That Voice: In Search of Ann Drum­mond-Grant, the Singer Who Shaped My Life

  • Review
By – June 24, 2024

That Voice recounts a Jew­ish baby boomer’s youth­ful attempt to define her­self as a musi­cian. The youngest child of a music-lov­ing fam­i­ly, Mar­cia Menter describes the life-chang­ing moment her father gave her a record­ing of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mika­do. She was enthralled by the voice of Ann Drum­mond-Grant, a major star of the D’Oyly Carte Com­pa­ny, the offi­cial opera com­pa­ny of Gilbert and Sullivan’s works. Menter resolved to become a singer of light opera like her idol — but, far more than most young singers, she real­ly need­ed the metic­u­lous train­ing that’s required to pre­pare the voice for opera. And despite a suc­ces­sion of teach­ers, she nev­er found it. 

Menter doc­u­ments every step of her jour­ney through the world of clas­si­cal music and the bar­ri­ers she faced because she began with an inad­e­quate voice that blocked her access to the best schools and teach­ers. As she con­tin­ued to fail as a singer, Menter turned to piano. She homes in on numer­ous clas­si­cal pieces, com­posers, pianists, and singers. She also devotes many pages to her obses­sion with the life of Drum­mond-Grant and the work of Gilbert and Sullivan. 

One of the most dif­fi­cult tasks for any writer is to try to ren­der the sound of music on the print­ed page. That Voice does so by using metaphors of tex­ture, sight, and non-musi­cal sound. Menter goes into lov­ing detail about the tech­ni­cal and phys­i­cal require­ments of singing, includ­ing breath­ing from the diaphragm and plac­ing the voice in the head. These are tech­niques that good singers know instinc­tive­ly, and they are crit­i­cal to a suc­cess­ful career in opera. 

Menter once felt the typ­i­cal baby-boomer dis­tance from her Jew­ish her­itage. But in the years that she was immersed in clas­si­cal voice and piano study, she found Jew­ish per­form­ers and teach­ers every­where, both dur­ing her semes­ter abroad in Ams­ter­dam and in her train­ing at home. In the ear­ly 1970s, when she was study­ing, there were Jew­ish musi­cians of the high­est cal­iber who had start­ed their careers over from scratch after sur­viv­ing con­cen­tra­tion camps, hid­ing, and spend­ing the post­war years search­ing for new begin­nings. Menter’s Scot­land-born idol, Drum­mie,” was mar­ried to a Pol­ish Jew named Israel Got­fryd whose name was changed to Isadore God­frey when he became a British cit­i­zen. As the musi­cal direc­tor of the D’Oyly Carte Com­pa­ny, God­frey is just one exam­ple of the out­sized pres­ence of Jews in twen­ti­eth-cen­tu­ry music on both sides of the Atlantic. 

Music lovers will enjoy plung­ing into this musi­cal­ly focused book, espe­cial­ly if they appre­ci­ate clas­si­cal music.

Beth Dwoskin is a retired librar­i­an with exper­tise in Yid­dish lit­er­a­ture and Jew­ish folk music.

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