been like, if one can imagine
it, to be walking free on your own property and someone
puts a net over you and puts you in the bowel of a ship where
you’re there for months and you’re brought
to a country and sold as though you were a horse,
not as much money as a horse. I have to acknowledge,
practically on a daily basis, the things that my
ancestors have gone through so that it would become possible
for me, and certainly lots of other African Americans,
lots of musicians who say yes, I will sing that, thank you very
much, but I won’t sing this. And that has come from a legacy
of people who simply decided not to bow down, that life was
I can’t even imagine the difficulty of life
in such situations. But somehow survival
was the important thing. It’s very interesting. I will digress in a moment. It is very interesting to look
at the hundreds and thousands of spirituals that
were written by people who were learning a language for
the first time, and being taught by people who were not educated, so they were not being
taught the language properly. Imagine sort of going from
several different tribes and there you are on the
plantation in South Carolina where you can’t really, you
can’t really speak together. So, you invent the drum
because you’ve brought the drums with you. You find that you can
communicate with people from different areas, in
different plantations, and that they would respond, and then somehow they
oversee a system, and, aha, that’s the best way
of communication, so let’s take that away. But then the humming started. And that went from
place to place as well. And then enough of the
language was understood to help the spiritual
to come to be. There isn’t anywhere
in this world where I’ve had the
privilege of performing where people don’t want to it doesn’t matter
[inaudible] the four last songs, a whole cycle of music
by Brahms or whomever. Could you sing a
spiritual piece? There was an instance where in
Japan we had done the four last songs, and the leaders who
had done the same program, I must be crazy. And two people came down to the
front of the stage and said, could you sing a spiritual? And so I said, his
daughter just died. I don’t think it would be
theatrical together could sing again. But I did win that argument. And I never won that argument. But the legacy of this
music is something that gives me strength. My grandmother particularly
hummed and sang practically
all day long. And as I write in my book, you
could just about tell her mood and how she was thinking
about things as to what kind of spiritual she would sing. And it is remarkable
that now in my own life, with so many other things
to do than raise 13 children as my grandmother did, I
find myself finding comfort in just humming a
spiritual to myself. It is crazy. It is in my DNA. It is there. It is inside of me. It has helped to make me me. And I am so grateful. I cannot, I cannot
begin to tell you. And it’s important to know this. I wanted to say in
the beginning. In a spiritual, there is
no thought of revenge, there is no thought of I’m going
to get you for doing this to me. There’s only thought
of [inaudible] room. I’m going to be there one day. When I get there, I’m going to
put on my robe, I’m going to put on my shoes, and I’m going to
shout it all over God’s heaven. You will not find one single
spiritual that has malice. Not a one. And there’s a thousand of them. That’s a strength. And I am strong from
that on a daily basis. [ Applause ]>>Carla Hayden: And so, how
did you begin your professional opera career?>>Jessye Norman: Well, the way that I began my professional
opera career, if this had not happened to me
and someone told me this story, I would have said, oh, stop. By now, I was a graduate student
at the University of Michigan. And I received an invitation,
as did lots of singers all over the country,
to come to New York, because a very wealthy
industrialist from Cincinnati called J.
