March 9, 2018

Placing the Tone

Tone is the product of the whole resonator, which comprises three resonant spaces, the neck, the mouth and the nose. That in the neck is the most important for "tone" and general quality, the mouth for vowel quality and the nose a powerful accessory to be added in due proportion. Below the larynx, i.e. windpipe and lung cavities, there is no proper resonation, but some vibration transmitted through the air and through the attachment of the larynx to the breast-bone.

Tone may be defined as resonance within certain limited spaces. We must consider what those spaces are. There is a large space in the mouth, the space behind the uvula, and (most important of all from an individual characteristic point of view) the nasal cavity. In addition to these, there is the big tube below the larynx that runs right down to the lower depths, and of course there are the big spaces in the chest. Now, resonance being the thing we are aiming at, it follows that the bigger the spaces are the more resonance we shall get, provided we use those spaces. Therefore have the mouth as wide open as it can be with comfort, not stretched open but just easily wide open. The cheeks should be high (as in smiling), as this brings them away from the side teeth, thus increasing the width of the cavity, besides which it makes the singer look happy. You will never get a bright tone with a dull face. 

At the same time it is necessary and advisable to warn students against wearing a perpetual smile. It kills most of the vowels and stiffens the jaw. Freedom and looseness are equally necessary in both joy and sorrow. 

The space behind the uvula should be wide and gaping, but not stiff. The larynx as low as it can go and loose too (which it will be if the breath is taken correctly). It is unconsciously drawn downwards and forwards in relation to the sense of expansion, and is adjusted to the needs of every vowel position. It is drawn up in the guttural consonants K and G. 

As the voice ascends in the scale the larynx must not be allowed to rise up, as it will often want to do, but must remain low and loose exactly the same for the high notes as for the low ones. The tongue should lie flat and limp and forward on the floor of the mouth. The lower jaw should hang quite freely without the smallest feeling of tightness. 

The spaces in the mouth and behind the uvula can by these means be enlarged to their utmost. "Gaping" is the right word. When you sit on the edge of your bed and revel in your first great morning yawn, your throat is in just the right position for singing. 

Now, it will be obvious to everyone that those two spaces can be enlarged. We cannot enlarge either the big tube or the nasal cavity, but we can use them. 

There is nothing that will add character and individuality to the voice so much as the proper use of the nasal cavity. It must, of course, be used with discretion. It is all a question of balance. The larger you make your other spaces the more you can use your nose. There is a vast difference between a nasal and a nosey tone. The one is beautiful, the other is not. The use of the nasal cavity is like the pinch of salt in the soup. Without it the finest soup will taste insipid. 

Why is it, do you think, that if you hear twenty throaty tenors sing they all sound alike? It is not only caused by their contracting or closing their throats but to a very great extent because they don't use their noses. You can quite easily proves this by experiment. So, when you are teaching tone production, you must see to it that all the spaces are used in their proper balance for the purpose of obtaining the necessary resonance, and it follows that the more you use the back spaces the more you can use the nasal cavity. 

Remember that tone comes from below and must be focussed in the front of the mouth where it going forces with articulation. 

You will find that nearly every new pupil that comes to you will sing almost entirely at the back of the mouth. This is to a great extent caused by our damp climate. It doesn't happen in Italy. Nearly all the throats are wide open there. It is a fault that must be cured at once. Usually the root of the tongue will be clogging up the space behind it, and the cure for it is to being that unruly member forward and let it rest peacefully and flat on the floor of the mouth. It must not be stiffened, for, if it is, the lower jaw will be stiff too, and vise versa. The thing to be achieved is to bring the tone to the front of the mouth. It is quite obvious why this is essential. Singing is glorified speech. We speak on our lips and in the front of the mouth. Nearly all the consonants live there. If the voice is at the back and the speech is at the front the one is pulling against the other all the time and the result is a continual struggle. Get the student to say the syllables la, na, ta, da, and get get him to notice what part of the hard palate the tip of the tongue touches for all these consonants. It is just over the teeth. Call that the target, aim the focus of the tone at it and score bull's-eye every shot. Every note that we sing, high or low, loud or soft, must be kept focussed on that spot and must not be allowed to be back on to the soft palate. It will go back if you let it, but you mustn't let it. If you do away goes your tone-colour and you won't be able to get it back again until something drastic, such as a forte or a fresh breath (and consequently a fresh start), comes to the rescue. 

