Beginnings, 1884 - 1907

Family and Education

John McCormack was born in Athlone, County Westmeath, Ireland on June 14, 1884. The family was at that time living in a small row house in "The Bawn," a neighborhood in Athlone, east of the Shannon River. The river divides Athlone into two parts, with the west side being County Roscommon. John was the fourth of eleven children born to Hannah and Andrew McCormack, and one of the five to survive childhood. Both his parents were born in Galashiels, Scotland. Andrew's father was Irish and had originally hailed from Sligo. Mrs. McCormack's family was Scottish Presbyterian. McCormack's father came to Athlone to work in the woolen mills, employment that eventually led to managing a division of the firm he worked for. At age three in 1887 John's parents enrolled him in the school of the Marist brothers in Athlone. In 1896 he won a scholarship to the Diocesan College of the Immaculate Conception of Summerhill at Sligo. There he matriculated on October 15, 1896. He won two scholarships that allowed him to stay until he finished his studies in 1902 at the age of 18. McCormack attested in later years that he came from a musical family, saying that there was much singing in the home, and that some thought his father's voice the better of the two.

McCormack tells a story of the first time he could recall singing for an audience:

"I was nine and a slip of a lad and shy. It was in the Marist brothers' school on a feast day,when Dr. Woodlock, Bishop of Clonmacnoise, was the guest of honor. I'll not forget the sensation at hearing the words which Brother Hugh whispered in my ear. 'We want you to sing, John, for Bishop Woodlock.' With that the good man lifted me upon a table, and left me looking at the gathering. Like many another Irish boy I had sung: in my own room at home, or a snatch of some ballad as I walked outdoors. But never had I sung seriously before what may be described an audience. Different persons had told me I had a nice voice, which warmed me because I love to sing. But there's a difference between singing for one's self and singing to others, who may be more or less critical .... A great deal flashed through my childish mind as I was lifted to that table. As I stood facing my auditors - the Bishop, schoolmates and teachers - I felt queer around my middle. No absolute fear, mind you; just a sudden consciousness that I wanted to do well - and wondering if I would.... 'Shades of Evening Close Not O'er Us,' that was the song in which are the words, 'Absence makes the heart grow fonder.' Everyone kept very still and attentive. I'd like to have a record made of that song, as I sang it that day - just for Mrs. McCormack and the kiddies and myself.... I think they must have liked it. They seemed to. I had no extensive repertoire, but what I knew I knew. And the singing spirit must have been there. Like the man born to be hanged, I possibly was intended to sing." (from Key, chapter 1)

Early Singing, 1902 - 1903

As his college career ended McCormack resisted paternal pressure to study for the priesthood. Not one to shrink from guiding his son towards a respectable livelihood, Andrew McCormack next advised that John take the examination for a scholarship to the Dublin College of Science. He placed 21st relative to the 20 places available. His parents next advised attendance at the Skerries Academy in Dublin to study for a position in the civil service. McCormack's comments about this phase of his life suggest that he viewed this possible vocation as uninspiring. Although it seems that he attained a clerkship in the postal service, he abandoned it after only a few weeks when offered a position in the Palestrina Choir of the Pro-Cathedral in Dublin under choir master Vincent O'Brien. This was about January or February 1903 and was a momentous step, as it turned out.

McCormack gave to Pierre Key this account of how he came to join The Palestrina Choir at the Pro-Cathedral in Dublin:

