Wednesday, December 12, 2012

My First Singing Lesson with Eugene Loring

Two months after my first visit to The Julie Andrews Hour, I set off on a new adventure -- my first singing lesson. Although I practiced singing all the time, I was very unsure of myself, and my mother, a professional dancer, believed it would be a waste of money for me to take lessons.

Julie Andrews, by example, was the person who gave me the most encouragement. As I watched her rehearsing and warming up, I saw how much work it took to be a singer. During the days and hours that I spent around Julie, it occurred to me that maybe, if I worked very hard, I might be able to achieve my dream.

At my dorm, a young singer named Ann recommended her teacher. His name was Eugene Loring. I knew very little about him, except that he had worked with many stars and had a very handsome voice on the phone.

In the late afternoon of December 11th, I set off for my first singing lesson. Mr. Loring lived in the Hollywood Hills, and if you’ve never walked up to the top of those hills, you can’t imagine how steep they are! I wrote in my diary:

I got lost on my way up a street so steep, it was like climbing up a ladder. I felt frightened at the thought of walking down that hill. (One mis-step and you’d be rolling!) But once I arrived at the top, it was beautiful.

Mr. Loring had a cottage with a small garden on the edge of one of the hills. The view overlooked all of Hollywood and beyond. Greeting me at the door, I was surprised to see a man not as young as his voice. He was of medium height, slender, energetic and balding. I can still see the room where he taught singing; there was an upright piano just opposite the door and a mic stand with the mic all ready. My new teacher played piano very well.

Mr. Loring spoke to me about what I wanted to do and which singers I liked. Then, as I recall, after a few scales and exercises, he recorded me singing a song. I believe it was either “Bewitched, Bother and Bewildered,” or “I Want to Be Happy.” Afterwards, he played the recording back, commented on it and made a recording of a song for me to practice with. He was very pleasant and kind.

That night I wrote:

[Mr. Loring] said I must concentrate more on what the song is saying, so I tried to abandon all repression and sing with my heart. After my lesson, he drove me home. Later, Ann, the singer who gave me his name, told me that he liked my voice. He has taught Cloris Leachman, Richard Chamberlain, Burt Lancaster and many other stars. Ann really sings well.” (I recall her singing, “Just One of Those Things” by Cole Porter.)

I was so excited to have made this beginning.


Fast forward forty years. As I began to read my old diaries and work on this book, I couldn’t help thinking about my first singing teacher. I wanted to know more about him. In 1972, the internet was something not even dreamed of, but in 2012, I had only to type a few characters to find out more. I was hoping he might still be alive so that I could talk to him.

Imagine then, my surprise at what I found. The only Eugene Loring listed on the internet (and listed as living in L.A. in the 1970s), was a world famous choreographer, the creator of the ballet, Billy the Kidd. I kept thinking, “This can’t be him,” yet he himself had told me that choreographer Tony Charmoli was a friend of his, so maybe he was a dancer and choreographer.

 * In the University of California Irvine biographic notes on Eugene Loring is this:
…Loring's Billy the Kid is acknowledged to be the first American ballet classic, 
and it conferred on him a distinction that placed him among the major American
ballet pioneers.

When I called Tony Charmoli to speak about The Julie Andrews Hour, he was busy writing his autobiography. Even though he seemed hesitant to speak with me, I had one burning question that I had to ask; it was a question that mattered to me personally. Was Eugene Loring, my singing teacher, the famous choreographer? Tony assured me that he was.

My mind is still spinning over this fact. How little we know of the people that come into our lives. And youth is often in a whirl of its own.

In doing more research, I have learned that following Eugene Loring's work with the ballet in New York, in 1943, he moved to Los Angeles where he had a contract at MGM. During his years with the studio, Mr. Loring worked most often with Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse. His most “notable” films are: The Ziegfeld Follies, Funny Face and Silk Stockings. (He choreographed the later first on Broadway, where he also was choreographer for Carmen Jones.)

Eugene Loring was a fine musician with a beautiful voice. He was humble about himself and was never unkind or impatient with me, despite my inexperience and difficulties. During the time I studied singing with him, he gave me so much encouragement. When few seemed to believe in me, his faith in me helped me forge ahead. In a few months, I would be auditioning and, within a year, singing in clubs. Looking back, my transformation was remarkable.

Meanwhile, this story brings so many regrets. I wish I had been more interested in knowing who my teacher was, and able to accept all the encouragement and help he so generously wanted to give me. But most of all, I regret that I never said “Thank you.”

For more information on Eugene Loring:

Coming Next
 - Short Commentary on Episode 13 with Tony Randall & Keith Michell

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