Lois Marshall

It's almost as strange as fiction—
this story of the little girl from nowhere,
now hailed as one of the
great singers of our era

Par 1 THE young woman with the crippled leg steps forward to the front of the stage in Massey Hall, Toronto. Her dark hair falls over her shoulders; her simple black dress flows down to her ankles; her face is impassive, almost mask-like. Behind her the world-famous Mendelssohn Choir and most of the members of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra sit silent—only a harpsichord and a few woodwinds are needed for accompaniment to the soprano solo arias in the Bach St. Matthew's Passion. Three thousand people in the audience are hushed.
Par 2 Sir Ernest MacMillan, Canada's great conductor, stands nearby on the podium. He is a seasoned expert with the baton who has conducted more orchestras and solo artists than he can remember, over the years. But now, as Lois Marshall sings, swaying a little, with eyes closed sometimes in the intensity of her feeling for the music, there are tears in Sir Ernest's eyes.
Par 3 "She is 'great' in the real sense of the word," says Sir Ernest, "and I have used that term about very, very few." Other leaders in the field of music have been just as ready to acclaim her—with such expressions as "phenomenal" ... "brings tears to your eyes and an ache to your heart" ... "a fabulous voice."
Par 4 Who is she? Lois Marshall, who has won these astounding tributes before her twenty-fifth birthday, is a little girl from nowhere. Second youngest of eight children of hard-working, unassuming parents, she had no background of musical culture to draw on, and a body so handicapped that her memories of pain go back to the earliest days of childhood.
Par 5 For Lois had poliomyelitis at the age of two. When other children were playing run-about games, Lois had to be carried. Lois stayed home, dragging herself to the piano to try out tunes, singing every song she heard. Or she lay in a hospital bed. Operation followed operation—nine in all. Eventually all efforts to make her knee bend were abandoned, for the knee began to flex backward. And so her leg was fused stiff, for the rest of her life, at the age of twelve.
Par 6 "I used to fall," Lois says. "I can remeinber lying on the floor in agony, unable to move, until someone came. But I guess I was always a bit nuts too. I used to tell myself stories, love stories as well as fairy-tales. And I liked to draw stories in pictures. I still do: all kinds of faces I see ... and figures of girls, running about .... dancing..."
Par 7 The doctors and nurses in the hospital talked about how Lois never stopped singing. And about how excited she was when she got her first crutches; they had to stop her from galloping down the corridors to see how fast she could go.
Par 8 The doctors and nurses in the hospital talked about how Lois never stopped singing. And about how excited she was when she got her first crutches; they had to stop her from galloping down the corridors to see how fast she could go.
Par 9 Lois was nearly eight when she entered the special school for crippled children on Wellesley Street in Toronto. It was a unique experience. The shy, sensitive youngster found herself for the first time surrounded by other children like herself. Rarely was she at school for more than a few months before another session in hospital and another operation interrupted her studies; but the school was geared to such situations, and no one found it at all unusual.
Par 10 Lois sang at school, in class music periods, at school functions. Her beautiful untrained young voice so fascinated one of her teachers, Miss Elsie Hutchinson, that she arranged for Lois to start singing lessons with Weldon Kilburn. And so great was Miss Hutchinson's faith in Lois's future, that she paid for one lesson a week for a whole year, while Mr. Kilburn gave the other weekly lesson free.

Lois Marshall and Weldon Kilburn

Teacher and pupil at work, as for the past 10 years:
Weldon Kilburn, at the piano in his Royal Conservatory studio;
Lois Marshall, now 25, and on the threshold of an international career.

Par 11 Lois was fifteen when the career she had dreamed of since childhood opened up before her. The wonderful world Page 26 of music where artistic expression of the beauty of the human soul rose above all handicaps of physical imperfection, or social origin, was hers.
Par 12 No two people react in exactly the same way to hard blows dealt by Fate. Lois was determined to overcome her handicap, to forget it, to make everyone recognize her as a great artist, judging her solely as a singer, among singers. She wanted to believe her handicap did not exist; and it was actually several years before Weldon Kilburn dared to make the slightest reference to her crippled leg or her crutches. And it was many years before Lois was able to bring herself to face the fact that her handicap and the experience of suffering it had given her, were an integral part of her personality which not only could not be overlooked, but which even contributed to the driving force and unique emotional power now manifesting itself.

