November 1, 2014

The García Lineage: Baroness Katherine Evans von Klenner

The voice teaching profession is full of colorful characters, and Baroness Katherine Evans von Klenner (1858-1949) does not disappoint, which is made abundantly clear in my previous post which details her foray into spirit communication with the dead.

Klenner is also notable for being America's first certified García Method exponent. While there may have been others who were given the nod by Viardot-García and her brother Manuel, Klenner was the first to publicize this fact in a big way, which propelled her into the first rank of singing teachers in America.

Klenner studied with Viardot-García with the explicit aim of being a voice teacher—an unusual request since the vast majority of students study with important teachers with stars in their eyes. Of course, to be an exponent of the Garcías, you had to be able to sing, which Klenner did as a dramatic soprano. Here is the first article which introduced Klenner to readers of The Musical Courier, which took something of a shine to her.

Miss Evans is a pupil and an authorized and certified teacher of the great Mme. Viardot of Paris. She is a finished exponent of the García Method, of which it is so often been said: It never lost a voice, but it very often found one," and it was as a teacher of this method that she first came to the National Conservatory of Music, where she is now in her fifth year. Desiring to replace a Marchesi teacher by the famous García Method the conservatory wrote Viardot-García, in Paris, asking her recommendation from among her American pupils of one, as a teacher. The reply that Miss Katherine was the one particular pupil so qualified, that Viardot could earnestly commend her, and the engagement of Miss Evans with the conservatory was thus immediately formed. 
Her reputation has grown with her emphatic success and by the honest work which brings its results, Miss Evans has turned out a relay of artistic pupils whose development is ample testimony to her powers. 
Her voice is a dramatic soprano of broad, firm caliber and pure and sympathetic quality. but its fullest development was not attained until under Viardot. While especially devoted to oratorio and to German Lieder, Miss Evans controls also a remarkable colorature power. But this is what she claims to be a distinguishing feature of the García Method, and of the García Method only. By it you can sing anything. The same voice which delivers a broad dramatic aria of large phrase and rigorous demands on sustained powers can, by the García Method accomplish flexibly the most brilliant fioriture, and will be equally at home in an oratorio recitative or a Proch variation. Upon this Miss Evans dwells with weighty emphasis. 
"Anyone," Miss Evans says, "who can express varied emotions in language can also be taught to express them in song. Singing is simply musical language brought about by perseverance and intelligence in the use of the vocal cords according to scientific principals.
Personally, Miss Evans is a young woman, tall and prepossessing in appearance, with a manner whole-souled, frank and exceedingly genial and refined.  
The Musical Courier, November 13, 1895.  

VoiceTalk

October 31, 2014

My Method Must Never Die



Perhaps the most curious book I have come across in my research is The Greater Revelation: Messages from the Unseen World received through automatic writing in various languages, including Chinese and Japanese, in the chirography and with the verified signature of those sending the messages by Baroness Katherine Evans von Klenner. Published in 1925 during the peak years of the Spiritualist Movement in America, the author was a rather well-known—if now forgotten—student of Desireé Artôt and Pauline Viardot-García, the sister of Manuel García




Baroness Katherine Evans von Klenner was a real baroness, having married Ferdinand Auguste Maria von Klenner (his name has also been recorded as "Rudolph"), an Austrian diplomat and linguist whose family lived in Italy. His death before the first world war left the musical daughter of the Garcias childless and alone, and may have been the catalyst for her interest in otherworldly concerns. Whatever the reason, The Greater Revelation is an unusual book, replete with messages from famous personages, including those from Manuel García and Richard Wagner. 




The Baroness herself was born in Rochester, New York in 1858, to a well-to-do Moravian family, and studied with Pauline Viardot-García in Paris before she was 20, her voice a dramatic soprano. By 1883, Klenner was an authorized exponent of the García Method in New York City, where she taught at the National Conservatory for  a handful of years, before marrying and opening a private studio. A founding member of The National Association of Teachers of Singing in 1906, Klenner was an ardent supporter of national standards for voice teachers, both at the state and national level. When these goals were not realized, Klenner turned her efforts towards education and founded the The National Opera Club of America, which held its meetings at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel on Park Avenue and 50th Street for many years.




Klenner remained a potent force in the musical life of the New York until her death in 1947, teaching at Chautauqua every summer, all the while wearing a broach that contained the letters "P.V." which had been given to her by Pauline Viardot-García. Though Klenner's involvement in Spiritualism strikes us as odd and rather quaint today, her interest was shared by many singers, Antoinette Sterling, David Bispham and Emma Thursby among them. And while I cannot say I have ever seen a ghost, Klenner makes it quite clear that many spoke to her "triumvirate," their messages a fitting tribute on All Hallow's Eve. 



October 30, 2014

The Garcia Lineage: Helene Noldi Alberti

Helene Noldi Alberti (1874-1962)
It's a curious thing, this thing called blogging, which I have been doing here at VoiceTalk since 2009. I say curious because, when I check to see who is reading what—which sometimes do, I am often surprised.