Remember that all the bright tone-colours are in the front of the mouth. You need not bother much about the dull colours. It is easy to be dull.

Many people approach the act of singing as a tremendous business. It is quite a usual thing to see a singer walk to the piano in a perfectly easy, natural and graceful manner, and then, just before the song begins, the body stiffens, the arms become rigid, the hand, perhaps, clenched tightly, the face and jaw and throat and the whole box or tricks become set fast, a frown makes its appearance, and a look of dull solemnity takes at the place of the bright and natural smile. The singer is making the awful, though silent, announcement, "Ladies and Gentlemen. I am about to sing." Why all that fuss? How much better it would be if he would retain his natural ease and attitude, and simply open his mouth and sing. The eased naturalness of the performance is half the battle, and the message of the song will go straight to the hearts of the listeners if it is unhampered by a whole cargo of unnecessary contortions, all of which are detrimental to the production of a beautiful tone. The tone must flow out in a continual stream, just touching the consonants on its way, not stopping it but touching them as it passes, unimpeded either by them or by anything else. It must be like a man walking past a series of posts and tapping them as he proceeds, his movements not being impeded, but in fact enhanced and embellished by the act. So it must be with the outward flow to tone. 

You will find that many students will stop the flow of the tone immediately they come against a consonant, obviously separating the one from the other. Try to get them to weld them together and take the tone through the consonant whenever possible. 

Having achieved beauty of tone, the next thing must be to enlarge it to it utmost. This will be done by the use of the crescendo on single sustained notes, beginning always in the middle of the voice (say A natural) and working downwards to, say, E natural, then starting again a note higher than before and working downwards again, and so on. The crescendo should be maintained on each note as long as the beauty of the tone remains unimpaired. The moment the smallest sign of strain of forcing appears, the pupil must stop and begin a new note. There must not be the slightest alternation or movement of any part of the vocal instrument at any time during the crescendo.

Try to make the student realize what he is doing, and that he must feel as if it is all coming from below and focusing in the front of his mouth. Sometimes he will feel something in the region of his diaphragm, but he should feel absolutely nothing in his throat. If he has those sensations at the bottom of his big tube and in the neighborhood of his front teeth and nowhere else, he will be will on the way to mastering the art of tone production. These rules apply to his loudest forte and his softest piano as well as to all intermediate stages. Never cease to impress on him the fact that if he feels any sensation in his throat he is doing something wrong.

Harry Gregory Hast, "Placing the Tone," The Singer's Art (1925) 13-18

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Harry Gregory Hast (1856-1944) made his first appearance on these pages in 2009. Unfortunately, then as now, his book is not available for download. However, having been published in 1925, the likelihood that The Singer's Art is now in the public domain is strong since British copyright law, which extends 50 to 70 years after the death of an author, places the outer limit for Hast's book in 2014.

The passage above contains some of the most cogent instructions that I have encountered. Find the book if you can.

Click on Hast's label below for more information. 

February 27, 2018

Blanche's Art

Here, we hear Blanche Marchesi (1863-1940), the daughter of Mathilde Marchesi—the great voice teacher and student of Manuel García—sing at the age of 73! Madam Marchesi, though noted as being the "greatest singer without a voice," was no slouch. Listen to her trills, the pathos in her voice, and its youthful quality even when singing in the lower register. She had real technique, my friends! Find more of her art at Youtube, which seems to have just about everything she recorded. 

Lastly, the New York Public Library of the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center has an amazing Marchesi Archive, which was given to the library by Blanche Marchesi's son—Ernest de Popper. Oh, the hours I have spent there! 

