October 8, 2015

Mack Harrell Sings Bach with True Expressivity

Baritone Mack Harrell was a student of Anna E. Schoen-René at the Juilliard School in Manhattan in the early 1930's, and later taught at his Alma Mater and at Southern Methodist University. He straddled the opera and concert worlds, appearing with the Metropolitan Opera for many seasons while simultaneously maintaining an active concert and recital career. Harrell also sang in New York City Opera's second season at City Center in 1944, in the role of Germont in Verdi's La Traviata, the New York Times noting that Harrell sang with "refinement and true sentiment" while displaying an "extraordinary voice and mature musical talent." You'll hear the extraordinary beauty of his voice in the Youtube video below, Harrell singing in a manner which is instructive for students of the voice today, his voice illustrating a highly cultivated legato and portamento, which is—in all too many quarters—actively discouraged as being too mannered and emotional.

Harrell's teacher Anna E. Schoen-René once noted that singing was 75 percent technique, her teaching encompassing the acquisition of an open throat and placement in the mask, portamento, legato, crescendo, decrescendo, staccato, et cetera, the assertion being that technical accomplishment lead to the remaining 25 percent—true expressivity. This is what you hear in Harrell's singing, which has little in common with the thin, straight-toned approach often heard today. 

To better understand the art of portamento and legato singing as taught by Madam Schoen-René and other exponents of the García School, I encourage the reader to acquire Hidden in Plain Sight: The Hermann Klein Phono-Vocal Method Based upon the Famous School of Manuel García and then listen to the accompanying recordings at Youtube.

October 5, 2015

Blanche Marchesi: Visible Motors of the Voice

Blanche Marchesi (1863-1940)
What are the principle motors producing the voice? 

The heart is the first. It is the principle source of action. The lungs are the second. 

If the heart is the motor of life, the lungs by procuring breath act as the driving power and by pumping the air keep the first motor going. 

The third motor is the vocal instrument itself. Sound is formed by the glottis, the details of which are explained in another section. 

The production of sound necessitates that all organs of the human body should exercise their normal functions, but the three mentioned above are the direct motors without which nothing an be done, nor a sound be produced. It goes without saying that the nerve centre of the brain controls the movements executed by the body. It is the power station of motion. Altogether, not one part of the human body can act unaided. The larynx is subject to the same law. It does not, as many people believe, stand alone in the throat, like a tree on a mountain. It is as complete and complicated as a watch. As there we see wheels within wheels, so here muscles and nerves react upon each other. Some connect the larynx directly and indirectly to the smaller and larger motors. Disconnected from any one of the motors, the voice fails to act. 

Can we alter or interfere with any part of throat or chest belonging to the production of sound? 

We not only can, but we must know our throat, and all that appertains to the production of sound, so thoroughly and intimately as to be able to influence, for better or worse, different parts of the vocal organs, and their subordinate parts. 

Can the windpipe be altered at will? 

The windpipe, if subject to illness or wrongly uses, will produce a noisy breath. If it is healthy and left undisturbed whilst a deep diaphragmatic breath is taken, and every part of the throat relaxed, there will be no involuntary noise produced at all. But the wheezing and indeed all forms of audible breathing caused by ill-health can be artificially produced by deliberately squeezing the windpipe. 

Can we alter and interfere with any other part of the throat? 

Yes, several more. 

The larynx, in its movements, obeys our will. We can change its position quickly or slowly, and we can be right or wrong in doing so. 

The vocal cords can be used both in the right and the wrong way. We shall be right in closing them firmly but gently, wrong in not closing them, thus letting the air through, or closing them with a violent jerk, hitting one against the other, so to speak. This fault is disastrous. 

The palate, that is, the soft back part of the palate which has the uvula for its centre, can at will be left alone or strongly contracted and let down like a sail on a boat, as vocal production may demand. This last process is called "covering." When the female voice uses head register the soft palate lifts slightly.

As women possess a capacity for covering their chest tones also, so, like men, they can change the condition of the soft palate and contract the pharynx. 

Tonsils, like every other part of the throat, can be lift alone or altered. By lifting the root of the tongue and letting the soft palate sink. contracting the whole pharynx violently, we may draw the tonsils out of their position, making them approach each other and is some cases meet. This may be observed chiefly in men who do not know the use of their upper notes and try their best to reach them by squeezing their tonsils. This produces a bad, if not comic effect, and should never be allowed. 

The pharynx, which is the whole box containing the vocal instrument relaxed at will or used to perform certain functions necessary to singing, provided that the correct registers and sounding-boards are employed. 

The back nostrils, through which the nose conveys the air received through the front nostrils, are of the highest importance, a fact that cannot be sufficiently emphasized. They play a serious part in the formation of beauty and power in the human voice. Like the other parts forming the whole vocal instrument mentioned, the back nostrils may be manipulated at will; they can be opened or closed. 

When the singer suffers from an acute cold, the back nostrils are generally inflamed and swell to such a degree as to leave no space for the air to come and go. In some cases they are completely closed. The same effect is produced when chronic inflammation, adenoids, or any growth obstructs the passages, and the air finds its way with great difficulty. or not at all, until the hindrance is removed by cure or operation. 

Perfectly healthy back nostrils it lies absolutely in our power to close or open. To use the detestable and impossible method of singing through the nose, which is an offense to any musical ear, is to leave the back nostrils wide open in emitting sound. No greater mistake could be made. Men and women equally must keep the back nostrils closed when singing. The inside of the nose may be compared to a dead lump of cotton, and the way to it must be barred while tone is produced. 

Tone cannot be made without a sounding-board and, I cannot repeat it often enough, must find in in whatever register happens to be in use. The back nostrils, therefore, can only yield when the pronunciation of certain consonants like m or n imperatively compel the singer to open the nasal passage for an instant. The consonant having been pronounced, the back nostrils must be immediately contracted again. 

These seven parts of our vocal instrument we can an must specially control. 

Whilst singing, no muscles of the throat must be made to work except those actually required. All must begin by being completely slack, so that as the notes are taken the required parts may contract and again relax whilst other in turn contract. But, needless to say that, when running through the whole scale, the instrument will never be entirely relaxed. 

Singers should always avoid crying of laughing violently. The air passages change shape, the blood-vessels of the larynx are flooded, and congestion is created. One of the great endeavors of a singer must be to avoid congestion. 

Marchesi, Blanche, The Singer's Catechism and Creed (J. M. Dent & Sons, London, 1931): 57-60. 


Who talks about the back nostrils today? No one that I know of. More commonly, one hears of the manipulation of the soft palate, right? And then there is the matter of the larynx, which is nowadays referred to as being in a "neutral" position (of course, I can't help thinking of a car that's going nowhere). Not so the method of García, which correlated tonal color to that of laryngeal height within the vocal tube. 

Methinks Madam Marchesi was trying to get her reader to listen.

My own teacher dealt with the matter of back nostrils, though they were never called that. Instead, the student heard her refer to "oo space" in tandem with demonstrating an inward breathing technique not unlike the yogic maneuver called "ujjayi." But nothing mystical was meant. Rather, the student was simply given instruction that made one—again, like Marchesi—listen. 

Photo Credit: Wikipedia: Blanche Marchesi as rendered by John Singer Sargent. 

September 29, 2015

Column of Breath

Francesco Lamperti (1811-1892)
Francesco Lamperti made much of it, this thing called breath. But he thought about it quite differently than students of singing today, who are trained to think about breath in physiological terms.

Lamperti, rather than expounding on the physiological aspects of breath and breathing, simply made his students sing on it. The voice had to be on the breath. This introduced the student to the concept of a column of breath, which was something more than the amount of air in the lungs.

In and up on the breath.

That was Lamperti's teaching. The student was taught to hear and feel the start of the tone in the middle of the head. The student was also taught to do this in a mezza-voce manner. Think that was easy? Think again! Most students sing in a breathy fashion when attempting this.

To obtain a sense of Lamperti's teaching of singing on the breath, the autodidact is encouraged to silently pant in a pulsing fashion—inwardly—for 10 to 15 seconds without stopping—a teaching also from Lamperti's studio. Every muscle of the torso and head will be felt to lift. As far as this is concerned, Lamperti taught that breath should be separate from the tone, a mind-bending proposition for those fixated on physiology and subglottal pressure (see my posts on Giulia Valda for more information).

But there is no need to make things complicated. Keeping the feeling obtained while panting inwardly and silently—which is felt from pelvis to crown of head—will reveal much. Of course, this is where things get interesting, since the student must have some idea of the tone that is going to be spoken or sung. The ear has to educated, and that is a whole other matter. 

September 27, 2015

Turn Down the Volume

There I was, rowing away at the Y, when I heard the loudest music for an aerobics class in the studio next to me. Sure. We've all been there, right? Walk into any gym and there will be an exercise class with people jumping around and music blasting. 

I didn't get upset. Didn't lose my nerve. No, none of that. Rather, I got curious. Just how loud was this sound anyway? 

You'd think I would have downloaded a decibel App on my iPhone already, but no. For some reason (and I have more than enough reason to do so, believe me) hadn't done that yet. But I was really curious about how loud the sound was. So I finished rowing (great stuff I have to say), and downloaded a free App called Decibel 10th. 

