Meet Quest Maker Glenda Maurice
Quest Makers are women in their 40s and beyond who've declared
"now it's my time," and then set off on their own journeys to realize their dreams. Every month a Quest Maker is featured in the FREE e-newsletter, Your Next Quest Chronicles. Click here to enjoy archived issues.
Quest Maker Glenda Maurice
From enforced detours
to unexpected discoveries
I first learned of renowned mezzo-soprano and music educator Glenda Maurice from Quest Maker Kathleen Bohn (January 2010). Sharing a passion for music, the two have been friends for many years. Glenda admits that like Claude Debussy she has lived in sin with music her entire life. Music was her destiny. At 56, she lost her voice and she could no longer sing. Her quest then became "How do I keep going?" What she calls an "enforced detour" led her to discover a new way of singing.
At 70, a chronic condition left her unable to walk. Although it meant retiring from her beloved university teaching, Glenda was determined once again "not to give over and quit." Instead, she created a new opportunity to continue her great love affair with music - by producing it and sharing it with a whole new audience.
You mentioned to me that music has always been your destiny. Would you tell me a little bit about that?
Music has always been my destiny. Always. From the time I was 18 months old when I made my first recording of two popular songs from WWII for my father who was in the army, I think I was destined to sing. I never shut my mouth until I lost my voice in 1996.
I knew that I was going to be a singer, I just didn’t know what kind of singer. When I was 6, my father bought me an old guitar and taught me a couple of chords on it, then sat me down in front of the radio to listen to the latest popular music and learn it by listening.
Cry Me a River
on her 16th brithday
The neighbors would borrow me for parties and I started entertaining in school and it just kind of developed from that. I never had a doubt that I would be singing one way or another. I started singing Country and Western, then graduated to Johnny Mathis and Tony Bennett, then ultimately to classical music. I sang for a while on a television show hosted by Pat Boone (he was getting his doctorate in Texas). As the winner of his competition, I was invited back several times to perform.
No one in my family had ever even finished high school before, so the plan was that I would go to college and study to become a teacher. Music was my destiny but I didn’t know it was going to be my profession, too.
Did you pursue music when you went to college?
Well, when I did get to college I thought I would like to sing in the choir so I auditioned for the choral director who asked me if I had ever thought about being a be a voice major. I told him: “I don’t read music. I don’t sing that kind of music.” He said, “Trust me. I think you have a voice.”
I sang Cry Me a River for my audition which was absolutely unheard of but they gave me a full scholarship anyway.
After a few months at Texas Wesleyan College in Fort Worth, I was a finalist in the Southwestern Regional Metropolitan Opera auditions. So I finished college in Texas, sold my guitar and bought a ticket to NYC where I entered Manhattan School of Music to pursue my Masters degree.
Glenda on stage at her
Soon after, in 1964, I entered a competition called Joy in Singing and I won that. The prize was a début at New York City Hall. I got three amazing reviews in the N.Y. papers, one of which began with “Glenda Maurice has a voice on which to soar to stardom.”
Singing was my life, but I could not yet make a living doing that. While I was in N.Y., I had a job in a church and in a Jewish synagogue. I was also a choral director for the N.Y. Junior League Choir and was the music director for a choir and an orchestra of the employees of Time Inc.
I went into my first university job as soon as I left New York City. I spent 43 years on university faculties while I was sustaining an international singing career. After I lost my voice at age 56, I still had plenty to do because I was a seasoned university professor.
In a way your quest was presented to you when you lost your voice.
An album cover from one of Glenda's art song recordings
We don’t what really caused the vocal damage. I had cancer twice. I also had some serious neurological trouble and it could have even been that.
Two months after surgery for the cancer I was to give a recital at a national conference for music teachers. I tested the voice early on in my recovery and thought it would be all right so I let myself heal. When I did go into the rehearsal room, though, I found out that the voice simply no longer worked. The essential fact was that there was no way to get the voice back. I was right in the middle of my career and I could no longer sing. My quest became "How do I keep going?"
It changed everything—my perceptions of life changed, my self image, my search for knowledge, my very truth changed. But I remembered, and I’m paraphrasing Elbert Hubbard’s quote here, “Art is not a thing, it is a way of thinking.”
How did your quest unfold when you lost your voice?
I realized I had to learn another way to do something in music. I had this recital to do and when I called them to cancel it, they offered me a chance to give a lecture instead. When I started the lecture, I apologized for not being able to give the recital because I had lost my voice and told them that I was trying to find a new way to keep singing.