February 26, 2018

Madam Marchesi's Requirements

Blanche Marchesi (1863-1940)
A new addition to VOICETALK's download page can be found in the Singer's Pilgrimage (1923) by Blanche Marchesi—daughter of Mathilde Marchesi who was herself a student of the legendary Manuel García. I really don't know why I haven't included it earlier, though may have decided against  doing so since it is not a vocal pedagogy work per se. However, having read through it on a rainy Sunday, I am struck as much by Madam Marchesi's stories, advice, and gossip as her prescient thoughts about singing—which appear towards the end of the book. Two such passages appear below, and includes her fourteen essential requirements for the voice teacher. This is followed by timely words about character. As in her other book featured in earlier posts—The Singer's Catechism and Creed (1934)—Madam Marchesi is bracing, somewhat astringent, and as authoritative as you might expect a musical daughter of the Garcías to be.

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  1. To have sung—not necessarily to have been a famous singer. 
  2. To have studied with a great master of the true school.
  3. To have heard great artists. 
  4. To have genius for imparting knowledge. 
  5. To love one's profession. 
  6. To be a musician. 
  7. To possess knowledge of the world's ancient and modern vocal music. 
  8. To be able to impart all branches of the art of singing—opera, oratorio, church music, songs, part sing, etc. 
  9. To possess knowledge of the world's most important literature. 
  10. To know at least the four principle languages. 
  11. To have, if not understanding, at least interest, in all the other branches of art. 
  12. To possess pathological, physiological and psychological instinct—and, if possible, knowledge—because soul and body must be in perfect accord if the voice is to be trained to perfection. 
  13. To have energy necessary to guide mortals. 
  14. Patience. 

This last is one of the most necessary virtues of a teacher and a rare one. First of all, patience is the outcome and result of real knowledge. Only the person who knows exactly the difficulties to be overcome, and who can judge the intelligence before her, can have the patience to point out the faults day by day and to help the student to master them. For serious study is long and the path is strewn with difficulties of all sorts. I do not wish to insist upon the terrific ignorance that reigns nearly all over the world considering the study of singing. People admit and know that the study of instruments demands endless years of patience, but expect that singing be taught in a few weeks. In singing the human body and brain have to work simultaneously; there appears many a Rubicon on the journey which has to be bridged over, or swum over. Only time and patience can accomplish perfection is physical training, for the training of the voice is a physical training, and athletes know how long muscles and nerves take to acquire certain qualities of ability and endurance.

Blanche Marchesi, Singer's Pilgrimage (1923): 282-284

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Character is required by the teacher as by the pupil. When Rossini was asked: "Maestro, what is wanted to make a singer?" he would answer invariably: "Primo voce, second voce, terse voce." When García was asked: "Sir what is required to make a singer" he would answer: "Primo character, secondo character, terzo character," and I add that, endowed in a less measure with other required qualities, but with a character and will to succeed, many a pupil has gone ahead and surpassed those endowed by nature with all possible gifts except character. 

Blanche Marchesi, Singer's Pilgrimage (1923): 286

February 25, 2018

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 hosts of other German singers, principles and choristers, showing signs of similar affections. In most cases the vocal cords were actually injured. 

Blanche Marchesi (1863-1940)
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 Rokintansky, the bass of the Vienna Opera Company (mentioned in section of 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 sounds. 

Other singers were invited tone present at those discussions and some of our school, like Melba, Eames, Calvé, Susan Adams, and Sybil Sandersen, 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 their voices was perilous. 

It was decided that vocal cords must be prevents from 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 though 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.

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 the 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 a the starting-pint of this new religion, but did not stop there.

It spread like a prairie view, 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 laid 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 serious fact witnessed by the whole world as that Edouard de Reszke's voice failed completely when he was still a fine, strong man. His instrument was beautiful, but the nasal method destroyed it. His brother Dean de Reszke, one of the finest singers of world ever knew, fell a victim to the same practice in the prime of 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 the "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 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 offended 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 reminded faithful all her life to her teacher and her method, singing thus to a great age.

Blanche Marchesi, The Singer's Catechism and Creed (1932): 91-94

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The New Religion? It's still with us, especially on Broadway, where it is considered the "natural" voice. Not too long ago, I went to a showcase of young singers who were studying with a certain coach, and every last kid sang through his or her nose. No one batted an eye. Could they sing up the scale? Nope. Could they belt? Sure. Was there anything attractive about their voices? Not really. But no one seemed to care. 

