February 8, 2016

Fraulein Schoen-René Left Last Evening for New York

Fraulein Schoen-René in Minneapolis 
Fraulein Schoen-René left last evening for New York to sail next week on the Friedrich der Grosse for Europe. She will go to London to be the guest of Madam Melba, and where she will also call on Manuel García. The famous teacher will soon celebrate his 102 birthday, and Fraulien Schoen-René makes an annual visit to his house her rule. From London she will go to Paris to be present at the birthday celebration of Madame Viardot García, her former teacher, and also meet Scott Woolworth and introduce him to Madame García. A trip to the Rhine, where members of her family live, will be followed by a visit to Bayreuth to attend the performance of "Der Ring der Nibelung," "Tristan und Isolde," and "Parsifal," a visit to Salzburg for the "Mozart" festival, which will be conducted by Felix Motler and Lilli Lehmann. 

George Walker in Minneapolis, one of the pupils of Fraulein Schoen-René, is to make his debut in the Royal Opera house, Berlin, Sept 8, in the role Marcell in "The Huguenots" and Fraulein will be present at the performance, as she will be visiting her sisters at that time. 

Dr. Robert Bachman of the United States Navy, who is on recruiting duty in Minneapolis, has taken Fraulein Schoen-René's house on Grove place for four months. He will entertain his sister, Miss Bachman and a friend from Pittsburgh for some time. 

The Minneapolis Journal, Sunday, July 1, 1906: 4. 


Once, in Garcia's studio, I was given a most instructive lesson in the diagnosing of voices. He asked me to listen with him to two singers who had come from America. They were under the impression that they had studied with a teacher who was a representative of the Garcia technique, but in the singing that followed there was no trace of it. Manuel Garcia then asked them to sing some exercises and vocalizations, which seemed to them a strange request. It was a most amazingly amateurish exemplification of tone production. When asked to project the pure Italian vowels, they could not do it. One a baritone had a very throaty voice, and the other a tenor, sang with a nasal quality. The climax came when the poor fellows asked whether they might take lessons from him, during the few weeks of their stay in London. "No, no," he exclaimed emphatically, "I do not want to commit a sin!" Then the tenor asked in a disagreeable way, "That means dismissed?" "Yes," said Garcia, soberly, "and with the advice to give up the idea of a professional career." The two left not very encouraged. 

In silence I looked at the Maestro and observed his speechless dismay. Tears of sympathy filled my eyes. Glancing up at rne, he said, "Yes, my child, that is the only answer tears." Fortunately, his sadness was changed to joy by a knock at the door. 

Plangon, thinking the Maestro was alone when he saw the young men come out of the studio, entered and greeted him with a jolly and smiling countenance. Garcia was delighted. "Sing me," he begged, "a few of your beautiful tones, so that may be sure that correct singing still exists." Seated at the piano, he sang scores and scales. Manuel Garcia's expression lost Its discouraged sadness and became radiant, as he exclaimed, "That is singing through the mask and not through the nose! The nose is the waste-basket of the brain but not considered for resonance." (Mask, in musical language, is used to express all the resonance cavities of the face, as opposed to the cavities of the nose only.) Suddenly turning to me, he grumbled, "Why do they sing and speak with that nasal quality in America?" I, who also detest the ugly nasal speaking voice and had fought against it so long, answered, "Master, it comes from ignorance from not knowing that mask and nose are two separate resonances." "Yes," he said, "I think you are right. God may forgive them, but I cannot." 

Garcia sometimes had a very humorous way of expressing himself. I remember his once saying, "A basso with a low C and a tenor with a high C, both are socially impossible!" 

On his hundredth birthday, March 17, 1905, Manuel Garcia was in good health and high spirits. The anniversary was made an important occasion by admirers of many different nationalities. He had already, by order of the King of Sweden, been created "Chevalier de L'Ordre de Mérite," in recognition of his services to Jenny Lind and other great Swedish artists, and been made an honorary M.D. of the University of Konigsberg, and "correspondent" of the University of Stockholm. 

The grand old man began his activities on that day by driving to Buckingham Palace where Edward VII decorated him with the Insignia of a Commander of the Royal Victorian Order. Leaving the Palace, he drove to Hanover Square, where, at the Royal Medical and Chirurgical Society, more honors were conferred on him, both for his musical achievements and his medical research. 

There, also, by order of the Kong of Spain, he was invested with the Royal Order of Alphonse XII. The Prussian Minister for Public Instruction, on behalf of Emperor Wilhelm II, presented him with the Great Gold Medal for Science. Addresses followed by representatives of the Royal Society, the Royal Academy of Music, and universities and medical societies of many countries. After this, Garcia was presented with his portrait by Sargent, commissioned by his pupils, friends, and numerous admirers. 

At the close of the ceremonies, he made a speech of thanks, and then the entire assemblage filed past to do him homage. With all his particular friends, the old gentleman shook hands. 

That same evening Garcia attended a banquet in his honor at the Hotel Cecil, where he heard and responded to more speeches. 

Two days later there was a private celebration, at which he received a large and elaborate birthday cake. Mine. Viardot and Mme. Marchesi were present, both at that time about eighty years of age. Garcia humorously chided them, saying he was astonished that they had not prepared a program of songs and duets in his honor. 

Neither Garcia's admirers, so anxious to pay tribute to him, nor the sovereigns who had issued the royal commands for him to appear at these exhausting ceremonies, seemed to have taken into consideration the possibility of overtiring the old man, and Garcia, who considered himself indefatigable, would never have protested. His exertions wearied him, however, more than he realized, for when I wrote him at that time, asking permission to come again to him for advice the following summer, my letter was answered by his wife (the wife of his second marriage), who told me that he was ill with influenza brought on by overtaxing himself on his birthday. She said that his doctors advised him to retire, but that he was sure he would recover and again resume his professional life at one hundred years of age! 

In the year of 1906, I received another letter from Mme. Garcia, telling me that her husband had regained his health and that I should come to see him. I made my preparations to go to London. That same night I had a strange premonition. I dreamed that upon entering his house I saw Manuel Garcia lying on the sofa in the little reception room which I so well remembered. Before him stood Brahms and Beethoven, looking down upon his body, which was dwindling away to a mere nothing. 

On the way to the boat, the following morning, I bought a newspaper. In great letters, the headlines of the front page announced: 


With a shock I realized that my dream had become a reality, and I embarked for Paris to see Pauline Viardot, his sister. 

—Anna E. Schoen-René, America's Musical Inheritance: Memories and Reminiscences (G. P. Putnam's Sons, New York) 1941: 109-112.


Anna E. Schoen-René specialized in the art of teaching men with Manuel García from 1901-1905, having been a student of his sister Pauline Viardot-García beginning in 1889. Additional information regarding "singing in the mask" and the teachings of the Gracias can be found in Hidden in Plain Sight: The Hermann Klein Phono-Vocal Method Based upon the Famous School of Manuel García (2013).  

Note: Thanks to a sharp-eyed reader, it would seem that the "Felix Motler" in the first article was probably "Felix Mottl" —reporters of this period not always getting things right. As it is, I had already changed the reporter's spelling of "Lehman" to its correct form "Lehmann" when making this post. Was the original information relayed on the "new" telephone or jotted down without checking? It happens more than you think. 

February 1, 2016

The Great Schoen-René

Exposition Hall in Minneapolis where Schoen-René presented concerts with leading artists  

AT THE TURN OF THE CENTURY, there lived an extraordinary woman in Minneapolis. She wore a mannish jacket always, while her hair was cut short. Wherever she went she was accompanied by a great Dane, Thieras, a dog which had been sired by Prince Bismarck's great Dane, also named Thieras. She was authoritative in manner, brooked no contradiction, and spoke English with a decided accent. You suspected she was German, which was, indeed, the case. If you talked to her for five minutes, the conversation would almost inevitably run to music, and you would wonder how under the sun any woman living in 1900 Minneapolis could possibly know so much about music and musicians. 