At the end of the lecture, one man came up to me, took my hand in both of his, looked me in the eye and said: “Don’t worry, you’re still singing.” I cried and cried. It meant more to me than I could ever tell anybody.
What changes did losing your voice bring to you?
Well, I could no longer perform, which was what motivated me all of my life, so I turned wholeheartedly to teaching and to producing classical music events. I started reading poetry aloud and doing narrations. That led me to try to find new formats for presenting the Art Song, a song written by a classical composer for voice and piano to the words of a well-known poem.
|The album on which the art song "Oh, Lovely Rose" is featured|
I had been basically a recitalist. I didn’t do much opera by choice. I performed recitals and orchestral works. The Art Song, the step child of the classical music world, has always been my first love. My love for poetry evolved from singing them.
I wanted to find a way to resurrect the Art Song’s popularity so I started devising thematic performances where a song would be sung by someone else and I would read a poem that either filled out the thought in the song or led you to the next song in the unfolding of the story. With the arts you can do anything you imagine, short of changing the art itself.
So, I went into doing that and launched really heavily into teaching and into writing a book on the pedagogy of artistry. It is a book for singers and teachers of singing, which intends to help performers achieve a higher artistic level in performance.
In the process, I have discovered another way to sing. As a recording artist, I do have a discography of international CDs, so my work has been preserved for posterity. Each CD captured a moment in time and the moment was good in most cases. I am not ashamed of any of my work.
Looking back, what's one thing you wish you had known when you first lost your voice?
That I was going to have to change my focus right in the middle of everything. I wasn’t prepared for that and there was a lot to learn and a lot to know.
The biggest thing I learned is that everything you learn alters you permanently. It widened my scope and comprehension about the arts, and about people and how to reach them through the grandeur of the arts.
It made me deal with words like elitism. A lot of people who have not had the blessings of being educated in the arts or of being exposed to it feel like it’s something for snobs or for wealthy people, and perhaps that those of us who partake of the arts look down on them. I don’t look at it like that at all. I was a poor kid from Texas who didn’t know a single thing about the classical arts. But my life has been blessed so deeply by dealing with Classical Music that I can’t even express it.
I just held a class at The Rivers yesterday for about 75 residents on how to listen to and learn to love classical music. We talked and I played music for them. One man came up to me afterward and said: “I never believed I’d sit down to listen to Classical Music but you know, it’s really beautiful.” I have learned that with the arts, exposure to them in their highest form is the best teacher there is.
What is the one essential quality that you'd tell women to pack for their own journey?
The ability to punt. Even if I hadn’t lost my voice, my path was not going to follow a predestined formula. Your path never goes where it looks to be heading. It’s rarely a clear cut path. You have to make decisions at every corner. I obviously never became a household word but there were many reasons for that. Two primary reasons were that I did not pursue the normal route of Opera and that I had no money to finance a career. It is a business and it takes capital.
Can you describe how you dealt with obstacles after losing your voice?
Well, actually I didn’t have any obstacles after that. That’s the biggest obstacle I could have imagined.
|A photo of Glenda from her
University of Minnesota days
I was a full tenured professor in a research university so I had to keep doing things to keep my tenure. I had to be creative. Sometimes it was something I was involved in on the stage. Sometimes it was a production that students did. Starting the book helped.
You just keep going. You don’t let anything stop you if you know you’re right. Besides I can’t do anything else. I would be a noncontributing member of society if it weren’t for this.
Would you say that another challenge for you has been not being able to walk anymore?
I’ve had peripheral neuropathy in the hands and feet for about 20 years and it has gradually become more and more severe. About a year ago, it got very bad and my feet were so numb that I lost balance. And my hands are not very much better.
|Glenda on her scooter|
Not being able to walk limits my opportunities to get out and attend performances, to go fraternize with fellow artists. And it made me have to stop working at the university. I was not ready to quit by any means. But I couldn’t handle it any longer. Now I have a scooter and I’m doing something where I can just go downstairs to produce or perform and then come back upstairs into my apartment.
I tell you, something I’ve learned is not to just give over and quit, to go ahead and accomplish your journey no matter what happens. You have to learn how to turn an enforced detour into an opportunity for unexpected discovery.
I find beauty and knowledge everywhere. My job is to look, listen and be receptive. That never stops.
Since losing your voice, what has helped you stay on your path?