Ralph Corbett had a wife who had wanted to become a
singer, and for various reasons, had not become a singer. And she decided that Ralph can
have American singers traipse all over Europe to the various
50 opera houses looking for work that since she and
Ralph could afford it, that they would bring
30, 30 general directors from opera houses all
over Europe to, what, to New York for two weeks on
their dime where they would have to sit on a daily basis and
listen to American singers. They were wined and
dined in the evening. But, during the day,
that’s what they had to do. And I received an invitation
to go to perform in this. And as luck would have
it, it was raining, and I was wearing my
hair in a different way. And, of course, by
the time I got there, I looked like a wet dog. And so I was trying to get
myself organized and to be, to look like I knew
my music, which I did. And, of course, we were
just, it was like a kind of, I don’t know, sort of
a chain of singers. You have a certain time
when you’re meant to show up and sing, and then you sing
and you’ve got to leave. I mean, there was nobody
that stays, saying, would you like to
sing now a song? No, no. It was 12:10,
so that was time when you were supposed to sing. And the door opened, and there
you went out onto a stage with a few people sitting in
an audience, and the pianist, with whom you were working
for the very first time, you had never even met, and so
I gave them my music and talked about the [inaudible] and so on, and sort of sang my
music and sang my songs. It just happened that one of
the songs that I loved most of all was an aria from Elisabeth Antoinhouser
of Vaglia. And it’s not the one
that everybody knows. [ Inaudible ] Not that one. [ Laughter and Applause ] But the one that we singers
know is actually more difficult because it calls for
complete breath control. It is in the third
act of the opera. And it’s only accompanied in
the orchestra by the brass. So, anybody who sort of
sings this role knows that that’s really
the difficult aria. And because I was so
naive, I haven’t sang that since I was 21 years old, I
sang that, and, of course, went, after I finished my singing,
my time was up, so I went back into the little dressing room. I was going to bring my things
to go back out into the rain. And at that point, a very
tall gentleman came in, sort of speaking sort
of wonderful English with a German accent,
and he said, I liked very much
what you were doing. And so I said, thank you. And so he introduced himself,
and he introduced himself as Ignatz Waghalter,
the Director of the Berlin Opera
House in West Berlin, the largest opera house
in Germany at the time. And he said, I’m just
looking through my Filofax. Does anyone remember
what a Filofax is? And he was looking through
his Filofax and he said, first of all, he said, do you
know the rest of that opera? And I said, well, no, but I
can learn it in two weeks. He said, I don’t think
you’re quite that fast. And so he was coming through, he
said, I have a date in December, this was a date, and he said, I
have a date in December that I’d like you to come and sing
the whole role on my stage. At the time, the only opera
that I knew all the way through was Purcell’s
Dido and Aeneas.>>Carla Hayden: Wow.>>Jessye Norman: And I wasn’t
being invited to sing that. And so I went back to my
little hotel before going back to Michigan, thinking,
what just happened? And before I sort of, you know,
took the railway bus to go over to the, this was LaGuardia
to go back to Michigan, I called my professor
from Michigan, and I said, I think I have been invited
to sing in the opera house in Berlin in December
of this year. He said, what do you mean sing? [ Laughter ] And so then I told
her the story, and she was as unprejudiced
as anyone would be. And I got back to
Michigan, and I said, what am I supposed to do now? I’ve got to learn this opera. Didn’t speak German very
well at all at the time. And because the Corbetts were
unbelievable, they said, okay, we will give you a coach to
work with once you’ve sort of gotten familiar, become
familiar with the whole opera, and we will send you to
learn conversational German at Duke University
for five months. It’s incredible. But that’s what happened. And so I worked with
this wonderful man who just happened
to be from Berlin. And so we worked on
conversational German. I did not know whether or
not I would get to Berlin and find people that
could speak English. I was going to sing
a German role in the German opera
house with other Germans. I thought it would be good to
be able to speak with them. And so by the time
December rolled around, I was very comfortable
in my role. And I have to say for
the singers out there, this didn’t know at the time that when you’re
learning an opera role, you have to learn everybody
