THOMSON, Robert S.

Author Tags: Advice, Music, Publishing

Writing in the December,2016 issue of Hispania magazine, Elena Retzer of California State University has declared that Robert Thomson’s Love Songs in Spanish for Enjoyment and Learning (Godwin 2015) "is an inspired project that could successfully be used to add an enjoyable cultural component in many beginning, intermediate or even advanced Spanish language classes in the hands of a skilled teacher." This 126-page book of lessons on how to learn Spanish uses twenty-four Spanish-language boleros, tangos, rancheras and other love songs (on an accompanying CD) as the guide. The reader and listener is guided to enjoy such classics as Gardel’s “Mi Buenos Aires querido” and “El día que me quieras,” as well as Agustín Lara’s “Granada” and Ernesto Lecuona’s “Siboney” (both in Plácido Domingo’s rendition), as well as the birthday standard “Las mañanitas.” Website:

With a Ph.D in Romance languages from Yale, Robert Thomson of Victoria is also the publisher of two books by his great-uncle George Godwin. [See George Godwin entry.] He has also made a third book by Godwin available via his internet site [listed below].

A former professor or Romance languages, Thomson is also the co-author of a book by Aqlim Barlas who emigrated from Pakistan in 1984. Despite a broken marriage and little money, she scraped together a down payment for a house and rented it out, bought another using her Visa line of credit, rented the basement and lived upstairs with her son. She later bought six houses and four condos and made one million dollars. Her story is explained in Hot Tips for Real Estate Investors (Godwin Books 1993 $8.95), co-authored Thomson, the publisher.

He also wrote and published Multi-Sensory, Audio-Visual Teaching for the Language Arts: How to Integrate Songs, Musicals, Movies, and Magazines into Your Program of English Language and Literature. (Godwin 2003).

Earlier he wrote and self-published a grammar of operatic Italian entitled Italian for the Opera (1992). It was followed by Operatic Italian (Godwin Books 2008), a much larger work on the same subject, three times longer, with photos throughout. In the summer 2009 edition of “Opera America,” Alexa B. Antopol reviewed Operatic Italian: "Robert Thomson attempts to bring clarity to the Italian language as used in librettos by using a variety of teaching techniques and visual aids, including hundreds of memorable extracts from operas; accurate word-for-word translations; phonetics and stress patterns; detailed exercises; commentary about historical background, operatic themes, composers’ lives, nuances contained in the original Italian which do not translate well, if at all, into English; and links to specific audio-visual examples on Web sites." A reviewer for NATS (National Association of Teachers of Singing noted in Journal of Singing, "The essential component of a successful teacher is a deep knowledge of a subject. A great pedagogue, however, is one who combines this expertise with a love for the material so palpable that it inspires students. Thomson is such a teacher. Aficionados of Italian opera, as especially singers and their teachers, should own this book.Operatic Italian has a rightful place next to the Italian dictionary and handbook of Italian diction on the shelf of every serious student of opera."

Godwin has also self-published Sidestepping the Power Struggle (A Manual for Parents). Visit or


Florence, Dante and Me: A Canadian Student Goes Italian for a Year, 1960-61 (Godwin 2017) 978-0-9958760-0-2 SEE REVIEW BELOW

Love Songs in Spanish for Enjoyment and learning (2015) $25 plus postage ($5) 978-0-9696774-9-9

Learn Spanish with Love Songs (2014). [See foreword below]

Operatic Italian (Godwin Books 2009). A clear, lively guide for understanding and enjoying the language of Verdi, Puccini, etc. Illustrated. 453 pages 0-9696774-7-2 $30 plus postage ($5) if applicable.

Hot Tips for Real Estate Investors (Godwin Books, 1996, revised edition). Written for the home buyer. Offers advice every step of the way, from how to choose a realtor to how to negotiate the lowest price. Based on co-authors’ (Thomson and Barlas) vast experience. Praised by Mike Grenby, Canadian syndicated columnist and financial expert. Illustrated.

Italian for the Opera (Godwin Books 1991) 150 pages

Wing of the Raven
$25 (Can) or $20 (US).
Postage: $6 for Canada, $6 (US) for the USA.

"Mauriac and Psychoanalysis", in "Literature and Psychology" Rhode Island College: 1988 (XXXIV, no. 2). Article by Robert S. Thomson, Ph.D.(Yale)

Tel: 250-370-7753


The Eternal Forest (1929), by George Godwin, Thomson’s great-uncle on his mother’s side. Out of print since 1929. Republished by Godwin Books, 1994.

