Friday, September 05, 2003

Page 53 of Ellman’s biography of James Joyce
contains the following sentence: “Joyce sang
all in a sweet but rather weak tenor voice”. It
is not a quote from someone else, but Ellman’s
own words and I take issue with them.

Joyce was a fine singer. He did not have the
range of John McCormack, but that’s no justifica-
tion for calling his voice weak. Joyce won a bronze
medal at the 1904 Feis Ceol, a competition which
brought together tenors (and other singers) from
all over Ireland. The judge had planned on giving
Joyce the gold medal, but could not because Joyce
refused to participate in the sight singing portion
of the competition.

He was offered a scholarship with the greatly
respected voice teacher Benedetto Palmieri, who
offered to train Joyce for three years in exchange
for ten percent of his concert earnings. In a country
that produces talented tenors by the score, an offer
like that, in addition to Joyce’s Feis medal, indicate
that his voice stood out among others. There were -
and are - many weak tenors. James Joyce wasn’t
one of them.

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