A Story of His Life By a Man Who Has Never Gotten Anywhere: Robert Lincoln Watkins, M.D., 1863-1934. An Ode to Music Teacher Max Treumann.

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At this point I will say something of one of my singing instructors and a very close friend, Max Treumann. We came home from the Liederkranz one Tuesday evening at 11 o’clock, after stopping at a restaurant for some flapjacks. The next night but one his wife phone me that he’d died sitting in his chair that Wednesday night.

Since I could not attend the funeral in the morning, I went to the undertaker’s that night at one o-clock to view the remains, which were to be cremated at his request.

The last song he played as my instructor, and we sang together, was “Pagliacci.” He always insisted that we had the same range of voice, baritone, wide range, two and a half octaves, depending on the weather and how much we had been singing the day before. I could sing lower if I had been singing the day before.

[Background: here’s the preface, forward, and notes from the editor of R.L.W.’s memoir; here’s his account of his upbringing through medical school;  here’s when he self-inoculated with tuberculosis and went off to Paris with a charlatan; here’s where he  treated typhoid, learned to dance, theorized, and sutured guinea pigs together; here’s where he contracts cholera and hooks his uncle up with testicular juice; here’s his misadventures in self-publishing while treating a slow-motion suicide-by-drinking; here’s where he hangs out with a magician and a vaudevillian; and here’s a piece I wrote for New York Press upon first reading the memoir.]

The way I became acquainted with Max was this: we both sang second bass in the Liederkranz. He had been a member years before, had dropped out and come back again. I noticed that the seemed to sing everything that come down the pike, and I nudged along till I got next to him one night and whispered, “How’s this, you sing everything right off the reel?”

He replied, “Why shouldn’t I? That’s my business.” I said, “Where’s your office and what’s your price.” He said, “Metropolitan Opera House, and (rather hesitatingly) if you’re not a Vanderbilt – well, suit your own pocketbook.” I said, “I’ll be down next Sunday.”

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I went down and found he could sing anything in any language. I said, “I’m twelve or thirteen years your junior and can only sing hymns and nigger songs; teach me an opera,” at the same time handing him the sheet music of “Vision Fugitive” from the opera “Herodias” in French.

We lost no time discussing things, but started right in, for Treumann was no windbag, but modest and an artist. And his system, at least for me, was as I desired: imitation. He would sing and then I would sing, Chinese style, copying him. We would keep it up for two hours, more often longer than that, occasionally all day at a stretch. When the phone would ring he’d say, “My girl wants to speak to me.” That was before I knew he had a wife.

He said that Theodore Thomas induced him to come over here from Germany years ago and then turned him down. He was out of a job, and after a time became discouraged and was going to shoot himself when a young lady came along and, noticing his depression, asked him in German (for he spoke no English, and she, although English, was fluent in several languages) what was the matter. Well, they got married – and lived happy ever after. She looked after him well all his life, and he used to tell me that she was a better musician than he, though I never heard her play or sing.

He must have taught me ten or twenty songs in different languages. Perhaps the prettiest one I learned purely from memory, using no copy, but just going over it repeatedly. This was “Musica Proibita” in Italian, the only one he said he never learned, or could remember to sing, without the music.

The story is about a young girl who hears a young fellow singing in the street, or going through nearby woods (as I understand him to explain it, for I not understand Italian, but can sing it), and the girl goes out on the porch to see and hear him. Her mother remonstrates and tells her it is not a nice song, but before long the mother herself goes out, she likes the music as well. I got the song all right after a while, but I’ll bet the folks in the house were sick of it long before that. And Treumann died before I learned the accompaniment.

It seems Thomas advised him to change his name from Knitel to Treumann, thinking it would take better. He was a short, stout, jolly man, in his youth – and even at the time of his death – very muscular. He served his time in the German Army – and was called by the Gymnasium students Hercules, because, he said, there was a tree in front of the building that obstructed the view, so the boys could not see the girls as they passed in the street below, so one day he went out and pulled the tree up by its roots.

At the time of his death he was 69 years old, and had a head that made one think of Darwin. Those who knew him in his younger days say he was a handsome, red-faced, jovial fellow. I never knew him to get tired of teaching.

One of his great stunts was Russian Bass. When he’d get on that subject it was hard to stop him. I have told many a music teacher about his Russian Bass – they all laugh and say there is no such thing. In fact, some teachers so scoffed at the idea that I was really ashamed to to tell who told me about it. But Max knew there was, and so did his pupils.

He liked to sing better than anyone I ever heard of, with one exception. He was almost like a child. He would sing a song over with me so much that I would sometimes have to stop him and say, “Give me a chance at it alone, and see if I really have got it.” He always said when he got so he couldn’t sing, he would want to die. But he could sing, and teach too, for he was teaching the very day he died, which was as he would have had it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

13 thoughts on “A Story of His Life By a Man Who Has Never Gotten Anywhere: Robert Lincoln Watkins, M.D., 1863-1934. An Ode to Music Teacher Max Treumann.

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