"After the Dublin postal clerk fiasco - if we may term it that - I took singing by the hand and gave it a sound shake. It was as if we were pals joining forces with a resolution never to part. ... It was about that time that my friends, one after the other, began proffering advice. They all agreed. I was destined to have a singing career and was a fool not to see it. There was power in these suggestions, a world of it; and I was not insensible to entertaining a fondness for hearing what they said. I was heeding, too, more willingly than I knew; for directly I let myself fall into the ways of their thinking and before winter passed music had me for a life votary. One man drove the last spike in my rail of decision - Vincent O'Brien. ... He was organist of the Marlborough Street Cathedral, in Dublin; a splendid musician, a fine man, and a staunch friend. He had vision and appeared, intuitively, to feel that all I needed was study and opportunity to achieve a goal worthy of serious aspirations. ... Dr. [Dudley] Forde took me to Vincent O'Brien ... [who] needed a tenor, and the doctor suggested that he hear me. ... O'Brien was as positive as Manners [of the Moody-Manners Opera Company, a recent unsuccessful audition] was negative; so much so that he volunteered to have Edward Martin listen to me voice. Martin, an Irish playwright of means whose fad was music, had endowed the Marlborough Street Cathedral choir, and out of courtesy O'Brien wished to consult him before engaging so important a member for the organization (which it then needed) as a tenor. Martin came over to the cathedral, and I sang to him, in the choir room. It was a good-sized place, but my voice - though smaller than it is now - was telling in quality. I watched my critic as I sang for some sign of approval; but Martin allowed me nothing, from any outward evidence, on which to base a hope. And when I had finished ... he said that my voice, he feared, was too large for the choir. ... O'Brien explained that in the auditorium of the cathedral the voice would not give such an impression. This appeared to satisfy Martin, and he told the organist to go ahead, if he liked, and engage me. I walked out of the cathedral a happy young man. I had a choir position, a salary of one hundred and twenty five dollars a year, and the music road showed clear ahead." (from chapter 4)

From Vincent O'Brien the young McCormack received his first lessons in singing and musicianship. He was apparently an apt and willing pupil, and it was only a matter of a month or two when the possibility of entering the Irish National Music Festival arose. This event, the "Feis Ceoil" (pronounced, more or less, "fesh c[e] oil, with the [e] barely sounded), was to be held in May 1903. Despite some initial self-doubt, and upon O'Brien's offer to continue his musical training, McCormack prepared for the festival, which included a competition for various types of voices. It was known in advance what pieces must be sung: They were the aria "Tell Fair Irene" by Handel and a ballad "The Snowy Breasted Pearl." McCormack's account of his preparation (in Key) suggests that he worked hard to meet O'Brien's expectations, and that his teacher was largely satisfied. The festival was held in Dublin. Thirteen tenors were entered in that division, and McCormack became the 14th after he entered late, aided by the fact that a friend paid the fee of ten shillings (a large sum in those days) for his entry. McCormack waited somewhat apprehensively through the 13 performances of each of the two pieces. When his turn came, he asked the pianist who was playing the accompaniments (Hamilton Harty, no less) to use a slower tempo and then began. When he finished, there was sudden and prolonged applause, which was actually forbidden, a rule that had been observed by the audience up to that point. The judge, Luigi Denza, announced, "You have shown by your applause that you have made my decision for me, and you are quite right. The winner is the young man whom you have just heard." (quoted in Strong, chapter 1). Interestingly, John's future wife, Lily Foley, had competed in the Feis Ceoil the previous year and won the gold medal in the soprano competition singing in Gaelic. In her biography of John she commented that she did not actually attend the tenor competition in 1903 but met him later when they appeared in various concerts around Ireland. It is sometimes reported that James Joyce competed in the same Feis as McCormack, however he actually sang in the 1904 competition, also as a tenor. It is sometimes erroneously stated that Joyce was a bass, but this mistake probably derives from the fact that Joyce's son, Giorgio, was a bass.

McCormack commented on this turning point in his life in his conversations with Pierre Key:

"The gold medal I was awarded as winner of the tenor contest at the Feis decided my future. I determined to abandon all efforts at anything else; so May 14, 1903, may stand as the pivotal date in my career. As the competition was an open one to all residents of the British Isles some reputation attached to the winner in each division. I profited; and another profited, a young soprano, Miss Lily Foley, whom I had never met. Miss Foley had surpassed her rivals with astonishing ease: her lyric voice (one of the smoothest I've ever heard) and breadth of style and finish were used in a way to let none who heard forget. As I listened to her, at the Feis, I thought to myself, 'I'd like to sing with her.' And in the fall of that same year I had my wish." (quoted in Key, chapter 5)