For she knew all the great musicians of the day—the De Reszkes, Calvé, Nordica, Gadski, Melba, Sembrich, Lilli Lehmann, Pauline Viardot-García, Campanari, and countless others. In fact, she had entertained most of them at her home, a brown-stone affair on the island. You could see at a glance that she had been superlatively well educated in music. She was decidedly Old World, and her brilliant eyes would flash as she would tell you of her "mission" to bring some real understanding of music to the pioneer city which had grown up around St. Anthony Falls. 

Everyone in Minneapolis knew her. She was the great Schoen-René, impresario, vocal teacher, commanding personality, musical evangelist, civic institution. She had come to Minneapolis only a few years before, and her coming had been quite accidental. Having been brought over to America to sing with the Metropolitan Opera in New York, her health had been broken down, and her vocal career had been cut short. So she had come out to the (to her) strange and far-away city of Minneapolis, where a sister of hers was teaching German at the University of Minnesota. Getting a fresh grip on life out here, she entered vigorously into the musical life of the city and was shortly dominating it. With Schoen-René to participate was to dominate. For a time she had a studio on the site of the present Leader store, then moved to the Metropolitan Music Building next door to the present Dyckman—or, perhaps, about where Pete Juster now flourishes. 

It was difficult for Schoen-René to tolerate rivals in the musical field, but there was one musician here, also German-born, whose education was fully as comprehensive as hers . . . in fact, indeed, more comprehensive. His name was Emil Oberhoffer. Rivalry between the two soon took the form of an epic feud. Minneapolis was still in its age of innocence, and the town was divided into two camps. If you were in the Schoen-René camp, you were practically supposed to shoot anybody in the Oberhoffer camp at sight. And if you were in the Oberhoffer camp, you were practically supposed to shoot anybody in the Schoen-René camp at sight. What was had in Minneapolis of the day was a Montague-Capulet musical world. The two camps warred over choral societies, university activities, operatic festivities, and what have you . . . in fact, anything that musicians could war over. 

The orchestra was just in the offing, and both wanted it, but Oberhoffer got it. Schoen-René's disgust knew no bounds. Up and down Minneapolis she proclaimed her opinion that Oberhoffer was a lout and a musical illiterate who didn't know a rondo from a hydrant. Oberhoffer's opinion of Schoen-René was equally low and he doubted if Schoen-René had ever heard of Wagner. It was a wonderful war while it lasted, but along about 1907 Schoen-Rene returned to Germany, and hostilities gradually died away, Oberhoffer being left in possession of the field. 

Last week Schoen-René, still a nightly force in the musical world, died in New York. Minneapolitans with long memories will inevitably go back to the early days when the doughty, powerful, militant personality was impressing itself so strongly on the life of the city. Unquestionably here was one of the really great characters of Minneapolis. 

—William J. McNally. "The Great Schoen-René." Minneapolis Tribune, November 21, 1942: 4.


ANNA E. SCHOEN-RENÉ (1864-1942), known as the "Prussian General" to her students, became a student of Pauline Viardot-García in Paris after first studying with Francesco Lamperti in Milan. Having been prepared for an operatic career by Viardot-García, Schoen-René traveled to New York City in 1893 in order to make her debut at the Metropolitan Opera, but became seriously ill during the crossing. She spent the next three years recovering at her sister’s house in Minneapolis, where she began teaching voice. Viardot-García subsequently sent Schoen-René to her brother Manuel in London for a special course in teaching men which resulted in Schoen-René becoming the García's leading exponent. Schoen-René became an American citizen in 1906, taught in Berlin until the end of the First World War, then returned to New York City where she joined the Juilliard School faculty in 1925. Her memoir America's Musical Inheritance: Memories and Reminiscences was published in 1941. Considered the leading voice teacher of her time, Schoen-René's students included Lucie Manén, Florenzio Constantino, Risé Stevens, Mack Harrell, Kitty Carlisle Hart, Judith Doniger, Lanny Ross, Ludwig Wüllner, Putman Griswold, Ruth Berg, Elizabeth Delius, Mady Christians, Richard Malkin, Viola Philo, Robert Geis, Robert Parker, Arthur de Voss, Marshall Bartholomew, Ruth Schaffner, Alice Howland, Eleanor Steele, Hall Clovis, Hallie Stiles, Arturo di Fillipi, Celius Dougherty, Alice Sjoselius, Lillian Flickinger, George Meader, Jane Pickens, Sonia Essen, Paul Robeson, Anny Konetzni, Thelma Votipka, Lillian Blauvelt, Lanny Ross, Florence Easton, Karin Branzell, Florence Austral, Charles Kullman, Marie Tiffany, Maria von Maximovitch, Julius Huehn, Eva Gauthier, George Britton and Margaret Harshaw. 

January 22, 2016

The Traditions of Fine Singing: An Interview with Anna E. Schoen-René

Anna E. Schoen-René (1864-1942)
Data on tone production is readily obtained, but the singer soon discovers that technical instruction amounts to little unless it is fortified by purity of style. The acquiring of traditional vocal style. The acquiring of traditional vocal style remains one of the chief problems of vocal mastery. It is rare to encounter a person whose authoritative knowledge of tone production stems back directly to the founder of vocal science; who's traditions of art reach in an unbroken lone to the days of Mozart. Such a person is Mme. Anna Schoen-René, one of the world's foremost voice teachers, currently active in the Vocal Department of the Juilliard Graduate School, and private teacher of celebrated singers both here and abroad. Mme. Schoen-René was a pupil of, and for many years associated with, Pauline Viardot-Garcia, one of the greatest authorities on the art of singing; and she specialized in the teaching of male voices with Manuel Garcia. The traditions she absorbed from them go further than upholding the best standards in art (an achievement in itself); actually, they set the standards which subsequently have guided the development of Bel Canto. 

The principles of correct singing were first formulated by Don Manuel Garcia (father of Manuel, Pauline, and Maria Malibran), the most distinguished singer of the Romantic Epoch, who prepared his first operatic performances under Mozart's guidance. Don Manuel taught his three children singing which has come down through succeeding generations as Bel Canto. 

"My own great teachers often told me how their father came to formulate the knowledge of tone production which the son, Manuel García, was later to develop as the foundation of all good singing," says Mme. Schoen-René. "Manuel, the son, did not like to hear it called a 'method'—methods, he said, were patterns for shoemakers to follow! He preferred to think of his work as a scientific education in vocal art—which is exactly what it is. 

The Italian Tone 

"Even in Don Manuel's time, it was common knowledge that the old Italians sang more beautifully than any other vocalists in the world. Purity of tone and evenness of line distinguished their performances, and with the Italian development of stringed instruments, this preeminence increased. Don Manuel, who possessed not only a magnificent voice but a great mind as well, determined to investigate the 'Italian tone' and to analyze the elements that made it outstanding. His researches indicated the basis for all good tone production consists of breathing, breath support, vocalization, and resonance. Manuel, the son, perfected the studies which his father had indicated, and he became perhaps the greatest voice teacher that the world has ever known. (In studying the scientific aspects of singing, he was the first to invent the laryngoscope.) Around him and his distinguished sister, Mme. Viardot-García, gathered a circle that included George Sand, Chopin, Heine, Schumann, Liszt, Meyerbeer, Lablache, and many others. Those who were fortunate enough to study with the Garcías have made a life work of keeping their traditions absorbed from such a source.

