March 25, 2014

The García School Lineage: Anna Lankow

Anna Lankow (1850-1908) 
Ah! The things one learns snooping around in old newspapers courtesy of a suggestion from a knowledgable librarian.

"Where might I find information on singing teachers in New York?" I asked Bob Kosovosky, a curator at the New York Public Library. "Have you looked at The Musical Courier?" Nope. I hadn't done that. Two shakes later, I was staring at the magazine's citation in the catalogue, and thirty minutes after that, began a six week odyssey reading microfilm that began in 1880 and ended in the 1940's. What did I learn along the way? A great deal, if the three large file boxes that were created in the process are any indication.

No. You won't find The Musical Courier online. And it is unlikely that it will be digitized any time soon. It's a researcher's gold mine, at least for those with a great deal of patience, and has rewarded me greatly in investigating the García and Lamperti schools of singing. Early on, I came upon a García exponent by the name of Anna Lankow who was a highly successful voice teacher in New York City. Curiously, she was one of the first persons to have her voice recorded in 1896, and even used the medium to present two of her students to managers in Germany.

Lankow studied singing with Adolf Brömme (1826-1905), a student of Manuel García (1805-1906), and was a founding member of The National Association of Teachers of Singing in New York City (1906), which had Hermann Klein as its founding Chairman (readers of VoiceTalk will know him as the subject of Hidden In Plain Sight: The Hermann Klein Phono-Vocal Method Based Upon The Famous School Of Manuel Garcia, 2013)). One must keep in mind that NATS, as we know it now, was formed in 1944, the original organization having changed its name to The New York Singing Teachers Association in 1917. Confusing? It took me a while to keep things straight too. Basically, what is now known as NYSTA went "local" after endeavoring to institute standards on a national scale, which proved to be impossible, if only because voice teachers are an independent bunch. Think of herding cats and you get the picture.

Lankow had remarkable success as a voice teacher even though afflicted with polio as a child, which gave her a "lame" leg, and limited her to concert appearances. After settling in America, she had a thriving voice studio, and adopted a young bass by the name of Edward, who later appeared at the Metropolitan Opera and wrote a book on breathing (click on his name in the label section at the bottom of this post). Tragically, Lankow died in Italy after her carriage plunged over a hillside during a storm in 1908. Fortunately for us, Lankow wrote a very curious book which you can find in the download section in the right hand column, one which features original scientific research, perhaps the first of its kind in America. This, together with the article below, will give the reader a clear sense of her teaching, which is unique in its expression. For those acquainted with García's method, it makes for fascinating reading. You can imagine why I smile when I read the line: "but physiology never made a singer."


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Werner’s Magazine: a magazine of expression.  Vol. XXII, December, 1898, No. 4


Mme. Anna Lankow.

DURING the several singing-lessons given by Mme. Anna Lankow that Werner's Magazine's representative was permitted to witness, each pupil stood leaning slightly forward with the weight of the body on the ball of the foot, the chest lifted during the singing. Most of the pupils beat time to the exercises, whose rhythm was strongly accented. The teacher from time to time interjected directions like: "Fix the larynx," "Exaggerate the a," "Let us have the hard s." Mme. Lankow is very much opposed to what she calls the American s, which, she says, is a soft sibilant, something like a sh, but made with the tongue withdrawn somewhat from the closed front teeth instead of just touching them. It does not carry in singing. Sometimes the teacher called upon pupils who were awaiting their turn to stand and join in the singing of the exercises. At one time she had two basses and a soprano singing the same coloratura phrases. The first part of the lesson was devoted to intervals with leaps from the first to the second, to the third and so on to the tenth, practiced in all the keys and in reverse order. These were sung to different vowels, the bass singing i, the baritone a, and the soprano u, as their individual needs seemed to indicate. Most of these phrases ended with a staccato note.

"It is as important to know how to leave a note properly as it is to know how to attack it," declared Mme. Lankow. " The staccato ending gives freedom of motion to the larynx and enables one to learn how to quit the note easily and gracefully. "

Following, came exercises much the same as far as the intervals were concerned, but introducing the familiar syllables do, re, mi, fa, and so on. A characteristic one is this, which is sol-faed in all the keys: do do', re do', mi do', fa do', sol do, la do', si re' do'. It is done with a rapidity which increases with the ability of the pupil to place the tones accurately. The consonantal sounds are highly exaggerated, and the vowels made as distinct as possible. Another characteristic exercise was on the same tune, so to speak, but on each of the steps of the octave from the lower do to the upper do the syllables do, re, mi, fa, were sung as rapidly as possible.

Breathing-Exercises.