That's when things got interesting. 

I walked to the door of the exercise studio, a huge room, turned on the App, and watched the dial move all the way to the right, right into the danger zone. 

Will you look at that?! 

Mind you, I wasn't in the room. I was standing in the doorway, a good 40 feet from the speakers. How loud was it where everyone was jumping around? 

See here for a chart depicting dangerous levels of sound. 

September 2, 2015

Manage the Voice with the Ear

In singing, see that the neck and head are in a free and loose condition. If the voice is focussed forward as evidenced by pure and beautiful tones, the breath will economize itself. Mange the voice with the ear. Don't manage or try to manage the vocal mechanism. When the muscles in the neck are in evidence during song, it is a positive indication that the tone is not well produced. When the corners of the mouth are drawn back, the tone will become hard and strident. Mouth or facial muscles should not be rigid or set. Never smile artificially. The smiling countenance representing joyousness meet be a natural result of happy thought. It is spiritual in its origin. 

In general, the singing voice of the Italian is characterized open or closed. "Piu aperto" or "Piu chiuso"  representing their preference. The consensus of opinion, however, is that "Piu Canta, Chiuso Canta diesci anni di piu" (He who sings closed sings tens years longer). The import is that the use of the voice well focussed forward is more conducive to its long life. 

Students should realize the importance of doing small things well. If this is attended to, the big things will take care of themselves. Always sing exercises with strict attention to tone quality. In regard to all graded exercises—so-called methods—always remember that the important consideration is not what you sing, but how you sing it. 

Forcing the voice is generally the result of either the desire to sing too loudly or with too big a tone, or of attempting to locally adjust the vocal mechanism; in short, singing with the throat instead of through the throat. 

The natural position of the voice in effect, unhampered by rigidity of the body and sympathetic rigidity of of the throat, is forward in the mouth. Correct forward placing is never forced. 

—The Lost Vocal Art and Its Restoration by W. Warren Shaw: 197-198. Find this text on VoiceTalk's download page. It's one of the really good (and forgotten) books on the Old Italian School of singing. 

September 1, 2015

The Asperger Voice

I've not forgotten him. The guy with the tight eyes and loud unmanageable voice who sang for me in a masterclass. No matter the suggestion or instruction, nothing made a difference—his voice remained hollow sounding.

His wife told me he had Aspergers. 

About a year later, I worked with another man who had the same tight, wary eyes and analytical nature, and again heard the same hollow quality.

He also told me he had Aspergers.

What's up with this? I wondered. Two guys with the same look and sound. So I started reading and researching, and called a colleague who routinely works with Asperger clients, who told me that, in this case, the biology of the brain trumps everything. 

Apserger syndrome first entered many people's consciousness through Jon Elder Robinson's excellent memoir, Look Me in the Eye, which was published in 2013. Interestingly, that same year, singers and voice teachers learned that Susan Boyle—the popular Scottish singer, was also diagnosed with the syndrome. 

If you've taught singing for a while, you have undoubtedly worked with someone who falls on the autistic spectrum of disorders—in which those with Asperger's are now classified. And if you have, you have encountered the same vocal quality I have observed. 

My advice? Let it be. Why? The face in the photo says it all. 

If we understand that the facial nerve inserts into the ear, and that facial expression reveals how the ear is processing both the inner and outer world of sound (this was the clinical observation of Tomatis), it can be understood that the Asperger voice student experiences a unique audio-vocal expression. 

August 22, 2015

Classical Vocal Training in the Age of Information

Anna E. Schoen-René (1864-1942) 
Anna E. Schoen-René was perhaps the last of her generation to teach classical singing as it had been taught for generations, having learned both the art of singing and its vocal pedagogy from two eminent masters—Pauline Viardot-García and her brother Manuel García, from whom Schoen-René specialized in the teaching of men.

Her procedures were geared towards those who had—in her own words—"good vocal material." Having been accepted into her studio, the student then had to be able to speak and sing all five of the Italian vowels (e, i, a, o, u) in an open-throated and pure manner; that is, with no hint of a guttural or nasal timbre—the result, of course, being placement. For those with ears to hear, this was not a big deal. However, this requirement was a real THING, the starting gate through which every student had to pass or there was no going forward. And if you couldn't do it, and do it in a reasonable amount of time, Schoen-René would drop you like a hot potato. Tough? You have no idea. 

When the student had learned how to create a beautiful tone, he or she was then made to exercise the voice on scales and exercises for the better part of a year before any repertoire was given. Mind you, this took place in the environment of the Juilliard School—a prestigious conservatory which admitted only the very best students on a scholarship basis. (Schoen-René's private students—who sang both classical and popular music, were subjected to the same kind of training.) Sadly, this kind of approach simply does not exist in any conservatory today.

What do we have instead? Repertoire is required from day one, and instead of Italian tonal values being the beginning point, languages are studied as electives. Vocal pedagogy is a science heavy endeavor, with voice students learning about anatomy, physiology and acoustics, but next to nothing about the procedures of the old Italian school. Sure, some may hear the names García or Lamperti, but have they read their works or studied their teachings? No.

Knowing about has supplanted doing—at least in terms of the procedures of the old Italian school.  And there is a lot to know as a result of recent advances in voice science. Because of this, voice teachers today are seduced into approaching the teaching of singing in a mechanical manner, which, if anything, recalls the period of late 19th century when there was an explosion of knowledge about the vocal mechanism, which brought about what one writer (Edmund Myer) called the "local effort" school.

"Scientific explanations can only be grasped by singers already educated in the principles of their art." —Anna E. Schoen-René 

We have our own "local effort" school, which is less about the direct control of muscles of the body (the late 19th century preoccupation) and more about control of the muscles of the larynx as evidenced in an obsession with the separation of registers, and the larynx's articulation of certain vocal qualities, including falsetto, chest, mix and belt.

This is what you get when you pull up the roots of the tree of singing. 

August 18, 2015

Signor Sbriglia and Some of His Pupils by H. W. Greene

Mr. J. Edmond Skiff, for a number of years associated with the Batavia State School of the Blind as musical director, has just concluded a year of study in Paris with that veteran maestro G. Sbriglia. Perhaps there is no teacher living at present more prominent in the public eye than this Italian-Frenchman, who has such unique, if not extreme views on tone-production. As I knew him in my student-days, he represented the very antithesis of the modern popular ideas on vocal technic, and my desire to ascertain the master's present attitude to the subject prompted me to ask Mr. Skiff for a short article. Mr. Skiff is not a stranger to the readers of the VOCAL DEPARMENT, and we welcome the following response to my request.—the EDITOR. 

In an unpretentious, though every comfortable apartment in the Rue de Provence, Paris, lives Signor Sbriglia, one of the world's famous voiceal teachers, whose renown has been largely gained through his work with Mr. Jean de Reszke, the great Wagnerian tenor. 

Sbriglia is a student of the Naples Conservatoire, form thence making his début in the opera "Brasseur de Preston,"  by Braci. After some time in Naples he toured Europe, singing in all the grand-opera houses, and in 1866 went to America, singing with the Italian and English Opera Company in the United States and Mexico. 

About Twenty-five years ago, he settled in Paris, devoting himself entirely to teaching. His first pupil he brought out in Paris was Otello Nonvelli, an Italian who made his début in the tenor rôle in "Martha," at the Italian Opera, which is now extinct, with Edouard de Reszke. His success was so great the Jean de Reszke, who was at that time singing baritone parts without success, being, in fact, so despondent that he contemplated leaving the stage, went to Sbriglia requesting lessons. Sbriglia assured him that his voice was one of the true tenor quality, and that he should give up baritone work. His study with the maestro covered six years, and all the word can now testify to the accuracy of Sbriglia's diagnosis. 

Shortly after, Josephine de Reszke, a sister of Jean and Edouard, came to him. She it was who created the principla rôle in Massenet's opera "Le Roi de Lahore,"  at the Grand Opera in Paris. From Paris she went to Spain, where she had immense success. She left the stage to be married to Baron de Kronenberg; unfortunately she died in Poland a few years after her marriage, leaving tow little children. 

Among his other celebrated pupils have been Lillian Nordica, Sibyl Sanderson, Fanchon Thompson; Miss Phebe Strakosch, soprano, daughter of the impresario, Ferdinand Strakosch, and cousin to Adeline Patti, singing in Spain, Italy, London; Mr. Plançon; d'Aubign; M. Castleman, now first tenor in the Opera at Algiers; and Madame Aduing who sang at the Grand Opera, Paris, for  five years, and also in Italy and London. After singing all the lyric operas, she devoted herself to Wagner. She enjoyed much favor as the soloist at the Colonne and Lamoureux concerts. Among his present pupils is a Miss Markham, who has recently gone to Bayreuth to study Wagner rôles with M. Sen, a Swedish tenor; Mr. William Hughs, of Washington, D. C., a possessor of a magnificent basso cantante voice; Mr. Whitefield Martin, of New York, a tenor of much promise, who has given up a fine clientele of pupils to devote his time to study for the opera. 