The old Italians relied entirely upon the ear to guide them in tone production. Actually, the ear is still the best diagnostician in detecting tonal values—but the ear alone is not enough! The singer must understand the anatomical principles underlying their production; he must put these principles into practice, learning the sensations they cause.

"In Manuel García's day it was considered revolutionary to hold that singing originated, not in the throat, but in the breath which serves as the connecting support between the body and the tone. The old Italians relied entirely upon the ear to guide them in tone production. Actually, the ear is still the best diagnostician in detecting tonal values—but the ear alone is not enough! The singer must understand the anatomical principles underlying their production; he must put these principles into practice, learning the sensations they cause.

"The García principales of singing—better, the only correct principles of singing as laid down by García—begin with breath and breath control. The breath must be full, deep, low-taken, It must be supported by the strong abdominal muscles. Practice in correct breathing should precede all exercises in singing. When the breath has been properly taken, the singer must learn to sent it in a steady flow against the diaphragm, through the entire respiratory tract, towards the vocal cords, the vibrations of which produces tone. Tone is supported by the long column of breath; it 'sits upon it.' If the flow of breath is unsteady, the resulting tone becomes unsteady Next in importance to the control and support of breath is its resonance. Tone must be resonated entirely from the face—never in the throat, never in the nasal passages. Defective tone and loss of range result form incorrect resonance. The tone should be sent into the cavities bounded by the cheek bones, and allowed to vibrate freely there. Manuel García stressed this freedom of tonal vibration, warning emphatically against constriction in the nose or in the throat.

Importance of Vocalization

"Extremely vital to tone quality is vocalization. Tone cannot sound forth until it is fixed within the limits of some vowel or consonant. The most primitive cry if formed on some vowel sound. Complete singing requires the constant juxtaposition of vowels and consonants, purely vocalized. The singer should devote great care to formation of pure vowel sounds. This is especially important to English-speaking singers, because the English language has no pure vowels. English vowels tend to trail off into diphthongs. In ordinary English speech, an A becomes A-EE; and and I becomes A-I-EE; an O becomes O-DD. This is fatal to pure vocalization, an consequently, to pure tone. The trailing of the vowel into the diphthong causes a scooping, swooping approach which mars clean, precise tonal attack. Italian, German, and French contain pure vowels in ordinary speech, making pure vowel vocalization easier for those project their tones naturally in terms of those language-sounds. All English-speaking singers must cultivate pure vowels as part of their vocal equipment. Purity of vocalizations is far more than a matter of good diction; it is the secret of pure singing. 

"The exercises prescribed by the Garcías (obtainable in their published manuals of vocalises, notably 'Une heure d'etude,' by Pauline Viardot-García) were  always extremely simple and natural. They explored the voice with a the long, sustained tones of the grand scala,  and perfected evenness in passing from one register to rang to another, preparing the way for coloratura technic. The development of florid and flexible technic is advisable for every voice, high or low, male or female; but important as technical mastery is, it must always remain secondary to the production of pure tone itself. Fiorituri without a foundation of pure tone (like a roof without a house!) come crashing down to ruin. 

A Phase of General Culture

"One of the chief charms of the Garcías as teachers lay in the fact that their instruction was by no means confined to voice problems. Their culture was so did that they did not need to 'specialize!' Singing, to them, was simply one very important aspect of that general cultural education without which no one can hope to understand or project art. Mme. Viardot examined all candidates who wished to study with her, and the examination began before they had sung a tone! The moment a candidate entered the room, Mme. Viardot noted his approach, his manners, his attitude, thus judging his bearing, his background. And, in their conversation, she judged his educational and esthetic equipment. Mme. Viardot never refused a gifted pupil because of lack of culture or breeding, but those who revealed the lack were immediately trained in that respect. Mme. Viardot held deportment to be of vital importance in the building of a complete artistic personality, which, of course, it is! She exacted obedience from her pupils and imposed rigorous discipline upon them; never in the sense of dominating them, but in order to help them acquire that self-discipline which is the foundation of all art. As part of our singing courses, we were required to read the great classics, to acquaint ourselves with Titian and Rembrandt in the museums, to observe models of acting in the theatres. The goal of her tuition was no 'specialization' in tones and roles, but the formation of complete self-expression and self-control. 

"I often think back to those teachings to-day when, regrettably, a wholly mistaken concept of freedom tends to undermine our regard for discipline, authority, respect, control. Perhaps the most valuable precept we can give our students is that freedom comes only as a result  of self-control. Freedom is not a lack of discipline; it consists, rather, in controlling one's self so effectively that discipline from the outside world becomes less necessary. Self-discipline makes a great career for the individual singer. 

Voice Culture for Composers

"Voice study is as valuable for composers as for singers. The unsurpassed melodic line of Bach and Mozart results from their familiarity with the possibilities of the human voice. Many modern songs, alas, reveal that their composers lack such knowledge. Their skipping, shifting intervals cannot be encompassed in a pure vocal line; and consequently they remain worthless as practical music. The composer who would write for the voice must understand its scope, its uses, its limitations. Liszt once sent a highly interesting young man to Mme. Viardot of her advice. Liszt believed the youth to be 'full of music,' but was undecided whether to encourage him in a pianist's career. Mme. Viardot was delighted with the young man's gifts, and employed him as an accompanist and later as a coach to her pupils, in Baden-Baden. In this way she came to hear some of his own compositions. He name was Johannes Brahms! Undoubtedly, this early acquaintance with the principles of vocal technic helped shape the exquisite line of Brahms' songs. Our own young composers would do well to follow his example. Then, perhaps, we should find new vitality in our modern song material." 

Mme. Schoen-René is currently arranging of the publication of her memoirs, which begin with her student years in the late 1880's and continue through her activities as a teacher in Europe and America, where she has prepared many of the younger members of the Metropolitan Opera. After passing her state examinations at the Royal Academy of Music, in Berlin, she was granted royal fellowship to study voice and vocal pedagogy with Mme. Viardot-García, in Paris. Later she came to the United States to become a member of the Metropolitan Opera Company. However, the excessive work of preparing for her own career, while mastering the pedagogical aspects of singing, led to a severe breakdown. To win back her health, Mme. Schoen-René went to visit her sister, then Exchange Professor of Languages at the University of Minnesota. While residing there, Mme. Schoen-René undertook to organize the Department of Music at that University, founding glee clubs, giving lectures, and inviting notable artists to visit. Also, she founded the first symphony orchestra in the American Northwest. She has contributed much to American musical life, and believes American students to be among the most highly gifted in the world.

—Stephen West. "The Traditions of Fine Singing: An Interview with Mme. Anna E. Schoen-René," The Etude, November 1941.


Anna E. Schoen-René (1864-1941) was one of the last direct representatives of Pauline Viardot-Garcia and Manuel Garcia. She taught in America and Europe before becoming a professor of singing at The Juilliard School, where she taught from 1925 to 1942. He students included many well-known singers, among them: Putnam GriswoldFlorencio Constantino, Sonia Essen, Mack HarrellFlorence Easton, Margaret HarshawRisë StevensLillian BlauveltKarin BranzellCharles KullmanThelma Votipka, George Meader, Paul RobesonEva Gauthier, Lanny Ross, and George Britton.

As far as I have been able to ascertain, the interview above with Schoen-Rene is the only one given during her life-time that includes anything remotely related to vocal technique. It appeared the same year her memoir America's Musical Inheritance was published.  She died a year later.   