From the Feis Ceoil to Italy, 1903 - 1905

In the 1918 interviews with Key McCormack commented that he until 1903 he had never heard an opera. In that year he attended Cavalleria Rusticana and I Pagliacci as given by the Moody-Manners Opera Company in Dublin. Up to that point he had considered operas largely as a source for arias to sing in recital, but coupled with his aspirations to be a professional singer, opera as a theatrical endeavor began to appear in a new light. The most convincing evidence of the rank to which a serious singer could aspire was performing in opera, and McCormack was not long in making this a reality for himself. After a summer vacation with his parents in Athlone, he returned to Dublin to continue his employment as a member of the Palestrina Choir under O'Brien's tutelege. He also accepted paid engagements in different parts of Ireland, which came more readily because of his Feis celebrity. At many of these concerts in the fall of 1903 and spring of 1904 he sang on the same bill with Lily Foley, and the two became friends. In April 1904 there appeared in Dublin one Mr. Riordan, who had come from St. Louis in the United States to recruit talent for the "Irish Village" at the St. Louis World's Fair beginning that summer. He secured Lily as a singer in that exhibition , and some weeks later he approached John, who also agreed to go.

The terms of the agreement were tempting for the times: £10/- per week for 6 months, plus transportation to and from St. Louis. Lily had already sailed in April. John sailed about a month later. His stay in St. Louis lasted only about two months, long enough to transform his friendship with Lily to a secret engagement. At the fair occurred another turning point in McCormack's quest for success as a singer. He tells the story that has since become part of McCormack lore: The management decided to introduce a comic figure to the stage of the Irish Village, a caricature of an Irishman, that was apparently a stock figure in popular entertainment of that that time in America. McCormack took offense, so the story goes, and presented the manager with an ultimatum: him or me. It was him. McCormack resigned and returned to Ireland.

Other evidence suggests that McCormack had realized that true success as singer would require more training of the sort he could probably best obtain by study in Italy. Once this resolve had hardened, he began to see the job in St. Louis as merely marking time. In the interviews with Key McCormack stated that he was encouraged in this ambition by both Lily and a Dr. Cameron, a physician whom he met at the Fair. His stay at there was comparatively brief. McCormack commented to Key that he departed in June, and Lily quotes him as arriving back in Athlone on July 8th, 1904.

A friend of Andrew McCormack in Athlone suggested (John told Key) that he study with Vincenzo Sabatini in Milan. Securing the means to do that required a lengthier effort, and it was not until the spring of 1905 that McCormack was to arrive in Milan. The funds supporting his quest had been earned singing in many concerts in Ireland, including a benefit concert organized in large part by Lily's father. McCormack also sought engagements in London in the fall of 1904, achieving several, including one notable Gaelic League Concert in Queen's hall. Also that fall he made his first recordings: Between September and November McCormack made cylinder recordings for the National Phonograph Company (issued as Edison brand cylinders) and Edison-Bell Consolidated Phonograph Company (issued as Edison-Bell cylinders. He also made two series of (disc) recordings for the Gramophone and Typewriter Company (G & T). These early recordings, which have survived and been issued on LP and CD, reveal a basically untrained but attractive voice, beset with some bothersome mannerisms. They are noteworthy insofar as they thoroughly document the quality of McCormack's singing voice that was to be so transformed by 1907, by dint of training under Sabatini, as well as, one must conclude, McCormack's own efforts to implement the principles of bel canto style that he would absorb during his all too brief study in Italy.

In the fall of 1904 at Covent Garden, McCormack heard Caruso for the first time and was stricken with what he heard. In his memoirs, as quoted by Lily McCormack, he wrote:

"That voice still rings in my ears after thirty-three years, and the memory of its beauty will never die."