I have written what I consider to be fascinating posts, stuffed with loads of technical information, (my series of five posts on Giulia Valda and the teaching of Francesco Lamperti come to mind) only to find them little read, a matter which always makes me scratch my head. But then, I am often surprised by your interest in the most arcane matters, which teaches me something useful, like how to word the title of a post (it matters, believe me). As such, it's not always about what, but how. 

This leads me to the subject of this post, a continuation of my last post which included a snippet of Madam Helene Noldi Alberti teaching, which is expanded upon here. However, before that is offered for your consideration, I include Noldi's biographical information, which accompanies her rendition of the "Jewel Song" on Youtube, which you can listen to at your leisure.

Born Helen Russell Ulrich, Noldi is credited as having studied with Mathilde Marchesi. Her American debut was in Chicago, 1897, in concert at the Central Music Hall where she was cordially received, being recalled a number of times. Active in the early 1900s, Noldi appeared with her husband, baritone Achille Alberti, as a soloist with Victor Herberts Orchestra in 1905. Two years earlier they had appeared at the opening of The Columbia Club, 127th and 5th Avenue, New York, with violinist Michael Banner and orchestra directed by Gustav Hinrichs. The hall had been specially designed with acoustic properties in mind for musical entertainments. The result was regarded as a triumph. In opera, Noldi was first engaged by Sofia Scalchi for her touring company and then for Eugenia Mantellis troupe. She also appeared with the Castle Square Opera in Boston and in England,1910, under the baton of Henry Wood. She appeared at the Metropolitan Opera the season of 1905-06 as a replacement for Lillian Nordica as Leonora in Il Trovatore and on a Sunday Night Concert where she sang an unidentified selection, sharing the stage with violinist Henri Marteau, bass Pol Plançon, contralto Louise Homer and conductor Nathan Franko. She and her husband later taught in California. —from the Lawrence F. Holdridge Record Auction Catalogue, 2010. 

That Noldi was trained by Mathilde Marchesi is of particular significance, which should be kept in mind when reading my notes taken from an article she wrote for the NATS Bulletin in 1947, if only because what she has to say sounds very different than what is heard in voice studios today. It's the first bit that fascinates me the most, especially the wording about the "full length" of the vocal cords and tongue being used on every note. While anatomically inexact, Noldi's teaching suggests a tonal quality and manner of proprioception that has everything to do with an educated ear. 

The ancients employed the full capacity of the lungs, the full length of the tongue, and the full length of the vocal cords on every note uttered whether high or low—loud or soft. 
They showed no evidence of breathing. 
They did not take in any breath voluntarily as they knew there was always an abundant supply in the lungs. 
Every tone emanated from one unwavering point, and this dynamic point was in the center of the sternum. 
The body was regarded simply as an instrument which was played upon by the understanding of the vocal principles; hence the body was relaxed and immovable. 
One point scale: tongue and larynx remain in natural habitat when scale ascends. Fixed at point from the center of the torso (sternum). 
Voce de mista: tone neither head nor chest—used both. 
Posture: full enlargement of the thoracic cavity. Shoulders back, chest high. 
Breathing: tone begins at sternum. Action of diaphragm and abdomen results in this exact point. Point of meeting of the inhalation and exhalation. 
Bel canto is based upon abdominal breathing. The control comes through the power of the will acting through the solar plexus, the will to use a certain amount of breath; the will to establish the velocity of that breath. 
From "Facts Concerning the Art of Bel Canto or the Basis of Bel Canto," NATS Bulletin (1947): 4.

Want to read more of Noldi's article? Find it at the NATS website or a good music library.


Photo Credit: Courtesy of the New York Public Library. 


VoiceTalk 

October 28, 2014

The Tongue Lies Flat

Lablache's Method of Singing c. 1860

These are the words of the great basso, Luigi Lablache, who I wrote about some time ago in a post which contained a fascinating page from his Method of Singingwhich I reintroduce to the reader in three distinct images, his method being notable for containing what may be the first representation of the tongue and its articulation for /a/ in a singing manual.

If the reader looks closely at Lablache's graphic of the tongue and reads the accompanying text in this post, it becomes clear that the tongue, when articulating an Italianate /a/, lies lower in the mouth when it is open than it does when it is shut—a simple enough idea for those who can hear and feel what this means.

The García School also taught that the tongue must be flat for /a/, which is clearly demonstrated in A Complete Treatise on the Art of Singing and Hidden In Plain Sight: The Hermann Klein Phono Vocal Method Based Upon The Famous School Of Manuel Garcia. And if this isn't enough, I could point out half a dozen more Old Italian School singing manuals which contain this same teaching, but I think you get the picture: It's ubiquitous. However, the major problem for the English speaking student is that a flat tongue /a/ is going to sound either guttural or nasal in timbre. As a consequence, the acquisition of an Italianate /a/ is fraught with difficulty.