One of the more interesting things contained in the article is Schoen-René's assertion that the student must not only judge tones after they have been produced, but must “understand the anatomical principles underlying their production and the sensations they cause." Schoen-René also asserts that the voice must be resonated from the face, and vibrate freely there. This is the concept of voice placement, and is addressed in my little book: Hidden in Plain Sight: The Hermann Klein Phono-Vocal Method Based upon the Famous School of Manuel Garcia. 

The article above originally appeared here at VoiceTalk on August 27, 2010. However, after Blogger changed its formatting, the original document was no longer easily accessed. Hence, I have reproduced the article as well as the content from the original post. 

January 13, 2016

NYCO-Renaissance: A Wandering Minstrel

The New York City Opera emerged from bankruptcy court yesterday as noted by the New York Times, which reported judge Sean Lane's approval of a plan by hedge fund manager Roy Niederhoffer and his chosen general director Micheal Capasso to reconstitute a leading company that had floundered on the rocks of bad management, left its home at Lincoln Center, lost its subscribers, sold off its sets and costumes, and watched its history drown in hurricane Sandy.

Social media reports indicate that the orchestra is thrilled to be working again, which it will do on January 20 in an NYCO-Renaissance performance of Tosca at a theater in the Time Warner building at Columbus Circle. As of this writing, however, the newly appointed company directors have yet to hammer out an agreement with members of The American Guild of Musical Artists (AGMA), which represents singers, stage managers, dancers, and stage directors. Matters are further complicated by the recent death of AGMA's executive director Alan Gordon on New Year's day.

Long-time readers of VoiceTalk will know that this blogger sang at NYCO for twenty-three seasons, that is, until the company's untimely demise in 2011. And while he wishes the new company success, he also fears for its long-term viability since—assuming an agreement with AGMA can be reached—current plans have the company wandering the streets of New York City.

The director would be Michael Capasso, the former head of Dicapo Opera Theater, which closed in 2013 after 33 years after it too went broke. While the revamped City Opera hopes to perform often at Lincoln Center, it sees itself as a wandering minstrel, playing in “novel and unconventional” venues around town, such as the Culture Shed under construction at Hudson Yards.  —City Opera's new revival will be its own, Crain's New York Business, January 11, 2016. 

New York City Opera needs a home to survive and thrive. Can new management, like any good parent, provide that? Only time will tell.  

Photo Credit: NYCO's former home at Lincoln Center 

January 11, 2016

École de García

A trip to the Performing Arts Library at Lincoln Center this past week included something equally interesting and fascinating to this researcher: a beautiful 1847 edition of Manuel García's Traité Complet de L'Art du Chant published by Fuzeau (Courlay, France) in 2005. 

Original, you say? Very much so. And the musical bible to which all singers and voice teachers should acquaint themselves. Why? García is the father of voice science. 

You can find more accessible editions on the Download page along with García's Hints on Singing (1894). 

January 5, 2016

One Month's Singing Lessons

THE first step is to obtain the delivery of a firm, vibrant vocal tone on every note of one's proper voice, in such range as is called for by composers. Obtaining delivery of a firm, vibrant tone through complete range of voice requires daily practice—correct practice based on knowledge of voice and what makes it. Practice following exercises:

EXERCISE I.—Use scale of D. Begin to sing on a of scale. singing downward. a, g, f, e, d; then up the scale, a, b, c. d. Each tone is to be held four seconds. Is the tone breathy, throaty, nasal, blank, shrill, wobbly? Let no one feel discouraged if he has one or even all of these faults. Nearly all untrained voices are unable to carry perfect tune.

EXERCISE II.—Sing “one” on each note of scale five times, prolonging the fifth “one" several seconds. Sopranos and tenors will use the scale of D; altos and basses the scale of C. Do not sing rapidly. Begin each word promptly. without hesitation. Let lips round easily, as “wo” sound is made. Let “n" sound freely through nose. Connect words smoothly; speak them rather than sing them; never shout. During first week this exercise should be used five minutes, twice a day. During the other weeks of month, only once a day.

EXERCISE III.—Use scale of C. Begin to sing on lower c of scale, singing upward, two notes together, c-d, d-e, e-f, f-g, g-a, a-b, b-c. Sing with “ah.” Higher voices use scale of D. Give each note four beats, each a second long, take breath after each couplet. Take a comfortable breath, avoiding raising shoulders or distending chest. The use of "ah" leaves organs very nearly in same position as when not singing. The tongue lies at rest; the throat is not drawn on; the lips part a little. As one approaches the higher voice the tendency is to sing louder and to hasten. Seek not to give way to such tendency; self-control is essential in all training. The time in which to sing this lets us use eight seconds in one breath—long enough for beginners. Same volume of voice is to be used throughout exercise, and only moderately loud voice should be used. Be sure to end second note of each grouping easily—without tension on throat. Connect the two notes smoothly. Practice five minutes. twice a day, during first week; once a day, later.

EXERCISE IV.—Use scale of C. Begin to sing on lower c of scale, singing upward, three notes together, c-d-e, d-e-f, e-f-g, f-g-a. g-a-b, a-b-c. This is the same exercise as No. 3, only it has three notes in place of two; that means, it takes twelve seconds to sing each group. The same instruction applies. It is not to be used by young singers during the first week of drill. The second week use it once a day, for five minutes; later, twice a day. 

Such practice leads directly into use of melody. That is a long step into singing. Conversational voice steps directly into reciting, which in music is used in the form of recitative. Melody is the next step. Know that good melody is based on inflections of conversational voice. Singers, as a rule, do not know that. Most people have little idea that conversational voice covers enough range of pitch to give a melody. One can easily observe what great range the voice has by expressing in the most natural way various sentiments. Give a common remark, like "That dog, out there, is lively,” and one will find himself pitching the voice on its middle notes (D, E, or F). Then if he assumes a very sympathetic tone, such as he would in saying “Poor doggie, I’m so sorry you hurt your paw!” the voice drops half an octave. Let him run and greet a long-absent friend with “Hulloa! I’m so glad to see you,” and the voice will go an octave higher than the place it takes on the sympathetic tone. Now, if one cries out in fear, or in anger, up goes the voice another half octave.

EXERCISE V.—Use "Ah" on this and other exercises unless another vowel is given. Higher voices use scale of D. Sing in regular time. Be sure to give four beats (pulses) to the whole note. Attack first note promptly and end last note with freedom. Extend this short phrase into upper voice as far as it can be made with comfort. Low voices should sing it easily to D; high voices to G. Use five minutes twice a day on this during the first two weeks; after that, once a day. Take special care to join the fourth and fifth beats of each phrase neatly and without special stress. 

EXERCISE V I.—The purpose of this exercise is to carry the higher registers (a term which will be fully explained as time goes on) downward. A note attacked easily will be pretty sure to be in the right register. Seek to carry the kind of voice used on that first note downward on all notes of descending scale. A very common fault of students in the early days (and often, years) of practice is to push notes of lower registers upward, beyond the places where nature intended a change to be made. That is the cause of those distressing sounds which many alto singers make. This exercise will make all voices sweeter. Some will think it makes their voices smaller; but they are made sweeter, even if they are smaller. Voices cultivated on right lines become very strong, although they may at first lose power. Good quality is essential to good singing. Seek good quality first. This exercise should be adjusted according to the kind of voice which uses it. All should begin their practice upon it in the key in which it is written. Higher voices should then transpose it higher, but not carry it higher than key of G. This gives them eight keys in which to sing it. Lower voices transpose it lower. It may be sung downward as far as the voice can go. Very low voices will then have as many as fifteen points - from which to start it. This exercise should be used every day for one month. Five minutes, if it is carefully sung, will be enough. Remember not to sing with very loud voice. Shouting is always something besides singing—shouting is uncouth and rude.