Why Stay We Here? (1930), the sequel to The Eternal Forest, was republished in a critical edition (Godwin Books, 2002). It deals with Godwin's experiences as an infantry officer in France in World War I.


[BCBW 2017] "Advice" "Music" "Publishing"

Operatic Italian
Press Release (2008)

The author focuses on the kind of Italian found in opera libretti which, he claims, is all-too-often convoluted, elliptical, and couched in archaic language. Starting with nouns, Thomson works his way through the seven other parts of speech. There are explanations with examples of such things as “atmospheric adjectives”, nuances in exclamations, the structure of datives of advantage, reflexives, subjunctives, etc. This book purports to deal systematically with Italian grammar and proceed from the simple to the very complex. It also claims to cater to various learning styles and to encourage readers to think in Italian.

“Operatic Italian” contains several hundred extracts from operas, word-for-word (interlinear) translations, extensive use of IPA (chapter two deals with the phonetics and stress of Italian), music with stafflines (80). Zingarelli is quoted extensively, in Italian and English. There are 14 quizzes (with keys) interspersed throughout and chapters on such topics as idioms, problems encountered in translation, suggested criteria for evaluating libretto writing, operatic aspects of the canzone, and a final chapter on Dante’s influence on composers and librettists.

In addition to dealing with operatic language per se the author has attempted to alert the reader to many other related subjects, e.g., autobiographical facts and movies. The bibliography contains references to both books and Internet sites. Joanne Hounsell (Victoria Conservatory of Music) wrote the intro.

Learn Spanish with Love Songs
Author's Preface (2014)

This book will familiarize you in depth with twelve very beautiful Latin-American love songs. They have been carefully chosen for their artistic merit and the variety of cultures and themes which they explore.

I live in Victoria, BC, Canada and there a many people here who travel regularly to Mexico. Quite a few of them want to learn Spanish and when they ask me for advice I say to them:

• Work with audio-visual methods as much as you can. Don’t count on night courses, etc. for a quick fix.
• Read a good grammar book and refer to it when you need to, but above all, find well-designed audio-visual material.
• The “Destinos” DVD is, in my opinion, one of the best programs for watching at home.
• A CD package such as the Berlitz CDs is one of the best programs to listen to while driving. I learned a lot of Spanish listening (and repeating after the speaker) on a long commute back in the 1980s. On one trip I got so engrossed in repeating phrases that I missed my turn-off on the highway and was twenty minutes late for work! I am very grateful to those Berlitz cassettes for showing me the right path. I hate wasting my time. Nowadays when asked where I learned Spanish, I say “en mi coche, con la grabadora (in my car, with a cassette recorder). I get some strange looks.

I find it surprising that people take a few evening courses (which usually don’t afford much time for working or the oral/aural aspect of learning) and wonder why they don’t have a good accent. They need to accept the fact that you can only acquire a good accent by spending a lot of time repeating things in the target language. Repeating, out loud, over and over and over and trying to monitor and improve your own performance.

The songs in this book work in the same way as the CDs and DVDs: if you listen to them over and over and sing along with them (always trying to improve your imitation) you will certainly acquire good pronunciation and rhythm and in the process you will learn a lot about word meanings, idioms, verb tenses, grammar and the background culture (so important!).

I have chosen songs twelve songs for you to learn from. They have been carefully selected because they go straight to the heart. They have beauty, originality, and show many varieties of that divine madness called “love” There are rhumbas (Noche de Ronda, Siboney, Quizás? Quizás?), tangos (Caminito), ranchero songs (Miraron llorar a este hombre), and even Viennese waltzes (Cielito Lindo). They cover a gamut of four countries: Mexico, Panama, Argentina, and Venezuela. I think it is a shame that tourists to Mexico are bombarded relentlessly with La Bamba and Guantanamera and I will be very happy if this book plays a part in gaining more exposure for the kinds of songs that I have included here. I will also be pleased if people who first discovered these songs in their English version see clearly that the English version is usually a bland dish of blancmange when compared with the Spanish original.

The recording artists which I prefer are Eydie Gormé, Lola Beltran, Vicente Fernandez and Plácido Domingo but I offer them only as suggestions. They may not be your favorites so search Youtube and see what comes up. I should also mention that the twelve songs gradually increase in complexity so you are not thrown in over your head. I recommend frequent reviews of those songs which you have already studied.

Having searched the internet many times for the Spanish words to these songs I have concluded that most versions are unreliable and that people would welcome an accurate version. This is one of the reasons why I wrote this book.

