An early IWPA member, Eleanor Everest Freer, was a
recognized composer, singer and philanthropist who founded
the American Opera Society of Chicago and served as its first
president. Her passion was to encourage American composers
and musicians to express their own national heritage at a time
when the European tradition set the standard.
“She has waged war,” asserted Agnes Greene Foster, “a
bloodless revolution in their behalf, sacrificing her own work,
time, energy and money.”
Freer once said, “As art is the expression of the life and
thoughts of a people, it must be developed, or a nation passes,
leaving no trace behind. Do we want such a fate for our
Eleanor Everest was born into a musical family on May
14, 1864. Her father, Cornelius Everest, was a theory and choral
professor who published three instructional books containing
vocal exercises as well as many hymns and chants. He was also
a church organist and vocal coach. Her mother, Ellen Amelia
(Clark) Everest, possessed a beautiful soprano voice and her
only sibling, DeWitt Everest, studied violin.
At age 5 Eleanor taught herself to play piano and accompanied
her bother, mother and herself in daily musical activities
in their home. She penned her fi rst composition at age 13, a
piano solo, “Polka Facile,” published in 1880.
Many musical and literary guests frequented their home
and one of her mother’s best friends, playwright/novelist Anna
Dickinson, commissioned Eleanor to compose an overture for
her play, Aurelian. The result was Eleanor’s second musical
work, The Aurelian March, composed in 1878.
In 1883 at age 19, she set sail for Paris with a chaperone
to study voice. During that journey she resented having to go
so far to study. She asked, “Why did the public believe it was
impossible to receive adequate musical training in America?”
She determined then to bring back the teaching methods of
Parisian instructors to elevate American musical education.
While in Paris at the Ecole Marchesi, where she spent
three years, she learned French, German and Italian, while
taking voice lessons. She also studied theory and diction with
Benjamin Godard, who trained many famous singers. She met
many of them, sang for and studied with the likes of Franz Liszt,
and performed a selection from Mozart’s opera, Cosi Fan Tutte,
before Giuseppe Verdi.
Following her graduation, she returned to Philadelphia
and from 1886-1891 ran a vocal studio, where she taught more
than 60 students per week.