April 27, 2011

Frederic W. Root & Manuel Garcia

Just when you think you've reached the bottom of the barrel in terms of research on any given subject, you can be surprised by new and nuanced information. Such is the case regarding a post I wrote earlier this year which featured an interview Frederic W. Root gave on the teachings of Manuel Garcia (see here). As it happens, recent research has turned up an article written nineteen years after Root's first remarks which further clarifies Garcia's teachings on the voice. Taken from Root's original notes, it makes for fascinating reading.




As in the earlier article, Root discusses various voice teachers methods, in this case, using initials to somewhat obscure their identity (the canny reader, however, will be able to identify Vannuccini, Delle Sedie and San Giovanni). However, in writing about the great maestro's teaching, he gives credit where credit is due. Here's what Root reveals from his notebook.

Signor Manuel Garcia knew Del Sarte and said that he sang with great expression. He told us this anecdote regarding him. He had sung before King Louis Phillipe and the king while complimenting him on his work expressed regret that he should sing when he had so bad a cold. It was not a cold however: the voice was habitually veiled. He was more successful with pupils than with himself; among these were Songtag, Rachel and Macready. 
As we have just alluded to Manuel Garcia we will not attempt to veil his personality with initials as we transcribe some notes concerning him. That which struck the present writer most forcibly in interviews with this ninety-year-old singing teacher who had for three-quarters of a century known intimately all the great singers of the world was this: one who really understands the voice finds that the culture of it is a very simple matter; slow it may be, but, so far as the physical organization is concerned, a matter of definite and certain procedure. 
Signor Garcia did not employ the common but utterly unscientific term "tone-placing," and had no use for the talk of sensations of tone high in the head. He explained his position by saying that all tone is made at the glottis and then comes out the mouth. Sensation of tone is an effect; he preferred to deal with causes. 
He would not allow gripping or tension for the sake of breath management except as a passage requires tense muscles to give it effect. He described the process of inhalation as a little swelling out of the abdomen, then a rounding out of the ribs and then - (as the upper chest coöperates?) - a slight drawing in of the abdomen. Economize the breath as it is used, by drawing it into the lungs. Regarding registers, he assigned to them the boundaries that are now generally accepted for chest, medium and head. He did not like those terms but said they would suffice. (His first published work gave chest up to A and medium up to F). He would never direct to raise or lower larynx or palate; when he wanted those things he asked for clear or sombre expression, or told the pupil to round the tone. Then the actions took place of themselves. Signor Garcia believed that the process of tone-production should be divested of all ideas but those pertaining solely to lungs, larynx and pharynx (and mouth - the sound-tube?). He said "study nature and avoid theories except where a lot of facts combine." 
As to whether the voice was a wind or string instrument he simply played the scale with his lips, regulating their vibration as does the cornet player, assisting the operation by holding the corners of the mouth with his fingers thus shortening the vibrating length of the lips; this to illustrate the action of the vocal cords. 
From Observations on Voice Study in Europe by Frederic Woodman Root, The Etude, June 1, 1913, p. 435.


What strikes me as most important about this article? Manuel Garcia concerned himself with the cause of sensation and not sensation itself. In other words, he didn't get the cart before the horse. Another matter is that, rather than having the student control the vocal mechanism directly, he steered the student's attention to quality of tone. In other words, he taught his students to listen.

What then, is one to make of the assertion by Garcia's student Frank Herbert Tubbs that the Garcia School (the teaching of Pauline Viardot-Garcia's students Anna E. Schoen-René and Emi de Bidoli as well as Manuel Garcia's student Herman Klein should not be forgotten here) concerned itself with 'tone-placement'? My theory? Garcia recognized that sensations of tone-placement were a result of the interplay between breath management, closure of the glottis, and the rounding of the pharynx.

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