I call this approach bottom barrel. There is no where to go but up, but there is little interest in doing so since everyone is on the same low level. All together now! Lets sing through our noses! It's the American way! The sound shoots out without discrimination, awareness, or self-reflection. Ugly Americans all, claiming their right to sound as bad as the next person—and they'll be damned if you try to take away their guns—I mean tone. 

Shoot me. 

February 24, 2018

The Decline of Fine Singing

Sir,—I was very glad to read the article of Mr. Geoffrey Thompson in your last issue on 'The Decline of Fine Singing.'

As a student in the late eighties, and a practitioner since, and one who knew the de Reszkes and Plançon, and many continental artists since, I fully endorse his statement. The causes are many, and it is worldwide; but the root is the rapid growth of wealth in the world in general during the last seventy or eighty years, and the consequent rush of incompetent teachers, performers, agents, managers, and others anxious to get into the stream. Prior to about 1830 the teaching of singing was confined to the Italians, who, whilst knowing little or nothing about actual mechanism of the voice, had, about a century before, founded a school of singing whose fundamental found was quality of tone combined with ability to sustain the tone, and to enunciate. 

The actual mechanism of the voice is still a secret of nature's, as one can see by the many arguments and theories of production which appear in books and magazine from time to time. Eminent throat specialists have said the secret will never be discovered as there can be no means of watching or ascertaining the process. 

Actually, Manuel Garcia (who died in 1906 at the age of a hundred and one, and was the son of an illustrious composer and tenor singer, and the brother of the greatest singers Malibran and Viardot) was the first teacher of singing to apply the study of physiology to the vocal mechanism; and he also invented the laryngoscope—the instrument still in use. 

Unfortunately, Garcia's study was not deep enough, for, physically, he ruined his own voice by faulty production, and he had to stop public performance at about thirty years of age. Also, he had not discovered the use of nasal resonance. These facts I can substantiate, as I was a pupil of his for three years at the R.A.M. That nasal resonance as essential is confirmed by the two great facts of the nose containing the largest sinus or resonator, in the human, and the tube or pipe formed by the nose is such as is used in the organ (instrument) to give the best quality tone. 

Another reason for the decline in the art is the fact of learned thinking the art is easily acquired, and with little work. Instead of which, under all circumstances, is is difficult, more particularly as it is an unseen instrument, and thereof one's senses of feeling, hearing, and intelligence must be the more acute. The art requires hard work, close attention, patience, perseverance, persistence, and a lot of it. 

Caruso said it took him nine years, Chaliapin took ten years, and the de Reszkes not less. A true artist is rarely fully satisfied with his work. 

—Yours, &c, B. Mayne. 

 The Musical Times, "The Decline of Fine Singing," December, 1934: 1117

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Could I find out anything about B. Mayne? Nope. Not after spending quite a bit of time doing so. Not after searching database after database. No matter. The man (and I am assuming it is a man) writes two things that concern this writer: 1) García ruined his voice with faulty production, and 2) knew nothing of nasal resonance. Lucie Manén—a student of Pauline Viardot-García—made this same charge in her book The Bel Canto: The Teaching of the Classical Song-Schools, Its Decline and Restoration (1987), having interviewed another student of the legendary vocal maestro, John Mewborn Levien, who told Manén that García did not teach the use of the nasal cavities as a resonator.

Let's take these two charges one at a time, shall we?

To the first: If García himself is to believed (and I wonder about that—which I will get to in a minute), his voice was ruined as a result of having to sing through puberty; that tricky time for a boy when hormones hit, the voice drops an octave and vocal range is limited for a period of time. While having to sing through puberty may have been an issue, the real problem is likely to have been his famous tenor father who was a bully as far as his son's aspirations were concerned. The clues are numerous with the elder García beating the crap out of his son on the deck of the ship that brought Italian opera to New York City, as well as the son's youthful attempts to escape his father by joining the navy and foreign legion. I have even come across a tale which places the son in Italy and singing very badly on purpose so as to send his father the reviews. Hello! What great voice teacher is going to piss on his brand by admitting to that? That said, kid García seems to have had a curious scientific bent about him, and merged the will of his father with his own after spending time in a military hospital where he observed the inner workings of anatomy as it related to breathing. My take? The younger García never wanted to be a singer, but did become a great voice teacher by following his own star.

