In Memoriam: Margaret Harshaw (from 1997)

Below is a Eulogy I wrote in 1997 shortly after my teacher, mentor and friend, Margaret Harshaw, died. She passed away after a very short bout with pneumonia. I was singing Aida in Dallas the day she left us and knowing this, I was not informed of her death until after I arrived home a day later. I was devastated. I had seen her only a few weeks earlier, before leaving for Dallas and I had a lesson scheduled with her a couple days after getting home. I would be attending her Memorial Service instead. It was hard going back on the stage to sing the next time. But her voice was in my ear all along – and it still is.

Here is what I wrote in 1997:

IN MEMORIAM: MARGARET HARSHAW

May 12, 1909 – November 7, 1997

 On a recent sunny November day we laid to rest a titan whose roots were deep in the fertile soil of the golden age of opera singers. Margaret Harshaw was an extraordinary woman by any reckoning. As a singer, she had a long and eminently distinguished career, first as a mezzo–soprano and then as a Wagnerian soprano. She last sang at the Met over thirty years ago, and yet she still holds the distinction of having sung more Wagnerian roles than any other artist in Met history. Not content to be merely one of this century’s great singers, Margaret Harshaw retired and became one of the truly great teachers of all time. I was fortunate to have been one of her students and to have known her for nearly twenty–five years, more than half of my life.

November became very sad with her passing. Sad for several reasons. On a personal level because I have lost a teacher, mentor, friend and guiding light. And sad also for her legion of students, some like me who measure their apprenticeship in multiple decades, and others whose training was just at its beginning. Singing is a lifelong quest and five to ten years is just a beginning, especially when the teacher has so much to offer. More than the quick fix, more than the easy compliment, more than just singing. And Miss Harshaw gave much more than singing instruction. She taught us about life. If we were smart we listened.

But there is another reason that I have been especially sad. We have lost in her passing one more irreplaceable master from that Golden Age of Opera that peaked during the 1950s. There are precious few remaining and the world is immeasurably poorer with each passing year. And I fear that when the last of them is gone we will have lost forever a large part of their knowledge and wisdom. Why that should be I do not know. But I fear it is true. Perhaps the world changed in a way that was not conducive to opera. The arts, in their efforts to find their place in contemporary society, have too often forsaken their roots in an effort to attract patronage. Opera has suffered especially.

And so it makes me very sad to lose yet one more human resource. Singing was the lifeblood for Margaret Harshaw. Through years of experience, hard work and considerable innate talent she was able to understand something that is tremendously complex. And beyond understanding she was able to communicate it, both onstage and in her studio. Rare talents, indeed. She will be missed by her students and by the countless others who heard her sing. If I close my eyes I can hear her singing. And listening to her is a voice lesson in itself.

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One response to “In Memoriam: Margaret Harshaw (from 1997)

  1. What a lovely eulogy! I never had the good fortune to hear Margaret Harshaw “live” as I didn’t come to opera until the late 1960’s, by which time she had left the Met. However, I have heard some of her Met broadcasts on Sirius, and I’m impressed by her voice and consistency.. Judging by how well you turned out, she must have been a superb teacher and a very special lady.

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