Searching for Frances Alda
In 1986 my maternal grandparents took over managing an RV park in Salton City California. At the time my father was out of work and we had been living with my paternal grandparents in San Diego County. The RV Park was owned by a man everyone referred to as "Palmer". It was my understanding that my grandparents were good friends with Palmer for years. Palmer gave my Grandparents a mobile home to stay in as part of the arrangement for running the RV Park. The Mobile home was right on the edge of the Salton Sea and had a garage that also functioned as a jetty. One day my mother opened the Garage and found a box of old sheet Music from the early 1900’s.
Over the span of a few days my mother went through that sheet music and charted the life of its owner May Shelton. May had signed her name to almost all the copies along with dates and places the music was purchased. Palmer insisted the music was left by a previous owner and he did not care what my Mother did with it. The previous owners turned out to be a woman who had passed away many years before. Some of the cover pictures are wonderful tropical scenes or ships. Many of the pieces are from Irving Berlin or his company.
My mother framed a few pieces and gave a few to my sister. Over the years the box sat until 2005 when my brother started taking care of my father. The box was in my fathers shed. My brother did not want to move my father’s things so he literally dumped all of my father’s furniture and boxes on my porch. Among those boxes was the sheet music.
Last week I was going through things for a yard sale when I found the box in my shed. I had never opened the box in six years.
My husband and I sat on our living room floor gong through the music. We were almost finished when I came upon a piece titled “Memory’s Garden”. At the top of the piece was a note “ A very lovely song, Frances Alda”. Although I never mentioned this I am somewhat of an antiques geek. I know Depression glass values by heart, I know a good antique piece of furniture from the reproductions. On occasion I have stumbled on things with value far beyond their price and I knew to get them. I also studied handwriting analysis for a short time as part of my psychology background.
Yet I don’t think I needed any of these things to tell that Frances Alda’s signature was real. It was written with a quill pen so the ink lines change from large to small as she wrote on this 100 year old piece of sheet music. I started looking her up on the internet and there is tons of information on this sassy soprano. She was an opera singer and recorded records. Listening to her music this morning I couldn’t help but wonder how amazing she was to hear live. All her recordings have the old grainy sound that was typical of records in those days. According to articles written about the singer, she was feisty and full of life. Her personality granted her a reputation for being outspoken. You had to admire her spunk in a time when women were still widely oppressed.
Today, Frances Alda’s signature on a business card is selling for $499.00. The sheet music with a sentiment should be worth more… to someone. My mind tends to drift to the occasion of the signing itself. Did Frances Alda sing this piece or just hear it played? Either way it is a part of Opera history. I am not sure what I am going to do with it… I might just keep it.