In an interview with Pierre Key in 1917 McCormack also described this experience:

"I ... recall the first time I heard Caruso. It wasn't long before I left Dublin for Italy, and a short time after I had made ny records for the Edison and Gramophone companies. It was at Covent Garden, London; the opera, 'La Bohéme.' You can well imagine my state of mind at reaching my seat in that distinguished old institution. My heart fluttered almost as a spinster's at the moment of approaching proposal. I had read and heard so much about this great artist that I could scarcely wait for the curtain. 'La Bohéme' was as much of a novelty as the tenor, but it was he in whom my interest centered: the type of his voice, his manner of using it and his interpretive style. My ears and mind were full of the man and I was as nervous as a horse at the starting post until Caruso, garbed as the Bohemian Rodolpho, sang his opening phrases. I was not there in the role of cantakerous, captious critic. Presumptuousness held no part of me. But when I listened to the opening phrases of Puccini's music, sung by that indescribably glorious voice as Caruso alone could sing, my jaw dropped as though huing on a hinge. Such smoothness and purity of tone, and such quality; it was like a stream of liquid gold. ... It was the best lesson, up to the moment, I had ever received and a stimulus which cannot be described. The sound of Caruso's voice that night lingered in my ears for months, and will doubtless linger there always. It will always be to me one of the memorable moments of my life. I looked up to him, as I do still, as a supremely gifted artist; unique, performing vocal feats no other tenor can, and standing apart from the rest as a model for all." (from Key, chapter 7)

McCormack described his first recording sessions in the fall of 1904 in this way:

"It appears that I had gained enough reputation of a certain character to filter up to London. Reports had it that there was a young tenor in Dublin named McCormack who had something of a voice and a way of singing that the people liked. And these two invitations - one from the Edison Company, the other from the Gramophone Company - had come wholly unsolicited. I was pleased, yet I went to London in a humble spirit, glad of what offered and hoping it would lead to something of a permanent nature in the way of recording. ... Well, I called on the Edison manager and made arrangements to return at a specified time to make the records for him, and left his office somewhat elated. Then I headed up Gray's Inn Road, towards the Gramophone establishment which, as you know, is the sister company to the Victor Talking Machine Company, of America. There, also, I was successful. It was gratifying to qualify with both companies, contracting with the Edison to do ten songs for fifty pounds and to record twenty-five songs for twenty-five pounds for the Gramophone. The difference in the fees I received was this: for the fifty pounds the Edison Company was to pay me I agreed to make as many matrices as might be necessary to secure ten perfect records; but my agreement with the Gramophone Company required only a single record for each song, regardless of whether a record might be slightly imperfect." (from Key, chapter 6)

The Edison recordings were cylinder records, while the Gramophone records were single-sided discs. (The term "gramophone record" denoted flat disc records in the early days of the industry, an important distinction, since Edison called his cylinder recordings "phonograph records".) All but one of the Edison records are known to be extant. The Gramophone [and Typewriter, as the company was known for a while] records were issued in two ways: Most were issued as G & T discs in England, but six matrices were issued on the Zonophone label. The account, by John Ward, Alan Kelly, and John Perkins, of how the existence of these six records, unknown until the early 1970's, was discovered makes interesting reading.

Italy, 1905 - 1906

McCormack arrived in Milan about March 1905. Upon hearing him sing, Sabatini agreed to take him as a pupil, duly impressed, it seems, with the raw material with which he had been presented. In McCormack's account, included in the frst three biographies (Key, Strong, & Lily McCormack) Sabatini's response was, "I cannot place your voice, because God did that." The first lessons that spring lasted about eight weeks, and Sabatini evidently had definite ideas about fine-tuning the voice that God had placed, because he did not let McCormack sing any arias. Instead, lessons consisted of vocal exercises, scales, and other coaching. McCormack later commented that during his study Sabatini taught him no opera roles. Rather, he studied and learned them on his own, and Sabatini advised him about the singing and interpretation of them.