"Do I give breathing-exercises apart from phonation? Yes, I do. At certain times a pupil should give her whole thought to the physical mechanism of the breath. A good time is when she has gone to bed or is about to get up in the morning. She has her corsets off then and the muscles and the ribs have free play. My school of breathing is that of the high, fixed chest. The diaphragm pulls down and creates a partial vacuum in the pulmonary cavity. The air rushes in. Then the ribs, which have been distended, gradually come together, permitting the air in the lungs to escape through the throat in voice or speech. The muscles which move the ribs, when under perfect control, enable one to sing long phrases smoothly by governing the even emission of breath. It is the way one should use the lungs while swimming. I speak of swimming because it is so beneficial an exercise. Breathing-exercises improve the general health. They help the circulation of the blood and increase the appetite. In the beginning I do not fuss with long breaths. It is more important to get the exercises started and to make the proper position of the chest habitual. By and by the capacity of the chest will grow. I don't demand more than the pupil can do, but I expect that systematic practice will increase the strength. My pupils take an absolute rest in the summer, and when the fall comes, the technique is there and the voice, refreshed by its rest after continuous labor, is larger and freer than ever. But the continuous labor has to come first."

When And How To Begin Singing- Lessons.

"When should singing-lessons begin? I have had no experience with the child-voice and can not speak of it. The little girls of some of my pupils have learned my exercises from hearing their mothers practice. They sing with exquisite purity, and I do not see why a child should not take lessons for the placing of the voice if all is done with gentleness. But I can not say more than that. Adolescents should wait until they are mature. When they are too young they do not apply themselves. They haven't enough sense yet. If they don't understand what I tell them to do, how can they do it? It comes hard enough for grown minds to apprehend the subject.

"I usually begin with the medium notes of a pupil's compass and then work down. It is hard to force when you are working from above downward. But I do not begin with a long sustained note a-a-a-a-ah and then build up or down. One never gets flexibility and good tone so. The voice needs to be placed so that when you want to play on it, as a musical instrument, you can do as you will with it, of course within its limitations. When is a pianist capable? When his fingers fly instinctively to the keys that are indicated on the music. This comes only with frequent practicing. He learns by the muscular sense just how far he must swing his hand so that the ring-finger shall strike the high B flat. The violinist works by the hour so that it becomes second nature to him to put his finger on the right spot, to make a certain tone and not a hundredth of an inch above or below. So I give my pupils exercises that contain every possible interval that they will ever be called upon to sing. They practice these daily till they strike the note accurately and as automatically as the pianist moves his fingers. But all this is to be done not with the notion of getting strong in a hurry. Wise people do not exercise with heavy dumb-bells now. They do not wish to be muscle-bound and stiff; but by relaxation they try to get suppleness and freedom to move in all possible ways. This a-a-a-a-ah business makes the voice stiff and unwieldy. The trained singer should be able to sing anything, classic, romantic, — everything within the compass of her voice. My basses can sing coloratura with as much nimbleness as a soprano. Why not ? Suppose they are to sing in "The Messiah" or in some work of Mozart? They can not 'sit on a tone' there, but must perform the runs and ornaments as gracefully as any of the other singers."

Vowel-practice.

"I have a whole series of what I call speech-exercises, which train the muscles that govern the hollow spaces of the vocal apparatus. They must be as adroit and facile as the fibres in the vocal cords. I have a pupil now who, when he came to me, could not sing any vowel. He made them all alike. He could sound them in speech, but when he tried to sing, the speech-muscles seemed to cramp. I made him sing e. You can sing that without any effort. The mouth does not have to be set for e. Now he can sing all the vowels as smoothly as heart could wish. I find the vowel which the pupil sings most euphoniously. I practice her on that exclusively. When her voice is trained on that, the other vowels will be sung correctly, too. I use one vowel all the way through, except that I mark the change to the chest-register by a. Thus, O—ah, e—ah.

"What vocalises do I use ? I use exercises of Garcia's, Bromme's and my own. I give little etudes by Luttgen, flowing melodies interesting to the pupil, that teach phrasing and a smooth legato style. They find out the solfeggio of these notes and sing the Italian syllables to them.

Habitual Flatting Or Sharping.

"That is a result of the clumsiness of the muscles of the larynx. The voice is not placed. The pianist strikes false notes. Practice would remove that. They who say that it is due to an imperfect control over the muscles of breathing are wrong. What has the pressure of the breath to do with the pitch of the tone produced in the larynx? The voice isn't a whistle that sharps or flats as the wind-pressure rises or falls. I sing a crescendo and a diminuendo: a—A—A—A—a. Did the note rise in pitch ? No. But it increased in intensity. That is all the breath has to do with song, to make it loud or soft."