Par 13 THE relations between teacher and pupil are delicate and vital. From Lois' point of view, it was almost an act of beneficent God that it was Weldon Kilburn to whom she was sent. For ten years he has been her teacher, counsellor, friend, and at her first Toronto professional recital when she was acclaimed by critics and packed audiences alike, a month ago, he was her accompanist. For ten years he has worked heart and soul with Lois to develop the genius he knew from the first she possessed; he has done it without thought of financial reward. No wonder it is to Weldon that Lois gives most of the credit for her success.
Par 14 Most singing teachers would have turned Lois into a coloratura. Her high notes were exceptional; her low notes not so good. But the coloratura who trills so delightfully in the higher registers is limited in scope and repertoire and even becomes monotonous after too many repetitions. Weldon knew that the role of the coloratura would never satisfy Lois's capacity for emotional expression.
Par 15 So the hard work began, and went on, week after week, month after month, year after year. The low notes came suddenly—"with a boom," Weldon says—but the transitions were bad. "Broken registers," as the critics put it. So the work continued, until gradually that perfection of control, so remarkable today, was achieved.
Par 16 A singer's temperament is as important as her vocal cords. Lois was over-emotional. Every note was intense, and instead of leading to an effective climax each song contained so many climaxes that, in effect, it had no climax at all. But thousands of Canadians who have heard Lois across Canada certify to the fact that this problem is long since passed.
Par 17 Lois is no angel. She had lazy spells. She would fail to show up for a lesson, sometimes two in succession. Once, after such a gap, Weldon calmly refused to teach her. And sometimes Lois had obstinate fits—Weldon was a heartless slave-driver; he was "just plain mean!" But the crisis always subsided and the hard work went on—sometimes a whole lesson on one phrase of one song.
Par 18 "I have a bad habit of singing with my eyes closed," Lois confesses. "Of course I swore I didn't do it. So one day I was singing something nice and romantic—a major scale!—and when I stopped, I found Weldon's face about two inches from mine. Scared the daylights out of me but it showed me that I definitely had my eyes closed!"
Par 19 Perhaps their relationship can best be illustrated by the fact that Weldon and his wife often call Lois—"Louse!"
Par 20 At one point, when they weren't making the progress Weldon wantsd, he insisted that she sign on with another teacher. At the end of a year Lois was back with Kilburn.

