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580 Topics: Famous Americans – Marian Anderson; in a heartbeat versus in a second versus in a moment; old versus stale

Complete Transcript
You’re listening to ESL Podcast’s English Café number 580.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast’s English Café episode 580. I’m your host, Dr. Jeff McQuillan, coming to you from the Center for Educational Development in beautiful Los Angeles, California.

Visit our website at ESLPod.com. Become a member of this podcast and get our eight- to ten-page Learning Guides that we provide for all of our episodes.

On this Café, we’re going to talk about one of the great opera singers of the twentieth century, a most interesting woman by the name of Marian Anderson. And as always, we’ll answer a few of your questions. Let’s get started.

Marian Anderson was born in February of 1897 in the town of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The city of Philadelphia is located in the eastern part of the United States. Pennsylvania is next to the state of New York. From a very early age, it was clear that young Marian had an amazing voice for singing. She began singing in public when she was just six years old with the choir in the church where her family went. A “choir” (choir) is an organized group of singers. We often associate the word “choir” with the church, but you can have a choir singing anywhere, really.

When Marian Anderson sang in church, she learned that she had a very unique talent. She was able to sing all of the female parts of the music. As you may know, when we talk about the parts of a song, especially in classical music such as opera music,

we are referring to the bass, tenor, alto, and soprano parts. Those parts are ranges, really, of musical notes that can be sung.

For men, we usually classify their voices as either being bass, which is a very low voice, or tenor which is a somewhat higher voice. For women, typically we talk about the alto and the soprano – the soprano being the highest voice. Well, Marian Anderson was able to sing both alto and soprano and do it very well. When she was 19, the members of the church decided they wanted to get some money together to send Marian Anderson to study singing, because she had such an amazing voice.

Anderson did not come from a rich family, as African Americans living in Philadelphia. Her mother, although she trained to be a teacher, was unable to get a job, as a black woman. Her father worked in various jobs but never had a lot of money, and sadly he died when Marian was only 12 years old, after having had an accident. He was only 39 years old when he died.

So, the Andersons didn’t have a lot of money, certainly not enough to send their daughter to any sort of school or college. But the church got together and managed to collect enough money to send her to study with a very well-known teacher of singing by the name of Guiseppi Boghetti. Anderson actually tried to go to a music school in Philadelphia, but she was turned down – that is, she was refused admission – because she was black. The school only allowed white singers to study there.

In order to study with this famous music teacher, this teacher of singing, Guiseppi Boghetti, Anderson had to “audition” – that is, she had to sing a song for him. She sang a popular African American spiritual, what we once called “Negro spirituals.” These were religious songs that were popular in the black community that had been sung in churches for many years here in the United States. The song that she sang was called “Deep River,” and it was about the idea of getting to “the promised land” – to heaven, to a place of freedom.

This is a little bit of that song so you get an idea about the quality and the incredible power of Marian Anderson’s voice. Let’s listen to just the first minute of that recording.


It is said that when Boghetti heard Marian Anderson sing that song, he cried because her voice was so beautiful. He decided, in fact, to give her lessons for free – not to get any money from her or her church – so that she could develop her wonderful gift.

After Anderson finished her training, she entered a contest, a competition, in order to find one of the best singers. The “prize,” what you got if you won the competition, was a chance to sing with the greatest orchestra in the United States at that time, the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. “Philharmonic” (philharmonic) refers to a symphony orchestra, a large group of musicians who play classical music together, especially “symphonies,” which require a large number of musicians.

Anderson performed with the New York Philharmonic in 1925, when she was herself in her late twenties. After that, she became more famous. She continued her studies with music teachers, but also went around the United States giving concerts singing, although in many places she was not allowed to sing because they didn’t allow blacks into certain concert halls or places where people sing.

Of course, during this period, especially before the 1950s, in many parts of the United States there was the official policy of “segregation” (segregation). “Segregation” is separating people based on some characteristic – in this case, based on the color of their skin. So her tour, or the travels that she went on in order to perform, were not as successful as they could have been because of the segregation.

In the 1930s, she decided to leave the United States and go to Europe to sing as well as to study. She had received a scholarship to study in Europe. A “scholarship” (scholarship) is an amount of money that is given to you to support your education. Marian Anderson received a scholarship to study music in Europe. While in Europe, she made friends with some of the great composers and conductors of that time. A “composer” is someone who writes music. A “conductor” is someone who leads an orchestra or group of musicians.