I haven't had an English speaking student who did not need to work on /a/ and the tongue's formation in the mouth, and believe my colleagues have experienced the same thing. Mind you, I don't tell students to flatten their tongues as a goal if only because experience has shown me that appearances can be deceiving. Like icebergs, which can look perfectly harmless, the inexpert articulation of the unseen mass beneath the surface of the tongue can wreak havoc. What to do? Both singer and ship have to investigate what cannot be seen. This is done through feeling. 

At this juncture my mind goes sideways and recalls the teaching of a Madam Alberti, who I stumbled upon a while ago.

Madam Alberti was an American soprano by the name of Helen Russell Ulrich, who became Helene Noldi when she began her career, then Madam Alberti when she married Anchille Alberti, a "dashing baritone." She had been a pupil of Alexander Busi of Bologna, Mathilde Marchesi and Madam Laborde of Paris, and, from all that I have been able to ascertain, knew her stuff, which was rooted in the Old Italian School. Appearing in America at the beginning of the 20th century, she taught on the west coast during the 1930's, and had this to say:

The ancients employed the full capacity of the lungs, the full length of the tongue, the full length of the vocal cords on every note uttered whether high of low, loud or soft.

Interesting, no?




I've kept Madam Alberti's words in mind ever since I found them, if only because they point out the difference between what seen and felt. That's the thing really. Those with heightened proprioception know that the tongue can feel one way and look another, which explains why it is possible to associate movements of the tongue with sounds other than /a/ itself. My own teacher took a somewhat different view by suggesting that the tongue should feel like a sweater that has been folded up and put in a drawer—soft, yet active—a novel approach that combines feeling with movement.

Of course, all this tongue talk can leave one feeling like Demosthenes, who practiced with marbles in his mouth, which points out that those learning Lablache's method would do well to note his requirement for opening the mouth, which should have a "pleasant, smiling appearance." To be sure, one can "smile," but if the eyes are not smiling, something less than pleasant will happen.

Why is /a/ so important in the Old Italian School? Because it was considered the basis for singing.

Experience has shown me that the formation of the tongue on /a/ changes when the student's ear has been opened, which entails a subtle yet powerful shift in awareness.


VoiceTalk 

October 24, 2014

The True Singer's Breath

Blanche Marchesi (1863-1940)
Are there different ways of breathing for the singer? 

Yes, there are three. The shortest breath, generally used for speaking, reaches but superficially to the upper part of the lungs near the collar-bone. The is called clavicular breathing. 

The second is lateral breathing. Here we dive considerably deeper, reaching the parts of the lungs which lie between the armpits and the waist. Though a good deal deeper, this is still not sufficiently deep for singing. 

The true singer's breath is called diaphragmatic breathing. Here the lowest extremity of the lungs is reached, this kind of breath being the only one to fill the lungs completely. 

How are we to know that our breath is deep enough to fill the lungs? 

By comparing it to a yawn. The singer's breath must be as deep as the breath we take in yawning. 


The Singer's Catechism and Creed (1931) by Blanche Marchesi

VoiceTalk

October 23, 2014

The Tongue Problem

Emi de Bidoli (1870-1952)
A recent question about the use of "ng" and a "flat tongue" by a reader of VoiceTalk made me remember an article written by Emi de Bidoli, a student of Pauline Viardot-García, that appeared in the NATS Bulletin in 1947, the latter now know as The Journal of Singing. 

There, Emil de Bidoli outlines the difference between "Old Methods of Voice Teaching and New Ones," her second point being "The Tongue Problem." 

According to this musical daughter of the Garcías: "Holding the tongue flat and grooved was an absolute rule in olden days. I have heard of contemporary teachers say, that one can do fine work with an upheld tongue, a debatable question."

On the face to it, this would seem to call into question the practice of holding the tongue in an "ng" position, would it not? 

In her article, Bidoli also asserts that the Old Italian School believed Italian vowels to be the foundation of "pure vowels," while the modern school thinks American vowels are just fine. Of course, if you've been reading these pages for a long while, you know that it is my observation that Italian tonal values are singing.

Those who have found and read Emi de Bidoli's fascinating book, Reminiscences of a Vocal Teacher (1946), will know that the author first studied with Aglaja Orgeni (also a student of Pauline Viardot-García), who made her pupil insert a tongue depressor into her mouth which made her gag, a practice which is not for the faint of heart (it also relieved the pressure in her throat). Of course, there is danger is this kind of method. Be it with a spoon or a wooden stick, mechanical manipulation, while effective for a distinct minority (one never hears about this kind of thing today), cannot teach the student to listen. 

Those interested in learning more about Emi de Biloli's thoughts on the difference between old and new methods are encouraged to find a library or database (hint: the NATS website is a good place to start) which will lead one to the NATS Bulletin, Vol. 3, No. 4, March-April, 1947. 

October 21, 2014

G. B. Lamperti's Method of Breathing

Giovanni Battista Lamperti 
Singing as a Functional Exercise and an Element in Physical Training. 

The the Editor of The Evening Sun—Sir: An article entitled "Why the Singers Can Sing," written by Dr. Holbrook Curtis, the celebrated throat specialist appeared in The Sun of May 1. The article is interesting to all singers, but especially to teachers of the Italian method of tone production. 