The Registers.

"I use the term 'register' as a mechanical word to distinguish the several klang-tints or timbres of the voice. Here are three chairs, but I wish to identify them; so one is a rocking-chair, another is a bent-wood chair and this is the piano-chair. Some teachers say: 'Why bother the pupil with all this talk about "chest- register," "medium register," "head register," and your "fourth register?"' Because to handle the voice intelligently one must know what he is about, and use the nomenclature of the voice. You learn a new language. You should at least learn what it is that you are speaking. I endeavor by my exercises to give my pupils command over the registers so that they can give the same note different colors, if need be. Do you suppose that a violinist plays a piece without having determined in his mind on what string he shall play every phrase, though he could perform it in two or three ways? He has the G, D, A and E string to choose from and, curiously enough, my fourth register is the analogue of the E string.

''The registers exist, and why should they not have names? The chest-register is called so, because a note sung in it causes the chest to vibrate. When the same note is sung in the medium register, the chest no longer vibrates. The head-register resounds in the head. The names have nothing to do with where the notes are made. All come from the vocal cords. The medium register everybody has, but not everybody has those of the chest and head. The fourth register is developed by my exercises in the other three. It is in altissimo and can be acquired by any soprano. Five of my pupils have gained it, one dramatic soprano and four coloratura sopranos. It came to Mrs. Alma Powell without my knowledge. They can sing from high C to the G above that without any effort at all."

Various Questions Answered.

"Teaching singing by mail is ridiculous. It is worse than that. Intelligent teaching must be done by ear. How can I tell what a pupil's faults are unless I hear her? How can she describe her faults even if she knew them, and how can I tell her what to do?

"Is it necessary to go to Europe to study? No. There are as good teachers here as in Europe, but the musical atmosphere is lacking. It is good what there is of it, but there is so little of it. The Metropolitan Opera has the best singers in the world, and it is well for one to attend for one season, but one can not go on hearing "Faust" 45 times a year, and "Carmen"25 times, and "Romeo and Juliet" 20 times, and grow. To get a repertoire one must go abroad.

"As to throat-specialists, they are of no value to the singer when they try to use their anatomical knowledge to teach singing. My method cures throat-trouble without sprays and other local treatment. A pupil of mine has a very large tonsil which is being massaged away, so to speak, by the exercises I give to the muscles of the throat and the hollow spaces.

"In regard to a knowledge of vocal anatomy and physiology, no competent teacher is ignorant of the general anatomy and physiology of the larynx and the hollow spaces of the vocal apparatus, but that she should be called upon to describe and to locate the cricoid cartilage or the posterior nares is not necessary. The interest an earnest pupil feels in the subject should lead her to find out in a general way how the voice is made, but physiology never made a singer.

"There is too much nonsense talked about the hygiene of the voice. Keep yourself in good health. But every sensible person tries to do that anyhow. Take a cold bath every morning. Be much in the open air. Sleep much; it is very important. Exercise as much as possible without exhausting yourself. I march a mile every day, rain or shine. This with my lameness is as much as two or three miles are to anybody else. Don't breathe through your mouth. Eat whatever agrees with you. I eat nuts and sing beautifully afterward. There is too much nonsense about dieting.

"What instrument do I prefer in training the voice? A piano, when it is in perfect tune.

"As to frequency of lessons, once a week is sufficient. Twice a week is better still. To need a lesson oftener than that one must have some terrible defect in the voice. I have never met such cases. They have not come to me.

"Pupils should practice by themselves from the very first. The exercises they have are to limber up the muscles that control the larynx and the hollow spaces of the voice, and they must lose no time in acquiring facility. At first they practice an hour a day, and later two hours, but not consecutively. The practice must be interrupted by periods of rest. Work for fifteen minutes and rest five. Then work another fifteen minutes and rest five. But these moments of rest need not be wasted. Think the tones. Concentration of effort is what brings success.

"Answering the question whether a girl should study singing with a man, or a man with a woman, I should say that a man never can show a woman how to use her voice. He can tell her what to do, but he can not show her. My teacher had told me about the head tone, but I did not know what he meant until another girl—Pauline L'Allemand it was—showed me. A man can never illustrate to a woman the action of the voice, nor in most cases can a woman show a man how to use his voice. But I am a contralto and I can teach basses. I teach tenors, too."

"Tremolo is caused by weakness resulting from fatigue, fright or lack of control of the breath. To this day, if I sing in concert, I am frightened and at the first my voice vibrates, but in a bar or two I get control of it and it is as organ-like as you could wish. Of course, if the emotion of the song affects me, my voice vibrates with it.