She became friends especially with Jean Sibelius, the Finnish composer, and was quite popular in many Scandinavian cities. She performed concerts throughout Europe, and because there was not the same discrimination against blacks there, she was able to perform much more widely and became very popular. In fact, the great Italian conductor Toscanini said she had a voice that one only hears every one hundred years. That’s how great her voice was.

She returned to the United States more popular than ever and began to give more concerts here in the U.S. She became friends with, among others, Albert Einstein, the great scientist, and spent time at Einstein’s home when he was working at Princeton University. The most important and famous moment of her career, however, was in 1939. In 1939, Marian Anderson wanted to give a concert in Washington D.C., and specifically in a building that was owned by an organization called the “Daughters of the American Revolution,” or “DAR.”

The DAR was one of the oldest organizations of women. It specifically, as the name implies, was an organization for those who were descendants of Americans who had been in this country since the Revolutionary War, since the late eighteenth century. So, it was a very traditional organization, but also an organization that didn’t want to change very much. And one of the changes that the DAR didn’t like was having African Americans integrated into society, given the same rights as white Americans.

So the DAR said no, you cannot sing at our famous building (called “Constitution Hall,” which is still located there in Washington, D.C.). One of the members of the Daughters of the American Revolution was the wife of the president of the United States, Eleanor Roosevelt. Roosevelt was so angry that the DAR had refused, had said no to Marian Anderson because she was black, that she resigned. She quit the organization, and together with the then secretary of the interior, she arranged for a concert there in Washington, D.C. – not in a building, but in front of the Lincoln Memorial.

Now, if you’ve seen photographs of Washington, D.C., or have been to our country’s capital, you’ll know that in front of our Capitol Building, there is a long area of mostly grass, what’s called “The Mall,” and at the opposite end of where our Capitol Building is, there is a memorial, a building that honors Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln, of course, was the president during our Civil War, which helped end slavery in the United States.

In April of 1939, there was a concert at which Marian Anderson was asked to perform. She sang several songs, including a very patriotic song. “Patriotic” (patriotic) refers to love of your country. A “patriotic song” is a song about your country, showing how much you love it. This song was called “My Country ’Tis of Thee,” and it was a patriotic song that Marian Anderson sang, showing that she too, of course, was an American and proud to be an American.

Of course, Eleanor Roosevelt and others wanted to draw attention to the fact that Anderson was singing as an African American at the Lincoln Memorial. “To draw attention to” means to make people notice, to make people understand that she was a great American as well as a great singer.

Here is a one-minute recording of that actual performance. Let’s listen to Marian sing.


“My country, ’tis of thee” – that is, I’m talking to you – “sweet land of liberty” – of freedom – “of thee” – of you – “I sing.” That’s what Marian Anderson sang, and her performance was heard by millions of Americans across the country. Later that year, Anderson was invited to the White House to sing for the king and queen of England. She was the first African American to be invited to the White House to perform, to sing.

Anderson continued to sing and perform, and for many years after that famous 1939 performance. She had many other accomplishments, many other things that she had done. She became the first African American to sing at the New York Metropolitan Opera. She was asked by the president of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower, to sing at his second inauguration ceremony when he continued as president in 1957.

Eisenhower also made her what was called a “goodwill ambassador.” A “goodwill (goodwill) ambassador” is someone who promotes the image or certain ideas about a country. She travelled around Asia and in India, giving concerts. Eisenhower also made her a U.S. representative to the United Nations Human Rights Committee. She sang again at John F. Kennedy’s inauguration ceremony in 1961.

She received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the organization that gives out the awards for the best music ever year, what is called the Grammys, in 1963. She was given an award called the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which is the highest award that the United States government gives a non-military citizen. All during this time, she continued to perform at concerts and in operas.

In 1965, she decided to retire, to end her singing career, and she did it at the most famous concert hall in the United States, Carnegie Hall in New York City. By the way, she began her farewell or final tour in 1964 at Constitution Hall – the place where she was not allowed to sing in 1939. Anderson married in the early 1940s, and she and her husband lived in Connecticut. He died in 1986 after 43 years of marriage.

She continued to live a quiet life at her home in Connecticut. Later she moved to Portland, Oregon, to live with her nephew. She died in 1993 at the age of 96. I remember when she died there were all sorts of stories in the newspapers about her and her famous performance in 1939. She truly was one of the great American singers and one of the great Americans of her generation.