else’s part at the same time. So, I had been very busy. But at least I was comfortable
in the fact that I was ready to do this for the first time
on a professional opera stage. And I knew so little about
being prepared once I was there and had the rehearsals and so
on, I didn’t have the good sense to ask for a rehearsal
on the actual stage. All of the rehearsal was
done on the prop stage, on the rehearsal stage. And you won’t believe this. The incline was about
35 degrees. So, Elizabeth starts up here
and she comes down here, so very happy to see [inaudible] and I practiced that
and I was fine. I was, you know, okay with it. At 24 by then, you’re not so
terribly worried about things. And I was very, very
lucky that the person for whom the production had been
created about five years before, her name was Elizabeth
Ruma [phonetic] and she was a fantastic singer and was a mentor to
me for many years. And she was singing one
evening [foreign phrase]. And I was having a rehearsal
and she came and she said, I want to speak with
you in German. And she said, now, no one
is going to tell you this, but when you’re standing
at the top of the stage, no one can see where
your eyes are. Your head has to be up,
but look at your feet so there’s not an instance where
you’re worried about whether or not your feet are going to
trip over what you’re wearing. Now, she didn’t have
to be bothered to tell me that, but she did. And I’ve been very lucky to
have singers of just a bit of a generation ahead of me
who have just sort of taken me under their wings and said,
now, do this and don’t do that. And I was very lucky to do that. I sang the my character comes
in [inaudible] in the second act with that beautiful aria
that everybody knows. And after the second act, I was in my dressing room
getting ready to turn into my non costume because
they hadn’t gone well with [inaudible] and so I was, I
was going back to the, you know, place where I belonged
in the church. And Zay [phonetic]
Feldner [phonetic] came into my dressing room after
the second act and said, this is going very well. I’d like to offer you
a three year contract to sing in my opera house. [ Applause ] And so he has the
contract there. Now, one can hardly read
legalese in English. [ Laughter ] Now, I had studied
conversational German, and I knew how to
conjugate verbs and so on, but this was beyond me. So, I said to him at the time,
thank you very, very much, but I haven’t sung
the third act. He said, I heard you in
rehearsal, you’re okay. I mean, this actually happened. And so I, I said something to
him, mumbled something like, well, I’ll take this to
the consulate tomorrow, the American Consulate,
so we can go through it so I’ll know what
it is I’m doing. My father had said
to me long ago not to sign anything
I couldn’t read. And so that was the beginning
of my personal operatic life.>>Carla Hayden: Phenomenal.>>Jessye Norman: It’s
nonsense, but it happened.>>Carla Hayden: Phenomenal. Phenomenal. And you’ve said that you
never sing in a language that you don’t speak well.>>Jessye Norman: No, I
don’t sing the language that I haven’t studied
as a long. The only language
in which I sing which I don’t actually speak,
but that read, is Hungarian. I wanted so much to do a
recorded with Pierre Boulez of Bluebeard, a Bartok. And I knew that I would be
working with other Hungarians. And so I was working to
learning the part in Hungarian, because I had done it
in, yes, I had done it at the Met in English. And I had a teacher in Europe,
in London, and I had a teacher in New York, and they both
knew where I was in sort of my, my preparation for Hungarian. So, I studied with a
person on the other side of the Atlantic when
I was there. And then I studied with a person
in America when I was there. And I was very lucky
that I found a driver. Can you imagine? I found a driver in
Europe who was Hungarian. I bored him to tears. Sort of saying, is this right? [ Speaking foreign language ] He said, well, that’s
[speaking foreign language]. It means Bluebeard. That’s going to come up
a lot in your singing, so let’s work on that. But I was very, I was
very lucky in that. So, I can read Hungarian, but
I can’t actually speak it. I can’t hold a conversation
in Hungarian. But it would no more occur to me
to go onstage and sing a cycle of music in French and
not know what I’m saying. I don’t understand. It was someone who
told me a few years ago that the National
Association of Teachers of Singing are interviewing
here, have come across the notion that
singers are so busy at school and conservatory, that
we have so much to do, that studying languages
was no longer necessary, that we could be coached as
to how it goes, how it sounds, and that that will go right. I hope today, today that
someone was kidding me, because language is our
way of communication. We’re not flautists. [ Laughter ] So, in order to get
