April 20, 2010

Frank Herbert Tubbs

It's amazing what you can find via google books these days. It's a whole new world for the researcher. That's how I found Frank Herbert Tubbs. He was a voice teacher in New York City who studied with Manuel Garcia and Francesco Lamperti. As such, he is one of few that have articulated the difference between these two giants of the 19th century. Where can you find this information? In an entry in the Encyclopedia Amerciana in 1920. You can read it here. An additional article in Werner's Magazine included below gives the reader a sense of Tubbs' own teaching method. Between these two sources one gleans a great deal of information about the teaching practices of the times.

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Frank Herbert Tubbs. 

" Vocal culture is the work, not of years but of a few months
Tenors lack brains and ambition."

"Nonsense," declares Mr. Frank Herbert Tubbs, "all that there is of vocal technique can be got by a diligent, earnest student in a few months, not to say in a few weeks. I distinguish between a vocal education and a musical education. If the pupil is really in earnest and wishes to learn all he possibly can with the minimum expenditure- of time, and takes a lesson a day from a teacher that knows his business, the voice can be put into the best estate in three months' time. The work must have been so presented to the student that he can think out the process. Otherwise the lessons do not do the least bit of good. After he has thought it out, the organs will work all right and he can go fast just as well as he can go slow, without practicing exercises for velocity. The mind directs the vocal organs, and once the mind has apprehended just what it has to do, the muscles that govern voice do their work as rapidly as is desired. It is my aim to start my pupils right so that they can work by themselves."

One of Mr. Tubbs's favorite heresies is that a college education is a good deal of a handicap in itself. The association with good people is useful, he says, but as far as the benefits derived from study go, the young man of the same age that has had to hustle for a living in the busy world is far quicker on the uptake than the university man, other things being equal. Mr. Tubbs himself was educated in the Boston public schools and had a little of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He was a civil engineer to begin with, but a tenor voice got him into taking lessons of Lyman W. Wheeler, who was a pupil of Manuel Garcia. Then he studied with Manuel Garcia himself, with Shakespeare, Emil Behnke, Francesco Lamperti, San Giovanni, and then came back to Shakespeare.
"He is the best in the world," declared Mr. Tubbs. "No; there is no best. I got most from Shakespeare, though. I took lessons from him every day the last time I went to him and put my whole heart into my work. I learned more from him in thirty days than in my whole life before and that was what first convinced me that the acquisition of a vocal education is a matter of months and not of years.
"The Lamperti and Garcia schools differ as to the fundamentals. Lamperti makes a great deal of respiration and in the practice the pupil carries the open tones to the higher notes. This allows one to see faults. It is easier, too, to sing the upper tones open. On the other hand, Garcia does not go deeply into respiration and in the practice the pupil covers the upper tones and opens the lower tones.
"The terms 'opened' and 'covered' are used to describe the action of the pharynx. When the tone is 'covered,' the hood of the pharynx is arched in such a way as to make the tone more sombre. When the tone is 'open,' the pharynx is relaxed, loose, spread open."
"What are your views on breathing?"
"I deem it of primary importance. The pupil needs to know enough of the anatomy of the respiratory organs to know what are the essentials of breath-control and how to get rid of the non-essentials. I give exercises—singing eliminated—like those the gymnast uses to toughen his biceps, until the breath-holding muscles are as tough as whip-cords. They are as the hands of a pianist."
"I don't believe in the distended chest. It must be firm but the strain should be on the back and sides. Lean slightly forward, the weight on one foot, the arms out as if holding a sheet of music. Here, take this song. A little farther from you. Don't you see how it puts the tension on the muscles of the back, important muscles for holding the breath; they tie right into the crura inside of the back-bone.  
"It is a mistake to suppose that the breath is held by muscles low in the abdomen. It is thus that expiratory muscles fight with the breath holding muscles, which are all above or on the level of the breast-bone, which means above the diaphragm."
"You oppose the high, fixed chest. But that is especially noticeable in Jean De Reszke's singing."
"Jean De Reszke" is a giant, physically and vocally. He has to sing in mammoth theatres and great caverns like the Metropolitan Opera House. Most of us musicians expect to sing in drawing-rooms and small halls. To hear him in such a place would be painful. There is little nicety in his work. It is not necessary. It would be like finishing with the delicacy of a miniature a great fresco in the dome of a lofty cathedral. Mme. Sembrich sings in an entirely different style. There is less effort or, rather, the result is that all effort is hidden. She does not bulge out her chest.