To the second: Long time readers of VOICETALK will know that the introduction to Hidden in Plain Sight: The Hermann Klein Phono-Vocal Method Based upon the Famous School of Manuel García deals with the matter of voice placement (aka singing in the mask) in depth. They will also know that modern voice science considers the vocal tract to be the only resonator. The nasal cavities? They resonant only in so far as the soft palate is lowered and communication with the pharynx is achieved.

And there is this: Though García himself said next to nothing about nasal resonance in print, the daughter of his wildly successful student Mathilde Marchesi did. Writing in The Singer's' Catechism and Creed (1932), Blanche Marchesi had this to say:

The nasal method that has spread all over the world from Nice to New York is not only anti-aesthetic, but dangerous to the human voice. The section, "Foundation of a New Religion," in Chapter II, will furnish details of it. In sending sound through the nose instead of directly it towards the sounding-boards that give it beauty and life, we convey it through the very channel that should be avoided at all costs. It was given to us by nature for an entirely different purpose. The inner nose is formed of cartilage, which, like cardboard or wool, cannot offer any resonance. Singing thus without sounding-boards, we subject the voice to a cruel strain without obtaining any result, except that of destruction. Big, healthy sound sustained by the sounding-boards, on the other hand, is, as few people suspect, a great power. Vibration produced by the perfectly clear tone of a human voice can produce wonders. 

So, B. Mayne is correct on this one point: Manuel García did not teach nasal resonance! Look for my next post which will feature Blanche Marchesi's further thoughts on nasal resonance. 

February 20, 2018

García's Method of Breathing

In the article "Pseudo-Science in Song" by Charles Lunn, Signor Manuel García is quoted as giving the following directions for taking the breath: "Raise the chest by a slow and regular motion, and draw in the stomach." 

I was greatly surprised to see this, as during my study with Sig. García his directions for taking the breath were quite opposed to this method. In his "Art of Singing" he says: "To insure easy inspiration, it is requisite that the head be erect, the shoulders thrown back without stiffness, the chest expanded. The diaphragm should be lowered without any jerk, and the chest regularly and slowly raised. This double movement enlarges the compass or circumference of the lungs, first at the base." This does not sound like drawing in the stomach, and I know from personal acquaintance that he did not teach it. 

J. Ettie Crane, Potsdam, N.Y. 

Werner Voice Magazine, December, 1889: 270

I can easily explain Miss Crane's difficulty, in her letter in the Dec. No. of your magazine. My copy of García's singing school was bought in 1858. Messrs. Hutchins & Romer now publish two editions, one like mine, at 15 shillings, the other, from which Miss Crane quotes, at 12 shillings. 

I cannot date Sig. García's defection, but I should say it arose about 10 years ago. I have been very disappointed and pained at what I have heard of his later training, and naturally ascribed it to the weakness of age. I do not care to discredit a historical name, so only remark that the singers quoted by me were all trained on García's early principles, which are identical with Cataneo's and mine. 

Charles Lunn, England 

Werner's Voice Magazine, March 1890: 82

It's true. García did change his 1841 treatise in 1872 and excise the text which Donald V Paschke—in his 1984 Da Capo Press translation/compilation—translates as "and set the hollow of the stomach (The original is in French). Why the change? It's one of those great pedagogical mysteries.

Though Lunn is off by 7 years or so, he does make his point: the great maestro's instruction changed over the years—at least in print. Curiously, whatever García may have taught Ettie Crane, Garcia's original teaching surfaces again in Herman Klein's record of the great master's teaching. In Hidden in Plain Sight: The Hermann Klein Phono-Vocal Method Based upon the Famous School of Manuel García, Klein instructs the voice student as follows: "During the act of inflation the stomach must be slightly drawn in, the ribs raised to their full extent, and the front wall of the chest allowed to rise—all without any perceptible elevating movement of the shoulders of collarbone, which are not permitted to move from their normal position to take any part in the process of expansion." 

