- Florence Foster Jenkins
|The Concert Singer - Thomas Eakins|
Oil on canvas, 1890-92
Do you know who Florence Jenkins was? Well, you won't find her name in the annals of operatic divas along with the likes of Callas, Price, or Fleming, but you may find her at the very top of the list of people with fabulous self esteem.
In fact, Florence had such high self esteem that many people thought her delusional.
She became famous at the end of the 19th century, performing her favorite arias and other standard operatic repertoire in regular recitals in Philadelphia and New York City. Well, it may be more accurate to say she became "infamous."
It was quite clear to her audiences that, in fact, Florence could not sing. She lacked pitch, tempo, diction, and stamina. If she hacked her way through songs in English, she slaughtered them in foreign languages. Most of her audiences laughed at her, and even her accompanist made faces, mocking her, behind her back.
But Florence sang on. A woman of considerable wealth at that time, she created and sustained the Verdi Club in New York City. She commissioned women artists to create sculptures and paintings for it. She promoted the arts. And in her own way (albeit, apparently unwittingly), she demonstrated by her own ineptitude just how difficult it is to sing beautifully.
The important thing to remember about Florence Foster Jenkins was her passion and love for her avocation. She serves as an inspiration to all of us to continue doing what we love, regardless of other's judgment.
I've noticed that, like myself, many of my friends are rediscovering pursuits we loved at one time but put aside for one reason or another. For me, I receive great satisfaction from my love of the arts and the beauty of hiking in nature . For others, it's playing the piano, painting, writing, or riding a bike.
When we embrace that which we love, simply for the sake of loving it, we are connecting with our essence. Our heart of hearts. Our soul's very purpose.
We need not be elite athletes, master musicians, or great artists. We need only to answer that small voice of Love inside our heart that whispers, "Do it."
And what of those who listen to the "voice of reason" inside our heads? Well, Vincent Van Gogh said it best; "If you hear a voice within you say 'you cannot paint,' then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced."
I encourage you today to do something you love to do, and do it only for yourself. Embrace the activity, no matter how unconventional, silly, or strange others may deem it. Be defiant in it. Let no one's judgment affect your enjoyment.
And in embracing it, see if you don't feel just a little more loved in the process.
Sing on! Just think twice before recording it.
I debated whether to post a lovely aria sung by an accomplished opera soprano, or a rare old recording of Florence Jenkins' actual voice. I decided to post Florence herself, in all her dissonant glory.
Through it all, through the thin, screech of her voice, the shocking lack of rhythm, and complete absence of phrasing, you can detect her passion for singing.
That's worth gold.
This is the "Laughing Song" from Strauss' "Die Fledermaus."
I would apologize for the static sound throughout the recording, but in truth, it may be the best part of the whole thing. Enjoy!