December 29, 2009

Master Words: Manuel Garcia



I try to awaken your intelligence, so that you may be able to criticize your own singing as severely as I do.  I want you to listen to your voice and use your brains.  If you find a difficulty, do not shirk it.  Make up your mind to master it.  So many singers give up what they find hard.  They think they are better off by leaving it, and turning their attention to other things which come more easily.  Do not be like them.
From How Garcia helped singers

December 23, 2009

From the Library: Hast & Reeves


Sim Reeves (1821-1900)

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 set 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 it is adjusted to the needs of every vowel and 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.  
The Singer's Art: Letters From A Singing Master by Harry Gregory Hast, 1925, p 13-14 



Hast was a student of Sim Reeves, the great English Tenor who wrote a very interesting book on singing which can be read here.   And Sims?  He studied with Marco Bordogni—a very famous pedagogue and Rossini tenor—of the Paris Conservatoire. Bordogni? He studied with tenors Gaetano Crivelli and Giacomo David of the Bergamo singing school which also produced Giovanni Battista Rubini- the Caruso of his day.

Tenors take note! 

Reading Hast and Reeves illuminates a different time and place.  Reeves words on the Tenor voice—and the use of Head Voice—being of particular significance.

December 21, 2009

Rue Chabanais No. 6

A fascinating account of a visit to Garcia's Paris studio can be read here. Written by Elise Polko in her memoir Musical tales, phantasms, and sketches (1876), this record of Garcia's studio at Rue Chabanais (located between L'Opera Garnier and the Royal Palace) is the only one I've found so far. Curiously, for all that I can tell (thank you Google Maps), Rue Chabanais only exists with one N. Perhaps Elise Polko's French was not all it aspired to be?




According to Polko, Garcia's third floor studio (he taught at the Paris Conservatory from 1830-1848) was furnished with elegant red curtains, a piano-forte, writing desk, ottoman and looking glass, which Garcia made his students stand in front of so that they could observe what they were doing.

Margaret Harshaw, Garcia's musical descendant, would often say "A mirror is your best friend! It never lies!" However, getting a student to look into one consistently is another matter. It seems to be something Garcia insisted on from the beginning.

December 18, 2009

Philatory for Garcia

Off the wall and onto the scanner- my relic of Garcia, which consists of a letter that the Father of Voice Science wrote on his 100th birthday. I had it matted with green velvet and tucked into an antique oak frame.




Mon Abri, Cricklewood. March 17th, 1905

Dear Sir,

Accept my sincere thanks for your very kind congratulations.

Yours truly,

Manuel Garcia 


Unfortunately, Garcia did not include the name of the gentleman he was addressing. Of course, there may have been many 'sirs', considering the occasion and the celebration that accompanied it. Whether it was personal or an early 20th century form letter, I am imagining what it must have been like to be feted and lauded as the greatest living voice teacher (Garcia out-lived his rival Francesco Lamperti by 14 years), and then return home and write umpteen thank-you notes. Garcia obviously had superb manners and a great deal of energy.

Anna E. Schoen-René (1863-1942), who studied with Garcia and his sister Pauline Viardot-Garcia and taught Margaret Harshaw, Risë Stevens, Mack Harrell, Paul Robeson and many others musical luminaries, noted Garcia's vitality during their first meeting in 1901.


During the short time that I had to wait, my attention was attracted by two vibrant speaking voices which came to me from the next room, the door of which stood slightly ajar.  I could not see the speakers, and was convinced that the patriarch was not with them. Then the door opened wide and two men emerged. One, young and vigorous, I was later to know as a Chicago voice teacher of considerable reputation and unusual modesty, still active; but imagine my amazement to learn that the other clear voice belonged to an elderly man, quite bent and infirm, whose feet dragged a bit as he walked across the room.     From America's Musical Inheritance by Anna E. Schoen-René, 1941
What accounted for Garcia's longevity?  In an article in Henry Finck's Success in music and how it is won (1909) titled How Garcia Helped Singers,  Garcia is quoted as saying...

Most singers and teachers eat more than they should. A man with moderate teeth, such as I have, can grow old on sponge cake and milk.

Apparently he did. He lived to be 101. 

December 17, 2009

Reading Lamperti

If you downloaded Garcia's Complete Treatise on the Art of Singing at the IMSPL/Petrucci Music Library, you may be interested in reading Lamperti.  He's there too.  Just click here.   It will take you to a page where you can download Giovanni Battista Lamperti's The Technics of Bel Canto which was first published in 1905. 