Are we full circle now or what? 

Of course, my mind wonders: Did García teach men and women differently as far as breathing is concerned? Or is there another explanation? One clue (or complication) may lie in Anna E. Schoe-René's record in America's Musical Inheritance: Memories and Reminiscences (1941) of García teaching men to breathe into the lower back!

Crane hasn't appeared on these pages before even if she's been in my mind's eye for a long while. She was part of the "normal school" movement in America. Lunn, for his part, was a friend and defender of the great maestro, and considered García and himself as possessing the authentic teachings of old Italian school of singing. 

February 18, 2018

Stockhausen's Method of Singing

Lo and Behold: Stockhausen's Method of Singing is now available for download. I am talking the English translation of an important text from a student of the legendary Manuel García: one which I spent many hours copying by hand back in the day when the library prohibited photos (yes, you can use your smart phone now in many libraries with the understanding that you bear the responsibility for copyright infringement). How curious it is to consider that I had to wait a good eight weeks to see the book via interlibrary loan, before finding it years later online at the Hathitrust database, where it was published in serial format in The Voice—a magazine started by Edgar Werner in the 1880's (Werner was a stammerer looking for answers). Now it's a click away for anyone who is curious about such things, accessibility having progressed at warp speed. 

If I was teaching a class on historical vocal pedagogy (and we'll see about that), I'd make Stockhausen's text required reading if only because he has recorded the teachings of the old Italian school with German efficiency and academic mien—the latter mirroring García's approach in the studio. 

Find Stockhausen's text at the link above or on the download page in the right hand column. You can also find out more about the man by clicking on his label below.

February 9, 2018

Polychrome Lessons in Voice Culture

A book I've had on my shelf for some time has now been uploaded into Google's Cloud—where all human endeavors will end up eventually. I jest perhaps, but the presence of Frederic Woodman Root's curious text in the Cloud reminds this pedagogue of his age—which is closing in on 60. No, I don't feel old. But I am quite aware of the passage of time—if that makes any sense. 

I've written about Root before, which you can easily find via his label at the bottom of this post (those receiving this in email form will need to log on—sorry!). He studied with Bassini in New York City—the very same Bassini who started out as a string player; made his living as a voice teacher; separated the registers; and left their joining to chance. Is that why Root found his way to Florence and the studio of Luigi Vannuccini? That's hard to say, but you do see my bias showing. 

Root traveled quite a bit in Europe making the rounds of various voice studios, interviewed Manuel García (voice scientists have made much of that), and later had something of a droll attitude towards those who claimed to teach the old Italian school. Be that as it may, Root's Polychrome Lessons in Voice Culture piqued the interest of this pedagogue if only because it contains a vocal technique taught by Anna E. Schoen-René—a student of Manuel García and his sister Pauline Viardot-García—which Schoen-René's student Lucie Manén recorded as "imposto."

In its simplest form, "imposto" is understood as starting the tone from behind the bridge of the nose. 

February 7, 2018

Cappiani's Aliquot Tones

In my essay upon Voice Culture, which I had the honor of delivering before you at Cleveland, three years ago, I laid particular stress upon the placing of the tones. To explain this more clearly I must enter slightly into anatomy, but not the anatomy of the larynx; for I consider it wrong to burden the pupil’s mind with this, and it often results in throaty tones. 

Luisa Cappiani (1835-1919)
The tones must be produced on the principle of the Aolian harp—the air-harp—the strings of which, placed in a window, resound as the air passes through, and thus vibrations are developed, and perfect tones produced. In the same manner the human voice must be produced. The air, rising from the lungs, passes through the vocal bands causing them to vibrate and thus give forth tones conceived by the brain. If these vibrations are allowed to come directly through the mouth, without first touching the sounding-board—which consists of the nasal bones forming by its vomer, ethmoid, and turbinated bones, with the superior maxillary, an acoustic chamber—the tone will be vulgar and rough, bare of sympathy and devoid of aesthetic expression.

