We're going to make you the Maria Callas of dance, said Matthews Napal, my agents, as I was off on a tour to South America. To perform Mahler's Fifth Symphony, a solo for symphony orchestra, in Medellin and Buenos Aires.
The agents changed the inflection, the pronunciation of my last name was FranKEL, not Frankel, emphasis on the first syllable. They were sure people were going to be giving me standing ovations, shouting my name. Fran-KEL was shout-able. Frankel was boring. And sort of Jewish sounding -- they didn't say that but I sort of wondered.
Around that time I was popping over to WQXR. (Bob Sherman, the boss (not sure what his title is but he's a kingpin there, has been for a long time) -- he'd interviewed me once or twice. When I described, hummed and sang some of the music that was being used for my "Medea," Bob was delighted. It was complicated modern music by Alban Berg, and I described the movements that the anguished jealous Medea made as she murdered her sons, using dancer language -- a mixture of words like "my left leg in a turned in arabesque, then a stabbing developé front, swirl turn, a double, suddenly becoming zig-zag leaps." It was fun, that broadcast. almost like rehearsing.
I was excited and pleased when Bob called and said, hi, let's talk about you coming in and describing your Mahler. I politely reminded him..."by the way, I'm calling myself Emily FranKEL these days...
Suddenly there was a silence.
Fran KEL, he repeated with an icy question mark in his tone.
When I explained why, he said, "They don't want you to sound Jewish." When I sort of laughed it off, and explained that they had my best interests at heart, like standing ovations and such, the conversation ended.
Bob Sherman didn't hang up. But he didn't invite me back to do any more interviews. His last name, "Sherman" is definitely a Jewish name.
(I haven't heard from him in a very long time, till today when he called Sue, our PR person to thank her for telling him about The Readery.)
Times have changed. It doesn't seem very important anymore, whether you put the emphasis on the first or second syllable, but even now, I say my name quickly, flatly, avoiding any emphasis. Which is actually tricky. I say it twice sometimes, each time a different way, ever so slightly embarrassed at the good reasons and bad reasons that they tinkered, we tinkered, I tinkered with my name.