our music across, we have language, we have words. And if we don’t know
what the words mean, how can you have the fun of
changing the meaning from time to time, which you
might want to do? Something as simple as the word,
the words for, I use this a lot because it’s very
easy to understand. [ Foreign phrase ] I love you. Now, if you don’t know which
part of that is the nominative and which one is the verb, and which one is the
modifier, how can you change? How can you not say
[foreign phrase]? That’s a completely different
meaning to say [foreign phrase]. If you don’t know where
you are in the sentence, how can you have fun with it? How could you not enjoy it? You are going to hopefully sing
these songs more than once. Please don’t tell me that you’re
happy to come out on stage and sing the same
way all the time, because that’s the way you’ve
learned it from your coach, and that when you say
the word [foreign phrase] from eternal love, you don’t
really know what [foreign phrase] means. How could you do that? Someone sitting in that audience
has German as a mother tongue. And they want to feel that
you know what you’re singing. And it doesn’t really matter. I really do feel
this very strongly. It doesn’t matter if the
audience does not speak French, does not speak Italian,
does not speak German. If you are doing
the words properly, if you understand what
it is you’re singing, if you’re giving the
proper meaning to the word, they will understand
what is going on. I promise you they will. And if we put aside the
understanding and the necessity of understanding language, then
I think we’ve missed the boat. It is even more important when
I think about it than a pianist who learns to understand
where is the core of the body, the scapula of a down,
my arms are free, everything is happening from
the wrist to my fingers, I don’t need my shoulders up and
down, this is not participating. If you know how to do this, you can’t play the
Brahms Piano Concerto No. 3. You just can’t. It’s too hard. You’d be tired before you
would have the second movement. So, those things are very
necessary from a physical point of view, playing an instrument,
because that helps you to convey this incredible, it’s
one of my favorite concertos, the second, I promise, to
help you convey the music so that your arms are not
flapping all over the place, sort of distracting
from what you’re doing. That is very important. What could be more important
for a singer to stand in front of the audience and say,
I have a story to tell? I know this story. I’m going to help you
to understand the story, even though this
isn’t your language. We have to work harder.>>Carla Hayden: As
your career progressed and you had those
wonderful first experiences, were you able to say no? I think you were.>>Jessye Norman: Yes,
I was able to say no as a youngster there in
Berlin, because, you see, there were 80 operas in the
years’ repertoire in Berlin, there was a different
opera practically, in some instances, every night. I went every night. I wanted to hear singers. I wanted to understand
what was going on in this profession of mine. But at the same time, I
noticed that there were singers that weren’t that
much older than I. Perhaps they were 30,
a little bit over 30. But because they were
singing a different opera with different requirements,
too often during the course of the week, their
voices sounded much older. And I was very concerned
about that. And I was naive and
improper enough to ask some of the singers, what do you
sing in the course of a week? And you can’t sing [foreign
phrase] in the same week, people, you simply
cannot, and survive it. And so I took from that
that it was possible to wear out a young voice. And when I was, I
guess, about 25, 26, by now at the opera house, and
was offered, can you imagine, at age 26, to be
offered a new production with some really
famous conductors, some even more famous
stage director, to sing [foreign phrase]? I had heard [foreign
phrase] in that opera, and I knew what it took. And this was an experienced
singer, another one of my mentors. And it didn’t take a lot of
courage, perhaps it was naivety, but I said to this
wonderful man who invited me to his opera house, I don’t
think I should sing that. Let me sort of draw up and maybe
you know sort of five or six, seven or eight years from now, that would be something
that I sing. But please let me sing the
handle opera that I want to do. Let me go on singing
Donna Elvira and the Countess in [inaudible]. And because I wanted
to be on the same stage with Birgit Nilsson I sang
the second [foreign phrase] because we were behind it when it begins the
opera with the noise. And we were kind of
behind the scrim. But Birgit Nilsson
is just over there. And in a moment, she’s going
to sing a duet with Siegfried, and they’re going to