Dr. Curtis very justly cites the De Reszkes as a perfect example of those who contend that upon the capacity and control of the breath depend the resonance, beauty and purity of the tone. At this time, when voices are suffering through the many methods of many teachers, a vote of thanks is due a physician who has explained to the public that singing is not a function of the throat, but of the united effort of the wind and the diaphragm. 

Viewing the subject from a teacher's standpoint, I find that it is not enough that one should be acquainted simply with the theory of diaphragmatic breathing. He must be capable of illustrating how and why the air must be inhaled through the back of the lungs and condensed at their base. This method of inhaling is accomplished by depressing the diaphragm and drawing the air through the nostrils and toward the roof of the mouth. 

Only enough air is allowed to escape from the base of the lungs to support the tone. The force of this column of air is controlled by the action of the diaphragm, and is directed by the mind to the tone. The tone is formed at the soft palate, and carried forward to the points of vibration under the cheek bones on either side of the nasal cavity, thus producing the chest and medium tones. The upper, or head tones, are formed in a like manner, except that their points of vibration are higher in the head. 

The art of breathing and pronunciation are the basis of the Lamperti method. I mean the method of G. B. Lamperti of Dresden, who has been much reviled by those ignorant of the principles of his instruction or by pupils of his in whose brain, as Dr. Curtis has happily expressed it, "the musical centre" was not sufficiently developed to appreciate his conscientious efforts.

If the singers and teachers could be induced to adopt the view of Dr. Curtis, so ably and scientifically explained in the article to which I have referred, the result would be the revival of voice culture as an art, instead of an accomplishment as it now is, and the development of men and women with healthy throats and lungs as a rule, instead of an exception.

Philadelphia, March 3. 

C. 


Undated article circa 1890 from a Philadelphia newspaper. Photo Credit: New York Public Library. For more information see "Vocal Wisdom: The Maxims of Giovanni Battista Lamperti" by William Earl Brown. 

VoiceTalk

October 20, 2014

The Lamperti School: Florenza D'Arona

Florenza D'Arona 
Florenza D'Arona is an interesting character as far as voice teachers go, having studied with the great Francesco Lamperti for eleven years, and other famous teachers like Pauline Viardot-García and Antonio Sangiovanni. While still at work on her biographical information (it's not clear when she was born or where she died), I have been able to ascertain that she was a second cousin to Theodore Roosevelt, married Carl le Vinsen—a dane who inherited a title and an old estate in Copenhagen—and taught in New York City. Below, the reader will find something of her method. That some of her suggestions seem rather quaint to us should not surprise, corsets and tongue depressors being something of a fad during the period. However, there is much that remains the same, especially the student's acquisition of a well-formed ah vowel. Only yesterday I heard myself say: "The person who has the most beautiful ah wins!" Ah, to hear this vowel beautifully sung, one which Old Italian School thought the basis for il bel canto.

*****

Vocal teachers, as a rule, are unwilling to commit themselves to their methods and beliefs. Especially is this true of Italian teachers. They look upon all strangers with suspicion, and if, perchance, the visitor asks a question or two they think and perhaps even exclaim, as did Mme. Murio-Celli recently, "Ah, you weesh to get my method," and instantly draw back and show that they would be pleased to have you go. Fortunately, however, there are some teachers who are not afraid to let it be publicly know what they teach their pupils, else it would be difficult to keep track of the progress of vocal methods. I had recently a delightful chat with Mme. D'Arona-Davidson. 

"Yes, " said said," I was for 11 years Lamperti's pupil, accompanist and interpreter. So far as I know, Shakespeare, of London, and I are the only pupils having a certificate from Lamperti testifying to their ability."

"Signora Florenza D'Arona is one of my most distinguished pupils, possessing a mezzo-sopano-contralto voice of great compass and strength, exquisite quality, brilliant execution, and musical talent of a very superior order. All the qualities required in a perfect artist are united in this lady, and it is with pleasure I present her with this certificate. FRANCESCO LAMPERTI, Milan, January 9, 1880."  

Among the other things Mme. Davidson said: 

"Lamperti believes in and teaches diaphragmatic breathing. The shoulders must not move when breath is taken, but be kept firmly down. One of the very first and most important things in singing is to free from tension all the muscles of the body, particularly those of the throat. The throat should be perfectly relaxed and open, for the least tightness will show itself in the tone. The fault of too great tension is especially common to Americans. The language and their way of speaking it induces this condition. Italians, on the contrary, have a very open language and a relaxed throat. This, far more than the climate, which is much better for the voice than a dry atmosphere, is at times very disagreeable, particularly around Milan and in the north. The cold is intense and the snow as heavy as here. But the people do not have to content against artificial heat, for the houses are not kept at the temperature American houses are dying cold weather. There is scarcely a stove used for mere heating purposes in all Italy; therefore the throat is not subject to the sudden change of going from a very warm house into the cold air, a change more injurious than is generally believed. But it is the relaxed throat that makes Italians better natural singers than any other nation. It is almost impossible to overcome entirely the tension of the American throat."