Now let’s answer some of the questions you have sent to us.

Our first question comes from Duncan (Duncan) in Taiwan. Duncan wants to know the meanings of three expressions, “in a heartbeat,” “in a second,” and “in a moment.” All three of these are related and have to do with time.

Let’s start with “in a heartbeat” (heartbeat). The word “heartbeat” refers, of course, to your heart, that part of your body that moves blood throughout the body. A “heartbeat” is when the heart muscle contracts and expands – that is, it pumps blood. One heartbeat takes very little time. Your heart beats, on average, I think 80 times a minute. So, one heartbeat is less than a second long. You can see then that the expression “in a heartbeat” means very quickly, without any delay, without any waiting – something that happens almost immediately.

We often use this expression when we are talking about something we would do or something we would say yes to because we really want that to happen. “I would move to Paris in a heartbeat if someone gave me a job there.” If a beautiful woman walks up to a young, unmarried man and asks him for his phone number, he would give it to her “in a heartbeat” – perhaps even some married men would give her their telephone number, but of course, they shouldn’t.

“In a second” (second) means something similar, although it doesn’t have the same idea as “in a heartbeat” related to willingness to do something. “I’ll be with you in a second” means I will be with you in a very short amount of time. There are 60 seconds in one minute. Usually, however, when we say “in a second” we don’t literally mean one sixtieth of a minute, we mean in a very short amount of time – not 10 minutes, not an hour, but not one sixtieth of a minute, either.

“In a moment” is similar to “in a second.” It means very soon, very quickly. “I’m going to leave in a moment.” “In a moment,” I suppose, might be used when that amount of time is a little longer than when we might use the expression “in a second.” I’m not sure about that. I guess, for me, if someone said, “I’ll be with you in a moment,” I would assume the person was going to take maybe five minutes or 10 minutes, maybe less. “In a second” implies or gives me the idea of the person will be with me in 20 seconds or perhaps a minute or two, but not 10 minutes or 20 minutes.

“In a moment” and “in a second” can be used in lots of different situations, regardless of whether you want something to happen or not. “In a heartbeat,” however, is usually used when you are talking about a situation in which the person really wants to do something and will take the opportunity to do it, if it is given to him.
Marcos (Marcos) in Brazil wants to know the meaning between “old” and “stale.” The more common of these two words is “old” and can be used in lots of different circumstances.

“Old” is something that has been around for a long time. Of course, it depends on the situation – what you mean by “old.” If you’re 10 years old, someone who is 25 years old is “old,” right? It seems as though that person is much, much older than the 10-year-old, at least in the eyes of the 10-year-old. When you’re in your 50s, someone who’s 25 is, of course, considered quite young. So “old” depends on the situation.

The word “stale” is used usually to talk about food that is old, especially something like bread. “Stale bread” is bread that is a few days old and has perhaps already become hard. The other use of the word “stale” you might hear is to mean the opposite of “clean” or “clear,” especially when we’re talking about the air. If you walk into a house whose windows have not been opened for a long time, you might say, “It’s stale in here.” You need fresh air. So, “stale” in that case is the opposite of “fresh.” If you open a window, you will get fresh air into the house.

I’ll mention one other meaning of “stale.” It’s not nearly as common, but you might hear it when someone is talking about a story or perhaps a joke that is not original, that is old, that is not very entertaining. A person might describe that story or that joke as being “stale.” There, it has more the meaning of “old.”

Finally, Majid (Majid) from Iran wants to know the meaning of the phrase “to deal (deal) with it,” or simply “deal with it.” “To deal with” something is to handle something, to take care of it, to perhaps solve a problem that you are having. However, the expression “deal with it” by itself is usually used when you are telling someone that even though he doesn’t like a situation or like what you are doing, he has to accept it. He has to continue doing what he’s supposed to do even if he doesn’t like it.

So, you may be told by your boss at work that you have to work all weekend in order to finish a project. You may not like it, you may complain, you may say, “No, I don’t want to do this,” but your boss may say, somewhat informally, “That’s too bad. Deal with it.” You have to accept it even if you don’t like it.

A few years ago, when this expression was perhaps even more popular than it is now, some people would say, simply, “deal,” meaning “deal with it,” as a shortened version of it. I don’t know, maybe that was just me and my friends who would use it that way. In any case, that’s what “deal with it” means.