Personally S. Sbriglia is very agreeable, a short man, with a very full chest, dark hair, and eyebrows, looking his nationality. In his teacher he sits at an upright piano with a large mirror on the wall back of him, while the pupil stands back of the piano, where he can complacently view himself in the mirror and also watch at the same time the various expressions of the maestro's face. He says very little during the lesson; his three great points being the extreme high chest, the voice placed entirely in the mask of the face, and the protruding of the lips. He places great stress on the very high, fully-developed chest, and the pupil's first lesson will in most cases consist partially in an admonition to at once procure a pair of dumb-bells, and an oft-repeated expression is: "Beauecoup de dumb-bells." 

When asked how he teaches his pupils to breath, he replied: "I don't breath; I build the chest." He points with pride to some portraits of his pupils taken "before and after," showing great development, and their names are familiar ones to the opera-goer. If one wishes to know thoroughly all the resources of the master, one must be content to stay with him a long while, for he imparts his information very slowly, and even the pupil must gain it more by intuition than by word of mouth. He is not a musician, but he does make his pupils sing as far as the mechanism of the voice is concerned; for interpretation and the higher art, he is quite willing the pupil should go to some of his "confrères." 

No article would be complete without a mention of Madame Sbriglia, who, by the way, is an American, for she is a very important part of the studio. She it is who arranges all the pupils' lesson-hours, attends to the financial part, and plays all the accompaniments except for the exercises at the beginning of the lesson, which he industriously plays (?) with one finger. Madame takes great interest in all the pupils, is always ready to help in any way possible, and in many cases smooths out the wrinkles that come from the master's presence. She is a busy woman, for she must be on call, as it were, during the entire teaching-hours, which, however, are not so long as in former years, as he now refuses to teach more than five hours each daily. These hours being from 9 to 11:30 and 3 to 5:30, and the pupil who has not engaged lessons early in the season must be willing to take a lesson when some regular pupil is unable to come, and there are always plenty of pupils waiting to fill in a vacancy.—J. Edmond Skiff. 

The Etude, May, 1902: 181-182 

Contributed to VoiceTalk by Vincent Pavesi. For more information on Giovanni Sbriglia's teaching, see Margaret Champman Byers: "Sbriglia's Method of Singing" in "Historical Vocal Pedagogy Classics" by Berton Coffin, Scarecrow Press, 1989: 16. 


I want to say a word or two about Sbriglia's "high chest," which this writer posits could also be understood as an "open chest," though, of course, it is possible to raise the ribs mechanically without having inhaled at all! Mechanics aside, Sbriglai's teaching can be understood from a very different perspective, that being the observations of Alfred A. Tomatis, the Christopher Columbus of the ear. 

It was Tomatis who observed that the chest expanded and lifted when the listening faculty was fully opened through the stimulation of high frequencies. He also observed that the face "opened" and the spine elongated. What is one to make of this? Well, for one thing, it should be clear that "listening" is an active matter which affects the whole body. 

Does this mean that you can change the student's listening ability through raw manipulation of the spine, ribs or face? Experience says no, if only because the impetus must come from within the ear. This is, of course, the conundrum of the well-educated voice teacher who knows all about the "parts" of the vocal mechanism, and whose language is oriented towards "function," yet cannot find the key to make the parts function in the desired manner. 

Singing is like running to meet your lover! 

How's that for an organizing principle? It's one my own voice teacher impressed upon me—the clear expression of which reveals Tomatis' indicators: open face and ribs, with an elongated spine. That she also taught Sbriglia's singing in the mask and the discipline of the lips should surprise no one. 

August 17, 2015

What Sbriglia Taught and How He Taught It by Perley Dunn Aldrich

Mr. Perley Dunn Aldrich, the editor of the Voice Department of THE ETUDE for the present month, has had an unusually broad musical training. He studied first at the New England Conservatory, where his teachers were Dr Louis Maas, Stephen Emergy, George Whiting and W. H. Daniell. Decidign on a career as a vocalist, however, he went abroad, studying with William Shakespeare and Georg Henschel in London, and Trabadello in Paris. Finally, while in Paris, he became a student of Sbriglia, the celebrated teacher of Jean de Reszke and others. His relations with Sbriglia were extremely close—in fact Mr. Aldrich actually lived with Sbriglia and acted as his assistant and accompanist. Mr. Aldrich has a fine, rich, high baritone voice and at one time appeared constantly in concert and oratorio. His devotion to teaching, however, has lead him from the public platform to his own studio in Philadelphia, where he is extremely successful as a vocal instructor. —Editor of the Etude. 

The death of Giovanni Sbriglia a few months ago recalls to his many pupils in various parts of the world a long list of eminent singers who came under his instructions for longer or shorter periods, and makes a most opportune occasion to tell the readers of The Etude something of his work. 

Sbriglia must have been at least eighty years of age when he passed away, for he sang in a performance of Martha in the Academy of Music in Philadelphia in 1859, and for a period of nine years at this time sang in Cuba, Mexico and the United States in opera and concert. He took up teaching on his return to the continent. He was trained by Italian teachers in Naples and, naturally, followed the principles of the Italian school. 

He was eminently a practical teacher. He had very little theory and talked very little. He was not a good musician, played none to speak of on the piano, and, of course, knew nothing of the most modern operas. But he was a real teacher of the voice. He had that rare talent known as the "vocal gift." He knew when the voice resonated correctly, and he found original ways and means of causing it to do this. In fact, he was a genius in this one particular line. His teaching was empirical and intuitive. I believe he taught entirely as his intuition bade him, and sometimes this was difficult to follow, for his system would seem changeable to the student. He continually sought after a natural voice, but sometimes he would use unnatural means to gain this end. I mean, he would try to overcome a certain defect before he treated the voice as a whole. For example, I have heard him exercise a pupil vigorously on the sounds tee and tay, with the teeth, on the middle notes, to bring a strong resonance throughout the middle voice. He would use the Concone Fifty Lessons in the same way, making the pupil use sometimes one and sometimes the other of these vowels. When they sang them by the syllables I have seen change the fa to fee (or tee) for a pupil whose fa was weak and heady.  I have seem him carry this same work into the high notes, as far as possible, to cure a soprano of the bête noir of the soprano voice—a frontal register. Perhaps the next pupil would work entirely on the vowel o or oo to remedy a voice that was too white and reedy. 

A Firm, High Chest 

He insisted upon a firm, high chest for all pupils. For those who had weak chests he urged regular use of light dumb-bells and persistent effort to maintain a high chest. I have seen him make a student work hard to hold his chest as high as possible, and then bring the chin down towards it, day after day, as a physical exercise to develop the chest. This was very fatiguing for some pupils for a time, and backs and knees ached a bit, or even two bits. But the result usually justified the means. This brought about what he called the point d'appui  (point of support) just at the bottom of the sternum bone. Here, according to his idea, lay the support of the voice; and when the singer once understood this he could sing without fatigue and give every graduation needed for the tone. It was an understanding of this idea the enabled him to develop Madam Nordica's voice from a lyric soprano voice to a dramatic soprano voice. He insisted on this support so strongly that many of his singers, De Reszke, Plançon, and many of lesser note, wore abdominal belts to aid in supporting the chest. Of course, many pupils abused the power that this chest development gave, and "hollered" until the voice was worn. But this, I take it, was farthest from his idea. I feel sure, however, that many pupils came away with the wrong idea of this support," and gave a very wrong impression of the maestro's school of singing.

I once asked him why he did not write down his method. His reply was that this was impossible, as "what was good for one was bad for another." I have heard him declare emphatically more than once "I have no method. I teach people to sing. If the voice is too open, I shut; if it is too shut, I open."

He taught in the old-fashioned way by using the Cancone exercises on the vowel sound adapted to the need of the pupil (the Ah the last of all, usually). Then he would use the same exercises with the fixed do syllables. He would go over and over the same aria, day after day, and even week after week, using it as a vocal exercise, caring very little for the interpretation, but spending all the time and though upon the freedom of tone.

Singing on the Lips

For certain voices he insisted very much upon the use of the lips, especially on the closed vowels o and oo.  He often remarked, in his broken english. "Like you whiz" (whistle). "Singing on the lips" was another favorite phrase that he used over and over. This, combined with the strong chest, was the sun and substance of his teaching. For when he wandered afield from these ideas, he came back to them with renewed energy and with wonderful pertinacity. I remember very well a certain solfeggio by Guercia that he me sing with the syllables softly and very rapidly to keep the voice on the lips. "I fior di labbi" (the flower of the lips). He would say, over and over. "Ne pousee pas" (don't push) when the pupil would force the voice.

Singing in the Chest

Another idea on which he dwelt persistently was singing in the chest. He often told me that this was the secret of singing and a principle that almost nobody understood. I think few of his pupils thoroughly understood this, and he often said so. I know in my own case, it was, indeed, some years before I fully appreciated the principle and saw the almost breath-bereaving results I could obtain with it. It was very difficult to understand because it seemed impossible for a soprano to keep her high notes singing in the chest or for the tenor to keep his mixed voice there; but, like all real maestros of the voice, he could not abide the whoopy, heady tone, and tried to keep the voice down to its real and natural resonance. The result was that all his pupils who obtained an insight into this principle sang with a firm, vibrant tone.