end on a high C sharp. To be on stage and to hear
that sound that close, I can still remember it. I think my ears are
still ringing from it. But that was my experience
in Berlin. And it came more often than was
comfortable for me to say no, sir, please, I really don’t
think I should sing that. I would just like
to be a little older with a bit more experience,
because I really don’t, I don’t want to wear it out. And I don’t know how
else to help myself. I didn’t have a coach, a vocal
coach or anything like that, sensibly, insensibly,
or stupidly, in Berlin. And so there was no one to say, this is a good idea,
that’s a bad idea. I had to make those
decisions myself. And there came a point
in Berlin where I, again, with wonderful naivety, went
into, I thought about it over the weekend, I
visited some friends of mine that were teaching at the
university in Heidelberg, and I told them what
my plan was. And they said, you’re
completely crazy. And so on that Monday morning
after having been with them over the weekend, I
made an appointment with [inaudible]
assistant and I said I need to speak to her professor. And she said, is
there something wrong? I said, I don’t think so. And so I went into him with
my speech, that I would like to leave the opera
house, I’d like for time to help my voice to
mature, and then I would like to come back in some years. And in my mind, I thought he
would say, oh, what a wise girl. And instead of that, he said,
I’m trying to translate it into English, are you sure
this is what you want to do? And I said, yes, please,
would you allow me to do that? And he said, I don’t
think I have any choice, I think you’ve made
up your mind. And from one day to the next,
I was no longer employed at the opera house in Berlin. I had, thank goodness, a
little work to do in London, so that’s where I went next.>>Carla Hayden: So, what advice
would you give young people now, singers, who, in
this media culture, they have to think
about stardom?>>Jessye Norman:
Yes, absolutely.>>Carla Hayden:
Opposed to musicianship. You made that choice. You could have gone
on right then.>>Jessye Norman: Well,
I find it very difficult. I knew that we, as singers,
were getting into trouble about, let’s say, when was
that, about 2010, about sort of nine years ago,
I was doing some master classes at a very well known wonderful
school of music in the Midwest, and there were a lot of singers and we were just having
a seminar at the time. We were not having
a master class. And one sort of lovely
woman stood up, and she sort of pushed her hair back, and
she said, I want to sing, but I don’t want it to
interfere with my life. [ Laughter ] And as I recovered
from that, I said, I think I need a further
explanation as to what you mean. Well, I want to be able to
live in the suburbs and I want to have a few children. But I’d like to sing as well. I said, well, then, I’m sure
your church choir would be very happy to have you. [ Laughter ] But still better was
another person, also female, who stood up to say, now, I want
to, I want to really do this. I want to, I want to
do what you are doing. I said, well, very good. And so she said, I want
to be really well known. In fact, I want to be famous. How do I do this? And so I asked her her name, and
she was called Mary Elizabeth. I said, Mary Elizabeth, I can
work with you on [inaudible] from Mozart’s opera, the
[foreign phrase] operas. I can work with you on
perhaps phrasing on some of the Schubert songs that you
might be singing at this point. There are things musically with which I think I’ve had
enough experience at this point to be able to assist you. But I’m not into marketing
or press and publicity. So, you need to talk to
someone else about that part. And may I please say, Mary
Elizabeth, if you are serious about your profession,
then this is the way to go, this really is not it. Because if you’re
thinking that I am going to do something that’s
going to make me famous, once you’re famous, what are
you going to do after that? And I knew at the
time that this, what are those shows
called, sort of The Voice, and what was the first
thing that it was called?>>American Idol.>>Jessye Norman: You’ve Got
Talent or something like that. And I realized that
the influence of these television programs
was making us all crazy, thinking that all we need
to do is sing one song and do it really well and be
sure to be dressed for it, that someone would hear us, and suddenly we would
have a recording contract. That isn’t the way life
works most of the time. And so I would want my younger
colleagues, and I now refer to them as young singers or
something, my younger colleagues to understand that if you are
willing to put in the work, that this famous thing, this success thing
might just show itself. Preparation and opportunity,
