In today's excerpt--at fourteen, soon-to-be Broadway, cinema and television superstar Julie Andrews's singing talent is bringing her larger opportunities, in this case on a nationally broadcast radio program.
However, she has also endured much hardship--poverty and an alcoholic stepfather who abuses both her mother, Barbara, and her younger brothers. Further, she has just been stunned with the discovery that the man she adores and believes to be her real father is in fact not. All of which has left her especially vulnerable to criticism and starved for praise.
Here she performs in front of her mother and her highly regarded vocal coach, the demanding Madame Stiles-Allen, whose kind word at a mortifying moment is still remembered 58 years later:"During my lessons with her, Madame gave me a valuable piece of advice, which has stayed with me over the years. 'Julie,' she said. 'Remember: the amateur works until he can get it right. The professional works until he cannot go wrong.' ..."[Once], Madame attended a radio broadcast that I was doing. I sang the aria from La Traviata with the recitative 'Ah, fors'e lui,' which leads to the very difficult 'Sempre Libera.' There is an a cappella cadenza before the main aria begins. My pitch was usually flawless, but because Madame was in the audience, I tried too hard to sing correctly for her, and I began listening to my own sound. The result was that when I finished the cadenza, I landed a half-tone high.
As the orchestra picked up the melody, I realized that I was sharp. My mother, who was also in the audience, berated me for making the mistake. I'm sure she wanted to shine for Madame as much as I did. I was mortified that I had goofed, especially as this had been a live radio broadcast. I was as much my own critic as anyone else.
"Madame rose to my defense." 'Be gentle with her, Barbara, she sang beautifully. She was trying so hard; you have to be a little kinder. She's only a young girl.' ... "I had never sung sharp before, but I learned to watch my pitch even more closely from then on. I was forever grateful to Madame for her kind words.Julie Andrews, Home, Hyperion, Copyright 2008 by Julie Andrews, pp. 117-119.Basin Comment: I don't know sharp singing from sharp cheddar but I recognize the teaching technique. Correct softly and privately. Praise Publicly and Loudly. In youth coaching, I had particular success with low-skilled kids. Somebody else asked me how I had improved a certain kid and I casually answered "I just wait until he does something right and praise hell out of it". I didn't realize it then but I just stated my coaching philosophy in a sentence.