"Again in singing the tone must be well front, the teeth forming a sounding board for the voice. The nasal muscles should be used, but never the posterior nasal, as they make the tone twangy. This is another fault of Americans; they do not distinguish between the use of the nasal and the posterior nasal muscles. Then I do not believe in public-school singing. As generally done, this, with the shouting way of reading, is enough to ruin any voice. More attention should be paid to elocution, for it is an invaluable aid to song."

Don't Begin Too Early

"In regard to cultivating the voice, I do not believe in beginning too early; at 17 or 18 is young enough. Many singers now holding good positions did not begin cultivating their voices until they were over 30. Christian Fritsch is on of this class, also Mr. Crispin at Trinity Chapel, New York. When I was singing with Mapleson's company in London, a lady about  60 years old came to me, saying that she was very fond of music, but she did not understand it, and could not criticize, and she wished some instruction. I tried her voice and, naturally, found it thin, quavery and old. Of course, it was out of the question to make a fine singer out of her at her age; but I did improve her voice and get her so that she could sing quite acceptably at parlor entertainments, and her singing gave more pleasure than that of some co-called artists. She had the advantage of having no cultivated bad habits, which are always more difficult to eradicate than natural ones."

One of the greatest troubles is, however, that pupils are not willing to take time enough to cultivate their voices. A pupil should be willing to give four years to the study of singing. Of course, I do not mean to say that at the end of that time he will know all their is to know about singing: a lifetime is too short of that. But he will be well grounded in the technique of song, and will understand the use of the voice. A teacher can only go just so far; after that point all depends on the pupils. But, generally, a teacher is hardly sure of a pupil from lesson to lesson, and must therefore work for immediate results. This forcing a voice is very bad. One can no more learn to sing in a few lessons than he can eat all his dinners at once, and even if he could eat enough in one meal to last several days, he probably could not digest it. This is even more true of vocal culture. He should have time between lessons to digest what has been given, he must think over what he has learned, for after all, singing is largely from the brain, a matter of mental growth. It is a combination of beautiful things that makes song."

Breathing-Exercises and the Glottal Stroke

"Breathing-exercises are invaluable, not only for singers, but for everybody. But they should never be done in a close atmosphere. In the woods, where one can inhale the balsam from the trees, is the best place. Such exercises should be practiced in all positions: lying, standing, sitting, kneeling, with arms raised above the head, etc. I would also emphasize the importance of the glottal stroke. The singer should always be conscious of this click. But there is a right and a wrong glottal stroke, and one should be very careful which one he is practicing. Of course, it requires compression of breath, but this compression may be make with such tension of the throat muscles as to hurt the voice. An excellent practice to teach correct emphasis and expression is to read a sentence aloud, as, for instance, 'The day is dark and dreary.' Ask yourself what is hard and dreary: what find of a day is it; is the day dreary but light; it is dark but nevertheless cheerful, and so on. This calls attention to every important word in the sentence. In a song not only every word but every note must be studied. It is not enough to now the tune. The piece must be literally absorbed. Every note should be related to the other notes, and the climax should be always kept in view."

"In regard to ah. It should be almost the last vowel used. It is hard for an untrained singer to get the correct pitch of a note on ah. A as in ate, is the best vowel to begin with. The object of using using ah is to open the throat and mouth; but while one must open the mouth to say ah, he need not open the throat. For instance, I place my hands together at the wrist and open them keeping the wrists touching. The wrists representing the throat and the hands the mount. You see the wrists are shut while the hands are wide apart. That is the way in which ah is often practiced. The correct ah is when the hands and the wrists are both open, making a wide channel. It is not enough to tell the pupil to sing ah; you must see that he sings it right. As for the tongue, of course it must be flat. A tongue-depressor is necessary at first. The tongue must be held in place until the pupil becomes accustomed to produce tone without its rising at all. It is not a question of strengthening the tongue-muscles to keep it flat; they should be rather relaxed. If the tongue swells or rises, you are using a wrong muscles to produce tone. Another reason for using a tongue-depressor is that you are sure that the tongue is flat throughout its whole length. It may be perfectly flat in front and yet be raised at the back of the mouth. The mouth should not be opened too wide, as that strains the throat. In high notes it should be opened so as to admit the first two fingers sideways, and not quite as much for low notes. In singing high notes the head should be a little forward, the body firmly poised one on foot and balanced by the other. The larynx should be up for all notes. The throat will explained in singing the same as a canary bird's does."

Fixed-Larynx System Dangerous

"As regards a person going abroad to study, there are good teachers here, but there are also a vast number of very poor ones. A pupil came to me about six months ago for lessons. She had been studying with a teacher who believed in holding the larynx down in the throat. Her vocal cords were almost paralyzed and were quite immovable. She had been under a throat physician for several months and her vocal cords are improving rapidly, yet they are still very stiff. In Italy teachers much pass an examination, and then pass through the 'National Conservatory,' so that one has some guarantee of their ability. Here anyone can teach, whether he knows anything or not. Some of the doctrines and exercises would be amusing if their affects were not so sad. The health of a great many pupils is ruined by these charlatans. What this country needs is a committee of known and accepted first-class teachers who will examine teachers and give them certificates according to their ability. People would then have some guarantee when they went to a teacher."