this is not original from me. Preparation and opportunity
equal success. Nothing else does. [ Laughter ] I do tend to go on a bit. I’m sorry, Dr. Hayden.>>Carla Hayden: No, I [ Applause ] This is so enjoyable. I know all of you
are enjoying it. But I’m just thank you
for this opportunity. And that’s, what was the impetus
for your Jessye Norman School of the Arts, because
you get a chance to work with young people.>>Jessye Norman: Yes. Well, my mother always said that
if you can get the attention of what we used to call juniors,
kids become between the ages of about 11 and 15, where
they’re no longer lap children, and they certainly don’t want
you to hug them in public, but they need those hugs,
they just don’t know it. And hormones are
breaking out everywhere. We don’t know what it means. We don’t know what to
do with these things. And all of this is
happening within your body, which is growing in a way that you never expected,
not quite so quickly. And she always said, if you can
get their attention at that part of their lives, then they’re
probably going to be all right. So, the impetus for the school,
I was in contact with a lot of people in Augusta, Georgia who run a foundation called The
Rachel Longstreet Foundation. Rachel Longstreet is
the youngest person from the Civil War who is
buried in Augusta, Georgia. That was the name of the that
is the name of the foundation. And so they’ve always been
there to help children. And so they contacted me
because they wanted to talk about doing something in
the arts for children. And because I always dream
bigger than I’m sort of allowed, I said, well, then
we need a school. We need a school for the arts,
tuition free, where children, because we are allowing
the arts to fall out of public school
education, people, that we need to have a place where people
who cannot afford to pay for a piano lesson, or cannot
afford to pay for any other kind of instrumental lesson, or even
have the opportunities to sing in a choir, that we
need to have a school that encompasses
all of the arts. We are now in our
15th academic season. [ Applause ] The children come to us
for three and a half hours after school, their
regular school, every day. We make sure that they’re
doing well academically. They have to audition and
show some talent for some part of the arts, whether
it’s graphic art or dance or playing the piano
or singing or whatever. And so we have photography,
we have pottery making, we have drama, we have
scene making, we have music, of course, and just anything
else that you can imagine that a person of the arts. We have a wonderful dance group and a wonderful group
of faculty there. And what we have, aside
from the auditions, is that we have contracts with
the parents and the guardians so that whatever the
students are studying with us, they should also study at home. So, this year, we have 100, I think we have 137
children during the week, and many more on the weekends. And then we have
three summer sessions. And it just happens
that we started out in the Sunday school
rooms of the St. John Church on Green Street in Augusta. One of our board
members, Patricia Knox, has a son who’s involved
in real estate. And she came to me one day, she
said, I’m going to talk to Peter about doing something
for the school. I said, well, that’s wonderful. And a while after that, she came
back to me to say, I’ve done it. He’s going to give
you the building across the street
for your school.>>Carla Hayden: Nice. Wow. [ Applause ] So, now we have a building with
our name on it and everything. It’s like a school. It’s incredible.>>Carla Hayden:
And as young people, and I know the young
people in the audience, they wanted to hear you talk
about your life and your career, what advice would you
give them about being able to give back to the community? Jessye Norman: Oh, I think
it’s extremely important. I love those children
collectively and individually, because, first of all,
they’re so happy to be able to expand themselves
in this way. They are so wonderfully
supportive of one another. And, of course, their
parents are overjoyed that they have this opportunity. I was in Toronto in
February, and the foundation that was sponsoring the trip,
the Glenn Gould Foundation, they were offering the
recognition at that time, they actually paid for 12 of
my students to come to Toronto. I mean, these kids had
never had task force. And there they were with
task force and everything. And I was so pleased
to have them. They were going to study four
days with students the same age as they in Toronto, which is a
wonderful experience for them. And I was very pleased that our
students were really very good. [ Laughter ] And I would like to say to
anybody that wants to give back to the community that helped
to make you, to do something, it doesn’t mean you
have to create a school, but you can perhaps give a few