The first period of training ended before summer, and McCormack returned to Ireland for about four months. He divided his time between his family in Athlone and Lily in Dublin. There is no record of any recitals during this interval, and McCormack rreturned to Italy at the end of September 1905. He evidently had become one of Sabatini's most promising students, and the two set to work with a will. By December the maestro decided that McCormack was ready for his first performances in opera and arranged for an audition at the Teatro Chiabrera in Savona. He was to sing the role of Fritz in Mascagni's L'Amico Fritz. The two worked on learning the role before the audition, in which McCormack was successful. His operatic debut came on January 13, 1906. McCormack (photo: 1906, in Savona) sang under the pseudonym "Giovanni Foli," bowing to the difficulties that Italians had pronouncing his name, as well as adapting the last name of his fiancé and paying homage to another famous Irish singer of that name. He sang seven unpaid performances, although there was reportedly a benfit performance from which he was given the profits. McCormack later commented that he nevertheless wound up owing money on the deal. His critical reception was positive, although McCormack was well aware that Italian opera audiences tended to be skeptical of foreigners singing in their operas. He later summed up his debut with the statement, "I believe it would be within the full truth to say that I was mildly accepted." Sabatini approved and predicted that John would ultimately succeed and make a name for himself. But he cautioned the young singer that good luck would play a role.

McCormack's operatic debut, however, was successful enough to lead to the next engagement a short two months later at Santa Croce sul Arno, near Florence. In this outing he sang Faust and was actually paid for this appearance, but even so, money was running short. McCormack had prolonged his stay in Italy that spring with a loan sent by friends at home. The engagement at Santa Croce lasted six weeks and consisted of ten performances. McCormack returned briefly to Milan to see Sabatini and left Italy for home in May 1906. It was, he said, "the end of my formal studies with him."

Lily Foley's father had died during the spring of 1906. McCormack arrived home in May and married Lily on July 2, 1906, apparently with the approval of Mrs. Foley and skepticism from McCormack's parents (who thought it was premature for their son to marry before a proper livelihood was secure). Before leaving for their honeymoon in London, John gave a recital in Dublin that was very well received, due notice being taken of the improvements wrought by study under Sabatini. An extensive review and commentary of this performance indicates that the Dublin audience, having herad McCormack in 1903-04, was cognizant of his budding talent. In London he and Lily attended the opera at Covent Garden many times and heard many of the stars of the day. McCormack's ambition clearly by this point in his life was to sing on that stage himself. The road to it, he thought, lay through further performances in opera in Italy. It was not to be. He returned to Milan with Lily in Late July to seek engagements. Several auditions proved unsuccessful, including one at La Scala. Although welcomed and aided where possible by Sabatini, this visit to Italy proved frustrating. Money again ran short, and Lily discovered that she was expecting a child. McCormack decided that he had a better chance of earning money in London. There he and Lily arrived in early September 1906.

In just over three years since his victory at the Feis Ceoil, McCormack had reached the threshold of one of the most successful singing careers of the century. Within eight months his struggles in London to establish himself would succeed, aided by no small amount of the good luck that Sabatini had hoped for.

McCormack wrote to Lily about his debut in Mascagni's opera, L'Amico Fritz, describing it in this way:

"Now work really began. Part of each day's lesson was devoted to this opera. Sabatini saw to it that I was perfect, words and music, before starting off to Savona. What an interesting place it turned out to be - a little seaport town situated on the Gulf of Genoa. Many a moonlight night during that season I walked along the seashore wondering what success, if any, was in store for me. During the day I paid many visits to the church of San Giovanni Batista, which was close to the Theatre Chiabera, where I made my debut. I can't say that I caused a furore, but the audience made me repeat my aria in the last act and thereby hangs a rather funny tale. Being scared stiff at the high B flat and knowing that I could not possibly be heard over what seemed to me then a very large orchestra, I just opened my mouth wide, struck a dramatic attitude but made no sound. The audience, thinking they heard a beautiful B flat, insisted on an encore. I was delighted and thought, 'What will they do when I really sing it?' I found out and incidentally learned a good lesson in humility. That was the only performance in which they insisted on a 'bis.' " (from Lily McCormack, I Hear You Calling Me , page 17)

McCormack described his second appearance in opera in Italy, in Gounod's Faust thus:

"What a cosmopolitan cast we had! The Margherita was a Brazilian, the Sibel was Russian, the Faust was an Irishman, the Valentine was Russian, the Mephistopheles was a Greek, and we sang the French opera in Italian. The chorus and most of the little orchestra came from the village and, all in all, I think it was the most pleasant engagement in my whole career .... One night, however, there was a contretemps. In Italy, the mortal sin of vocalism is to break on a top note. I had seen and heard an Italian audience react to a broken top note and I lived in constant dread of such a catastrophe overtaking me. One night it happened. I was singing the phrase after Margherita's exit in the second act. I came to theB natural and I cracked it. I did not wait for the chorus of whistles which I felt sure was coming, but just eased myself off the stage. Unfortunately, the chorus traipsed off after me and the stage was empty during the playing of the waltz which finishes the act. Maestro Corado, a hot-tempered, fiery, little Neapolitan, rushed backstage. He listened sympathetically to my explanation but then turned on the chorus with every 'cuss word' in the Italian language and several in some hidden Neapolitan dialect. I was still scared but the audience had been told the facts, and from the beginning of the third act I was applauded after every phrase...." (from Lily McCormack, I Hear You Calling Me, pp. 17-18)

In his discussions with Key about his singing lessons with Sabatini, McCormack commented:

"Two objects engaged the chief attention of Sabatini in our work: the acquiring of a mezza-voce, which I did not have by Nature, and the freeing of my high tones. The voice was not what is called a "long voice" (by which I mean plenty of compass, from bottom to top) and the top notes were in my throat; but to get them out with freedom, so that a high A or B-flat had the same relative quality as the lower part of the voice, required constant, painstaking teaching on Sabatini's part and practice on my own. The mezza-voce (singing with half the volume of the full voice, or with less than half) was a slow process; often I grew discouraged over it. My maestro spent no time teaching me the operas. ... [M]y endeavors ... so far as Sabatini is concerned, lay in the direction of acquiring an evenness of the vocal scale; of making the voice smooth in every note, and in gaining ease of production and certainty..." (from chapter 7)

As his own assessment of the progress that he had made during his studies with Sabatini up to the spring of 1906, McCormack commented:

"My high tones at last were coming with freedom and had the quality corresponding to those in the lower part of the voice. And that elusive, to me, mezza-voce seemed well-nigh conquered. Musically I was well along and the repertoire one of respectable proportions. In a year my advancement had been rather remarkable; so, at any rate, it appeared, and others besides Sabatini spoke of this - which came back to me by roundabout courses. What it had usually taken others much longer to acquire had been given me quickly. Yet an operatic career (so far as Italy might be introduced into it) did not loom upon the immediate horizon with any significant glow." (from Key, chapter 9)

London, Fall 1906

One measure of McCormack's ambition as a struggling young singer may be seen in his choosing to return from Italy to London at the end of the summer of 1906. Though he must have been discouraged at the failure of a career in Italy to develop, he nevertheless did not return to what would have been the relative security of Dublin. There he was known and doubtless could have pursued a modest career within the musical life of that city. Instead he chose to go to London, where he would be a virtual unknown in one of the world's largest cities. In London he knew there was a chance at the career he aspired to, whereas in Dublin there was not. It was a gamble that would pay off.

Soon after he arrived in London and secured lodgings in Bloomsbury, he secured another recording agreement, this time a long-term contract with the Odeon company. For £150/- per year he agreed to make 24 recordings each year for six years. He also began to accept work wherever he could find it. One gets a sense from the various biographies that he sought such appearances industriously. He also signed an agreement with a theatrical agency run by Henry and Louis Bernhardt. This agreement secured him a number of appearances as an assisting artis in concerts featuring bigger names. Many of these occurred on the Palace Pier at Brighton , less than an hour by train south of London at this seaside resort. John Ward has discussed this phase of McCormack's career in depth. Since the Bernhardt agency not only represented performers but also arranged and sponsored concerts of its own origin, McCormack was able to appear in many of these. In the fall of 1906 he was a minor figure in most of these events. Ward gives numerous examples of them. The first one that his research has revealed occurred on September 9, 1906, a Sunday concert. Interestingly, McCormack sang as Giovanni Foli at this concert, but at the next, two weeks later, he had reverted to J.F. McCormack, the name he had hitherto preferred in his professional life (outside Italy). He appeared at these Bernhardt Brothers' events with increasing frequency through the first months of 1907, but he remained low on the billing until about April.