Curiously, like the two great Garcia's, there were also two Lamperti's.  Francesco's son Giovanni Battista had his teachings immortalized in Vocal Wisdom: Maxims of Giovanni Battista Lamperti, after his student, William E. Brown, published his lesson notes in 1931 (sorry...I don't have a download link for this book because it is still in print! However, you can easily, and inexpensively, find a copy at Amazon). 


If the influence of Vocal Wisdom has been greater than The Technics of Bel Canto, it may have everything to do with the 'voice' of the former, which is more accessible - more right-brained - than the logical and theoretical latter.   

Vocal Wisdom appeals to the senses, particularly the sense of hearing.  This has everything to do with empiricism.

The drawing is from a newspaper clipping I ran across a few years ago.  I can't decide if Lamperti is about to laugh with—or scold—the viewer.  Whatever he was thinking, it's an intense expression.

December 15, 2009

Reading Garcia

If you've tried to read Manuel Garcia's Complete Treatise on the Art of Singing you either had to buy a copy, which you couldn't do because every English language edition (the original is in French) including the excellent 1984 scholarly one by Donald Paschke is out of print, or you had to travel to a major library and wait for the crackling old manuscript to be brought to you by a librarian with white gloves.  I did just that once, traveling two hours from Grand Central in New York to New Haven and the Yale Library—like a supplicant on pilgrimage to an ancient relic. And I must confess a certain thrill: there is nothing like seeing, reading and smelling the original book in its binding.  It conjures a very different time and place.

However, if you are not into this sort of thing, you can now download and print your own copy of Garcia's groundbreaking work courtesy of Petrucci Music Library, which is an amazing source for manuscripts and scores.  And it's free.  All you have to do is click here.  This edition was edited by Garcia's grandson- Albert Garcia (1875-1946) - for the Royal Academy of Music where he also taught.   



 (Albert Garcia, a baritone, as a young man)

I was very lucky to find a copy of this book at Abebooks.com - another great resource- and remember my anticipation as I waited for it to arrive from a bookstore in Capetown South Africa.

It was like waiting for an old friend. 

December 13, 2009

Todd Duncan: an interview with Marvin Keenze

I visited Marvin Keenze at his voice studio in Princeton to talk about his long association with the famous baritone Todd Duncan. Duncan created a sensation as the first Porgy in George Gershwin's Porgy and Bess. Here is some of what we talked about.

When did you start studying with Duncan?

I auditioned for the Army Chorus in 1960 after finishing my Master's degree, was accepted and went and did my basic training. Once there, I realized that a lot of the army chorus members studied with Todd Duncan. He was charging 10 dollars a lesson. And I remember thinking, "I can't afford that each week!" Then some of my army chorus friends had me accompany their lessons. Eventually, Mr. Duncan asked me to play for his studio one day a week. So I did that for a while. Eventually, I asked him for voice lessons which he taught me at the end of his long day at no charge. He said to me: "Marvin, you are a good musician. But you don't know how to sing!" At this time he was in his 50's and still touring. He was still active doing recitals.

Did he have a big influence on you?

Yes! Before Duncan, I was a choral musician and had a full-time position as a choral conductor/pianist. He became my guide as a teacher.

How so?


Because I played for lessons, I saw him work with other students. And if I got to the lesson early he would invite me in. I would also stay and hear other lessons. He would say, "Come in here! I want you to hear this! " In the early stages he treated me as a conductor/teacher/educator.

So you saw how he worked with different people.

I heard the kind of language he used. He called it "Duncan Junk." He was a mechanist is some ways. He spoke a lot about the larynx and vocals folds—a lot about resonance.





What did he teach you about resonance?

He would say to me: "Your voice is too dark. It's too thick. There's too much molasses in it. You have no lead in your pencil!" He would say, "Now Marvin.  What did you just hear? You know what you hear is what you get." There was that dimension to it. You had to hear it first. And then he had this thing: he talked about sphenoidal resonance. He kept touching the top of his head.  He would say: "You're moving your ear around too much." He had this picture of a top of a head in yellow marker.  He would call, "Hey! Come on over and have some hot dogs!" He had this big range and all of it was accessible. What he was doing was keeping the language in the same place but adding resonance.  You never left the place where you communicated the language.  He would say: "No! No! No! The word is too high. You're putting the word up in the music!" Now I use that a lot and it relates to the work of Tomatis. You put your ear on top of your head. It relates to that perspective. You have the student speak it normally and then have them speak it in a theatrical way that is close to singing. But you have to get 'communication speech' first. 

It sounds like he had a great ear.

