June 14, 2014

Manuel García's Dismay

Manuel García (1805-1906)
Once in Garcia's studio, I was given a most instructive lesson in the diagnosing of voices. He asked me to listen with him to two singers who had come from America. They were under the impression that they had studied with a teacher who was a representative of the Garcia technique, but in the singing that followed there was no trace of it. Manuel Garcia then asked them to sing some exercises and vocalizations, which seemed to them a strange request. It was a most amateurish exemplification of tone production. When asked to project the pure Italian vowels, they could not do it. One—a baritone—had a very throaty voice, and the other—a tenor—sang with a nasal quality. The climax came when the poor fellows asked whether they might take lessons from him, during the few weeks of their stay in London. "No, no," he exclaimed emphatically, "I do not want to commit a sin!" Then the tenor asked in a disagreeable way, "That means dismissed?" "Yes," said Garcia, soberly, "and with the advice to give up the idea of a professional career." The two left not very encouraged. 

In silence I looked at the Maestro and observed his speechless dismay. Tears of sympathy filled my eyes. Glancing up at me, he said, "Yes, my child, that is the only answer—tears." Fortunately his sadness was changed to joy by a knock at the door. 

Plançon, thinking the Maestro was alone when he saw the young men come out of the studio, entered and greeted him with a jolly and smiley countenance. Garcia was delighted, "Sing me," he begged, "a few of your beautiful tones, so that I may be sure that correct singing still exists." Seated at the piano, he sang scores and scales. Manuel Garcia's expression lost its discouraged sadness and became radiant, as he exclaimed, "That is singing through the mask (Mask, in musical language, is used to express all the resonance cavities of the face, as opposed to the cavities of the nose only) and not through the nose! The nose is the waste-basket of the brain but not considered for resonance." Suddenly turning to me, he grumbled, "Why do they sing and speak with that nasal quality in America?" I, who also detest the ugly nasal speaking voice and had fought against it so long, answered, "Master, it comes from ignorance—from not knowing that mask and nose are two separate resonances." "Yes," he said, "I think you are right. God may forgive them, but I cannot," 

America's Musical Inheritance: Memories and Reminiscences by Anna E. Schoen-René, 1941, 109-110. 


Why the dismay? That's what I asked myself when I first read this passage from Madam Schoen-René's book. Why would García suggest tears were the only answer after hearing two amateur's inability to project pure Italian vowels? Wouldn't he just show them the door? Hello! Goodbye! See you later! It's pure speculation, but one reason may be that he knew—and had taught—the teacher of the two men before him; a reasonable thought since, during García's time, it was common to have a letter of introduction. You just didn't show up at someone's door and find your way into a famous teacher's studio. Whether this is the case or not, this passage in Madam Schoen-René's book tells the reader quite a bit about the García technique. Pure vowels if you please, and no singing in the "wastebasket" of your nose! The concept of "placement" is also in evidence via the word "mask," both having taken quite a beating over the years, which is addressed in Hidden In Plain Sight: The Hermann Klein Phono-Vocal Method Based Upon The Famous School Of Manuel Garcia. That Klein and Schoen-René both taught this idea, well....where do you think they got it from? Mars? While there are those who would have you think the latter, the evidence suggests otherwise. 

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