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August 17, 2010

A potential role model for Jackie Evancho: 'Bubbles' Silverman

The current enthusiasm for a talented young American -- I mean a young American who's got talent -- made me think about another little girl who surprised people with her vocal ability. More on that in a moment.

I only wish the best for 10-year-old Jackie Evancho (despite what some commentors on this blog seemed to think, in response to last week's post), and I don't mean only the best in whatever other competitive ventures await for her on TV. I'm hoping that she will be guided sensibly and sensitively toward

the maximum refinement of her musical abilities. And, naturally (hey, I've got to do my part to keep classical music going), I hope Jackie will aim for the gold: I'd like to think she'll take the ultimate path into opera and art song when she gets older, rather than the commercially more enticing road.

I worry about young people exposed to so much glitz and fame at a tender point in their development, getting into the fickle clutches of the whole Idol-ization franchise. It's cool for someone with real talent to get wide recognition; it may be less cool if it all goes to the head, or into the pockets of folks with less-than-noble interests.

Anyway, as I mentioned last week, the Jackie phenomenon isn't entirely new. Unusually young voices with operatic potential occasionally appear, startling everybody. Here's an eight-year-old who could serve as a fine role model for Jackie. She was known to family and friends as "Bubbles" Silverman when this film was made. She went on to study very seriously, to develop an exceptional technique and a keen sense of style. She grew up to be Beverly Sills, one of the most famous -- and, IMHO, one of the finest -- opera singers of the 20th century:

Posted by Tim Smith at 8:49 AM | | Comments (12)


Who is Uncle Sol and why does he talk like that?

Good questions. TIM

Thank you for this fine clip of a young beverly sills, and we are all wishing young jackie all the blessings her talent will bring her to. She is as adorable as young Ms. Sills who was a blessing for us all.

I think your take on Jackie the first time around was just fine, if not a little light on questioning the pedagogical and competitive nature of what Jackie's parents and voice teachers appear to be doing. Here comes my pedagogy hat, again.

When Beverly was young, it was clear that family, friends, and others recognized her talent but respected her voice and talent for what it was. Her voice reflects her age accurately, and her audience fundamentally didn't expect to hear a voice artificially manipulated to sound older or more mature. And when Beverly began to work with Estelle, Estelle also respected this fact while laying the technical groundwork that essentially preserved Beverly's voice even through roles considered to be in fachs too heavy for Bev. I also remember a mention of Shirley Temple in one of Beverly's obits, and the same traits in Shirley's voice were also respected: mannered style with talented delivery, accurately presenting a trained voice that was true to age.

When I watch Beverly's young performances, my first thoughts are not related to pedagogy, or questioning the voice itself. I watch the performances, and I hear Beverly at her age, with her amazing abilities. When I watch anything that Jackie is in--or even close my eyes and just listen--my first reaction is to question what is going on pedagogically. It's clear that Jackie has talent--no one disputes that--but her "technique" overrides Jackie, herself. And that's a huge red flag.

Many voice teachers will not work with children on a private-lesson basis out of fear of destroying or pushing a young voice too hard, or caving to pressuring parents who want to place their talented children on a fame path (pageants and contests and Broadway--oh my!).

There are some voice teachers who will take on pre-pubescent children in private studios, and these teachers are divided into two camps. The majority camp that I've personally encountered in professional or other contexts are doing it just for the $ (and/or to further the agenda that popera is the only monetarily viable classical voice art form) with a philosophy that any paying student is good, no matter what other external factors are at play. This majority not only places other priorities before vocal health, but also undermines the efforts of other music teachers in public schools and other institutions who try to build healthy, long-term musical skills and interest in the arts. The minority of private voice instructors who work well with pre-pubescent voices deserve commendation, and are very hard to find.

Ack. Another novel. In short, good comparison with Bubbles and both columns were fine.

Wow. I'll have to read through all of that again when I'm not in a vacation frame of mind. Many thanks for the analysis. TIM

Finally, a child's voice comparable to Jackie's. None of the other child singers I've found on YouTube are even close to Jackie's quality, but Beverly Sills clearly was. Obviously she started at a younger age, but Jackie has caught up. When the opera critics trashed Paul Potts, it was easy for the lay person to see they had a point, but if they trash Jackie they're dead wrong. You have to ignore her subpar, forced performance on AGT & go to YouTube to see her astonishing talent. She already has as rich a voice as any in pop music (only trained adult opera stars are stronger), & she's ten--TEN!

Re: Laura's comments. Jackie's parents were interviewed by a local Pittsburgh TV show in one of their videos. They seem quite level-headed about teaching Jackie to sing properly, & they're clearly not poor, so there'll be less temptation to push her toward the $$ tract. Her lousy performance on AGT gives one pause, as she appeared to be trying WAY too hard to sound older, ending up w/ that British nasal twang that Sarah Brightman & Charlotte Church sometimes fall into. Hopefully she'll go back to the natural way she sung at the December 2009 party at the Heimark (sp??) company --check out "Memory" on YouTube. Fantastic, unbelievable, powerful.