"This would also be a great benefit to artists wishing engagements. Their voices could be examined by the judges and a certificate given as to their artistic ability. It would save the managers having to try voices. Of course, the manager would still have to hear the singer to see if the timbre, etc., was suited to the part he had to fill, but he would have no doubt as to the real artistic merit of the applicant; the only question would be the quality of voice. A certificate of this kind should be accepted everywhere the same as a diploma from a college."

American Singers Have Grievances

"Singers, and especially American singers, having many things to complain of. It is almost impossible for an American girl to find a position in this country. I myself know many voices in New York that are equal to any now before the public, but the poor girls cannot get an opening. If they go to a manager he will ask where they have been singing."

"Nowhere," is the reply. 

"Who have you studied with?" They mention perhaps famous teachers. 

"That is very well, but you have no reputation.." 

"But how can I get a reputation if no one will give a chance" is the pitiful answer. 

"When we have calls for singers the persons usually designate the singer wanted. Even if we said we had another just as good she would probably not be accepted, as it is the name that draws. If we work you up, are you willing to pay for it? It coast to advertise a singer, and we can take no risk." 

"So unless the girl has plenty of capital to back her she can do nothing. It is much easier to get a hearing in Europe, so most of our singers make a reputation there before they try their own country. And that is also one reasons why most take Italian names. Another reason for this is that in Italy one must have an Italian name and sing pure Italian, else he will be hissed off the stage."

Patti an Automaton

"A singer should know before a tone is sung just how it will sound. Nothing must be left to chance. Yet I have heard Patti say that often she did not know whether a scale should come out perfectly or not. But Patti is an automaton. She is a marvel, but she does not move an audience. Properly sung, one can convey the whole story of a piece without the aid of words. A slight change of facial expression of of the mouth cavity will produce a corresponding change of tone. For instance, the mouth well open with a smiling expression will make a joyous tone; a decidedly glottal stroke expresses levity; the letter h with the glottal stoke would be sorrowful, and so on. The perfection of singing is to tell a story in this way. Every part of the vocal apparatus must be in position before a sound is emitted. By practice this can be done almost simultaneously. Care should be taken to produce the voice in the mouth and not in the throat. One hears so much of the guttural quality in both speaking and singing, arising from the use of the throat instead of the mouth. As I have said, the voice must hit against the teeth. The tip of the tongue must be flexible. The letter l  combine with the different vowels as la, lah, lee, lo, lu is a favorite exercise of Lamperti, alway taking care to produce l  with the tongue-tip and not by a chewing motion of the jaw. I prefer to use regular pieces instead of vocalizes, when the pupil is sufficiently advanced, as they give more and better exercise and different consonantal combinations. Too little attention is paid by singers to the beginning and end consonants of words. And just here I would say that Italian teachers cannot English singing. They do not understand and are in even less degree able to pronounce English."

Right Voice-Placement Vitally Important

"There are a great many more blunders made in placing the voice than is supposed. This is perhaps the most important point for a singer; with wrong voice-placement the voice cannot hold out. One of my present pupils is a case in point. He told me that his voice was a bass and had received some cultivation. I tried it, and found it of a disagreeable quality though apparently bass. He had four or five low tones that were very good, and from these I began my work. When I took his voice below these notes it had a hollow quality and lacked life and vitality; but I noticed that when I went above these notes it seemed better. In the course of this digging around I became convinced that he was not a bass, and today he is a delightful tenor, with a clear high D. This is but one of many instances that have come to my notice. A pupil will go to a teacher and say: 'My voice is a contralto, a soprano, a bass,' as the case may be, and very often the teacher will accept the pupil's verdict, or, I might say, desire, and proceed to cultivate the voice accordingly. Is it any wonder that voices so trained do not last? We do not have real tenors in this country. All of our tenor voices partake of the baritone quality. The real, pure, Italian tenor is almost unknown in America."

Women Should Be Trained By Women

"A woman should be trained by a woman, and by one that has a fresh voice. The pupil has so often to hear the teacher's voice in illustration of some point and to imitate her that freshness is necessary. Then, a woman feels freer with a woman. The teacher should see that the clothing is not too tight and attend to various other things more or less unpleasant to a man. Tight dressing must be avoided by singers. Of course, a singer wishes to have a neat, trim figure. This is best accomplished by having any tightness in the clothing come below the diaphragm, just by the hips. In other words, have the dress long waisted. Bu having the snugness below the diaphragm it does not interfere with the breath, and serves as a purchase for the breath. One can lean against it, as it were."