Concerning his state of affairs as he searched for opportunities in London in the fall of 1906, in his interviews with Pierre Key, John commented as follows:

"We hadn't been long back in our small quarters in London before Fortune permitted herself to smile, just a little, upon us. I was desperate, willing enough to take anything which would pay at all. Through an agent I secured an engagement to sing at Queen's Hotel, in Leicester Square - for a guinea [£ 1/1/-, one pound and 1 shilling]. It was not cabaret, as it has been said to be, but the appearance was inconsequential and meant nothing more than the five dollars I received. Other engagements, at different hotels, were offered me and gladly accepted. All the while I studied at home, and practised rigidly and sought to preserve a tranquil mind and an unwavering heart. But it wasn't easy. I began, during those dark days, to ask myself if I had not been ungenerous in asking the woman I loved to share with me those troublous times; it was difficult enough for a man. Then, one morning, an agent [Bernhardt] informed me he had arranged for me to appear as assisting artist to Camille Clifford, the original Gibson girl, and though the fee was only one guinea I jumped, as one will say, at the chance. That engagement [see the article by Ward : Appendix, entry for 30 November 1906] led to others of the same kind, each one yielding approximately the same compensation and very little honor. Nevertheless, I would not have missed for a great deal the experience these appearances as assisting artist taught. I was, at any rate, becoming more at ease before an audience and practising in public the things which I had learned in the syudio and which, really, are never fixed in a singer's equipment until they have been utilized over and over again before many listeners, presumably critical." (from Key, chapter 10)

Lily McCormack described their arrival in London from Milan as follows:

"We found rooms suitable to our purse in Torrington Square, London, where many well-known stage people were living; and John started at once to look for engagements. He was dtermined that we should get along on our own, and, before leaving Milan had written to Arthur Brooks, for whom he had made records before. He also wrote to the Gramophone and Typewriter Company and was informed by the manager [Fred Gaisberg] that any further records he might make would be utterly useless to them and they had no interest. .... Arthur Brooks, however, sent word that he would be happy to see John. Fearing that I would be lonely without him, John took me along, and while we were there I was thrilled to have Mr. Brooks ask us if we would like to record a duet. We did Home to our mountains which we had sung together before and I recall that I was quite satisfied with myself. But when I heard the record I nearly wept and kept insisting that it wasn't my voice at all - it sounded more like foghorn. This was a turning point for me and one which I never regretted. I never made another record and I never sang in public again. I left the singing in the family to John, though I often teased him by accusing him of having me make that record on purpose!" (Lily McCormack, I Hear You Calling Me, 1949, p. 27)

McCormack continued to seek engagements on his own throughout the final months of 1906. One gets a sense of much energy from his own account and from the comments of his wife, Lily, but there is also a hint of discouragement. Then, through his own persistent acceptance of minor engagements and, what one would call today, 'networking,' there occurred the break that would lead to the success of which he dreamed. Just after Christmas of 1906, McCormack met Albert Vesetti, a professor of singing in the Royal College of Music, who had earlier been accompanist to Adelina Patti. Vesetti had heard McCormack in more than one concert and was impressed with his voice. He gave the singer two letters of introduction to two rival music publishers, one to William Boosey of Chapells, and the other to his cousin Arthur Boosey, of Boosey and Company. The second of these letters turned out to be the key to fame and fortune. Lily stayed in Dublin after Christmas, because their son was due in three months. (He was born on March 26th.) When Lily and Cyril rejoined John in London late in the spring of 1907, his star had risen.

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