It is difficult to put his ideas on paper, because they seem so spontaneous and intuitive—so like flashed of genius. They do not seem the same when written down as they do when illustrated by someone who understands them. But I have given a few ideas that I learned from watching him teach many different pupils hour after hour. I have need ceased to be grateful for this opportunity I had for observing his wonderful teaching; for I feel sure that whatever measure of success I have had has been largely due to his inspired teaching.

The Etude, February, 1917: 122-123

Contributed to VoiceTalk by Vincent Pavesi. 


When you read an article like this from The Etude, it quickly becomes apparent just how much the teaching of singing has changed, if only because voice teaching today proceeds from a very different basis. 

Let's take Sbriglia's "singing in the chest" for starters. A voice teacher who has been schooled in anatomy and acoustics won't know what to make of this at all. Why? He or she knows that the chest is not a resonating cavity—so why think of the chest? 

What this modern maven doesn't apprehend is that the spine does indeed resonant with tone, tone which is felt in the chest, which can be properly understood as a matter of bone conduction, and a by-product of pure, Italianate vowels. Oh, but that's a real trip too, since modern teachers don't think in terms of pure anything. Rather, their parlance is geared towards matters like vocal fold registration and formants.

My own teacher taught Sbriglia's concept of "singing in the chest," insofar as instructing her students to monitor the sternum area as well as the area of the upper lip, and bridge of nose. It's simple stuff really, and not hard at all if one begins from an acoustical basis (we're talking about an educated ear here) rather than a know-everything-about-everything one.

I would agree with Sbriglia: few understand his teaching. The irony is that it can be easily understood by those with educated ears, listening being a vestibular (feeling) as well as a cochlear matter. (How else do you think Mandy Harvey sings? While you are all busy yakking about formant this and vocal fold that, she is busy singing in tune via a finely educated vestibular system. Oh yeah—she's deaf too.)

Such is the difference of our times. 

The foundation of the Old Italian School was the ear. If you can wrap your head around what this means, you may amount to something. Sadly, I know far too many people with doctorates who are whip-smart, know everything about everything in terms of anatomy, physiological and acoustics, but can't sing. 

August 15, 2015

A Conversation With Signor Sbriglia by Perley Dunn Aldrich

Giovanni Sbriglia 
The Summer Home

The Chateau de St. Léger is delightfully situated on the edge of what in France must be considered an extensive forest in the department of Oise, about four miles from the quaint little city of Beauvais, noted for its tapestries and for its cathedral. It is well worth the two hours' journey from Paris to get a sigh of the magnificent choir which many consider the finest in Europe.

The reach S. Léger from Beauvais, we either take a voiture drawn by a horse whose most remarkable quality is his power of resisting the persuasions of the driver, who urges him on with stenos language, punctuated by a most active goad; or by a little railroad, which lands us within gunshot of the chateau at a lonely little station kept by a kindly old lady who cultivates beautiful rose and cheery smiles. Only the red roof of the chateau is visible above the tops of the trees, which surround it, sentineled by one splendid Lombardy poplar which towers majestically up into the rich, red gold of the dying day.

Here is this quiet and restful retreat Signor Giovanni Sbriglia, the eminent teacher of singing, passes his summers, taking a few pupils with him. Mme. Sbriglia, bringing her own servants from Paris, presides over the household with rare thoughtfulness and tact.

After the lessons of the day are over, never later than half past four, master and pupils stroll over across the fields, where the hilarious ones may play mumblety peg on the mossy ground under the fir trees, and the real giddy ones decorate themselves as brigands with stray burnt embers and improvise a comic opera with tragic effect.

During these walks the Maestro often became reminiscent and harked back to the days when he sang in the United States, both in the old opera companies and in concerts.

The Training of Great Singers

I shall not forget one day coming with him across the fields over the brow of the hill, and how beautiful the country looked in the approaching twilight. I asked him who were the well-known singers in Italy when he was preparing his career in opera.

"I was trained at Naples at the conservatory, under Emanuel Roxas and Busti—the latter of whom died only three years ago—in the strict old Italian school. When we went to the opera, we heard the most perfect models, such as Malibran, Alboni, Fessolini, Tardolini, Lablache, Cortesi, Mario, Rubini, etc. These great artists sang with natural emission of the voice, acquired after long study of the posing of the voice and a thorough course of solfeggi. Sometimes the masters kept their pupils for two years on exercises for the voice and solfeggi. Then they commenced the study of the simple arias from the repertoire.

"Did these old masters use the nasal exercises which are so popular at present?" I asked.

"No, they were never a part of the old school of singing. I have used them for certain special purpose with certain pupils, but they should be used with great care and caution, for they are often harmful and misleading. They object these old masters tried to attain was the natural flow of the voice sustained by the chest, the correct classification of the voice and then nothing artificial about its emission."

"And did these old singers have power of voice?" I asked. "Many people have the idea that their voices were beautiful but rather small."

"On the contrary," was the reply: "many of them gained great power, as, for example, Tamberlik, Mirati and Guilini. Of course, there were light tenors and the dramatic tenors also. But all the great masters trained the voices as a while. Registers exist in nature, but the voices must be treated as a whole to obtain perfect equality throughout from top to bottom. It is the natural voice that is the beautiful voice."

By this time we had reached the big road and crossed the little stone bridge and were just entering the vine-covered stone gateway that led past the gardener's lodge. I turned to go over to the farm where I was stopping.

"You mustn't forgot to tell me about your experiences in America sometime," I said.

"Perhaps I will on Sunday; no lessons, you know, and the day will be long," was the reply.

Sbriglia's Trip to America

On Sunday morning the bell in the owed of the little church of St. Léger called the early worshippers at six o'clock and again at ten thirty. The little village is mostly street, but is rather picturesque, with its red tiled roofs behind the high stone walls. The peasants in their Sunday gowns make either way to church and gossip with each otters about the news of the day. In the little park bcd of the chateau I found the Maestro taking his morning smoke and reading the Figaro. I drew one of the big wicker chairs into the shade near him and reminded him of his promise to tell me some of his experiences in America.

"I was engaged in Florence," he began, "by Servadio, for an opera season in Mexico to sing the principal rôles. Both Nanmi and Madam D'Angri were to be in the company. I came up to Paris and then to Havre to set sail for New York. We were expected to sail on the steamer Austria, but by some mischance our berths were not engaged for us, and our place on the steamer had been taken. Fortunately, the North Star was to sail a few days later and we immediately engaged passage. We arrived safely in New York, and some of our friends embraced us with tears rolling down their cheeks. When we inquired the cause of this unusual demonstrating, we learned that the Austria had gone down with all on board, and as we were expected to sail on that boat it seems to our friends, who thought we were at the bottom of the sea, almost like spirits rising from the sea.

"Meanwhile, between the time of the collecting of the company in Italy and our arrival in New York, a revolution had broken out in Mexico and the theatre was closed. Max Maretzek told me about it and gave me an engagement with his company. I made my début on 14th St. in "Lucia," with Garzia as "Lucia." The same season I sang in New York at the operatic début of Patti.

"After that season I went to Havana for three or four consecutive seasons and then for one season I went to Mexico, the revolution having been settled. From Mexico I went to California, where we produced, among other things, Meyerbeer's 'prophète' with a ballet from Europe and with costume and scenery of unusual magnificence. We also sang the repertoire of the lighter works, "Sonnabula." "Traviata,' etc. I afterwards arranged a company for California myself, to open the Academy of Music in Montgomery St., San Francisco. The theatre was managed by a rich gambler named Maguire—a man of wealth and influence—although a gambler.

Adventures in Mexico

"You would find traveling in America very different now," I remarked. "I impinge it was none too comfortable then."

"Indeed, it was not, but nevertheless, we had happy times and many amusing episodes. When we went to Mexico we went to Vera Cruz by boat. From there to the City of Mexico we went by diligence, taking fauve days for the trip. During the third day's journey we were waylaid by brigands and robbed of every cent we possessed. When I reached the City of Mexico I owned just the clothes I had on and nothing more. I remember very distinctly the chief of the brigands. He was a tall, fine looking man, beautifully dressed and treated us in a most courtly manner, assuring us that he was not a thief, but a gentleman, who simply relieved people of unnecessary baggage—but he took the money all the same. In both of my trips to Mexico I was robbed by these gentlemanly brigands."

The Maestro resumed his cigarette and was silent for a long time. It was evident from his face that he was no longer living in the present, but lingering in the shadow of the past. One by one the great singers of that day flitted before his memory and he saw them and himself once move amid their triumphs hard won and well deserved, because of their great knowledge of the bel canto.