"To be able to produce a tone with breath-control does not mean that one is able to use all the breath he has. Toward the end of the expired breath, nature demands that a fresh inhalation be taken even though the lungs are half full. This demand may be denied, but after that moment is reached the tone is worthless. The singer knows when the critical moment has arrived even if the audience does not. He feels collapsed; the tone-quality is changed. It is possible to develop the ability to hold the breath much longer and to postpone gratifying nature's demand and still feel that there is enough oxygen in the lungs to make the tone vital." 

"Isn't there danger in making some people hold the breath too long?"
"The teacher must exercise judgment. As soon as the pupil complains of distress, it is well to stop awhile. The repeated inhalation of deep draughts of fresh air has a tendency to make one giddy, but this intoxication from oxygen is soon recovered from and leaves no bad results."

"What exercises do you use to enable the pupil to acquire this ability to control the breath?"
"I give physical drill in inhalation and exhalation. Deep breathing is necessary for that, but we sing best on partial breath; for the deeper we breathe the more we call into use the forcible expiratory muscles. I have the pupil whisper ' Hah! hah! hah!' ten or twelve times, pause and hold the breath. The breath is not to be held by the expiratory muscles but by the muscles that pull the chest open. They have to be taught to hold still. If I hold my arm out straight, at first I can not keep it that way very long without getting tired; but if I practice every day, I gain strength to make it stay still for hours together. Very few are able to hold the breath with the throat open. (By this I mean with the muscles that lift and lower the larynx relaxed.) We think we can, but the breath still leaks out. A frosty morning will show you that some escapes from the open mouth no matter how still you hold the breath-controlling muscles."
Now, if there is one pleasure keener than another, it is catching an expert inten error. Mr. Tubbs may be perfectly right in saying that nobody can hold his breath, but the frosty morning test is no proof of it. The interior of the mouth is warm and moist, and, of course, the cold air chills the cloud of vapor rising from it and makes it visible. A warm, moist dish-cloth will do the same, yet hold its breath perfectly. Mr. Tubbs continued:

"One of my exercises I do with a chair. I take in a breath, open the mouth and the throat, pick up the chair by the back, lift it slowly over my head, put it down again as slowly, and then exhale. The breath must be held all the time by the inspiratory muscles and not by shutting up the throat.

"As to the larynx and the throat, I hang out a sign marked: 'Keep off.' All that is necessary to know about it is that the fundamental tone is produced at the vocal cords and that the first resonator is in the ventricles of Morgagni. The work done at the vocal bands is so fine and delicate that no man is able to direct action consciously. There must be no effort directed toward the throat. A good initial tone is obtained by the release of all tension in the muscles that lift and lower the larynx. The result of learning to place all the tension on the sides and the back is that in about five weeks, taking a lesson every day, from two to four tones are added to the upper voice. But it is not the extremes of the voice that I seek to cultivate, rather the region from E to E."
"What is called the 'middle register?'"

"Yes; but the subject of registers is one I practically ignore. I used to think I knew a great deal about them. I even used to deliver learned lectures about the registers of the singing voice and had very decided views. The Atlantic Monthly asked me to write an article on the subject, and I thought it would be as well for me to read up what had been said. I found that there were no fewer than twenty-one good, definite, working theories held by discreet and learned authors, and I concluded that possibly it would not be the part of wisdom to dogmatize on what was capable of such a wide diversity of opinions. So I never wrote the article. To make a definition for register that will apply all round is practically to admit a register for every quality. Garcia says that there are three registers; Behnke says just as positively that there are five. I don't know how many there are. No analogy of a reed or a string explains to my mind the action of the vocal cords."

"If the vocal cords are not vibrating reeds or strings, what are they?"

"More like a drum than anything else I can think of."

"But a drum is an instrument of percussion and the larynx is a wind-instrument blown by the breath."

"The breath is never made into tone."

"No. But the column of air above the vocal cords is set into vibration and that in turn sets the air all around into vibration; that is, if we may put any faith in the deductions of Helmholtz and of Tyndall."

"The breath bears the same relation to the larynx that steam does to an engine. What escapes does not do any of the pulling." 

If the interview was not to be turned into a debate, here was the place to hold one's peace; but it took moral heroism to keep from arguing that unless the steam did escape from high pressure to freedom, pushing the piston out of its way to get there, very little work would be done.