hours a week as a volunteer at the elementary
school, at the preschool. They need volunteers in
every kind of school. And if you’ve got a few hours
a week where you can go in and help out with
one of the teachers or whatever they
need doing, that’s, that would be a wonderful
way of giving back. That wouldn’t mean that you’d
have to go out and raise money, which I do a daily basis. And it is, I feel, important. And I grew up with this. I mean, my sister
Elaine is here. She knows that our parents
were involved in what was going on in Augusta, Georgia
all the time. I mean, my mother was at a polling station whenever
there was something to do. I mean, she registered
people to vote in 1965. I was a student. I came home from
Howard University, and we went with her every day
to the church to sit at one of those tables and to
sort of write on the three by five cards the names
and addresses of people who had registered to vote. And at one point, I think
Elaine said to her, this was one of her years, do you have to go to the polling station
this year? Aren’t you tired of it? She said, absolutely not. And so there you were. I learned this very early, and
I would like us to understand. It doesn’t have to
be a big thing. I tell my children, and
I call them my children, that you don’t have to
do some major every day. But maybe there’s a woman who
lives upstairs in your building and she’s not in her first bloom
and she’s carrying her groceries that are just a little heavy,
just say, Ms. Reynolds, can I take these up
the stairs for you? Or something that we could
do, which always startles, I love doing this, being in an
office building in New York City where everybody is
looking at the numbers and nobody is talking to anyone. I love getting on there
and saying, good morning. And without fail, someone says,
she must be from out of town. [ Laughter ] So, be from out of town and
say hello to a stranger. It would brighten your day, and certainly brighten
that person’s day.>>Carla Hayden: Ms. Norman,
you have brightened our day.>>Jessye Norman: Oh, you
are very kind, thank you. Thank you. [ Applause ] Thank you so much. [ Applause ] Thank you for letting
me go on a bit. I’ve enjoyed it.>>Carla Hayden: Well, your
gift that you are still giving, you give with the school, and
now your gift of your collection for generations to come, sharing
your life and your career to so many people, we
can’t thank you enough.>>Jessye Norman:
This is so humbling. I cannot begin to explain the
honor that I feel and the joy and the gratefulness, or
thankfulness, that is within me to think that my
scratched up papers and various things will
land in this library. I discovered the Library
of Congress when I was in [inaudible] at
Howard University. I had to take two buses
to get here, but I came. The reading room was wonderful. And imagine, as I say
all the time, at age 18, I guess I was a sophomore
by then, that you would come to a library to read and
do the research library, and you would be invited
to sit at a table, and someone would come and
ask you what books you wanted. I thought the Dewey
Decimal System and I had become great friends
at the Library of Congress. But that isn’t the
way it worked. And so every time that I
could, and was always preparing for examinations, I’d take
those two buses and come and sit there all day in peace
and quiet, not with my roommate, and prepare for one of
the exams I love the most. I had a fantastic teacher. Doris McKenty was a teacher
of lit, music literature. Doris McKenty, I’ll just talk
very, very shortly about her. Doris McKenty had the kind
of mind where she would be in the middle of a sentence and
she would say, for instance, the romantic area, the
classical era is said to begin about civil 1750. And somebody would rap on
the door, needing to see her, to have her attention, and she’d
come back in the room and say, and we’d call it
the end about 1827. [ Laughter ] How could you not want to
prepare for that class? She was fabulous.>>Carla Hayden: And as you,
and we’ve talked about the fact that through very generous gift, the Wellbornes have
really sponsored and will sponsor
paid internships for Howard University
stewards, students, to work on your archives.>>Jessye Norman:
This is wonderful. [ Applause ]>>Carla Hayden: And we’ll
try to get transportation.>>Jessye Norman: Oh,
the buses work fine. It’s probably a lot more
expensive than 75 cents.>>Carla Hayden: Ms. Norman,
we can’t thank you enough. And I hope that you know that even though I’ve been
sitting here and enjoying it, and I know that everyone
here has enjoyed in sharing and letting us get to know you.>>Jessye Norman: Thank you. Thank you very much.>>Carla Hayden:
Thank you so much. [ Applause ]>>Jessye Norman: Thank you. [ Applause ]

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