About Certain Singers 

The sun was beating down upon the chateau across the lawn and the trees seems to shrivel silently under its withering rays. The Maestro moved his chair further back into the shadow of the trees, lighted another cigarette and awoke form his reverie. "Ah! but there were some fine singers in those days," he mused. "There was Gazaniga, dramatic soprano; Gazia, lyric soprano; Adelaide Phillips, contralto; D'Angri, contralto; Berthoud, who was Maretzek's wife; Amodio, a baritone with a magnificent voice; Brignoli, tenor; Madam Parodi, dramatic soprano; Susini, bass; Madam La Borde, lyric soprano; Madam Colson, soprano; Steffani, tenor; Mazzoleni, tenor, and many others. Then was was Carlotta Patti, who had a most exquisite voice extending to A in alt. It was even a better voice than Adelina's. Unfortunately, Carlotta had one leg shorter than the others, and limped painfully when she walked. Of course, with this deformity it was impossible for her to sing on the operatic stage. This was such a great disappointment to her and her family that an Italian doctor in New York by the name of Cecherini arranged some kind of a contrivance that strapped to her knew and whihc enable her to walk without limping. Carlotta tried it in private with success, and believed she could appear on the stage. It was arranged that she should appear in 'Sonnambula' and she got through two acts, but at the end of the second act she fainted in my arms. The strain had been too great for her nevers, and she had to give up her hope of singing in opera. It was a great pity, for her voice was beautiful.

"Another excellent singer was Errani, the tenor. His voice was not large, but very good and he afterward became a excellent singing teacher in New York.

"Still another that I remember was Stiegel, who sang the tenor rôle in the 'Jewess' splendidly. Ardavana, the baritone, had a very fine voice and the two Barillis were good singers."

Singers' Habits

"Tell me something about the personality and habits of some of the singers," I asked.

"That reminds me of Steffani," he laughed. "Steffani had a dramatic tenor voice of great power and beauty. Every night when he sang at the opera he drank two or three bottles of Bordeaux wine during the performance. Every time he came off the stage and between the acts he made straight for his bottle, so that frequently at the end of the opera he was quite drunk.

"Mario, the tenor, had a most charming voice, not large but of most beautiful quality and he sang with great style and finish. Such airs as 'Spirto Gentil' from 'Favorita' he sang exquisitely, and people often flocked to the theatre just in time to hear him sing this one song. He used to sing in 'piano' with an exquisite quality of voice. He was such an inveterate smoke that he had a cigar in his teeth the last moment before he went on the stage and every moment between the acts. As for me," he added, "I smoked ver little, and on the days I sang I dined about three o'clock and need drank anything at the theatre expect occasionally some weak coffee, when my throat felt dry; but I always swallowed a couple of raw eggs between the acts and found them very beneficial."

A Unique Performance of "Martha" 

"Do you remember singing in Boston," I asked.

"Oh, yes, and I remember a very amusing performance of 'Martha' that we gave there once. Uhlman, the director, told us one day that we would sing Martha the next night. We all knew the opera, but I could only sing it in Italian, La Borde could only sing it in French, Philips sang her part in English, and Karl Formes sang in German. But, strange to say, it had a great success.

"That reminds me of Formes. He had an extraordinary voice of such enormous size that he never could control it properly and often sang flat. His voice was never properly schooled and he never sang his exercises to keep in good form, and when he sang he became so interested in his part that the emission of his voice never occurred to him. In the opera of 'Martha,' Formes, who had an extraordinary breath power, used to hold the low E at the end of the run in the 'Drinking Song,' it seems like five minutes, while he went around among the chorus clinking glasses with the men and chucking the ladies under the chin. The effect was irresistible.

Sbriglia to the Rescue

That afternoon I was sitting under the trees reading, when I saw Mons. Sbriglia approaching with a merry smile on his face. As he approached he began—"Did I ever tell you how I saved Maretzek one night? You see, I was a very useful tenor for a manager, for I knew nearly forty operas, and being possessed of an exceptionally retentive memory, I could sing nearly every one without a rehearsal. It was so easy for me to learn an opera that I could commit one to memory on a train.

"I arrived in New York for a season in Havana one afternoon, and as I went up to town to the house where I usually stayed, I saw by the bills that Medora and Mazzolini were to sing 'Il Trovatore' that evening.

"I was very anxious to hear this famous tenor in the part of Manrico, so after my dinner I went over to the theatre and tool my place in a box. Mazzolini was in a very bad voice, and at the end of the first act his voice failed him and it was evident that he could not go on. Maretzek had seem me in the box and he came running in in great tribulation and begged me to come and finish the opera and save him from ruin. There was a theatre full of people and to turn them away and pay back the money meant financial ruin to him. " I will pay you a thousand dollars if you will come and sing the rest of the opera," he said. So I went to the dressing room and put on the costume and sang the rest of the opera. But, I have never received the thousand dollars. One time I saved Uhlman in the same way. Brignoli broke down in the opera and was unable to go on. Uhlman gave me six hunted dollars to finish the opera. That was a very large sum for those days, and I actually got the money.

The Old Style of Singing

"Ah! those were indeed great days, for the art of singing, for nearly all the artist were trained in the good old school. But it was a poor business, for we had to sing for months sometimes to make what can now be made in one night. In those days there were more good singers, and it was a lesson to students to attend the theatre and hear the artist sing, for they sang the legato style, which was the glory of the bel canto. This was true partly because the music they sang was of a kind that had to be sung and not declaimed, the music of Mozart, Rossini, Donizetti, Cimarosa and Bellini. But with the advent of the music of Verdi and Wagner it was no longer necessary to sing, and the artists simply had to declaim over the accompaniment of a large orchestra, so that the beautiful effects,—the nuances of singing—which were its chief beauty, were impossible for the singer. The delicate action of the voice is just as necessary for its beauty as for its preservation. Whoever cannot sing piano is not an artist. I remember very well the great tenor Fraschini, one of the greatest artists of his time. He had a glorious natural voice, which he constantly forced. One night he went to the theatre and heard the tenor Basodonna sing 'Spirto Gentil' in 'La Favorita.' He was so captivated by the singer's beautiful quality of voice that he retired from the stage for six months and practiced daily on this one air, singing each phrase over and over again, the fior di labbri (the flower of the lips). He then returned to the stage and became one of the leading tenors in the world."

"Ah!" he said, "I sometimes think the days of the bel canto are over. People no longer have time to study long enough to master this great and beautiful art." And the Maestro sauntered away shaking his head.

The Etude, August, 1906: 488-489

Contributed to VoiceTalk by Vincent Pavesi.

August 7, 2015

Surviving Tinnitus 2

Ponte delle Torri, Spoleto, Italy
Well....I've been on vacation for the last couple of weeks, singing in Italy with Umbrian Serenades, a wonderful choral ensemble that was founded by Paulo Faustini ten years ago. That's where you see me in the photo, crossing Ponte delle Torri—Spoleto's aqueduct, which leads to Monteluco mountain, which takes about 45 minutes to climb via a pretty steep trail. I went up and down 6 times. In silence. 

That's not something I could have done after my tinnitus onset, which took place in the Spring of 2007. No sir. I couldn't be in a silence environment for more than a year. Which brings me to the point of this post. 

A gentlemen who read my original post on surviving tinnitus called me up yesterday, having just experienced his own sudden onset not more than 3 months prior. His questions were numerous and to the point. 

Would the loudness change? Would he be able to have a life again? Would he be able to continue to work? 

Yes, yes and yes came my reply. 

"Think of yourself as two people" I said. "The first is the person you were before tinnitus, and the second is the person who has survived tinnitus. You aren't going to be able to be that first person again, and not being that person means going through grief. That's the deal. Grief has five stages. Just know that you are going to go through them all, and you will probably bounce back and forth between them. This is normal. If you practice some simple steps, you will come out of it Ok, but it's going to take a while as well as involve having a "practice," which is not the same thing as taking a pill." 

What are the simple steps to surviving tinnitus? 

The biggie is learning to deal with your emotional and psychological response to the tinnitus signal. If your onset was a big deal, your response will need to be in equal proportion to it. If you heard bells and whistles and crashing and banging going off like I did, you are going to have to deal with your response in a systematic way with hammer and tongs. Why? This will be the only way to reduce your awareness of the tinnitus signal and get your life back.  

Five tools helped me deal with my emotional/psychological response, and thus change my brain's response (neuroplasticity) to the signal itself. 

1) The first and perhaps most effective tool for me was the practice of Tonglen—which is a Buddhist meditative technique. How does it work? As you inhale consciously and slowly, you visualize whatever thought or feeling you are having as black smoke which enters your heart. When you exhale consciously and slowly, you beam rays of bright light out from your heart. Guess what takes over? The thought you are having, which could be "damn, I hate, hate, hate this, why me?" loosens up and becomes workable. With practice, this leads to a reduction in awareness of the tinnitus signal which is—measurable speaking, only 15 decibels—half of a whisper. Of course, the mind can ramp this signal up big time. The practice of Tonglen is—hands down—the best practice I can give to anyone who asks me about how to deal with their onset and reaction to it. The practice itself means literal warm-heartedness with a great sense of equanimity (space). Thoughts about the signal and the response to it became de-concretized and thus workable over time. As a result, awareness of the signal changes.