"Air does not carry the tone to the ear of the listener." (This would seem to contradict all the experiments which show that sound is propagated in air and other material bodies but not in a vacuum.)  
"I think the tone is carried on some kind of nervous ether, magnetism, aura,—call it what you like. I do not know what it is. But I do know that the larger voice, the merchantable voice, is obtained by the resonance, not merely in the cavities of the head where air is located, but in the entire body. The entire body should give responsive resonance to the initial tone made at the vocal bands. It is literally true that one may ' sing into his boots.' I have experimented in the matter of the power of directing the tone to any particular part of the anatomy. Wholly undraped, I am able by an effort of the will to send the tone, for example, to my elbow. The observer is able to follow up the tone and find out where I have located it, by the increased local vibration and not by any word or hint from me. Standing on a rug on the bare floor, I can send the vibrations to my knees; standing on plate glass, to my very toes. A single garment perceptibly lessens the beauty of the tone, and as more and more of the flesh is covered the resonance and the vitality of the tone diminish. I am inclined to think that this is one reason why women prefer to sing in evening dress.  "I am a profound believer in the value of exercises to develop the strength and the agility of the organs of articulation, particularly the exercises that give freedom to the tongue. All the connecting muscles, which run from the surface of the tongue to the jaw, the chin and the neighborhood of the double chin, should be pliable, limber and supple. The tongue is so intimately connected with the larynx that a freed tongue means a freed larynx and that means a pure tone. The exercise of the articulatory organs puts the mucous membrane of the mouth and of the nasal passages into a healthful condition, and it adds the overtones that give character and vitality to the voice. I do not believe in the spoon-shaped tongue. Mark that.

"What articulation exercises do you give?"

"I have nine syllables, which put the tongue into every position it can occupy in speech. [ got them from Sir Alexander J.Ellis. Theyare: Tlia (th as in 'father'), la, daw, va, naw, ma, za, re, ga. The articulatory organs appear to have a vibratory power of their own, and they extend the vibrations of the vocal bands throughout the body. Fa, for example, increases intensity at the lips.?

"How young should one begin to take vocal lessons?"

"Better be old enough to be settled in one's voice. The musical education may be begun in infancy. Life is all too brief for that. But vocal culture is work for the mature mind. A woman should begin when she is about twenty-two or twenty-four years old. One of the most satisfactory pupils I ever had was a clergyman that never took a vocal lesson in his life until he was more than forty years old, and the way his voice improved and became beautiful is almost past belief."

"But don't people acquire bad habits of vocalization unless they take lessons as soon as their voices form ?"

"There aren't any bad habits."
"Don't you call a throaty voice a bad habit?"

"I can rid the singer of it in six days. I mean by a 'throaty' voice one where there is a tightness of the muscles in the double-chin neighborhood. Look here: Singing is largely a matter of feeling, temperament, intelligence. Once get the pupil to understand what hinders him from doing as he would like to do within his reasonable limitations and the hindrances disappear."

"Do you teach the pupil the anatomy and the physiology of the vocal organs?"
''I have a lot of other things to do, and experience has shown that the knowledge of anatomy and physiology does not particularly help to produce a singer. I don't think that laryngoscopy has done much for the vocal teacher; but by that do not mistake me as meaning to imply that the art of teaching vocal music has not progressed, and that we are no better equipped for our work than were the much-lauded 'old Italian masters." The human mind has undergone an enormous development within the last hundred years, and we are able now by improved methods of instruction to impart knowledge in a much shorter time than our ancestors. We have learned within the last few years how to teach children to read in a few months what before required long years of dreary practice. Instead of giving, first, long columns of words to learn to spell, we work parallel with the child's inclinations and experiences. Training the voice nowadays is not the work of years, but of a few months. 
"Let me say two things, while I think of them: There is no truth so well established but that it may be controverted. How much more so is this the case with voice-culture, which is not an exact science but deductions based upon the observations of phenomena of the human body. It is only a little while ago that we learned the very a-b-c-d fact that the blood circulates, and how can we presume to be dogmatists on a subject of which we are so ignorant ?
"Again: What is wrong for one voice may be perfectly right for another. The man that sings with a high, distended chest requires an entirely different method from the one that sings with a relaxed and easy chest.
''You speak of the vibrato. What is ordinarily intended for a vibrato is merely a case of wabbles. The true vibrato is not a matter of pitch but of quality. It doesn't oscillate in pitch, but when the tone is perfectly free in the pharynx there is put on to it in the mouth a full vibrant quality like velvet plush. But it is always a small voice. To increase its volume is to brush away the delicate bloom. It is a thing of nature, not of art, and the attempt to produce it in full voice results only in a cheap imitation."
"How is it that while America has produced sopranos of the very first rank, eminent baritones and magnificent contraltos, there are no great American tenors?"  
"There are lots of good tenor voices in this country. I suppose I could put my finger on fifty tenors equal to Campanini or that would equal him, but.."