"When do I begin with the trill? The pupil starts with exercises that prepare for the trill, but I take wider intervals than most teachers to supple the voice for it. I use thirds and fourths. Mrs. Powell can make a real trill out of the third as a result of these drills. I had a parrot that learned it from hearing her. I could not get it myself and I was so vexed that the bird could trill in thirds and I could not, that I set to work and learned how.

''At what period of study should a pupil begin to consider expression? As soon as she is able. The acquisition of technique is only a means to an end. If the vocal mechanism is not obedient, expression is lessened just so much. When the pupil's voice is sufficiently limbered up with 'speech-exercises' and 'range-exercises,' I begin with expression. I phrase a song, I register it, I try to get at the thought and feeling of it. I make my selection one within the pupil's ability. But one never gets so far along that the ' speech-exercises' are not beneficial. They oil the voice.

"Do I move the larynx for the different vowels? No, it moves itself, and should do so. It is low down in the throat for oo and high for e. That is why I so often give oo for the vowel in the beginning. It requires such a long tube that the resonance of the voice is increased.

"What test is there of pure tone? I know that, as you say, we are all striving for 'pure tone,' and that one of us says, 'This is a pure tone,' and the other declares it is 'nasal' or 'throaty.' If you mean purity of intonation, then the test is that it should be always in strict tune. If you mean by 'pure tone' a beautiful klang-tint, then that is obtained by the free and full coordination of the vocal cords and the muscles that govern the hollow spaces of the voice. I can sing as badly as any pupil, if I try. But I can do better if I like. If I make a beautiful tone it is because the vocal apparatus is able to realize the ideal that I have in my mind. Just what happens when the vocal cords and the hollow spaces of the voice coordinate to produce a certain quality of the voice with such-and-such a set of overtones, is as yet unknown to science."

Her Method, Career, And Pupils.

The keynote to Mme. Lankow's method, according to her exposition, is the coordination of the muscles governing the hollow spaces of the voice with the muscles governing the larynx. She maintains that her method is German, because she is German and studied under Prof. Aldolf Brömme, a pupil of the elder Garcia,* at the Dresden Conservatory. When she was a little girl she studied the German arithmetic, but twice two is four in German, in Italian, in French, or in English. Likewise pure tone is pure tone and is produced in the same way, be the method German, Italian, or what not.

When Mme. Lankow speaks of the "hollow spaces of the voice," she means all the cavities of the breathing-apparatus above the vocal cords, including the larynx itself, the space between the true and false vocal cords, the pharynx, the mouth, and the chambers of the nose back and front. These, she holds, not only act as sounding-boards, but impart quality to the voice. It is control over the muscles at the back of the throat that gives these extremely high notes of the "fourth" register.

Mme. Lankow made her de'but at the Grand Ducal Opera-House at Weimar. Von Bulow, Liszt, and Lassen took quite an interest in her and introduced her to the concert- stage. The affection in her legs, which now prevents her from appearing in public because she cannot stand up long enough to sing a solo, interfered with her career in opera. She, however, made a success at concertizing and was the first to give the arias of "Samson and Delilah" to concert-goers. She taught in the Scharwenka Conservatory at Berlin, where she met Mr. Stanton, then director of the German opera in New York. At his solicitation she came to America and made her debut with the New York Symphony Society under Walter Damrosch. Owing to the sudden death of her husband, Paul Pietsch, a brilliant young sculptor, son of Ludwig Pietsch, the well-known art-critic of the Berlin Vossische Zcitung, she determined not to return to Germany or to public life, and began teaching in New York. That was ten years ago. During this last summer she finished writing her method and it will be published in German and in English. Its title is, "New School of Singing, by Anna Lankow, with Practical Exercises by Anna Lankow, Adolf Brömme, and Manuel Garcia."

Some of Mme. Lankow's pupils are: Miss Marie van Gelder, formerly soprano of St. Ignatius's Church, New York, but now singing at the Amsterdam Opera-House; Miss Herta, now of the Diisseldorf Opera; Miss Clara Lipman, who sang in "That Girl from Paris;" Mrs. Alma Powell, concert-singer; Miss Mary N. Berry, teacher at the Strassberger Conservatory, Forest Park University, and Shurtleff College; Miss Mary Ross, assistant to Miss Berry; Mrs. Beatrice Bowman- Flint, who has an extraordinary compass in altissimo; and Anton Schneider, of the Castle Square Opera Co.


*Dates of the personages involves suggest that Brömme studied with Manuel García the Younger, since Brömme was only 5 years old when the Elder García died in 1832.

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