January 21, 2014

Mittlestimme

Anna E. Schoen-René
Mittlestimme was a term used by Anna E. Schoen-René, one of the most famous voice teachers in America in the 20th century, who's own teachers were Pauline Viardot-García and Manuel García. The word, of course, is German. No surprise there, since Schoen-René was German.

No, you won't find the term Mittlestimme or middle voice in García's writings. Yes, he did write about the middle register, calling it the falsetto register (many confuse it with falsetto production unfortunately), which is a woman's middle voice and a man's upper register. However, that's not what Schoen-René meant by Mittlestimme. To understand her teaching, you have to go back to an earlier era, when the singing voice was viewed through the ear (now that's a curious turn of phrase), rather than the laryngoscope or the spectrograph. 

Ear-oriented teachers heard three voices in each individual, the lowest notes bringing to mind thoughts of the chest, middle notes thoughts of the throat area, and high notes thoughts of the head. It is a perceptual tool that's been ignored now that the action of the vocal folds (in conjunction with the pharynx) have been thoroughly explored. Yes, the source of the voice is in the larynx, not the head or the chest. However, knowing the "facts of function" doesn't teach the singer or voice teacher to listen anymore than knowing the birds and bees teaches one how to make love. Hello!

Schoen-René used the term Mittlestimme to denote the "voice" between head and chest, that is, open-throated, full voice vocal production that is placed in the mask. Herman Klein, another García exponent, wrote about it in my recently published Hidden In Plain Sight: The Hermann Klein Phono-Vocal Method Based Upon The Famous School Of Manuel Garcia, calling it "Singing Position." Practically speaking, this means that women, when acquiring the correct "Singing Position," should avoid blatant chest voice, chest resonance, however, being another matter. Aren't they the same thing, you ask? No! (Schoen-René understood Mittlestimme as involving "undertone" and "overtone.")

You can't learn to drive a car by knowing what's under the hood. For that, you have to get behind the wheel.

To sing, or to teach singing, you have to learn how to listen. 

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