On the contrary, when the air-column above the vocal bands, colored with the tone, is guided behind the tonsils up the pharynx into the sounding-board, above described, the vibrations are so multiplied that the aliquot tones are awakened by the different shape and thinness of these aforesaid bones.

From this harmonious mixture of the over-tones the voice receives its beauty, mellowness, strength, and the individual quality of the voice, which the French call timbre de la voix. These tones may be compared to the tones drawn from an “Amati” violin by a fine performer. Once, when I was in the museum upon the Island of Veglia, in the Quarnero, where these violins were manufactured, I asked the question: “Wherein consists the great value of these instruments?" The answer was: “In their sympathetic tone produced by the fineness of the wood and the curves in the sounding-board." The same is the case with the simple hunting-horn, (corno da caccia), the curves of which develop its over-tones, producing, by this mixture of mellowness and strength, its wonderful, harmonious tones.

When the tonsils are in a healthy condition they favor the guidance of the tone into our sounding-board, the vibrations of which must then be brought downward, through the teeth—which form a secondary sounding-board,—and out of the mouth, in a perfect, melodious, clear, flute-like tone, placed before the mouth as the soap-bubble is placed outside the straw. When the tonsils are cut out, the above-described process of pure tone- production becomes extremely difficult; in some instances the difficulty can be overcome by a decided forward inclination of the body, which position aids the column of air from the lungs to take the right direction to the sounding-board, as Patti does, and she, surely, knows how to produce the sweetest tones.

I do not approve of having the tonsils cut out, even when diseased; of course, when the tonsils are so much swollen that suffocation is imminent, rather lose the tonsils than your life. Dr. Clarence Rice, a throat specialist of New York, says that “even with the most skillful surgery, there remains a risk of changing the compass of the voice."

I feel it my duty, on this occasion, to make clear this point, so important to all in my profession, as last year I was not allotted the time to fully express myself. The tonsils, situated as they are between the pillars of the pharynx, are frequently attached to these pillars, and when they are completely extirpated by the surgeon's knife, and especially if the operator is inexperienced, or careless, there is great danger of wounding these muscles, which are in front and behind the tonsils. The ante-pillar (the palato-glossus muscle), and the post-pillar (the palato-pharyngeus muscle), although they are properly interested in deglutition, yet in drawing the pharynx upward, they are really exterior muscles of the larynx. If these pillars are wounded by the knife of the operator, and thus shortened by cicatrization, they are known to produce changes both in the coin pass and quality of the voice. Another point, if tonsils which are adherent to the pharyngeal pillars are wholly removed, these muscles are frequently lengthened, and thus they lose a portion of their power of tension, and so the voice is lowered in pitch. 

In my experience I can name a number of prominent singers with their tonsils cut out, who illustrate this statement, and are obliged to transpose their arias about an entire tone, or a small third. I insist that in adult singers where the voice is settled, if the tonsils are so large as to interfere with proper breathing, articulation and swallowing, only a portion of the tonsils should be removed, and that not by knife, but by electric cautery or by astringent applications.  

To return to the over-tones, I will close with the historical fact relating to Johann Sebastian Bach, who, when his soprano voice was changing to a basso voice, sang, for a short period of time, in octaves—two tones at the same time—a phenomenon which has puzzled musicians ever since. I have recently formed a theory explanatory of this phenomenon, which is as follows: With adolescence the vocal bands become filled with blood, which is the cause of the disturbance of voice at this time of life, and only when—after a period of time which cannot be filied—this blood is absorbed, and the vocal bands again become perfectly white, does the male voice become settled. With Bach this absorption may have been reluctant, or incomplete, leaving, for this short time, just one drop of blood on each vocal cord, on the very same place, thus dividing them unequally; the longer part giving the slower vibrations and basso tone, the shorter part giving the quicker vibrations and the higher octave of the firat in one and the same breath, thus producing two tones, relative to each other, at once, by the same larynx. 