Yes. He was very good with languages- German and French. He had the essences of these languages- the nuance.  It wasn't just about the voice. The voice served the music. His teaching was highly tied up with how you said the words. He really served the poetry. But he would also say that the sound carries the message, the honesty and authority of the sound carries the message. If the sound had no message, it wasn't worth it. He was also very big about the root of the tongue.  He wanted the root of the tongue free. No pressure. I learned later that when the root of the tongue presses it kills the ring. Visceral was a big word with him.

He wanted 'metal' in the sound?

Yes. He would say squillo. His ear would detect when you lost ring in the voice. He would immediately stop and say, "You lost your resonance!"

How did he get it?

He worked a lot on support, on very low support. I think he was very Germanic in a way. It was very pelvis oriented. That kind of lower 'gripping' is very German. He could really spread his pelvic muscles. He would put your hand under his waistband and move his muscles in a big way. It was very physical, a low center of energy and support. Then he would alwasy say, "This must never go to your throat." My pelvis wouldn't begin to open like his did.  Nobody's did!

What did he teach you about breathing?

He was a 'down and out' person. He was about maintaining the appoggio posture. Low larynx. "The inhalation of the breath puts the instrument in the proper position and then you leave it there.  You sing from where the breath places the instrument." I went to see him years later in Annapolis and he said to me, "Marvin, what do you thing about subglottal air compression?" He used a lot of vocal fry's to get this subglottal compression that would guide the voice.  He would say that the last point of resistance is at the vocal folds. He would say to sing in your body on that feeling of sub-glotal pressure. He believed that the diaphragm could not be controlled directly, and that the larynx was an organ of reaction. "You must always treat it like that." He talked about 'jelly belly.' The epigrastrium could not be tight. There was nothing in between these two things (Marvin places one hand on his lower abdomen and the other of his head.) That is the goal of resonance. He hated throaty singing. Harshaw said to focus here  (Marvin points to his nose and face). I think he would have helped some of his women if he hadn't been afraid to do that. You feel a narrowing there. He hated the words 'place the voice.' He didn't like 'put the voice forward' talk. He would say that the thing to have was 'all-around-sound.'  And he didn't like a localized sound.  He didn't like this (Marvin imitates a neck-tie tenor). He hated stiffening and rigidity and wanted softness.

How long was your association with him?

Thirty-five years. From 1960-1995. That's regular lessons. By 1995 he was blind but still teaching.

Who were his teachers?

There were several. Eduardo Lippe was one. Duncan met him when he went out to Hollywood in the 40's. He called him Dr. Lippe. Now this is years after Porgy. He would say, "I sang in my nose in Porgy." Sarah Lee was another teacher. I know there was also a Frank Bibb at some point.  These two teachers, Lippy and Lee, had one thing in common: honesty! They had no more than five points to make and were very simple and never went past them. 

Did he talk about the start of the tone?

He did a lot of this. (Marvin opens his mouth and makes a barely audible click at the level of the glottis.)  Now.  This to me is Garcia's coup de glotte.  He would put two fingernails together to show that the vocal folds come together without pressure.  He would say, "You have too many religions!  You change your religion too much!" The vocal folds do change in thickness and length, but if you over-change them they put out a whole different acoustical product, you would get too many different timbres. That's what he meant. So he would even out the voice by making you think about not making any more pressure than the two fingernails lightly touching. That's how I understand coup de glotte. Of course, this matter has caused no end of consternation.

Didn't Garcia write that the coup de glotte was simply a matter of getting right to the tone without scooping around?

Yes. That's right. That's what Mr. Duncan wanted. He said he wanted it clean but not an audible glottal stroke. He emphasized this with everybody. 

Was the old idea of open throat part of his teaching?




"I don't like a fixed throat," he would say. "You're holding your voice in your throat!" He always had that Vennard picture of the tongue and liked a grooved tongue—a low position. He loved what he called pure vowels. He would say, "I don't hear a vowel in that, it's just a sound that you are making."  Then he would say, "I don't want to hear your throat. You must have no throat. It ain't nothing but a hole." When I listened to him singing Lost in the Starsthat is singing in the hole. He hated any kind of pressure (in the throat) and said that the upper chest was the shock absorber. I use that idea a lot in my teaching.  You never push the energy up against the throat. Margaret Harshaw also used that idea.  He would say, "Marvin, you are moving your throat!"

Speaking of pure vowels, did he emphasize Italian tonal values?