The exercises are all written with the treble clef, for convenience in writing. In actual pitch men are sing— ing one octave lower than the exercise is written. Men are, however, so accustomed to the accompaniment of the piano that if they play it as written and sing at all, they will pitch the voice at the right starting-point.

EXERCISE VII.—“1-2-3-4-5-6 ah, 1-2-3-4-5-6 ah.”

Select the scale suitable for the kind of voice; that is, high voices use scale of D; low voices use scale of C. Attack the word “one" promptly, and say the numbers rapidly but smoothly. Hold the word “ah” four seconds, and proceed, in same breath, into second half of exercise. Select the character of voice which one would employ in greeting very pleasantly one's friend—it is the genial voice. First attempts may be ludicrous. They will certainly be artificial. Repeat attempts, on first note, until satisfied that the real conversational voice is found; only then should one try the exercise on second note, and he should not go higher into the voice except as he can bring each note into satisfactory conversational tone. He will find that the face will relax into a pleasant one. We wear a look of pleased interest when we greet a friend. This exercise should never be practiced with the face drawn and with a cross expression. Of course, it would be silly to try to laugh as one sings. Teachers used to tell their pupils to smile while practicing. It may be all right to smile in the right way, but pupils who try to smile while singing are liable to look very silly. Let them, instead, assume the genial mood of mind and be pleasant in speech, and they will get a result in tone which will surprise them. Again, remember that this exercise is only to be practiced on the notes on which one can speak pleasantly. It does no good to practice wrongly. First get a note right, and then is the time to work upon it. Practice this exercise ten minutes every day.

The object of singing is to express emotion. It is not, as some seem to suppose, to sing notes. Expressing emotion is the actor's art. When we think of acting in connection with singing we are liable to imagine ranting about stage or about room. But, every motion, and even every expression of the face is acting. In directing our students to secure pleasant looks we are opening the first pages of the book on acting. It is an important opening, much more important than most singers think.

A second step relates to position while practicing. Do not, under any circumstances, sit at piano. Stand always. If you are where the piano is, strike a chord on the instrument so you may know the key. Then sing, without further playing. Do not have any one else play for you while prac— ticing exercises. You should work alone, for much depends upon concentration of mind. The position you should take is: Advance one foot forward and lean forward far enough to have weight of body fall on forward foot. It does not make any difference which foot is forward. If one becomes tired of standing on one foot, change to the other, but always leaning forward far enough to let weight fall on ball of forward foot. Shoulders should be released and comfortable; not thrown back, nor yet bent forward. Body should be erect, a little raised from hips. Do not strain upward. Let all be easy and comfortable. Now, in this position, with this feeling of comfort and with the genial voice, practice as directed the seven exercises of this lesson. During the month there will be improvement of every voice.

Mr. Tubbs, ever energetic and progressive, gives singing-lessons not only in person, but also in print. His course is in striking contrast to those teachers who are forever afraid that they may give out something without getting paid in spot cash. As a result of his liberal and enlightening activity, Mr. Tubbs is one of the busiest and most successful of New York teachers. —Editor.

—Frank H. Tubbs, "One Month's Singing Lessons," Werner's Magazine, September 1900: 16-19.

Tubbs was a student of Manuel García, Francesco Lamperti and William Shakespeare. See his label below for more information.


Has anything changed in the last one hundred years? Hardly. Search the internet today, and you will find plenty of voice teachers offering instruction like Tubbs did in 1900—the only difference being the method of delivery.

If voice teachers once gave instruction in magazines, they now record videos and upload them on a web platform for all to see. Teachers will, of course, say that they have an interest in giving more students instruction—and while that may be true, the actual reason they are doing it is to create a funding stream, make money, survive, pay their rent or mortgage. In short, it's PR for business. High quality instruction that enables a student to actually to sing well and even have a career? You can only get that one-on-one in the studio, where feedback can be given, and where the voice can be heard clearly in 3-D. (Skype lessons—I give them btw—have their limitations too insofar as the delivery of musical accompaniment in real time.) That takes time too, time that those in a hurry aren't interested in usually. They want what they want fast and cheap. This is what you find on the internet.

There are no shortcuts to any place worth going. —Beverly Sills

December 30, 2015

Technology in the Studio: The Laryngoscope

Karl Merz, the talented editor of Brainard's Musical World, replies to a correspondent as follows: 

The name of the instrument you refer to is 'laryngoscope.' It was Garcia, the singer, who first attempted to obtain a view of the interior of the human throat and its vocal organs. His aim was to perfect vocal instruction, to solve the problem of the human voice. Garcia's methods, however, were not satisfactory. For this reason experiments were given up, and for a while neither scientists nor artists paid much attention to the laryngoscope. The idea of this instrument did not, however, originate with Garcia. As early as 1807 physicians made attempts at laryngoscopic investigation, and physicians again took up the subject after Garcia had dropped it. The two men that distinguished themselves most in this field were Dr. Turk, of Vienna, and Dr. Czermak, of Pesth. Garcia had used sunlight in his experiments, and to this practice Dr. Turk adhered. Czermak, on the other hand, used lamps and reflectors, because daylight, in his opinion, was not always suitable for experimenting. There arose a bitter debate between these two opponents, which gradually attracted the attention of scientists and singers all over Europe. By this means the laryngoscope was once more brought prominently before the world, and from that time on it was never again lost sight of. The artificial light theory carried the day. 

Many experiments have been made with this instrument. Persons have sung and talked while they had the mirror in their mouths, the vocal chords have been watched, and much valuable information has been obtained, for all that musicians have not yet reached a uniform theory as to the voice and its registers, and the professors the doctors, and voice-builders, are still at variance. It is the opinion of not a few, that the laryngoscope is of no practical value to the vocal teacher, inasmuch as the person that is operated upon, having to stretch out the tongue, and a glass being placed in the mouth, cannot produce a natural tone. You had better let the laryngoscope alone. It is of far more importance for you to know what a pretty tone is, how to sing with expression, than to know how the vocal chords move or vibrate. From what information I could gather on this subject, it seems that the laryngoscope has done far better service to medical science than to musical art.

—Karl Merz, "The Laryngoscope," Werner's Voice Magazine, January, 1881: 3. 


You may think it strange, but I read articles like the one above and ask myself: Ok, so what has changed? 

A lot, certainly. 

Technology has progressed insofar as that examination of the vocal tract and larynx is not invasive, with scoping being done via the nose and nasal passage. But does this technological advance help the singer sing? I would say no. And therein lies the rub. 

Analyzing tone is one thing, while creating it is another. They aren't the same process at all. However, it's not uncommon to encounter the belief that knowledge of the muscles of the larynx and vocal tract enable greater control. Experience in the studio tells me, however, that this is an illusion. You can tell a student how the muscles of the larynx work, but this doesn't give them the means to sing any more than a knowledge of the muscles of the leg and foot help a person to walk or run.

"You can't control the voice. You can only control what it wants!" —Margaret Harshaw

Truer words were never spoken. 

Finding out what the voice wants? You need a really good teacher for that. Either that, or you are a canny autodidact. 

December 16, 2015

Rules for Training the Voice

J Harry Wheeler (1836-1909) 
To cultivate a voice it is of the greatest importance to ascertain as soon as possible, the real character of the voice. Some voices are so warped, the tones so misplace, the registers and quality so exaggerated, that at first it is sometimes impossible to tell what the voice is its normal condition really is. All voices should not be treated precisely the same. For example, if a voice is a soprano, it should not be treated as though it were a mezzo-contralto, even if the compass be the same. 