Par 21 EACH of the Marshall children had gone to work after leaving school; as the older ones married and assumed their own family responsibilities, the younger ones still at home had to fill the breach. This was especially urgent after the death of the father which occurred when Lois was twelve. In her teens, therefore, she took a business course and got a job in Eaton's adjusting office. And, paradoxically enough, it was through that undramatic appointment that she had her first chance to sing an important role in public. The Eaton Operatic Company was putting on Gilbert & Sullivan's Princess Ida, and Lois, a member of the chorus, volunteered one night at rehearsal to pinch-hit for the professional soprano who was detained by illness. She was so good that her fellow-employees urged that she be allowed to take the lead in two of the week's performances in the Auditorium. Kilburn came to listen and watch; it was a triumph for him too. when the applause crescendoed deafeningly at the end of the show for the little girl from rhc adjusting office taking her bow at centre stage. (In the spring of 1950 when Lois won the Eaton Graduation Scholarship as the Conservatory's most outstanding student, Weldon liked to recall that gala night years ago.)
Par 22 But a full-time job and an arduous musical career are too much for even the strongest, and Lois, after winning a partial scholarship at the Conservatory, dropped to part-time employment, and eventually gave that up as well. She could earn a little with singing engagements—a radio show, informal concert tours throughout the Province, businessmen's dinners at hotels. "How I hated those dinners!" Lois recalls. "Smoke and clattering dishes and loud talk, while I sang the best music I thought I could get away with—for ten or fifteen dollars."
Par 23 Such public appearances, however, were part of her training, and when Lois entered the Royal Conservatory Senior School in 1947 she was already a seasoned performer. She received the Emmy Heim scholarship and spent a year studying German Lieder with one of the world's best teachers of that song form. Today Mme Heim reminisces in her charming Viennese accent about those hours. "Her singing is from God!" she declares. "I give her the vision of the song—and Page 27 she creates it. I was forty before I considered myself a singer of Liede; Lois is twenty-five and she does it now. I have taught in Vienna, in Salzburg, in Paris, in London and now in Toronto. I have never taught a pupil like Lois Marshall!"
Par 24 It was not long before Dr. Ettore Mazzoleni, Conservatory principal[,] discovered for himself "her amazing understanding and knowledge of music." Working with Lois as soloist with the Conservatory Orchestra, he found that "she actually inspired the whole orchestra!"
Par 25 With the growth of the Conservatory's Opera School, it was natural that Lois' gifts should come to the delighted attention of Dr. Nicholas Goldschmidt, the director and conductor. "Some singers excel in Bach or oratorio," he says. "Some are best in Verdi, Schubert or our modem composers. But Lois has no limitations at all! She sang Leonora in Beethoven's Fidelio nine days after she got it. To my knowledge that is an achievement unequalled in the operatic world!"
Par 26 Fidelio was performed over the radio. Lois sang the role of Donna Anna in Mozart's Don Giovanni two successive years, also over the networks. It is a heartbreaking fact that she cannot ever hope for a career in staged grand opera—for she cannot leave behind her crippled leg.
Par 27 That is the only exception that Dr. Healey Willan has in mind when he speaks of her. He was one of the five judges who gave Lois the top award of $1,000 in the 1950 competition of the Singing Stars of Tomorrow. "She can do damn' near anything on earth!" he says with explosive warmth. "She reads like a streak ... she has impeccable musical taste ... she's always exactly in tune—and believe it or not, that's rare in singers!"
Par 28 Sir Ernest MacMillan had already featured Lois as soloist with Toronto Symphony Pop concerts, but his decision to try her as soprano soloist in the annual Bach St. Matthews Passion productions, brought her unique capacities to his attention. But even he did not know the whole story.
Par 29 It happened over a week-end early in 1948. Lois had been suffering from the singer's worst calamity: laryngitis. Kilburn said he doubted if she could manage the St. Matthews that year. But on Friday Sir Ernest phoned again. Could she try out for him the following Monday? That evening Weldon and Lois went over the score. She had never seen it before and had never even heard a performance. Weldon outlined it on the piano with Lois watching over his shoulder but unable to sing a note. The next afternoon they did it again. "Study it, learn one of the arias, but don't use your voice at all," he said. "Come in Monday morning and we'll go over the aria. When you sing it for Sir Ernest in the afternoon, he'll have some idea what you can do with it."
Par 30 By Monday morning Lois had learned every soprano aria in the whole score. When she had sung for Sir Ernest that afternoon, he asked her how long she had known them. Lois was embarrassed. She thought it wouldn't sound well to say she had sung them for the first time that morning. So she replied, with a slight feeling of guilt, "Two weeks." "I'd have thought you'd known them all your life," was the conductor's comment. Dr. Fred Sylvester, organist and choirmaster at Bloor Street United Church, says that in her three years of solo work there she has never let him down, and that she does more than her share, joining with the choir in all hymns and anthems. "She has the divine spark," he adds. "When she sings I Know That My Redeemer Liveth, she knows, she really knows."
Par 31 Dr. Arnold Walter, principal of the Conservatory Senior School, describes a very human Lois—skipping classes and tearfully promising to be good, dreamy and happily casual over details of daily life—but with a terrific intensity in her music. It is he who ascribes to Lois "that greatest quality in the world for a performing artist—the ability to hypnotize her audience!"
Par 32 But Lois' admirers extend far beyond the walls of the Conservatory. An account of her radio and concert appearances from Nova Scotia to Ontario—she has yet to tour the west—would itself be a catalogue of triumphs.

Par 33 AND how has Lois reacted to all these plaudits from her peers? Naturally she loves it, but her feet are still on the ground. She knows very well that she has only begun to touch the vast world of music. Each concert is a challenge; and each new number receives the same concentrated study and practice in Weldon Kilburn's Conservatory studio. She knows the hazards of taking oneself too seriously; she enjoys the fun of a bowling party and the red cherry at the bottom of a cocktail. Money matters are a vexation to her; and her friends say she will need a good business manager as her career extends into international fields. So far almost every dollar she has earned has been turned over—cheerfully—to the support of her family; and when funds are plentiful she loves sending her mother away on a surprise holiday or handing her nieces and nephews some nice presents: wagons, skates, tricycles—the sort of toys she never had herself or could never use.
Par 34 Lois is not strikingly beautiful; with strangers she is shy almost to inarticulateness. But when she is stirred by something, the sympathy, the radiance, the nobility that lie within shine through to make her an extraordinarily beautiful woman. When she sings, all that she has known, all that she has suffered, all that she has dreamed comes out in her music.
Par 35 Is it the compassion for others, gained from her own suffering, that makes her great? Is it her capacity for hard work? Is it Weldon Kilburn's ten years of devoted labor and limitless faith? Is it the divine spark of genius? Or is it all of these?
Par 36 Whatever the analysis of her power, the unanimous prediction stands: Lois Marshall will soon be recognized as one of the greatest singers of our era. The little girl from nowhere reaches for the stars—and the stars will bid her welcome!