Scientific Singing

Scientific Singing cover
Cover of “Scientific Singing”, with the author’s EST monogram at lower right

In his 1916 book Scientific Singing, E. Standard Thomas wastes no time in getting to his point:

Do you realize that you can sing? Do you realize that to sing is a normal expression of your spiritual nature? Do you realize that song has a place in every life?

Clearly, Thomas was a singing teacher, and this book was his manifesto. In his next breath, he confronts your fears:

Why don’t you sing? Because I have no voice. Why do you say you have no voice? You have never proved it.

The real reason why you do not sing is because you do not appreciate the value singing will be to you. You do not realize that in your everyday life singing is of actual worth. Singing is not a great mystery. It is but the expression of ideas you are conceiving every day. The gift of song is possessed by all. It is within your grasp. You can appreciate it. You can attain it. You can express yourself in song.

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Title page of “Scientific Singing.” The frontispiece is the author’s music studio, designed by famed architect Bernard Maybeck in 1910

Edgar Standard Thomas (1883-1952) was the adopted son of Captain Richard Parks Thomas (1826-1900) and his wife Jane Watson Thomas (1829-1919). Capt. Thomas was a Civil War veteran and owner of the Standard Soap Company in west Berkeley. (Edgar’s middle name “Standard” was taken directly from the name of the soap company.)

Capt. Thomas owned a large tract of land north of the UC Berkeley campus, an area he called “La Loma” (Spanish for “hill”) but which is now colloquially called “Nut Hill,” possibly referring to Capt. Thomas’s well-known eccentricities.

The Thomas home was located on what is now Greenwood Terrace. The San Francisco Call society pages of 6 August 1911 reported that

Mrs Thomas and her son, Edgar Standard Thomas, have returned to their North Berkeley home after an absence of two months in the east. The Thomas home, ‘La Loma,’ has been one of the show places of Berkeley for 30 years. Mrs Thomas recently built her son a studio overlooking San Francisco Bay.

After Capt. Thomas died in 1900, his widow Jane subdivided the La Loma Park tract. Edgar’s new studio, a photo of which appears on the frontispiece, was designed in 1910 by famous architect Bernard Maybeck. It was located along Buena Vista Way, between Greenwood Terrace and La Loma. The studio burned in the 1923 Berkeley fire and was not rebuilt.

Edgar Thomas and his parents are buried in the same plot in the Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland.

I wish to thank Daniella Thompson for sharing her extensive research on Capt. Thomas and La Loma Park. Here is a three-part article Daniella wrote for the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association website:

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Scientific Singing, page 56-57

The Call of the City

Call of the City cover
Cover of "The Call of the City"

What was urban life like 100 years ago? The technology we now take for granted was either absent or in its infancy: electricity, automobiles, telephones, radio, television. In my own mind I picture New York City or Chicago with its teeming immigrants, and still manage to conclude that urban life was much like it is now: huge numbers of people all trying to get ahead in the world.

Among the important social facts of urban life then: city dwellers were a minority. In 1908, 56% of Americans still lived in rural areas (by 1920 the urbanites were in the majority, and in 2008 only 17% of Americans were rural). Today we tend to think of city vs suburb, but in 1908 the distinction was city vs farm.

The Call of the City, Charles Mulford Robinson’s tribute to urbanity, is an unabashed love-fest of the creature comforts that civilization can offer. Robinson is careful never to directly insult the farmer. Instead, he compares the city man to the outdoorsman:

If now and then, on a wet day, the city does not seem attractive, one should draw up before his fire and read the journal of a lover of the country, of a hunter of a fisherman in his wilds. The writer will early tell how shabbily the weather treated him, and it is a safe guess that one will not be so saintly as not to smile when thinking of a contrast offered by the safe harbor of a city. … The journal rambles on, and before it is done with the weather one may be sure of a page or so on the delicious difficulty in making a fire; on the remarkable failure of this particular fire, when built, to warm both sides of the body at the same time equally; and of the early darkness and the consequent and admittedly, long and tiresome evenings when the weather is rainy. If you are human, you shift your feet on the ottoman and ring for William to turn on the steam heat.

(Lucky for our city dweller that he has a manservant named William!)

Charles Mulford Robinson (1869–1917) was one of the first urban planners and an advocate of the City Beautiful movement. He was Professor of Civic Design at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and wrote the influential 1901 book The Improvement of Towns and Cities.

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Frontispiece of "The Call of the City" -- "Broad Street, New York" by Colin Campbell Cooper

My favorite chapter in the book is entitled “When Phyllis is in town”:

When Phyllis is in town the city is no longer austere and dignified. It becomes bewitching. Love is always full of sweet surprises, but at this time one may chance on a surprise at any moment and at any turn—for Phyllis may be there! … When Phyllis is in town, the windows of the florists tug at heart-strings and at purse-strings; the confectioners’ tempting trays plead sweetly for the little mouth; the windows of the milliners unaccustomedly attract, for in them are plumes, of which one may get on Phyllis’s hat … When Phyllis is in town, the music of her voice is in every tingle of the telephone, because—perhaps—she asked that it should ring … When Phyllis is in town, the world is such a great big funny spectacle for you and her to look at laugh at; and when she goes, it is such a dreary, solemn drama!

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Title page of "The Call of the City"

Bohemian San Francisco

Bohemian San Francisco cover
Cover of “Bohemian San Francisco”

How many cookbooks start like this:

No apologies are offered for this book. In fact, we rather like it. Many years have been spent in gathering this information, and naught is written in malice, nor through favoritism, our expressions of opinion being unbiased by favor or compensation.

and then continue like this?

San Francisco! Is there a land where the magic of that name has not been felt? Bohemian San Francisco! Pleasure-loving San Francisco! Care-free San Francisco! … It was in Paris that a world traveler said to us: “San Francisco! That wonderful city where you get the best there is to eat, served in a manner that enhances its flavor and establishes it forever in your memory.”

So begins Clarence Edwords’s 1914 culinary history of the City By the Bay, Bohemian San Francisco. He starts by defining “Bohemia” as the “naturalism of refined people,” and the “protest of naturalism against the too rigid, and oft-times, absurd restrictions established by Society.” Edwords touches on each period of San Francisco history, each community of European and Asian immigrants, with recipes from most of them.

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Title page of “Bohemian San Francisco”. The photograph is of the Cobweb Palace, an old saloon at the corner of Francisco & Powell

Unsurprisingly, Edwords lavishes particular attention on seafood. (“The Bohemian way to have your clams is to go to the shore of Bolinas Bay or some equally retired spot, and have a clam bake.”) Bohemian San Francisco contains perhaps the earliest mention in print of the Crab Louie salad, and the book is credited with popularizing the Celery Victor salad (which was invented by Victor Hertzler, chef at the St Francis Hotel).

Though many—if not most—of Paul Elder’s publications have languished in obscurity, Bohemian San Francisco is one of a handful to be reprinted in recent decades. In 1973 it was published by the Silhouette Press, and in recent years by a number of on-demand publishers.

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Page 18-19 of “Bohemian San Francisco,” where Edwords describes the Cobweb Palace

Edwords’s approach to food is probably best summed up by the toast that appears at the beginning of the book:

Our Toast:

Not to the Future, nor to the Past / No drink of Joy or Sorrow / We drink alone to what will last / Memories on the Morrow / Let us live as Old Time passes / To the Present let Bohemia bow / Let us raise on high our glasses / To Eternity — the ever-living Now