The voice should be cultivated in the clear timbre or quality. The strength of the voice is gained in this timbre. It should not be understood that the tone should be of a thin, flat quality; all tones should receive a certain degree of coloring from the first. The sombre timbre should only be used for emotional effects; if the voice has been properly cultivated it will become stronger and more sombre by usage and age. 

For the production of clear tones the air should be directed forward, and for the production of the sombre tones the air should be directed backwards. The quality of a tone is almost entirely owing to its resonance. In cases where the resonance is too far back, the vowels  ee as ee in deed, will be found to be the most favorable to bring the resonance forward. Practice with the word see will also prove of great advantage. The consonant s aids largely in placing the sound well against the teeth. 

During the singing, the position of the tongue for the different vowels should be as flat as possible, and projected forward. Great care should be taken not to draw the tongue backward. This fault may be overcome by practice before a glass; first drawing in the breath as in gaping, then vocalizing with ah, and the vowels a, e, i, o, u, the end of the tongue at the same time being pressed against the front lower teeth during the production of the tone. It will be found advantageous to sustain all the vowels to teach tone of the diatonic scale, the entire compass of the voice, and also the Italian syllables do, re, mi, etc., keeping the tongue forward during the sustained sound, and giving a similar quality of sound to all the tones. By this it is not meant that the volume should be the same throughout the scale; in every instance, the higher the tone, the less the volume. 

No fault in pronunciation is more common than that of dwelling upon the final l of words, as shall, fall, fail. While sustaining the l the free transmission of sound is interfered with by the curling of the tongue, thus producing a disagreeable tone. The sound should be sustained upon the first vowel of syllable of a word, and the vanishing part of the word given quickly and promptly. 

Aw and oo are the most favorable vowels for the production of sombre tones. The chin should be kept well back for all sombre tones, and under no circumstances should it ever protrude. The vowels a as in day, a  as in arm, e as in read, are the best suited for the production of a clear quality of tone. The sombre and clear qualities give color to the thought, and should be made with different degrees of intensity, corresponding to the different degrees of emotion. The words should suggest the quality. For example the words, "Hark! from the tomb a doleful sound," should at once suggest the sombre quality; while the words, "Joy to the world, the Lord is come!" should suggest the clear quality. But few singers give sufficient attention to the shading of tones. As all the emotions may be expressed by the face, without the utterance of speech, so many they all be expressed by colors of tone. Some voices are naturally full and sombre in quality, hence are physiologically adapted to oratorio music; while clearer, brighter voices are physiologically adapted to operatic music. Often this is so marked that the grandest oratorio singer may fail in opera, and the most brilliant opera singer may fail in oratorio. 

The vowels most favorable for the culture of the male voice are a as in art, ee as in deed, o as in don't oo as in doom, au as in aught, and the Italian notation syllables do, re, mi. No one vowel or syllable should be used exclusively for the culture of the voice, male or female, neither should the entire range of the compass be sung without shading. For example, if a as in art be used throughout the entire compass without a change of color, the upper tones will become thin, and the voice will eventual become weak and unmusical. The exclusive practice of e would cause the voice to lose volume, and the invariable practice with au, although it would give fulness, would fail to add strength to the voice. 

After all defects have been remedied, then the real culture of the voice should be commenced. The syllable ah, shaded into o or oo on the upper tones, will be found for general practice for all voices to be the most useful syllables. If the tones are not shaded on the upper part of the voice they will become thin and screamy. In shading the upper tones great care should be taken not to make them excessively sombre, otherwise they will be so muffled that there will be a loss of power and agility. Shading should be very slight at the beginning of a scale. The very low tones should be sung with ah, as more depth, power and brilliancy is gained with this syllable on these tones than with the syllable au. The male voice, in ascending the scale, should merge the ah with ah-au-oo combined, the difference between unshared and shaded tones will be easily observed, the tones produced with ah being unshaded, and those combing ah-au-oo being shaded. Unless great care is exercised in the production of shaded tones the larynx will sink to excess. 

The syllables ah, au, and the vowels oo and o, will be found to be the most favorable for the culture for the female voice. The process of cultivating the female voice is quite different from that of the male voice, from the fact that three registers are to be considered, and if either are exaggerated ruination of the voice will be inevitable. On the lowest tones the ah will be found to be preferable, the chin being allowed to fall downward and backward. If a full, sombre tone is desired, the syllable au or the vowels oo, with a vertical position of the lips, will be found favorable for the production of this quality of tone. On the high tones of the voice it will be found beneficial to allow the e to approach the sound of ah, with the chin well back, and the upper lip sufficiently raised to show the upper teeth as in smiling; by this mode the highest and best tones can be produced in the clear timbre. If the ah, as produced on the low, and sometimes on the middle tones of the voice, should be used on C, third space of the soprano staff, and the same quality continued above, the voice would in a short time become thin and weak. In singing scales, the shading of the chest-tones of the soprano and mezzo-soprano voice should be commenced on C. The contralto voice should begin to shade on B. The shading of the tones of the soprano and mezzo-soprano voices, preparatory to their entrance into the head-voice, should be commenced on B. For the same purpose, the contralto should commence to shade on B flat. The tenor and baritone voices, preparatory to their entrance into the head-voice, should begin to shade on C. The bass, for the same purpose, should begin on B flat. 

In the female voice it is wise to cultivate the medium register first. In the first lessons, the medium or falsetto voice should be carried as low as possible. When these tones have become strong, the chest-voice should be studied. By this process the break between the medium and chest-registers will be so slight that they can be easily united. If the chest-tones are first cultivated, the break between the medium and chest-voice will be very conspicuous, and there will be much difficulty in uniting the two. Unless special attention is given to the medium tones in the lower part of the voice they will be weak and useless. One should be able to sing full medium tones from C, the first added line below the soprano staff, to B, the third line of the same staff. 

There are few faults more common with beginners in voice-culture than that of producing throaty tones. This fault may be remedied by vocalizing with the chin lowered and drawn inward. Another prominent fault among students is that of protruding the chin. This may be remedied by first placing the chin down and back, and then singing a tone with a gradual crescendo. Another excellent remedy is to move the chin downward and upward, as in mastication, during the production of a tone, endeavoring, at the same time, to jeep the muscles attached to the jaw relaxed. If these methods fail, lower the chin, place a strap about it, fastening it at the back of the head, and while in position vocalize the scales. 

The extreme limits of the voice should never be practiced. For example, in order to attain C in alt one should to practice above A or B flat. If the high C is in the voice, by practicing a few tones below this letter the voice will grow up to it. Even when the high C has been acquired, it should not be brought into daily practice. Its occurrences in arias and cadenzas will give it sufficient practice. What is said of the high tones is true in regard to the low tones, although the low tones are not susceptible to injury as are the high tones. 

—Harry J. Wheeler, "Rules for Training the Voice," Werner's Voice Magazine, January 1889: 6-7. 


It's not the first time J. Harry Wheeler has appeared on these pages (see here), though this is the first time he has done so in his own words. Like other pieces that have appeared on VoiceTalk, this one fell into my lap while I was looking for something else. Further digging revealed Wheeler gave a series of talks in New York City in 1904 on the very same topic, which indicates that he was presenting material which had "legs." In that regards, he seems to have been a teacher of teachers. 

Those who know their historical vocal pedagogy will be fascinated by Wheeler's instruction regarding clear and sombre timbre, if only because Wheeler was a student first of Manuel García and then Francesco Lamperti—García addressing the physiological difference between timbres in his great work A Complete Treatise on the Art of Singing (1847).