If you have a question or comment, you can email us. Our email address is eslpod@eslpod.com.

From Los Angeles, California, I’m Jeff McQuillan. Thanks for listening. Come back and listen to us again right here on the English Café.

ESL Podcast’s English Café is written and produced by Dr. Jeff McQuillan and Dr. Lucy Tse. This podcast is copyright 2016 by the Center for Educational Development.

choir – an organized group of singers, typically in a church

* The choir stood in the front of the church and sang during Sunday’s service, while the people in their seats quietly sang along.

philharmonic – a symphony orchestra; a large group of musicians who play classical music together and are led by a conductor (musical leader)

* Will the philharmonic perform any works by modern composers this season?

to tour – for a performer to play or perform in many different places in a short period of time

* While the musicians loved touring and playing for audience across the U.S., they are always glad to get home after a long tour.

segregation – a period in the United States when laws forced people who were not white to be kept separate, using different services and having fewer rights

* During segregation, whites and non-whites were required to swim in separate swimming pools.

scholarship – an amount of money given to a student to support his or her education made based on the student’s success in school or other achievement

* She couldn’t afford college on her own, but won a scholarship for being one of the top students in her high school class.

memorial – a structure, often a small building or a statue, created to remember an important person or event

* Family members created a memorial in front of the tree where the teenagers had been killing in the car accident.

to draw attention to (something) – to do something or to present something in a way that makes other people notice it

* Leo tried very hard not to draw the teacher’s attention to his half-finished homework.

patriotic – having strong feelings about and/or showing one’s love and support for one’s country

* He is very patriotic so hearing people from other countries say negative things about the president makes him very angry.

accomplishment – something that has been achieved or completed successfully, especially something important or difficult

* Graduating from college is an important accomplishment.

goodwill ambassador – someone who promotes the ideas of an organization to other organizations or countries

* She is a goodwill ambassador who travels to other countries to try to promote women’s education.

lifetime achievement award – an award given as recognition or a show of respect for a person’s outstanding work or accomplishment over his or her lifetime

* Mitch earned a lifetime achievement award for being a respected sports announcer for over 30 years.

in a heartbeat – in a very short time; without any delay; without waiting or hesitation

* I’ve always wanted to live in France, so I would accept a job in Paris in a heartbeat.

in a second – very soon; in a short time; very quickly

* Sir, I’m helping another customer right now, but I’ll be with you in a second.

in a moment – very soon; in a short time; very quickly

* In a moment, you’ll be seeing the most amazing magic trick that has ever been done.

old – having existed or been in use or around for a long time; not new

* Our old ideas about how to do business will have to change as our customers change.

stale – (food) no longer good or tasting the best; no longer fresh; not clean, clear, or pure and having an unpleasant taste or smell

* This cookie is really stale. It is so hard that if you bite into it, you might break a tooth!

deal with it – a phrase used to tell someone to accept or try to accept something that is true and cannot be changed; a phrase used to tell someone to control his or her feelings about something

* I know you don’t like my decision, but if you want to keep working here, you’ll deal with it.

What Insiders Know

“Subtitles” are words that are shown at the bottom of the screen during a movie, TV show, or news broadcast. They are a written version of what is being said by the actors or reporters. Subtitles are most often used when the material is in another language or when the viewers are “deaf” (unable to hear).

When subtitles are used in “live theater” (theatrical performances), they are known as “surtitles” or “supertitles” because they “appear” (are seen) above the performance, usually displayed on a digital screen where the audience can see the text while still watching the performers. Surtitles “display” (show) the “lyrics” (the words being sung in a song) or the “dialogue” (conversation between two or more people) for the audience members. As with subtitles, surtitles are intended for audience members who do not understand the language of the performance or for audience members who are deaf.

Surtitles first appeared at a performance of the Canadian Opera Company in 1983, but they were “adopted” (began to be used) in New York later that same year, and they are becoming “increasingly” (more and more) common in theaters everywhere.

Some audience members appreciate seeing surtitles and think that they “enhance” (improve) their enjoyment of the performance. But other people find them to be a “distraction” (something that takes one’s attention away from what one wants to focus on). For this reason, some theaters are experimenting with ways to display surtitles only to audience members who want to see them. For example, in some theaters the surtitles can be displayed on the back of the seat in front of each audience member, and the screens can be turned on and off as needed.