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To the Second Balcony

A GREAT singer's voice carries to the last row of the second balcony, sometimes beyond.

Marilyn Horne is the latest to extend her gifts outside the recital hall. As Beverly Sills and Marian Anderson did before her, she is establishing a fund so that young, unknown singers can have a chance to fulfill their talents - to become the next generation's Marilyn Horne. Next year, advisers of the Marilyn Horne Foundation, including the pianist Van Cliburn and the soprano Joan Sutherland, will select a singer to be sponsored in a New York recital, the sort of debut that can cost thousands of dollars.

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Noting that ``over the years the vocal recital has become an endangered species,'' Miss Horne says, ``This is my way of trying to give something back to the profession from which I have gotten so much.''

The ideal of nurturing the next generation in a tradition that has nurtured you deserves recognition in a time prone to novelty and change and fads. As pop culture becomes more and more of a disposable commodity - as short-term as the attention span of MTV -

Miss Horne's project has the measured sweetness of a roundelay, where one voice succeeds another in a cycle of song.

But beyond the artist's instinct to find apprentices, something more is applied here. Miss Horne wants to stimulate new audiences by starting an educational program in addition to the recitals. Her long-range plan, she says, ``is to do that through education by ... having people go into the schools and tell the children something about what is going to be sung.''

Miss Horne's message - the music that enriches the lives of singers equally enriches the lives of those who listen - needs repeating in spite of its self-evident truth and its obvious application to all the arts and their audiences. Environmentalists have been effective in persuading the public that the loss of a single songbird diminishes the forests for everybody. But does the same urgent awareness of what's at stake for the community carry over to the case of the endangered species within a culture, the artist?

If Miss Horne can put her argument to music, as it were, and make the song soar to the last row of the second balcony and beyond, the Marilyn Horne Foundation will benefit far more than young singers. Perhaps it might also inspire other successful individuals to consider ways in which they too can ``give back.''

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