Love for the enduring greatness of the classical arts. Debussy, the French composer, was asked to write music for a wedding and when he sent the music he wrote back: “Please pardon me if this is not strictly nuptial. I’ve been living in sin with music for too long.” That’s the way I feel about music. It has been the great love affair in my life.
I live my dream every moment. I was one of the fortunate ones who needed to find time for life instead of for my dream. And the biggest challenge was keeping up with who I was becoming in the process. I’d wake up the next morning with a new awareness that changed me and I kept having to fit into new understandings. For one thing, I began writing and producing vocal events. I had never done that before. Now I was ready.
Is there any piece of advice you gave to your students about their own journeys?
One of the things I used to tell them was to discern when an opportunity is really not an opportunity. I’d tell them: “People will come to you and say: ‘Will you sing so and so for me? I’ll give you a $100 for the performance.’” Singers are so hungry to perform that they’ll do it; but it may be harmful to their voice. It may be a bad performance venue. You have to look at a lot of things before you say yes. You could do well but the setting may not be right and the people around you don’t do as good a job and that diminishes your effort. So opportunities are not always opportunities.
What's the best advice for your quest that you've ever received?
Actually I haven’t received any advice on that specific issue but I did get a piece of advice when I was in the middle of my career that I’ve relied on and shared with my students for many, many years.
I started having so many things required of me so quickly that I felt unprepared and I started to get stage fright. I went a friend who was a counselor and told her about it. She said: “Well, all I can tell you is just remember that you are not there to impress but to express.” That takes all the ego out of it.
Is there a particular quote, a movie, a book or a person that has sustained you?
Yes, definitely. Her name is Ruth Palmer and she was my recital accompanist for 25 years, almost my entire professional career. Through her playing, she enabled me to reveal the music as my heart and sensibility demanded of me. Her instincts about music were the same as mine; we were called the perfect ensemble. We were always in sync. I also never took a new career step without talking it out thoroughly with her and she never failed to offer full support. Ruth also has a very magnanimous spirit. She has played for all of the Rivers concerts, too. And, by the way, everyone donates his or her talent here.
Do you have a new quest around the corner?
To become the Energizer Bunny. Actually it’s not a new quest, just a new aspect of the same quest - the book and the programming here at The Rivers are very important to me.
Glenda in her role as Classical Arts Activities Associate
As Classical Arts Activities Associate, my teaching style and outcomes have become different. I’m with a community where I can share mature concepts. People who come to my classes now have lived through a lot of life. Their viewpoint is different from that of college students, mostly because of the richness of the life they have already lived. What I’m doing is just exposing them to an added dimension of living and, I hope, adding quality of life in advanced years.
There are about 185 residents in assisted and independent living and our next venture is to try to find a way to provide programs and classes for people who are bedridden.
Are you having fun producing performances for your community?
Oh, yes. We just did one on Valentine’s Day, called “What is this thing called love?” Out of the song texts, I fashioned a story of boy meets girl and they fall madly love. He gets wanderlust and finds out that that’s not fulfilling. He comes back. She listens to him and they get back together.
All of this was done through the text of the songs and the things I read in between them. We had a piano, a baritone and a mezzo-soprano; and I sat on the sideline and made commentary between the songs.
Instead of having a picture of young lovers on the program, we used one of people in their 90s dressed in wedding clothes to tailor the program to the residents (about 125 people out of 185 attended). People were so touched by this. One of the greatest compliments I’ve ever received came at the end or the performance. Most of the audience, from 70s to their 100s, rose to their feet to give us a standing ovation.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
The Rivers Senior Housing Complex is the only senior housing facility that we know of in the US that has a Classical Arts Activity Associate. When I proposed this position to Kathy Johnson, the campus administrator, she looked at me and said: “This is piece of the puzzle I’ve been looking for and I didn’t know where to find it.” Kathy is very supportive, as is the rest of the staff.
I’m putting together a session for the community here on classical music that has been turned into show tunes or popular music in the movies. In the Broadway musical Kismet, “Stranger in Paradise" was based on a theme from Borodin's Polovetsian Dances. His String Quartet No. 2 became "Baubles, Bangles, and Beads" in the same musical. The list just goes on and on. We are also doing a Halloween concert on Frankenstein. See, the possibilities are endless!
To preview individual songs from this album or to purchase them, click here. Glenda recommends previewing the Art Song, "Go, Lovely Rose," track 22 on this album.
To preview individual songs from this album or to purchase them, click here. Glenda recommends previewing track 9, "Befreit Op 39 No 4."