"Besides my 11 years with Lamperti, I have studied with Sangiovanni. He is one of the best teachers. He does not give method, but is more for style and finish. Another excellent Italian teacher is Vannuccini. In France are Mme. Viardot-García, with whom I have studied, and Marchesi. Shakespeare, in England, is very good. He teaches real Lamperti method, and goes nearly very summer to brush up his ideas with Lamperti. Randegger is another English teacher, but he is better for oratorio than for regular voice-culture. After all, it is the Italians that have produced the greatest singers. The Germans have what I may call the arithmetic of singing; but the Italians seem to understand bringing out the voice. Of course, I should not go to Lamperti to study German opera; he prefers Bellini, Rossini and that class of operatic work." 

Mme. Davidson's conversation might be called a bird's-eye view of vocal culture, touching, as it does, upon the most vital and fundamental points of song. Her ideas regarding an examination of vocal teachers and singers, giving them certificates if they reach a certain standard, are, to a certain extent, embodied in the plan of the American College of Musicians, and outgrowth of the Music Teachers National Association. The aim of this college is to give both vocal and instrumental art a standing that it does not now have in this country. While the vocal department may not receive the attention it deserves, being somewhat overshadowed by the instrumental department, it is, nevertheless, doing good work. It is the fault of the vocalists themselves that they do not receive more recognition. A strong pull, a long pull and a pull altogether and their strength and influence will be acknowledged, and song will occupy its rightful place above digital dexterity. 

ELSE M. WILBOR. 


Werner's Magazine, June 1889. 

October 15, 2014

The Golden Rule of Singing

Giovanni Battista Lamperti 
To know the result before we act is the "golden rule" of singing. 

When your tone emerges from silence into sound without effort, focussed, yet free, with sufficient energy to release, or restrain, back of it, you are one of the greatest singers.

To sing well you must be continually feel "hollow-headed," "full-throated," "broad chested" and "tight-waisted." 

Do not "hold" your tone, spin it. Hold your breath. 

No matter what the character of the voice be (bass tenor, contralto, soprano) it should feel high placed and sound high focused. 

Vocal Wisdom: Maxims of Giovanni Battista Lamperti by William Earl Brown (1931) 

*****

Such an interesting book Vocal Wisdom, which appeared a year before Marchesi's The Singer's Catechism and Creed in 1932. I pick it up often, and always have the queer feeling that I am reading it for the first time, even though I have a lot of it committed to memory. It comes from left field, right out of the zone, full of zen-like statements that make me stop and think. Feel too. And that is the point. 

I see Vocal Wisdom as being full of vestibular cues which give the reader a very clear understanding of the "singer's sensation," a term I find myself using when referring to "breath," which, for Lamperti, was something more than air in the lungs. 

Spin the tone by holding the breath? Hollow-headed, full-throated, broad-chested, and tight-waisted?

These cues can confound the student of anatomy and physiology, especially if said student believes singing to have a purely mechanical basis. All parts, no whole, I am amused by the student, who, when asked about breathing, proceeds to give a lecture about the muscles of the torso. 

"It's great that you know how they work!" I say. "But how do you feel when you breath?"

If they fumble for words, I know they 1) aren't in touch with their feelings, 2) aren't used to describing them, 3) lack skill, or 4) the ear is underdeveloped. Whatever the reason, progress begins when their feeling sense becomes as clear as their vowels, which amounts to the same thing. 

If they describe sensations of lift, well-being, extension, elasticity and buoyancy which pervade the body, we're good to go. If not, one of us has to do a lot of heavy lifting. 

Singing is a feeling. Listening is a feeling. The ear is the body after all. When the student feels "inspiration" from pelvis to top of head, they are ready to sing. 

October 14, 2014

Marchesi on the New Religion

Blanche Marchesi as Brunhilde 
5. THE FOUNDATION OF A NEW RELIGION 

There was once a laryngologist in New York called Dr. Curtis. He became the friend and helper of the whole singing crowd in that city, and especially of the singers at the Metropolitan Opera House. The complaints among the singers were numerous, the vocal accidents serious. Dr. Curtis began to collect material, people like Van Rooy, Ternina, and host of other German singers, principals and choristers, showing signs of similar affections. In most cases the vocal cords were actually injured. 

About the same time the voice of Edouard de Reszke began to fail, and Jean de Reszke, dissatisfied with his own voice, began to consult Dr. Curtis on both their cases. Jean de Reszke became a regular visitor at the private house of Dr. Curtis, and he would talk with his brother night after night, scrutinizing vocal methods and their consequences. 

Edouard de Reszke's case was similar to that of Rokinstansky, the bass of the Vienna Opera Company (mentioned in section on Nasal Method). After forcing the volume of his voice, he got into difficulties, being unable to reach his top notes as easily as before. He tried to save himself by singing through his nose. 

"The Triumvirate" decided after many conferences that it is the hit of the glottis which endangers the singer's throat. No doubt they were right on this point, as we fully agree that to hit the glottis in singing must be the source of many vocal troubles. But they could not distinguish between the hitting and the closing of the glottis, and at once decided to condemn every method that allowed singers to make their vocal cords meet when emitting them. 