2) Listen to music. Don't be in a silent room. Play music so that it mixes, but does not cover the tinnitus signal. I did this for a couple years after my onset. This same principle is used in an App called "Tinnitus Pro" which I've known about for a while now, but haven't used much for the simple reason that I've habituated to my tinnitus signal. 

3) A little cognitive behavior therapy goes a long way. In my case, I read about CBT and thought, "Gee, this sounds like Tonglen but with fancy words added." 

4) Use a sound generator at night (mine was from Brookstone). Find a sound that mixes in with the signal but does not mask it completely (the sound of water usually works well). I did this for about 2 years, then forgot to turn it on one night, and realized that I didn't need it anymore. 

5) Have fun! Sounds simple, but if you are in the wake of a big emotional response to your onset, this can be difficult if not impossible at first. I told my caller something that stuck with me, which was the realization of utter silence during the first time I made love after my onset. Why? My brain was one-pointed with pleasure—so much so that I didn't hear a thing, that thing being the tinnitus signal itself. When Robert Campbell told his students to "Follow Your Bliss" he wasn't kidding. This axiom has practical consequences. 

The truth of the matter is that you are going to have to deal with your self in a way that may seem foreign and uncomfortable, especially if you are the kind of person who breezes through life without much care or thought. That will have to change. You are going to have to become pro-active. 

My tinnitus signal is always loudest in the morning, especially if I have had a couple of glasses of champagne or proscecco the night before. Do I let this stop me? Are you kidding? I had a grand time in Italy, singing and having fabulous dinners where the wine flowed freely. And I climbed up Monteluco mountain to the sacred forest, relishing the silence along the way. 

July 4, 2015

Nature in Vocal Training For Speakers and Singers by Louise Héritte-Viardot

Louise Héritte-Viardot-Garcia
In all the years that I have been researching historical vocal pedagogy, there are perhaps a handful of really important documents that relate to the García School. This is one of them.

Written by Pauline Viardot-García's daughter, I obtained a copy of Louise Héritte-Viardot's Die Natur in der Stimmbildung für Redner und Sänger from the Library of Congress about ten years ago. Not being as deft as I would like in reading German, my colleague and friend John Sheridan graciously offered to translate the document into English for my personal use. That it appears below for readers of VoiceTalk to study is a further result of his generosity.

Die Natur in der Stimmbildung für Redner und Sänger was written a year after the death of Héritte-Viardot's uncle Manuel García, who died at the age of 101 in 1905. Rich in detail, the reader will observe Manuel García's pedagogic thought expressed in several key instructions, one of them being the admonition to "follow nature," which  appears in reports about García's teaching philosophy. As such, his pedagogical world was grounded in what could be readily observed with the eyes and ears. Héritte-Viardot also addresses the matter of the "fixed-larynx," which had become a preoccupation within Germany during the last decade of the 19th century. There is much here to ponder and cross-reference with other García exponents. I hope you will enjoy Héritte-Viardot's good common sense, which is in evidence everywhere.

Nature in Vocal Training
For Speakers and Singers


L. Heritte-Viardot

Otto Petters Publishers


It has been asserted that Nature, in her herbs, plants and seeds, offers a remedy for each disease of the human body. It remains undecided whether or not that is the case; we will leave it to natural scientists and chemists to get to the bottom of that issue.

However, what we know and can assert without doubt, is that all defects  in vocal development can be corrected through completely natural remedies. Indeed, all defects of our speech and singing organs can be removed through careful, physiological handling and logical use of these organs.

We base this assertion upon on-going studies and 45 years of experience and observation.

We are so convinced of the truth and correctness of this assertion, that we consider it our duty, not to keep these observations and experiences to ourselves, but rather to publish the same.

Non-professionals, in general, know nothing of this, and voice teachers (may God hear my complaint!) seldom arrive at a satisfactory result, when it has to do with using a voice well, or with removing natural and learned mistakes.

If anything here might seem to be superfluous, as for instance the enumeration of the working parts of the vocal mechanism, it will still be useful for some to recall these things, or even in most cases to learn them, and to read them, clearly laid out in print.

We are not allowing ourselves to engage in any sort of polemic.The publisher of this work has completely withdrawn from publicity, and may those who don’t like this little pamphlet let it lie in piece. 

Nonetheless, we hope that it will be distributed, and will serve as a remedy to the innumerable mishandled voices, and as a sure help and firm support to those who teach.


Vocal training

Each person, who is not mute, has a voice which serves for speaking and singing.  In its natural state this voice is almost always undeveloped, or raw, or hoarse. Often the voice also has a gummy, nasal or guttural sound.

All these defects can be found in completely healthy voices—therefore because of that they can be corrected. Other illnesses of the vocal mechanism are to be left to medical handling; nonetheless, we ourselves can do much to prevent illness of the larynx and throat.

Vocal training, therefore, is the art of developing a voice, to direct, to remove its defects, so that it maintains a beautiful, defect-free sound, while speaking as well as while singing.

It would be fundamentally incorrect to bring to mind the various speaking or vocal methods in order to achieve this goal. There is only one sensible and appropriate kind of vocal training, namely: to follow nature. 

As the differences in people’s characters and temperament show so well, the physiological construction of the vocal mechanism can also be different in each. One person has weak, the other strong lungs; [one] slack [the other] elastic vocal chords; [one] an agile, [the other] a heavy tongue, etc. We have to adjust to [these differences] and thus the handling of the voice will not be the same for all. On the contrary, each voice demands an individual handling—it is here that the art of teaching exists—and it is just in this that there is continual harm done, because each teacher applies a so-called method of his own invention to all voices.

None of these methods achieve their goal; for the most part they are even harmful, because they tax and ruin the voice, and very often bring about illnesses of the larynx and lungs.

Thus there remains to us only one method of creating and maintaining a healthy voice: Let us follow nature.


Our vocal and speech mechanisms are: the lungs, larynx, oral and nasal passages, throat, as well as lips, tongue and teeth.

If we assume, that the lungs and larynx are healthy, and that the palate is not exhibiting any anatomical defects, then each voice is not only ready for use, but further can also be strengthened and refined. This however will only be achieved through correct guidance and practice, and it is just this that we would like in practice to demonstrate.

On Breathing

How many people breathe properly? Barely one third of all of humanity. It is a fact, that all of us, whether silent or speaking, never completely fill our lungs with air. We inhale only half-way.

Now a great deal has been written and debated about how one should breathe, and in this voice teachers especially put forth completely unbelievable things in their “methods.” One believes that one should breathe with the ribs, the other with the abdomen—i.e. greatly expand the ribcage, or extend the abdomen. So, where then are the lungs?

Of course, the ribs and the abdomen are engaged when breathing, but it is the lungs that have the primary work to do. Recently it has also been asserted, that one must breathe completely involuntarily through the mouth—but this is not completely correct.

In any case, when speaking or singing, one must not inhale so vigorously, that the shoulders are forced to rise, or that the air makes its way through the glottis  with a sound.

For reasons of health, even inhaling through the mouth is very much to be rejected; on the contrary, one should as much as possible only inhale through the nose, which besides its designation as the organ of smell, serves primarily to protect the vocal mechanism and lungs when breathing.

Everyone knows how many dust particles are contained in the air. If we then always inhale through the mouth, the lungs would soon be full of dust particles, which easily could lead to illnesses.

[As a defense] against that, the inner surfaces of the nose are equipped with tiny hairs, which capture most of the dust and prevent it from penetrating into the lungs. One need only recall how a handkerchief looks when one has used the same after a railroad trip. Thus it has been prescribed by nature that as much as possible we should breathe through the nose.

That this is not always possible is known best by singers, e.g. when a rest is too short to close the mouth. However, whoever has accustomed oneself to breathe lightly and deeply through the nose before each spoken or sung phrase, will soon, at the same time, come to breathe quite rapidly through the nose and the mouth. Besides that, the naked breath is decidedly harmful to the larynx. It causes a friction of the air against the vocal cords, as well as a drying out of the mucus membranes of the throat and palate, both of which are disadvantageous for the voice, since they cause a much greater exertion of the larynx.

If we observe ourselves when not speaking or when sitting still, we will notice that upon inhaling we extend the abdomen, but that happens only with a half breath. If we should inhale again—without exerting ourselves especially—we will then clearly discover, that the abdomen is pulled in little by little, and the rib cage rises and expands. Only in this manner do we breathe well and completely. While doing this, the ribs expand, and this is the reason that one has hit upon the incorrect method of breathing with the lower back. Yet at the same time, a physiological fact is completely ignored, namely: that men and women do not breathe in completely the same manner.

If a teacher says to a male student, “Breathe with the ribs,” he is quite right, because when inhaling, men display a greater activity of the abdomen and the ribs. But if he says the same to a female student, he is very much in error, because a woman moves the abdomen very little; on the contrary, for her the primary activity is in raising the rib cage, a fact that one can easily be convinced of, if one observes a man and a woman who are out of breath from running or jumping.

This is known to every physiologist; non-professionals however, as well as voice teachers in general know nothing about this, despite all their breathing exercises and drudgeries, which, speaking of this latter group, says much against their qualifications to impart voice instruction.

Each of the different parts of the body develop their primary function according to the body’s position; the abdomen, when lying; the lungs, with expansion of either the ribs or the lower back, when standing or sitting up straight.

