HOME > COMPOSERS > DAVID MEYEROWITZ
THE MAN WHO WRITES AN OPERA A WEEK
He Plays His Own Leading Roles,
Gets a $40 Salary and Found Time to Write
The "Jewish National Hymn"
There are probably few musical composers who would be willing to sign a contract with a theatre manager in which they agreed to furnish one original operetta a week, play the most important role in it, conduct all the rehearsals and write from five to a dozen songs to be sung by the vaudeville actors who appeared on the program following the operetta. Most of them would refuse such a proposition on the ground (sic) that they wanted a little time to eat and sleep. And if any of them had that happy faculty of getting along without sleep and I thought seriously of taking the job they would certainly hold up their hands in anguish as soon as they heard that the remuneration was only $40 a week.
There is one man in this country, however, who has signed a contract to do that very thing. He has bound himself to write the music of one operetta a week, to conduct all its rehearsals and play the principal role twice a day. In addition he has agreed to furnish the other actors with all the new songs they need for their different acts from week to week. There is no mistaking the fact that it sounds impossible, but David Meyerowitz performs that miracle every week, and on Saturday night receives his check for $40. Add to this the fact that Mr. Meyerowitz cannot read music, that he has never heard more than three or four operas in his life, and his accomplishment becomes one of the most astounding things of modern times.
Every one who hears his music calls him a genius, but that is only for want of a stronger term. The word "genius" has been much abused in recent years. It has been promiscuously applied to persons who had unusual talent and an extraordinary ability for developing it.
music; it became a sort of pastime. It relieved the monotony of his trip. It never once occurred to him that he was doing anything unusual. He supposed that anyone who can make up music if he wanted to. And that was the way he came to America. He improvised a song about the captain of a vessel that was bound this way and got his passage free. He sang to the steward and got his food.
At last he landed in New York with fifty dollars in his pocket, and the discouraging prospect of eking out a living in a strange land. It would have been discouraging to most people, and many give up under the strain. But David Meyerowitz was always optimistic. He sings his way through life and is seldom downhearted. He found many of his compatriots in the Lower East Side section of New York and he went to live among them. He found there a sort of "cafe concert," where people sat and drank soft drinks, while on an improvised stage at one end singers and dancers did turns for whatever coins those seated at the tables were willing to throw them.
Meyerowitz gained admission there and sang for the amusement of the drinkers, sometimes his own songs and sometimes a popular hit of the day by some well-known composer. He soon saw that his own songs were just as well-received and sometimes better received than those of his more learned contemporaries. So he relied mostly on his own compositions. In this way he rose or fell entirely on his own merits. It was an uncertain lie, rather hit or miss, but he enjoyed it and continued to do the same thing for several years, until at last the cafe concert was changed into a music hall.
It is now the Grand Music Hall, a Yiddish variety theatre, at the corner of Grand and Orchard Streets in the very heart of the East Side of New York City. Meyerowitz is still there, but he has risen from the position of singing for pennies until he is now the the composer of all the theatre's operettas, the writer of all its songs and its principal actor. He no longer depends on the generosity of the audience. He gets a stated salary of forty dollars a week. But what is forty dollars a week for the amount of work he does? One even wonders how he finds the time to accomplish all that he does. Read the schedule of his average day:
Probably you are wondering when he composes his operettas and songs. His day is entirely occupied with the other things he has to do. Of course, there are only twenty-four hours in a day and his time is all accounted for. The answer is that Mr. Meyerowitz is a master in the art of the conservation of time. He composes his operettas and songs in all the spare moments he has during the day, and even while he is doing something else. While he eats, he is working out in his mind the air of a new song. He insists that while he sleeps melodies are running through his head which he can sing as soon as he awakes in the morning. He gets all the necessary tunes in his head and then when he has a forenoon that it is not necessary to spend at the rehearsal he and the conductor of the orchestra arrange the partition.
It was said at the beginning that he does not know one note from another and that is literally true; it is impossible for him to read a piece of music, no matter how simple it may be. And now you undoubtedly want to know how he can write music without knowing how to read it. As a matter of fact, it is not exact to say that he writes music; he merely composes it. He has it all in his head. When he has finished his operetta, he takes the libretto and sings his airs as he reads the words to the conductor. The conductor transcribes the music as he sings it and then arranges the partition for the different members of his orchestra.
That is how David Meyerowitz furnishes one operetta a week to his manager, and that is why he is called the "music incubator." For the last eighteen years he has been doing nothing but draw music from his brain.
He knows nothing of books and art. He is really
unlettered. He is indifferent about the theatre and the opera house.
He lives in Delancey Street, scarcely a block away from the music
hall to which he devotes his time. He eats regularly at Sach's
restaurant, only two blocks down the street. He never leaves the
neighborhood where he has lived since he came to this country. But
he has the extraordinary streak of melody in his make-up; he is
sentimental; he is oriental in his manner; and everything he
composes has an original swing to it.
has heard some of them. Never a day goes by that a hurdy-gurdy in every large city in the land does not play one of them. Meyerowitz receives ten dollars apiece for these successes and turns them out in his sleep.
He is just beginning to understand their real value. The rumors that others are building $5,000 houses on the profits from his songs have opened his eyes. He is learning what a fortune his gift his to him.
Writing music is not an effort for him; he simply does it in his spare moments. Let him insist on a contract with his publisher and a written promise of reasonable royalties and his fortune is made. There is no chance for piracy of his music. It is not written; he has it all in his head. He could not write it if he tried. All he needs to do is refrain from singing until the contract is signed. It is impossible to steal his music from him.
If you wish to prove the value of Meyerowitz's
music, you have only to go and hear it. He is always on hand at his
theatre every week with a brand new operetta, and everything in it
is original. Meyerowitz cannot make over another's work, for he
cannot read it. His work unquestionably justifies the use of the
word genius with regard to him, and he might also rank as the
busiest man in New York.
Article from the Times-Dispatch, Richmond, VA, February 11, 1912. Original copyright from The Morning Telegram, 1911.
Sheet music of "Ohn a mamen" courtesy of the Library of Congress.
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