"But what?" Mr. Tubbs shifted in his chair and laughed a little uneasily as if some what embarrassed, but said finally: "I suppose I might as well out with it. You know that a voice is not all that is needed to make a singer. It seems that tenors somehow lack brains and ambition. I recall now a man with a perfectly lovely tenor voice,—a gold mine if he could only see it. I did my utmost to awaken ambition in him, to point out what a world-famous place he might attain if he would only apply himself. I got him a church choir position, so that he could study and still have enough left to keep him; but do you know what was the height of his ambition? To sing in a vulgar female minstrel show under an assumed name! He had that much compunction, to change his name. I got him another good place in a company on the road. He tried it for a little while and now he is back again with the minstrel show. It is the hardest thing in the world to put ambition and perseverance into a tenor."

The writer was permitted to listen to four lessons. The pupil stands nearly always behind Mr. Tubbs, but he says: "You moved your shoulders then. You weren't quite easy with them. You moved the back of the tongue then," and seems to tell what the pupil does wrong without seeing. Before beginning an exercise, he frequently has them pant like a dog for a few moments, "to loosen up the diaphragm," as he calls it. When he takes them over a song, at the beginning he has them whisper ah to the tune. Then, beginning the melody on a as in "father," he demands that the vocalized tone cause no more sensation —bar the vibration—than the breath. He next has the pupil whisper the words, and if in the song the pupil finds it difficult to get the proper quality on a high note with a combination of consonantal sounds, he makes her speak the word several times on the same pitch that she is supposed to sing it. It is one of his mottoes: "He that speaks well sings well."

All through the exercises is the same teaching of utter passivity as to the tongue and the throat, coupled with the direction of the thought of breath-holding to the broad of the back.

"Any singing that makes the under-chin bulge out is bad," he said." It means that the tongue is standing on stilts and pushing at the larynx."

One of his exercises, which seemed to be a favorite, was to make the pupil pant a little, then take in a breath and sing ah to a given pitch, in one breath and three starts In this way the pupil learns to attack the tone without "scooping" or sliding or doing anything but beginning the note pure and simple, without any clicks or queer noises of any kind.

Another exercise was a doleful one. The pupil began, say, on E, and portamentoed up to the octave and down again, without stopping. It sounded like ghosts and haunted houses. When it is done to suit Mr. Tubbs, this portamento di voce is turned into a run.  "When you run a string of beads through thumb and fingers, you move them in a straight line; but the thumb and the finger move in a little bit to mark each bead. So the larynx moves, to distinguish each note in the run."

One of the pupils, herself a teacher in a Western city, when he said to her to change the vowel to o, asked him how she should hold her lips to say o.

"Don't hold your lips anyway," he answered. "Just sing o. Do you stop to think how you hold your lips when you cry 'Oh!' in admiration? Now, by asking that question, you have got yourself out of adjustment. We'll go back again to e— ayah."

This exercise he does, first on one note, then changes to the interval of the second, the third and the fifth, preserving the same quality of tone.
In the brief interval between the lessons, Mr. Tubbs found opportunity to say of one pupil, who had a large and flexible voice, which at times seemed ready to be something great but the next moment soured into something thin and acid and squalling: "What that girl needs is a wider mental horizon. She comes from a little country town. She has heard nothing great. She has no lofty ideals yet. But her character will change and expand, and then she will have a lovely voice."

Many teachers attach much benefit to rapid runs, but Mr. Tubbs tells his pupils to hold on to the last note, for in that was the benefit and not in the fioriture that preceded. "That was just to get the voice all easy and devoid of strain. Now you can make a good tone on the last note." Panofka's, Marchesi's and Concone's vocalizes he uses, but prefers Panofka's, because they are so much more musicianly.

"Who are some of your pupils?"

''Without taking the time to think, but just as their names occur to me: May Convis (Mrs. Norcross in private life), of the Carl Rosa Opera-Company; Mrs. Hunsicker, of Philadelphia, who gets the largest salary paid to a church-choir singer in that city, —$1,500 a year from the Second Presbyterian Church of German to wn; Mrs. Charles O. Sheridan, of Atlanta, Ga., better known than Patti to the concert-goers and music-lovers of that part of the country; Mrs. Lizzie Fenno Adler, of the Christian Science Church at Chicago and the best oratorio soprano there; May Palmer, of the Castle Square Opera-Company; John R. Cumpson, who makes his $250 a week out west, singing in such parts as Fritz Emmett used to play; Leroy Wood and Mrs. Wood, of Dr. Judson's Memorial Church;—well, in Nickerson's last directory of churchchoir singers I counted twenty-nine of my pupils. There are thirty vocal teachers in town that have been pupils of mine at one time and have taken what I gave them and worked on it for themselves, which is what I want my pupils to do. I give them certain important truths and teach them to apply them and then they can cultivate their own voices."

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