Well....he didn't think the languages should sound the same.  He would say,  "The French don't care if you have a beautiful voice: they just want to hear the language.  They want to hear the vowel.  If they don't, they won't like it! "  He had the music of the language in his ear. He would say that to sing French you had to have a 'sexy  throat."  He could hear that my throat wasn't in the position to grab onto the right frequencies that emphasize the 'lows.' Americans don't hear this so easily.  If you didn't get it he would say, "You've left the language, you've abandoned your vocal cords!"

It sounds like he was very direct and charismatic.

Very! You always expected some breakthrough to happen while you were there. You'd go there thinking something great would take place. He was very energetic.

Did you sing scales? What were lessons like?


He would start with scales and loved intervals. Regardless of the student's level, the first part of the lesson was always spent on the mechanics of singing. He did not have a monolithic teaching style and emphasized only one or two principles at a time so that the student would not become overwhelmed.  And he was into the meaning of the poetry. This was very, very important to him.  It's hard to separate his presence from the teaching. Duncan said that when his students got up to sing he didn't want anyone to say that they could hear the technique of Todd Duncan. "Singing is singing! You get up there and all this stuff I've given you- forget it! All of it will work automatically if God wants you to sing- not Todd Duncan!"


(This article originally appeared in the November '05 edition of VoicePrints and is reprinted with permission from the author.)

December 12, 2009

Mattia Battistini: King of Baritones and Baritone of Kings

A friend, knowing that I have a thing for anything to do with bel canto singing, recently sent me notice of a program being given at the Wagner Society of New York on December 9th, which, to my dismay, I could not attend because of a prior commitment. 

What, or rather, who, was on the program?

Jacques Chuilon, a voice teacher, artist, and author of a book on the great bel canto baritone Mattia Battistini (Battistini Le Dernier Divo), was presenting the newly published, translated and retitled book- Mattia Battistini: King of Baritones and Baritone of Kings.  This edition has a forward by Thomas Hampson as well as a companion CD. 







A day after the event, my thoughtful friend called with a full report: the author gave a captivating lecture along with Battistini's granddaughter!  I was so sorry to have missed the program, but at least I can order the book.  

"This book is indispensable for all singers and lovers of the "lost" bel canto tradition. In this biography of one of the consummate masters of singing, Mattia Battistini, Chuilon has lovingly collected every possible piece of information about this "glory of Italy," analyzed it, sorted it, and now in this English version, made it possible for a new generation of opera lovers to understand how this singer was so important to the success of Verdi and Massenet, to Wagner and Saint-Saëns, among so many others. The restored musical excerpts on the enclosed CD, and the thorough analysis of Battistini's vocal technique and career, make it a valuable reference work, and a source of inspiration musically and aesthetically." —Thomas Hampson, The Metropolitan Opera 

December 11, 2009

Max Friedlander


When you sing the songs of Franz Schubert you can thank Max Friedlander.  He was instrumental in bringing many of them to publication in the Peters edition.  No mere musicologist, Friedlander was a student of the great 19th century vocal pedagogue Manuel Garcia and his famous pupil Julius Stockhausen as well as a friend to Jenny Lind.  A baritone, Friedlander was schooled in the art of bel canto, which certainly must have informed his work.

The photo below, which was snapped up on Ebay, shows Friedlander celebrating his 75th birthday in a garden.  He taught at Berlin University for 30 years and came to America in 1911 where Harvard bestowed an honorary doctorate upon him.






How wonderful it would be to sit in the garden with Friedlander, sip tea and talk about singing and life.  But sadly, we can only imagine.

Photographs may be the closest thing we have to time travel.

December 10, 2009

Critic and Artist



The critic has to educate the public; the artist has to educate the critic.  - Oscar Wilde




Starting Line

Start where you are going! 

That's what the indomitable Margaret Harshaw would tell her students. A Zen-like utterance, it calls to mind many of the aphorisms in Vocal Wisdom: Maxims of Giovanni Battista Lamperti—a book on singing which Ms. Harshaw (if she could be cajoled into recommending any book at all) would say was the only one worth reading. Of course, she added the proviso that, in order to understand what Lamperti wrote, you had to know something. And by that, she meant something more than stacks of facts: you had to have experiential knowledge as a result of incessant training.

This blog can't give that kind of training, but it does aim to help the canny reader understand the context, both historical and practical, in which statements like the one above are made.


Margaret Harshaw as Ortrud


What was Ms. Harshaw talking about? For one thing, she was referring to voice placement, L'impostanzione della voce in Italian, a term that is considered obsolete by many, and one that will be explored in greater depth in subsequent posts.

This blog is about the Voice. If you are interested in knowing more about it, especially from a historical perspective, you've found the right place.