Don Edrington's Home Page Shy Guy from Hollywood High Brief Bio All Stories
1942 - Age 11
If I have one regret in life, it's that I never learned to play a musical instrument. I've always loved music, and would give anything to be able to play an instrument. Worse yet, I can't sing worth a darn. I love singing in church, but I have no range. Any song that goes beyond one octave defeats me altogether.
However, I did sing in an opera once.
It's true. I sang in the opera "Carmen" at the Shrine Auditorium in Downtown Los Angeles.
My mom had found us a very nice apartment on a hill overlooking Echo Park, which is about half way between downtown Los Angeles and Hollywood. It was on the second floor of a triplex and gave us a beautiful view of the lake.
From our window we could see Angelus Temple and we could hear Aimee Semple McPherson (the church's founder and principal preacher) on the radio, proclaiming the Word on most any night of the week.
We weren't a church-going family, but many was the time I'd walk across the park to sit in the balcony and listen to Sister Aimee in person. She always wore a long flowing white robe, and cut an impressive figure as she'd walk back and forth on the flower-decked platform, eloquently preaching to hundreds of attentive worshipers, and, reportedly, to countless thousands more on the radio. She even had her own station: KFSG (Four-Square Gospel).
I loved hearing her "Silver Band" (an orchestra consisting only of silver-plated brass instruments). She would say that organs were all right for other churches, but she wanted the music from her church to be heard loud and clear.
And it was. The music could even be heard out in the park when doors and windows were open on warm summer evenings, and I, for one, found it very inspirational.
I also remember being amused when she would say, as the collection plates were being passed around, "Remember now—when the plate comes your way I don't want to hear the clinking and clanging of common coins—I want to hear the crunching and crackling of crisp bills."
Talent Scout Looking for Boy Sopranos
But getting back to my own musical adventure—a "talent scout" came to our school one day looking for "boy sopranos" to sing in an opera. A downtown music school had been preparing to present its students in an upcoming production of Georges Bizet's "Carmen" at the Shrine Auditorium.
One scene from the opera calls for a group of young boys who would march on stage pretending to be soldiers while singing a number called (not surprisingly) the "Boys' Chorus."
The words, as I remember, told how they would rise to the sound of the trumpet and march bravely off to war to defend their homeland.
However, the school only had adult students in it. I suppose they could have done the opera minus this one scene, or perhaps have had young women dressed as boys—but they decided to see if they could recruit some local youth whose voices had not yet begun to change, and train them for this one scene.
Going Alone to the Big City
Well, I can't tell you how thrilled I was to have been selected for an audition to be held that afternoon in the school's downtown offices.
There was just one problem. I had never been downtown alone before, and my mom and stepdad were both at work with no easy way to reach them.
So I decided to leave them a note and hike to the nearest streetcar stop (about six blocks away). I had ten cents for the round-trip fare, and felt very adventurous as I was about to head for Downtown Los Angeles for the first time all by myself. The streetcar ride would take about half an hour and end in the Subway Terminal Building.
Did you know that Los Angeles had a subway back in the 1940s and 1950s?
Well, it was probably only a couple of miles long, but heading into the darkness of that tunnel and ending up in what appeared to be a subway station to rival any in New York City (as best as I could tell from seeing them in the movies) was a real thrill!
And when you emerged from the subway, you were only blocks away from such interesting places as Angels Flight, Pershing Square, Olvera Street, the Farmers' Market and the huge Downtown Public Library, not to mention all the palatial first-run theaters that often featured live entertainment along with the movies (and to which we could never afford to go).
But getting back to my audition—it went very well. They said my voice was just right and they liked the way I quickly picked up the phonetic pronunciation of the French language in which we would be singing. I felt very grown up, having made the trip to the city without first getting anyone's permission, and having found the school's address among the dozens of tall buildings in the downtown area.
And here I was singing in French. I not only felt grown up, I felt very cosmopolitan. Anyway, I was told to report back the next day for what would be the first of several training sessions.
I was also told to be prepared to make myself a paper "soldier's hat" and a wooden sword, which should be painted silver. We were also admonished that if anyone's pre-adolescent voice should show any signs of changing prior to the dress rehearsal (which would be in a couple of weeks) he would be regrettably disqualified. This chorus called for boy sopranos, and nothing else would do.
Since I had already begun to notice how some of my friends' voices were starting to sound a little deeper, I prayed that my qualifications as a boy soprano would stay around long enough to sing in a real opera for a real audience.
When I got home late in the afternoon that day, my mother was not nearly as thrilled about my adventure as I was. And when she heard I would be expected to make that trip several more times, she was ready to put the kibosh on the whole thing.
But when she heard that one other boy from my school had also been accepted, and that we could travel together to and from the rehearsals, she finally said okay—but only on condition that she could go to the following day's rehearsal to check everything out. Once she was convinced it was a legitimate music school and not a nefarious band of child molesters, she even said she'd be looking forward to coming to see me in the opera.
Carmen, of course, is full of delightful melodies, and many of them are easy to pick up and hum or whistle (even if you don't know French). An updated all-black American movie version, Carmen Jones, was made in the 1950s, which I'm sure acquainted many more people with Bizet's beautiful music.
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Since I have no personal photos from my youth, I've used pictures found on the Internet to help illustrate some of the stories told on these pages. In a couple of instances I've used photos of people who just happen to closely resemble someone I once knew. However, if it's found that I'm using any images in violation of someone's copyright, please let me know and appropriate action will be taken.