To avoid miscomprehension I must add, that in saying the tone should be guided up in the nasal bone, I do not mean that it should come down through the nostrils. Not at all! This were nasal singing. I will repeat that the tones must come from the nasal bone through the teeth, outside of the mouth, where the sharp-cut consonants, with the sustaining power of the vowels, in whatever language, give  finish to the declamatory part. I am often told that teachers direct their pupils to “bring the voice into the roof of the mouth;" this is an error, there being only one thick bone, the hard-palate, with which it is impossible to develop the different overtones of the same relationship, which consist—according to Helmholtz—of octave, third, fifth, and even second. 

It is the nasal bone with its many minute bones of different shapes, fully described above, all set to trembling, which forms the acoustic chamber; and by this sounding-board, with its aliquot tones, every voice becomes ennobled and beautified—I would like to say, receives its soulful, sympathetic quality, its aesthetic expression in a heavenly tone.

Luisa Cappiani, “Aliquot Tones and Surgery of the Throat.” The Voice, 1887, August, page 126-7. (An essay read at the Meeting of the Music Teachers’ Association, Indianapolis, July 7, 1887.)

Luisa Cappiani, who has appeared on these pages before, was a student of Francesco Lamperti, and wrote an interested book—Practical Hints and Helps for Perfection in Singing, which you can find on the download page in the right hand column. 

Cappiani isn't shy about voice placement in her address made above, which is, after all, the substance of her meaning regarding aliquot tones and their guidance to the nasal bone. Her explanation of its auditory nature follows research done by Helmholtz, which modern voice science places under the heading of psychoacoustics.

It should also be noted that Cappiani's mention of a "sounding board" finds equivalence in the teachings of Blanche Marchesi: the daughter of the famous voice teacher Mathilde Marchesi who studied with Manuel García. The old Italian school being what it is, one should not be surprised that the principle of voice placement was taught by both the García and Lamperti schools, and found particular expression in the writings of García's student—Herman Klein. Klein himself was the first chairman of the newly formed National Association of Teachers of Singing in New York City in 1906—which claimed Cappiani as one of its founding members. 

Click on Cappiani's link below for more information on her teaching.

February 3, 2018

Facts vs Voice

All you have to do is go to a gathering of voice teachers to observe that nearly a fourth of them are mixed-dominant. I am not exaggerating. You see it on their faces, hear it in their voices, and those of their students.

How do I know so much about this?

I am mixed dominant, which I discovered when I went to the Listening Centre in Toronto, Canada, in 1999.

Most people are right-handed, use their right eye to focus, and lead with their right foot and right ear. Mixed-dominant folks are just that: mixed in terms of laterality. This is a big deal as far as the ear is concerned. According to Tomatis, the right ear processes higher frequencies faster than the left: so, if you are leading with your left ear rather than the right ear when you speak and sing, it will be reflected in your voice.

How so?

The voice that is not being led by the right ear will not have adequate ring—what the old Italian school called voice placement. While it may make a big impression in a small room, it will not carry well in a hall, and may even give the odd impression that it is coming from another room.


The voice teacher with a non-leading right ear? She can't wrap her brain around voice placement—much less teach it.

This left-handed and left-eyed boy experienced something of a revelation when his right ear was opened, being able to understand and do things that had previously been a mystery (so that's how you do messa di voce). All the technical knowledge he had been given started firing on all cylinders. He came to realize that you can't know what you need to know until you have acquired the means to know it.


You should understand that you are buying your teacher's listening ability, not just her intellect. If your teacher's right ear isn't leading her voice it's going to influence her vocal production and teaching, as well as your vocal production. Modeling happens whether we like it or not. It's human nature. It's how languages are learned. It's also how singing is acquired even if your teacher never sings a note—her speaking voice being the medium and message.

Put a fact and a voice in the same room and the student will follow the voice.

I will address this matter during a summer workshop that will focus on the teachings of the old Italian school as illuminated through the work of Tomatis—a bridging of worlds that encompasses the fields of psychoacoustics, neuroplasticity, and motor-learning theory. It will be practical, hands on, and offer participants effective tools gleaned from legendary teachers and twenty-five years of research, study and application.

Stay tuned for an announcement regarding the date and location.