-- Robert Stuart Thomson, Ph.D.

See my site: for my writings, especially those which involve studying songs and opera:

Great Songs for the English Classroom (1980), Italian for the Opera (1991), and Operatic Italian (2009).

My e-mail is

As Italian as possible
Review 2017

by Beverly Cramp

It’s the summer of 1960 and a young UBC student is about to leave Vancouver, then still very much a White-Anglo-Saxon-Protestant city. Twenty-year old Robert Thomson had won a scholarship to spend a year studying in Italy.

Italian songs were playing regularly on the radio: Dean Martin’s That’s Amore!, Frank Sinatra’s Vicino al Mare, Rosemary Clooney’s Mambo Italiano, and Domenico Modugno’s Volare. Movies such as Roman Holiday and Three Coins in a Fountain glamourized Italy and its capital city.

As Thomson remembers in his book about the trip, Florence, Dante and Me (Godwin Books 2017), “Many of my generation were enchanted by the beauty and glamor of Italy, not to mention her distinctive style that could be seen even in everyday things such as Vespa scooter, Olivetti typewriters and “Vesuvius” espresso coffee machines. Italy had panache and style.”

Thomson was keen to leave behind an elitist UBC and a stodgy, small port city. “Vancouver had some culture (in the European sense) but compared to Italy it didn’t amount to much at all. There was one opera company, The Vancouver Opera, but it produced only three or four operas a year. There was a city art gallery but its holdings in Italian Renaissance art were negligible. There was only one good bookstore in town, Bill Duthie’s on Robson St., and probably only one good shop for buying long playing classical records, Len Timbers’, also on Robson.”

He got some stimulation from UBC, which he also refers to as “very elitist in that era,” where he was able to see Spanish guitarist Andres Segovia, folk singer Pete Seeger, flamenco dancer Jose Greco, and the Red Army Chorus at a small theater called “The Old Auditorium”. Humorously, Thomson describes taking ballroom dance classes to fulfill the physical education requirements of the university from a dance teacher who was, “always in a tux, even for his 8 a.m. dance class.”

It was hip to be interested in all things European and Thomson was studying European languages. “Such study whetted one’s appetite for Europe and many students travelled there as soon as they could,” he writes. “Some even went so far as to assume a new identity. I realize now that some degree this is what I was doing: becoming as Italian as possible.”

What’s intriguing about Thomson’s writing approach is that he bases his text on a cache of almost 50 letters that he wrote to his fiancée back in Vancouver. He wanted to keep the flame of his love alive as well as to record his experiences and reflect on them. These missives capture the freshness of a young man’s desire to absorb all things Italian. The fiancée shares highlights from the letters with other students and professors, making them notorious at the time. “When I realized who was reading my letters I took extra care with them,” Thomson says in his introduction.

Many of the letters chronicle his delight in discovering the arts such as the paintings of Botticelli and Caravaggio; sculptures by Michelangelo and Cellini; ancient architecture in Rome and Pompeii; opera houses like La Pergola and San Carlo; and popular singers of the era including Peppino di Capri and Mina.
And Thomson describes his thrill to hear dramatic readings of the poet simply known as Dante.

Many of his passages comment on Italian attitudes towards fashion, friendship and child rearing. The letters describe in detail the many people Thomson befriended: Franco, a retired Colonel; Gino, a violinist from Naples; and Ede, a woman who shares his love of opera and lyric poetry.

Readers get to share in the young Thomson’s glee when he buys fine Italian clothing. “I finally got my suit and topcoat,” he writes in a letter dated March 15, 1961. “Pure wool and they fit like a glove. The colors are so rich! God, they’re lovely!”

He laments “pseudo-bohemianism,” which he describes as, “people who think they’re European and cool just because they eat cheese and baguettes and drink wine.”

Thomson’s book is a fascinating glimpse into what it was like to be young and in Italy in 1960-61. He also advises people to learn the language of the country they travel to, as, “such knowledge will bring understanding of the culture and enable them to connect with people in a more meaningful way.”

But ultimately, spending time abroad, especially as young adult, enriches one’s life. “One of the unexpected benefits of my year in Italy was to see my life in a more moral and spiritual way. I gained insights into my upbringing and education and began to see that they had molded me in a very narrow way.”

The letters however, didn’t achieve Thomson’s goal of keeping his fiancée from straying. Upon his return to Vancouver, he discovers she has found a new love. He is discrete though, and never reveals her name and omits all writings as he delicately puts it, “of a private nature.”


Beverly Cramp is Associate Editor of B.C. BookWorld