Since however the usual bodily position of a speaker or singer is either standing or sitting, we must accept these as normal, and do what nature requires of us:

1. As much as possible, breathe through the nose.
2. Carry out inhaling as deeply as possible (without exaggeration!) until the abdomen at first extends and then gradually pulls back in.

Then we will have inhaled involuntarily and well. “Voluntary” [breathing] consists solely of an exaggerated inhalation, by which only a harmful and ugly effect is brought forth. Harmful, in that it causes excessive exertion and irritation; ugly, in that the shoulders are pulled upwards, and the entire person creates an unaesthetic effect through the distention [of the body].

In a text book about speaking it is asserted: “A person need burden his soul with inhalation and exhalation just as little as a blackbird or a nightingale. These birds sing continually, without ever running out of breath.” 

What a shame that we are not birds! To be sure, their souls are not burdened, above all, not their larynx, and if the bird runs out of air, he just stops singing and breathes again.

But what would one say, if a speaker or singer stopped speaking or singing in the middle of a phrase or even at some unfit place, because he had not inhaled sufficiently? It could even occur that he might have to gasp for air between two syllables of the same word. For us, “follow nature” doesn’t therefore mean that we should behave as birds, but as people, who must conform to the physiological construction of their organs.  Anything else is nonsense.

We don’t wish to avoid mentioning the diaphragm as well.

The diaphragm is a strong muscle, which forms the partition between the chest and abdominal cavities. During inhalation, this muscle flattens out, and during exhalation it moves back. It does its work completely involuntarily, so that we, while breathing, don’t have to think about it at all. Only during the pronunciation of certain consonants (G and K) as well as while singing the so-called “slow coloratura,” must we consciously call the diaphragm to our aid. 


The Larynx

Our vocal instrument, the larynx, lies along the middle axis of the front of the throat in front of the fourth and fifth neck vertebrae and consists of 7 differently shaped cartilaginous parts. Of these, four play a role in singing and have the following designations:

1. The shield cartilage (cartilago Thyreoïdea), the upper forward part of the larynx, which for the most part forms the forward-moving aprt of the well-known Adam’s apple, and extends outwards like a shield.  From which the name Thyreoïd, from the Greek Thyreos, shield, and eidos, form. Behind the shield cartilage lies the glottis.

2. The ring cartilage (cartilago cricoïdes) from cricos, Ring—which extends around and lies under the shield cartilage.

3. The two arytenoids, from Arytaina, funnel. The two small cartilages sit behind and above the ring cartilage, and are bound with each other by muscles, and move the vocal cords. The larynx is flexible in its component parts as well as in total; one can lift or lower it.

The glottis is formed through two folds of skin. These folds are the lips of the glottis, called vocal cords or vocal lips. Through the movement of the arytenoids, the vocal cords can be brought closer to each other and the glottis can be narrowed stepwise to a complete close. Even the entire larynx can be narrowed through this motion, so that its complete extent, in that way, is significantly lessened.

Above and behind the larynx lies the pharynx. The pharynx has two tasks; during breathing it lets the air flow in and out, and during swallowing it lets food slide down the esophagus. Thus the pharynx belongs to a certain extent to our vocal mechanism; furthermore, the soft palate should be mentioned, whose flexibility is significant for us.

We all know what the palate is the upper part of the mouth. At the edge of the broad partition, which closes the vault of the palate at the back, a fleshy extension sits in the middle, the uvula, which also plays a roll during speaking or singing.

It may appear unnecessary to name and define all these parts of our vocal mechanism, since many of them fulfill their tasks without our taking notice of them; however, we must intentionally use these different parts quite often, once it has to do with correcting vocal defects in speaking or in singing; and thus we must know their names.

Vocal range while speaking

A new assertion has been made, namely, that the speaking voice must have a compass of only three half steps, or a minor third. 

If that were the case, we would have to view this as a very regretable fact! Every speech, every lecture would immediately sound as unbearably monotone as an old woman mindlessly droning out her prayers. Luckily this is usually not the case; and a person should make efforts to give his voice a much greater compass as it befits him. 

Furthermore, it is also taught that: In the speaking voice there exist no registers as in the singing voice.

Men usually speak in chest voice, which when singing is also their natural register. Only men with respiratory diseases or very weak men speak tonelessly with the so-called falsetto. And yet there are also exceptions among healthy men, who then almost always speak in head voice . . . .   As concerns female voices, these possess their different registers when speaking as well as when singing: chest, middle, and head voice. A deep female voice will usually speak in chest and middle voice; on the contrary, a high voice will speak in middle and head voice. There is no firm rule for this, it is completely individual. However it is always to be assumed, that a lively, expressive person has a much greater compass in his speaking voice, than a person with a slow, languid natural disposition.

Why do people always want to prescribe laws for Nature, when she herself is the great Lawgiver, and we are the ones who must conform to her?

Since speech is a means through which our feelings and affects are expressed, thus, when speaking, we may use all means offered to us by nature, and these means consist of: vocal timbre and pronunciation, including their most varied inflections and accents.


How are vocal defects healed?

A very ticklish chapter! There will hardly be two teachers with the same opinion, thanks to the different "methods" that each one strives to represent. Even the word "method" alone has become hateful to us much more than the thing itself. We see how each [teacher] strives to win people to his point of view, how the thing is polemicized and battled over, how the one method strives to displace the other, how much nonsense is written and printed—but the poor voices get no better because of it! Nowadays one can easily assert, that there is no longer a German, French or even Italian method (or school); all methods have become harmful and disastrous. All that therefore remains is the choice between good or bad speaking and singing.

As for us, we can, after 45 years of experience, state the following with good conscience, and, to be sure, always holding ourselves to this same principle, namely: that we are to follow nature and use the means that she herself has given into our hands.

If a voice is husky, first we must determine the cause of it. If the cause is illness or a cold, then the first and best treatment is to be silent and to rest, unless a doctor has already intervened. 

If there is no local illness at play, then it is very probable that this voice has become this way through unreasonable handling (mishandling). Through forcing, screaming, incorrect usage of the registers, excessive speaking or singing, the vocal cords become slack and lose their taut elasticity; the glottis remains then too widely opened, so that the air as it passes through causes friction, taking timbre from the voice and producing hoarseness.

For this there is a means of intervention: the will. We must desire, that the vocal cords come back together—what one calls closing.

In order to achieve this closing, one must (for a time) strive for a guttural sound and not speak or sing too loudly.

In very serious or chronic cases one must proceed even more energetically, by taking the exaggerated guttural bleating of sheep as a model and by bleating heartily over and over, until the vocal cords have learned to close and to be obedient to the will. Of course one then puts aside this guttural sound, which is easily done. 

From the above it is apparent that in the case of an ugly, guttural voice, one must apply the opposite remedy. In this case, we must open the glottis wide, so that we hold the vocal cords away from each other and pronounce a whispered U. One will achieve this goal through calm, patient practice.

If we have to deal with a shaky, tremulous voice, that is yet more difficult and demands more time and patience on the side of both the student and the teacher.

Involuntary tremulance results almost always from speaking or singing that is halting or too loud.

It is most noticeable when singing, even unbearably so. But one can have a tremulous voice while speaking as well, as happens with very old people due to weakness.

The best remedy against this is to hold out a sung tone decidedly with the firm thought: you may not shake. Meanwhile one must close the glottis and push the breath against the glottis, as if wanting to let more breath out.

After frequently repeated practice, little by little the vocal cords achieve their normal calm again, and the tone also will become calmer and steadier. But one must be patient; it never goes as quickly as one would wish.

The so-called lump is a rather widely found defect. The cause of it is that vowels as well as consonants are pronounced much far too back in the throat instead of forward, as it always should be done—for vowels are formed and pronounced with the lips, consonants with the tongue and hard palate; never back in the throat, which, to be sure, some languages encourage more or less; through which then the so-called lump arises.

With Italians, Spaniards, and the French it is a great rarity; with Germans, Flemish and especially with the Dutch one finds it often. The English have a primarily guttural pronuncation, and the Americans a guttural-nasal one. 

In order to be rid of this lump, one must accustom oneself to completely bright vowels and pay attention, that both tongue and lips do their duty with consonants.

The exercises may first take place in the presence of the teacher, because whoever sings or speaks with a lump has become so used to it, that he simply doesn’t hear it or feel it any longer.

A nasal sound is caused when one contracts the larynx too much and doesn't raise the uvula enough, so that the air, instead of flowing forwards and outwards, finds its way out through the nasal cavity. This nasal sound is perhaps most fatal, because it is not only ugly, but also has a ridiculous effect.

To prevent or do away with this nasal sound, we should not stop the nose, as is sometimes advised, but rather pull the uvula upwards.  

As soon as we open the mouth well and inhale strongly through the mouth, and as we do some exercises before a hand mirror, we will easily be convinced of this.

In this high position of the uvula, after one has inhaled only through the mouth (this is an exception!) one holds a vowel out for a long time, always longer, with an open glottis. One will then notice, that the nasal sound has disappeared, because the uvula has closed off the nasal cavity and has forced the air flow and sound forwards.