Shading, timbre, use of registers, eliminating defects, as well as the canny use of vowels: these are foundational elements of vocal training which rely on the ear of both teacher and student. Is there any better technology? 

December 15, 2015

The Fogs of Voice-Culture

Mme. Florenza D'Arona 
WERNER'S MAGAZINE has frequently urged teachers to explain their methods of voice-culture, saying this should be done for the benefit of all interested in the Art and Science of Singing, or words to that effect. In the July issue the question is asked, "If they cannot satisfactorily explain their methods of procedure are not such teachers empiricists?" and that "were a written report of the theoretical methods of New York's leading teachers written, not twenty would harmonize in their views." 

In the first place, singing can never be taught or satisfactorily explained by written articles or books, for no matter now lucid they may be, no human being can follow directions without the aid of a teacher, for the simple reason that set rules and directions in nine cases out of ten would not suit the case. A method to succeed must be adapted to each pupil and his own individual requirements, according to the judgement and proficiency of a teacher who appeals to the child nature with simple similes and easy explanations. No two explanations will suffice for two individuals, but the theory of sound focus, location of notes and the desired quality, can be termed in set phrases, if necessary, and drawn with the pencil to be seen as well as heard and reasoned out. But one who does not know his faults and attempts a new theory, while still unconsciously clinging to them, reaps nothing but failure, and brands as a humbug the method he has wasted as much time trying to work out alone. Illustration and a teacher's acute ear divine a means or reaching the difficulty, and comprehension of each individual brings him where he can see, hear, and feel the method, in its delicious difference from that which he has hitherto employed, either from ignorance or delusion. What appeared so contradictory, so downright senseless, is now understood as different forms of expression; and although many were used that were not useful in his case, he now sees them as so many channels leading to the truth, and treasure them in turn to meet the different difficulties and understandings of those who may some day study with him. The physician who conscientiously studies every one of his patients treats accordingly, so the teacher has to study each pupil many an hour outside of the lesson hour, if justice is to be done the voice in charge. Because we cannot teach every pupil alike, is this empiricism? 

Were teachers to write forever upon their methods, little good and much harm would probably be done, for students would experiment more than they do now even, and ruined voices and blasted faith in teachers generally would be the result. Taking another view of it, were it possible to teach, or benefit the people through written articles, why should vocal philanthropy be expected, of singing-teachers? Has it not cost the capable teacher a small fortune to gain his knowledge, and will a pupil pay for lessons that are printed broadcast throughout the land? Does not a manufacturer guard his secret of success, and is not the vocal teacher's method his secret of success and stock in trade?

Now I come to the various methods of vocal teachers and the many poor results of their teaching. Has it never occurred to the thinker that of all professions in this world the vocal profession is the most infringed upon? If discrimination were used, all who teach would not be termed " teachers." A few lessons from a good teacher or one lesson from every known teacher is sufficient, with the aid of an accompanist, to place the adventurer's and experimenter's name under the head of "vocal teacher," pupil of this or that celebrity, and nine cases out of ten sharp business tact will reap success.

The following three examples recently came to my notice: While on an engagement in a western city a celebrated teacher there called on me. He stated who he was, and informed me that several of his pupils were coming that day to induce me to give them lessons during my stay there, and he added: ''Now, Mme. d'Arona, let me off easy with them, and permit me also to study with you so as to head them off." He begged me to keep his confidence, and, in answer to my inquiries, told me he had been to Italy, and had taken one lesson from Lamperti, and had since used his name to give him prestige. Observing my disgust, he added quickly: "Come, now, Mme. d'Arona, I am the right man in the right place. A great teacher would not be appreciated here, and you would not earn your salt, while I am getting rich." Early last winter a New York teacher came to me and wrote down every word I said without asking for explanations. On reprimanding her, she said: "I've got to teach, Mme. d'Arona, and if I can just memorize your terms of expression, etc., my pupils will think I know it all even if I don't explain to them." This same teacher (?), on hearing Melba and Calve sing, said to me: "Oh pshaw! Mme. d'Arona, I'd rather go to the circus." Last month I received a letter from a vocal teacher in a seminary down South, asking if she came to New York for ten lessons if I would give her a certificate. I could cite many similar examples.

Again, there are good musicians, orchestra leaders and excellent pianists, who give singing-lessons. Why? Because they have applicants, and think they can do something for a pupil any way, from a musician's standpoint. So by degrees piano teaching gives way to vocal teaching. As well go to the pianist to study the violin as to entrust the vocal instrument to a pianist. Harmony, contrapoint, musical history, anatomical throat-studies, sight-reading, etc., are all well enough, but why pay a singingteacher's price for cheaper studies, when to learn to sing is the desired object?

In selecting a teacher a pupil may go from one teacher to another, thinking he knows well what he wants; whereas, if he would but reflect, he would see that the teacher who made the best impression upon him in an interview might not necessarily be the best teacher. The would-be student's readings upon the voice, etc., give him the idea that from a doctor's book to one on thorough bass must necessarily be included in the singing-lesson, and under this erroneous impression goes to the teacher who teaches everything but singing! Becoming dissatisfied after a while, he leaves; and, going this time to a genuine singing-teacher, is inclined to be suspicious and doubtful especially when, like the physician, the teacher tries to take his mind off his disease (wrong impressions or pet-hobbies) to cure him, and when giving him other food for reflection, he glares and thinks he detects ignorance. A work is before the conscientious teacher that cannot be done in a day. Many lessons may be lost before confidence is gained, and without confidence nothing can be done.

Singing is the study of a life-time. After a pupil leaves the studio for public singing, he only then graduates to another school. His voice is now placed, to be sure. He has a good repertoire of memorized operas, oratorios, and concert selections. He sings with style and finish, but breadth, abandon, confidence in his own ability, footlight inspiration and an experience of years before the audiences of many nations aie necessary for him to develop to the fullest extent.

The reason why the results of teachers' work are so unsatisfactory, lies in the fact, that where in Europe only those whose voices are pronounced superior by competent persons study singing, here in America it is the fashion, and all who love it, and many who do not but crave popularity, study, or rather they take finishing lessons, each one secretly anticipating phenomenal success, which the display teacher humors to an incredible degree.

Outside of the profession, the standard of a perfect tone is most pitiably at variance in this country. I much question if it is ever analyzed. The public generally judge a voice from its style and finish, and the selection rendered. As well buy a sofa whose pretty covering conceals poor upholstering, or wear an elaborately trimmed dress before the seams have been stitched. Something is bound to give way and in these instances everybody knows it.

When a pupil commences to study singing, that is the time she should say good-bye to singing, and under the guidance of a good teacher never open her lips while the necessarily delicate work is going on. The contrary is the rule. As soon as a few lessons are taken everyone asks pupils to sing and looks with contempt upon any teacher who is, as they put it, afraid to let a pupil be heard. Another fact: In Europe a teacher is not obliged to work quarter after quarter upon peculiarly personal faults. I often wonder what European teachers would do with some of the pupils American teachers are expected to make prima donnas of! The first thing done in Europe is to send pupils to the opera for every performance, which, with lessons, is a boon to both pupil and teacher.

Crowning all these difficulties for the advancement of our pupils in America is the lack of encouragement and appreciation accorded their painstaking efforts by the American public itself. There never was a nation of students (I refer to the genuine student) with greater determination to surmount all difficulties and succeed than are Americans. There are no people on the face of the earth more intelligent, more persevering than are our struggling American vocal students. That all of our famous American singers and artists, such as Albaui,Van Zandt, De Lussan, Emma Eames, Nordica, Valda, Hope Glen, Belle Cole, etc., etc., made their reputations in Europe and now live there, is plainly significant.