Other singers were invited to be present at those discussions and some of our school, like Melba, Eames, Calvé, Suzanne Adams, and Sybil Sanderson, who had all been trained in the García-Marchesi Method, were shown the "bogey" of the "coup de glotte" and its terrifying consequences. At these meetings war was declared upon all followers of our method, and the artists' minds were worked upon passionately until they really believed that their way of using voices was perilous.

It was decided that vocal cords must be prevented form closing suddenly. This was the turning-point that brought about an error cultivated ever since. 

How could one sing without closing the vocal cords suddenly? Either by starting the note with an h (ha) which would make every fresh start sound husky air being forced through the vocal cords whilst a note is attacked (first you would hear and h, then a sound), or else by starting a note with the aid of a preceding consonant. 

All consonants were tried and, arriving at the letter m, they decided that this was fulfilling all their expectations. They thought they had here struck a gold vein in the dark labyrinth of their vocal ignorance. 

The letter m, if you will try it by sounding a note at the same time, starts like the French em, then, passing straight through the nose, a nasal sound follows. But they thought that even an e (French) preceding the m might be dangerous, and so they decided to start singing notes on m with closed mouth, which makes the sound immediately pass through the nose and resemble the mooing of a cow. Obviously, their funny-bone did not trouble them. Neither did they object to unaesthetic noises. 

I found to my profound astonishment that the male singers, whilst nervously pacing up and down the room were doing the most ludicrous exercises, producing noises belonging to a cattle farm rather than the green-room.  

Convinced that they had found a way to relieve the vocal cords of most of their work by avoiding the closing of the glottis in emitting sound, they decided to perform all exercises on the letter m with closed mouth and to try to sing otherwise through the nose as well. They thought that to send sound through the nose was to take a heavy weight from the vocal cords, whereas the exact contrary is the truth. A sound sent to a bad sounding-board throws the whole weight of the work back upon the vocal organ and makes it attempt greater efforts to obtain volume. 

This was the starting-point of this new religion, but did not stop there. 

It spread like a prairie fire, and all the ignoramuses, glad to find a new gospel at last, preached the pernicious discovery from the North Pole to the South. Dr. Curtis taught it to all his singing patients. He lad down in his book on the voice a curse against all those who teach the "coup de glotte." 

This naturally meant García and all his followers, including my mother and myself. But these were all idle words. The serous fact witnessed by the whole world was that Edouard de Reszke's voice failed completely when was still a fine, strong man. His instrument was beautiful, but the nasal method destroyed it. His brother Jean de Reszke one of the finest singers the world even knew, fell a victim to the same practice in the prime of his life. 

The tenor's voice succumbed more slowly but no less surely to these exercises, And so the most fascinating tenor had to retire from the operatic stage. Although they were the first victims of their "discovery," they grew enthusiastic over their new thought and, wishing to save all singers, drew more and more fellow-artists into their circle, thus causing havoc in the singing profession. 

One of the first to listen to them was my mother's pupil, Melba. Her voice was perfect, her legato of a rare quality, her staccato and trill perfection. They talked her over, explaining that attacking notes straight away, and especially staccato singing, would be her ruin. 

And so, as my mother told me, Melba returning one day from New York to work with her, as she did each year, suddenly started attacking all her notes with ha and avoided her lovely staccato. My mother immediately saw that she had listened to a new advice and showed her profound astonishment at the change. Melba owned timidly that the new religion had influenced her, explaining how dangerous some people considered the direct attack of notes. My mother, not knowing whether to be angry or to laugh, energetically countered the doubts suggested to her; in fact, she felt profoundly offend that, having given to the world such a perfectly trained voice, people should dare to dispute the method that had made that instrument so beautiful, especially after complete success had already been attained with this voice through her method. She was, however, able to dispel these doubts and to induce Melba to resume her former ways. After that, Melba remained faithful all her life to her teacher and her method, singing thus to a great age. 

Students who are working successfully in our school have often had to listen to violent attacks on our method from which they benefit. It may happen that they are not sufficiently clever to understand the ugly motives that my inspire such mean proceedings and fall victims to their weakness. Some have actually disappeared, never to be heard of again, after abandoning the only way of salvation. 

Jealously sometimes takes such queer forms that it becomes difficult to detect it. When the danger is understood, it is generally too late. The same happens with singers leaving school and starting a career; everybody tries to influence them and it needs a from character to remain untouched by the many idle words that spear dangerous advice. 

I have seen many of my finished pupils after years of perfect work and triumphant success, yielding to the poisonous insinuations of the Iagos who always lurk in the dark in the neighborhood of professional singers. 

When my mother began to reach a great age, Jean de Reszke started to teach. The nasal method spread, and all those who claimed to have worked under him with the aim of becoming teachers themselves insisted on imparting that new gospel. Although his studio in Nice had become a veritable Mecca for singers, very few artists prominent on he world's stages can be traced back to his teaching. 


The Singer's Catechism and Creed (1932) by Blanche Marchesi, p 91-95.