January 15, 2010

The Garcia School: Emi de Bidoli's 10 commandments for beginning students

I love old books, especially old books on singing. My bookshelves are filled with them. And I've been lucky to have acquired a few that are rare. One is a slender ninety-four page volume by Emi de Bidoli - a student of Pauline Viardot-Garcia and Aglaja Orgeni - titled Reminiscences of a Vocal Teacher (1946). It is remarkable for several reasons, the first being that the author gives the reader detailed instruction in singing that augments that which is outlined in Manuel Garcia's A complete treatise on the art of singing (1847) and Hints on Singing (1894). The second is that it contains letters from Viardot-Garcia on vocal technique. Thirdly, de Bidoli describes her studies with both teachers with candor, revealing their character and humanity. A little book with a great deal of information!


Emi de Bidoli (1870-1952)


The Austrian-born mezzo-soprano, Emi de Bidoli (1870-1952), began study with Aglaja Orgeni at the Royal Conservatory in Dresden after hearing Orgeni's American pupil Edyth Walker sing Brunhilde in Graz. While Orgeni was a good teacher, she had a neurotic personality, which De Bidoli found difficult to deal with. Wanting the same system of teaching, De Bidoli sought out Orgeni's teacher, Pauline Viardot-Garcia in Paris. Her tuition with the daughter of Manuel Garcia lasted four years and resulted in a career that started with a bang in Vienna. But this promising start was halted by her mother's illness, and then the First World War, where she served as a nurse. After the war, she taught voice in Graz before immigrating to the United States in 1921, settling in Cleveland, and teaching voice at a studio in Carnegie Hall.

Trained to be a singer, De Bidoli spent the majority of her professional life as a teacher of singing. Fittingly, she starts the reader off with the basics in chapter seven, which is devoted to vocal technique.    

The 10 commandments for beginning students are as follows:
1. Stand erect.
2. Keep perfect balance (one foot in advance).
3. Chest High, shoulders in natural position.
4. Head free and straight (feel your head like a flower and the neck as its stem).
5. Breath deeply, without moving chest nor shoulders in the least.
6. Tongue flat and grooved, tip of tongue leaning on the roots of the lower teeth,
7. Mouth open moderately and with friendly expression.
8. Upper lip never to be drawn over teeth.
9. Soft palate in the high position.
10. Chin never protruding- lower teeth behind the upper teeth.

While these ten points seem simple enough, execution of the same is a whole other matter. Emi de Bidoli recounts how, at her second lesson with Orgeni, a tongue depressor was shoved far back into her mouth. This nearly gagged her, and tears ran down her face. Orgeni's sarcastic outburst, "Oh you are one of those delicate spoiled children who are always under the tutelage of their ma-mas!" added insult to injury, and De Bidoli would have fled the studio if not for the presence of her fellow students.  

I exerted my willpower and resumed my practice until I could keep my tongue down flat in my mouth and even make a furrow in it. This was my first triumph and I was duly rewarded by feeling that the pressure on my throat had been removed, giving my voice more freedom.


Aglaja Orgeni (1843-1926) 



(This reminds me of the words of the renowned pedagogue Margaret Harshaw: We work hard to make things simple!)

With the basics established, Emi de Bidoli goes on to give the reader an exercise in breath control, which entails inhaling for 4 counts, holding the breath for 4 counts with hands on lower ribs, then exhaling from 4 to 24 counts on "ZZZZZZZZ,  like a humming bee." She suggests that students then practice singing single tones in the middle/lower range on "OH" or "OOH", or by humming." From breath management to vocalization, Emi de Bidoli then addresses vocal placement in language that is strikingly similar to that of Anna E. Schoen-René, who also studied with Pauline Viardot-Garcia.

In the old Italian "Bel Canto" school the phrase "con la fronte' means that all tones must be directed towards the forehead, at the juncture of the nose. However, little can be derived in this matter from written rules and explanations. Only a capable teacher can make the pupil understand what the requirements of correct placement are. An ounce of practice and example is worth more than a ton of theory. 
 
She maintained that the attack of the tone had much to do with correct placement and was facilitated by 'pure' Italian vowels and the use of the phoneme 'M'. Above all, she valued a clear voice, a quality that was brought out by her own training, as evidenced by a letter she received during a break in her studies.

My dear Emi- 

Come back to me as soon as you can. I'll make you work very hard. You have to prepare a nice repertoire. It would be too bad to drop your work just now when you are at two steps from "très bien." Take care of your voice because such pure and clear qualities are becoming more and more rare. In singing so much modern music, people think it not necessary anymore to make the voice supple and light- and how wrong they are. They don't realize that the more the voice is agile, the more it gains in volume and the better a person can sing expressively and sustained- and the less the voice becomes tired. This is true even in singing modern music, which is often very beautiful, but almost always fatal to the voice.

Write to me soon as possible, my dear Emi, and receive my best wishes for yourself and your dear ones,  

Pauline Viardot


Pauline Viardot-García (1821-1910)



It should be noted that the new music that Viardot-Garcia was speaking of was most likely that of Debussy, Puccini and Strauss!

Published by in 1946, five years after Anna E. Schoen-René's America's Musical Inheritance (1941), Reminiscences of a Vocal Teacher gives the reader what Schoen-René's much larger book does not - vocal instruction. And this is no small matter: to my knowledge there is no other book with this kind of material by a student of Viardot-Garcia. A rare thing indeed!

You can locate a copy through WorldCat.

2 comments:

  1. Dear Daniel, I have been reading your posts with extreme interest. It is so wonderful to find all of this information in one place. I will make sure to recommend this blog on my blog. As you can see I had to take a break from blogging for a while because of teaching activities during the start of the season. Thank you for giving me something to keep me connected the vocal blogosphere. Also fascinating that Viardot used occlusives as part of her teaching!

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    1. Thank your or your comment, Jean-Ronald! To my chagrin, I see that I am just now seeing your words, very late in the game indeed. I hope you are well. Daniel

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