There are yet other defects in speaking and singing; e.g. laziness of the tongue and inflexibility of the lips. The tongue must, through exercises, be made nimble and light, and the lips should also become accustomed to forming the different vowels properly.

In speaking, the tongue constantly has something to do; in singing, much less so, because the tones are held out longer. But it is only during the pronunciation of the text that it performs its work; otherwise it must lie flat, like an oyster in its shell; it should not prance, should not pull forwards nor backwards, but rather it must lie flat, quietly and without stiffness. Only in the pronunciation of consonants should it be moved and placed with light, quick motions against the hard palate or the teeth, and then allowed to fall back immediately into its quiet, supine position.

There is yet another defect, namely squeezing, which, to be sure, is ugly, but is removed somewhat more quickly than the already mentioned defects. One squeezes, as soon as one applies pressure to the larynx, either through holding the head too low, or making the throat too wide and too short. The simple remedy against this is, therefore, to hold the head higher, to make the throat longer and thinner, and to open the pharynx wide. This is a tried-and-true remedy, but one must simply practice it until it has become a habit.


Here we would like to make note of a large, widely disseminated misunderstanding, namely the constant confusing of the concepts of dark sound and dark vowels, in speaking as well as in singing. 

There is no doubt, that the dark character of a speaking or singing voice is much more beautiful and noble than one which is very bright, nominally of a childlike or squeezed character. But in order to bring a dark color to the voice, we may not—as happens in practice—pull the vowels backwards and darken them, because in doing so the voice becomes hollow, toneless, and, along with this, it takes a colossal exertion of the larynx, breath and muscles, not to lose all vocal strength.

No, every vowel, be it bright or dark, must sit forward, where it is formed and produced through the position of the lips and the smaller or greater distance between the jaws.

We should only produce this dark sound through the pharynx and soft palate. The latter is flexible; we can raise and lower it.

Imagine that we are beginning to yawn; we clearly feel, how the palate rises powerfully. Now, instead of yawning again, we hold out, thusly, a long, extended vowel, which is formed forward [in the mouth]. The brightest vowel “Ai”  works especially well for this, but always only with lips pulled to the sides and and a small distance between the upper and lower jaws. Despite that, we will quite clearly be made aware of the dark quality of the sound.

If the palate is held upwards in this manner, we also notice that the larynx is pulled down; it is an incontestable, physiological fact, that the palate and larynx always move in contrary motion to each other.  If the palate rises, the larynx sinks; if the palate falls, the larynx moves upwards. Once this is understood and recognized, we have at hand a sure means of giving a too dark, hollow voice brilliance and power again; we need only let the palate drop properly, as e.g. when we begin to swallow.

By doing so the larynx jerks upwards, and these two motions produce a bright sound, which also, in certain cases, can be just as important and necessary as a dark one.

Our singing and speaking mechanism must just in this way be trained and [these things] instilled, so that it will do the correct thing instantly and almost mechanically, without one having to think about the particulars. Everything must work together in such a way, that thoughts and feelings concern themselves exclusively with the interpretation of what is being spoken or sung, and can be completely concentrated on that.

This eternal confusion of dark sounds with dark vowels, however, is—we cannot stress this enough—the primary error of today’s teachers of speaking and singing, and the cause of many vocal and even chest maladies. It is much to be hoped, and this teaching error will soon disappear completely, before more voices and lives fall victim to it—there are already enough of those!—for, to ruin a voice is, flat out, a crime!

Equally harmful is the method, spread throughout Germany, of larynx placement. This has to do with always holding the larynx quite low, which cannot happen of course without great inflexibility.  How can one, then, speak or sing at length with an inflexible, placed larynx? One can just imagine, what enormous effort and excessive forcing this brings with it.  

Besides that, through this [technique], all suppleness and elasticity of the vocal cords and the entire larynx is lost from the outset. One speaks or sings in a monotone and in too deep a vocal register, which, after a time, calls forth exhaustion and harm to the vocal cords, a situation which the family doctor has rather some difficulty in correcting. All these methods are unhealthy and harmful, because they sin against nature. Nature desires, that our larynx moves upwards and downwards; why should we then do otherwise? Simply so that one can say: this is my method? One really need not boast about it, because by doing so one commits a crime!


As one has seen from the above, nature herself offers the correct remedy for every vocal defect, and only these, her remedies, are to be used.

One should thus guard oneself very much against all other systems, because all of them are dangerous; one should also avoid the use of tongue depressors, balls or spoons in the mouth; whatever any of these crazy inventions may be called. Such helping aids are only useful for as long as they are used. Since one cannot always sing or speak with a ball in the cheek and a spoon on the tongue, without their use the old defects start up again and the ordeal has been in vain.

The only helping aid which we may truly usefully employ, is a hand or floor mirror, so that we can see and control what we are doing; whether the tongue remains quiet; whether it is too sluggish during pronunciation; whether the uvula is raised; whether the pharynx is opened wide or not; whether the palate is too much or too little arched; whether the lips are forming the vowels properly; and whether we are making a face.

Much attention should be paid to the latter. Many singers, for instance, rumple the forehead or raise the eyebrows or pull the corners of their mouths down or have a perpetual smile, etc. All these movements are bad, for every motion of the face muscles brings a corresponding stiffening of the throat and larynx muscles with it and we lose all mastery over our means of vocal production; we no longer guide the pony, but it leads us, and certainly astray.

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Since the tip of the tongue plays a major role in pronunciation, and since the fluidity of the tongue must be thoroughly practiced, an especially good exercise is recommended here as a guide. We wish to make the reader especially attentive to the following remarks, because they are very important.  Also, these exercises should be done with the use of a metronome. If one does not possess a metronome, it can be replaced to a certain degree with a loudly ticking clock.

If we assume that [quarter note] =60 on the metronome means that each beat lasts one second, to a certain extent we can take our bearings from it [i.e. the clock].

We start with triplets, i.e. we repeat each vowel three times per second. 

Whoever pronounces vowels badly—too far to the back, must begin with the following exercise: since “l” is the best consonant before each vowel, and itself brings [the vowel] forward: La-la-la, le-le-le, li-li-li, lo-lo-lo, lu-lu-lu.  This is repeated often until the tip of the tongue [executes] the “l” and then immediately hits against the upper front teeth.

Whoever already has good vowels can likewise begin with: ba-ba-ba, be-be-be, bi-bi-bi, bo-bo-bo, bu-bu-bu. “B” is a lip consonant, and one must also pay attention, that only the lips move, and not the jaws.

This same exercise then is further carried out by placing each consonant of the alphabet before a vowel.


Da-da-da , de-de-de, etc.
Fa-fa-fa, etc.
Ga-ga-ga, etc.
etc. up to the last consonant.

Once one now has become accustomed to good, clear, forward-pronounced consonants, then the tempo can be speeded up; one now pronounces 4 syllables per second, then six, and after a short while one possesses a truly lovely tongue fluidity; the tip of the tongue has accustomed itself to do its work easily.


To these exercises we wish to add to sounds which occur quite often in the German language: Ach and Asch. Neither of these sounds may remain in the throat, but rather must as much as possible be brought forward; one should pronounce and practice them in front of each vowel as [they sound] for instance in ich and Schiller. This will be difficult for the Dutch; through diligent, consistent practice however it will finally become possible for them.

Of course, the “r” should not be a gargled sound, but rather must be attacked forward [in the mouth] with the tip of the tongue. At the beginning, it will sound overdone then people will say “affected!”—after awhile however, the excessive trrrrilling will give way, and “r” will then be pronounced with a light tap of the tongue much as “da” is [pronounced].

A long nasal sound should be avoided with AM and AN. One should bring these two consonants quite forward, M should be formed correctly with the lips, N with the tip of the tongue, and both should be pronounced clearly and quickly, so that the air has no time to get into the nasal cavity. There will still be a tiny nasal resonance, but it must be reduced to a minimum. 

N.B.: These exercises are of just as much use for the singer as for the speaker. The singer should practice the same first speaking, then with each triplet on an extended note; always climbing upwards and downwards, the next-following triplet on the next note of the scale and so on over the entire compass of his voice.

In books on speaking, one will find any number of exercises which are presented with great detail and import. Most of these exercises are good, especially for those people for whom everything must be, so to speak, pre-digested. The thinking person will find, however, after brief consideration, that in the above, single exercise all pronunciation difficulties are addressed. Whoever practices this exercise knowledgeably and industriously will easily be able to do without all remaining, time-consuming tongue and lip exercises.

* * * * * * *

Nowadays, so many “breakthroughs” are announced with such pomp and circumstance, that we, in contrast, have made an effort to impart a great deal of content in a form that is very concise, condensed and as easy to understand as possible. If we have succeeded, we hope that many people, teachers and students, stimulated by this bit of writing, may come to the proper understanding, that all defects in vocal development can be healed, removed and avoided, if one uses the remedies which Nature herself has offered us for that purpose.

May this be beneficial and useful!

* * * * * * *

But please, dear reader: do not call this a method!

Translated from the German by John Sheridan.