I now touch the point of the much doubted truth "of there being a vocal science," because vocal teachers' views upon the subject seem to clash. I repeat "seem to clash," for of all the teachers represented by my pupils, many misunderstandings have been cleared away by the pupils themselves recognizing what some previous teacher tried to explain to them. That there are differences in methods, is only too true. That there are different theories and that the apparently most successful teachers are not the best, is also a fact, but not a greater fact than that all bona fide teachers work for the same results. It makes little difference how you get there, if you only arrive. It is the result which tells.

The fundamental truths of the art of singing are based upon the European standard of the old masters, and the truths so much discussed as new discoveries were taught many, many years before present-day discoverers were born. That these latter-day theorists are not indebted to the old masters for their knowledge, may also be true, for study and experience are great teachers as is proved by de Rialp's book which, in some points, is the very Lamperti method through and through. The points in said book of "mother tone," "pitch," etc., are solid truths, which by the clothing of expression confuses many. De Rialp is wise in offering no further explanation of his terms, since only those who have had these points viva voce illustrated, and themselves put them into practice by the side of a keenly observant teacher, can fully comprehend their meaning. So it is with many of the expressions of vocal teachers which seem so at variance. That these erroneous ideas concerning their methods are so prevalent, is due almost entirely to the teachers themselves, who from intense greed, jealousy, and the foolish idea that they must be the first and the only perfect teachers living, has so blinded them that they will not acknowledge as correct one point written or taught by any other teacher.

That the best American teachers are the best teachers in the world to-day, there is not the slightest doubt; that they understand American faults, needs, temperaments, and ambitions better than any foreigner possibly can understand them, is also a truth, but that it is a difficult task to steer a pupil through ignorant home influence and prejudice and insulting opinions openly expressed by rival teachers and their allies, is another truth, but one that could be easily relieved if teachers would only unite in observing a little professional courtesy toward one another, as is shown among physicians. Then, although we might all wish for the steamboat to success, the chip, if only started in the right direction, would feel secure, knowing powerful and friendly aid was on either side; and no matter what difficulties it encountered, with a guarantee of good will to unite all interests, the success of conscientious and honest achievements would be assured.

—Florenza D'Arona, "The Fogs of Voice-Culture," Werner's Magazine, September 1894: 314-5. 


Florenza D'Arona was a student of Francesco Lamperti, the Milanese martinet who taught his students to sing based on what his ear told him rather than his understanding of anatomy, physiology and acoustics—the latter only becoming a subject for study after his death in 1892. He was highly successful empiricist, taught in a class environment, and held his students to one concept at a time, often allowing them only one aria for more than a year. 

As Lamperti's pupil, D'Arona outlines many of the issues that voice teachers and their students still face today. Her criticisms of teachers and students alike still holds true, which may say more about human nature than anything else. 

The more things change, the more they stay the same! 

December 11, 2015

Anyone Can Whistle

Without going deeply into the Yogi theories of sound-production in speaking and singing, we wish to say that experience has taught them that the timbre, quality and power of a voice depends not alone upon the vocal organs in the throat, but that the facial muscles, etc., have much to do with the matter. Some men with large chests produce but a poor tone, while others with large chests produce tones of amazing strength and quality. Here is an interesting experiment worth trying: Stand before a glass and pucker up your mouth and whistle, and note the shape of your mouth and the general expression of your face. Then sing or speak as you do naturally, and see the difference. Then start to whistle again for a few seconds, and then, without changing the position of your lips or face, sing a few notes and notice what a vibrant resonant, clear and beautiful tone is produced. 


Aside from the fact that "Yogi Ramacharaka" was in actuality a gentleman by the name of Willam Walker Atkinson who published a great many books on the occult and oriental philosophy, the exercise in question is one worth trying. As Alfred A. Tomatis observed, the stapedius muscle in the ear has a connection to the face via the facial nerve, the innervation of which is reflected in the ear and voice. Of course, you can't make a face and sing. That's not the point. However, it should be noted that the experiment outlined above has a clear resonance with what Lucie Manén described as "imposto," and which Margaret Harshaw illustrated by using a curious expression (click on the labels below to learn more). As well, voice teachers of Atkinson a.k.a. Ramacharaka's period like Anna E. Schoen-René (who taught Manén and Margaret Harshaw) and Frederic W. Root (who interviewed and probably studied with Manuel García) also talked about starting the tone from behind the bridge of the nose, which this writer understands as a sensation arising from the aforementioned innervation of facial muscles.

But enough theorizing. Go stand in front of a mirror and see what you can make of it. After all, anyone can whistle.

Photo Credit: Hinduwebsite.com 

December 9, 2015

Ear Psychology

At the The Ear and the Voice: Workshop presented on December 5th, one of the exercises given to participants explored the perceptual difference between the left and right ear. They aren't the same! But of course, I didn't tell participants this. That would be leading the witness. Instead, I simply had them execute the exercise one by one, and then let them tell each other what they perceived. 

To a man (the participants were all male), everyone had near identical perceptions; the right ear seemed higher, brighter and more present, while the left ear—in comparison to the right—hugged the body,  and was lower and darker. 

Interesting, no? 

These perceptions point out what Tomatis observed, which is that the right ear processes higher frequencies faster. Why is this important to the singer? There are several reasons actually, but if we are going to talk about the tonal product, the most important matter is clarity and ring. If we are going to talk about the manner in which the singer navigates the world of sound, there is the need for the right ear to lead (which has been discussed on these pages at length). And if we are going to talk about the difference between the ears in terms of their innate psychological setting—and they are different in this regard too, we have to talk about the difference between the Editor and the Achiever. 

The Editor sits back and comments on everything that is happening, while the Achiever is too busy being engaged to think about such things. The Editor is discursive in nature and excels in picking things apart to make them better—a very necessary aspect which has everything to do with analysis, while the Achiever revels in living in the moment, doing the deed, and walking the talk. The Editor thinks about love, while the Achiever is in love—a huge qualitative difference. 

While we need both the Editor and the Achiever to learn how to sing, it is the Achiever that needs to be in the drivers seat.

Guess which psychological aspect Tomatis observed as being expressed in each ear? 

December 7, 2015

Ear First, Mind Second

Claims made from the past. What do we do with them in light of what we know today? What happens when they don't fall within our current understanding? 

For instance: What do we do with the assertion made in Vocal Wisdom that the tone must start in the center of the head, especially when it is known that the vocal tract is the only resonator? 

I can think of several possible scenarios. One modern response is that since the vocal tract is the only resonator, anything that is perceived in the head is not "source" material and is therefore suspect, ephemeral and should be ignored. 

Another response is that whatever is uttered by revered vocal pedagogues of the past must be accepted without question. Get it in the head, baby! Doesn't matter what you do, just get it there!

Both views miss the mark in my estimation. 


Accepting information without question isn't very smart. In fact, it's rather stupid. That's the blind leading the blind, and befits the acolyte who worships the self-appointed priest, one who often brooks no opposition. However, discounting historic teachings out of hand because they don't fit current understanding isn't helpful either, if only because that too stops inquiry. In both cases, one remains at a surface level of experience and understanding. 

To go deep, you have to dig. And that is hard to do when you see what you are looking at through a particular lens, worldview, or set of facts. To change how you see or how you think, there has be a paradigm shift. This involves incorporating new information. 

I gave a workshop recently where the example in question was explored in a practical and systematic manner, and while I didn't for one second suggest that participants send tone into their heads (that would be stupid), they experienced what is talked about in Vocal Wisdom. That and more. 

How was this made possible? 

I gave them exercises which opened their ears! Their minds followed in due course.