OK, I admit I know nothing about opera but I have to say, I listened to 'Bubbles' and to Jackie both at age 8 and Jackie's voice sounds more beautiful to me. If you haven't already, check out the YouTube video of Jackie singing O mio babbino caro at age 8. I heard Jackie's vibrato at age 8 without the jaw quivering someone mentioned. Her voice sounds round and full for a child or a teen for that matter. Maybe she IS just naturally gifted. I think of Evgeny Kissin who played Chopin as a youngster with the expression and sensitivity of a seasoned adult. This kind of gift cannot be taught or forced. If 'Bubbles' turned into Beverly Sills, I can't wait to hear Jackie in her 20's and 30's. That is of course if she is not ruined as some think might happen in so many ways.

Sorry, Tim. I'll keep this relatively short--I get wordy when I rant.

PG, I think that you're generally correct, and I've seen all her YouTube videos (too much spare time last week--worked from home). There's no disagreement that Jackie has talent. And I don't think that her parents see $$ in their eyes. When I referenced $, it was to a certain type of voice teacher who will take any student and teach them in any style (even if it is detrimental to the voice) because the voice teacher wants $. Some parents have $ and/or publicity as a priority, whereas a voice teacher they take their kid to, won't. There are other scenarios where the voice teacher has $ and/or publicity as a main priority, but the parents just want their kid to take a few lessons and see how things progress.

Succinctly, my point is that Jackie sounds older because someone else indulged the suggestion that she needed to sound older (i.e. that she needed to sound "other" than her natural self) on AGT.

I went to the website that another blog had suggested, I have to admit I was shocked to see the difference of the photos on utube in the little pink innocent outfits,compared to Jackie singing in a black & red gown with bright makeup. Her voice did not sound nearly as good. It almost makes Howie calling the young dancers creepy A big joke on him. He should have done some more homework on Jackie Evancho. I thought this was one of NBCS best shows. I hope America will not just be hopeless believers in what someone places in front of them.

Re: Adell. The more i listen, the more i think you may be right, Jackie, w/ 5 years less formal training than Bubbles had had by age 8 (she started at 3), already sounded better at 8. And the more i listen to other pop singers, the more convinced i am that Jackie's voice is already better than ALL of them -- including Sarah Brightman, Barbra Streisand, Celine Dion, Mariah Carey, Jennifer Hudson, Whitney Houston, Kelly Clarkson & ALL the AI winners, ALL the Britain's Got Talent winning singers, ETC.

I know nothing about opera either, everything i know i learned from YouTube. Anna Netrebko's voice is incredibly powerful, although it's distracting to the lay person to see her open her mouth like a hippopotamus. Sissel Kyrkjebo, w/ her super-pure voice, is the "crossover" artist Jackie should try to emulate. And Leontyne Price had such an astoundingly rich voice, laden w/ overtones, that it made me think of Mike Myers' saying "That's a MAN, baby!" Still, the beauty is absolutely undeniable.

To all the Jackie doubters:
You have internet access. Go to Search Jackie E & she'll come up. In December 2009 the insurance company Highmark in Pittsburgh had a holiday party where Jackie sang "Memory" & "Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again" by Andrew Lloyd Webber & his usual collaborators. This was obviously a simple company party, no fancy sound system, no sound engineers, no computers, no lip-synching, etc. JACKIE SOUNDS FANTASTIC. She also sang the Star Spangled Banner at an event honoring Chuck Yeager, the sound barrier guy. WOW.
She's real, OK? The clip on reverbnation is from years ago. Get over it.
It's actually her voice, she has as much talent as (& probably more than) any other young (white, because blacks haven't had the chance until recently) singer in the history of the United States of America. Being the youngest EVER, in the 119 year HISTORY of Carnegie Hall, means something, OK? Again, get over it. She's real.

Yes, she's real alright, she's proven that, and here's my prophesy, you saw it first, REMEMBER THIS , in FIVE YEAR'S , Jackie Evancho WILL BE the most celebrated and most popular singer since THE BEATLES, she will REVOLUTIONIZE classical music forever, remember, 5 years, if you don't believe it, just wait.

@PG Antioch:
"Jackie, w/ 5 years less formal training than Bubbles had had by age 8 (she started at 3), already sounded better at 8. "
There are some differences you may miss because as you told you aren't much into opera: 1) Beverly hasn't had lessons since 3, she performed on the radio since 3, but was self-taught until she got a teacher 2 years before the video was made 2) Beverly sings far more difficult selection and in the original key; she hits every note as written and is very expressive 3) Beverly's is a high soprano voice. Jackie's seems a lower voice right now, though it may change. Some of the high notes in a child's voice don't sound as nice. 4) Beverly's voice sounds like a healthy talented child's voice. Jackie's sound more adult. I am just an opera fan, not a voice expert, but I heard a number of teachers say that Jackie darkens her voice artificially trying to sound more adult (and to fake adult vibrato which children don't naturally have), and that it may hurt her voice. Also, keep in mind, Beverly took a break between 10 and 16 which could've helped her preserve her voice.

"white, because blacks haven't had the chance until recently"
There have been quite a few of black opera singers since 50s. Marion Anderson had difficulties in the US because of discrimination and only sang at the Met in 1955. But she paved a way for black singers in opera and was followed by quite a few singers - Leontyne Price, Martina Arroyo, Grace Bumbry, Simon Estes, Kathleen Battle, Lawrence Brownlee are only a few of the names of great black opera singers past and present.

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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