July 7, 2014

The García Lineage: Ada Soder-Hueck


Tucked away in an program for the Boston Symphony, Mme. Ada Soder-Hueck telegraphs to prospective pupils her lineage and teaching of the "García Method."  Having known of her for quite some time, I was happy to stumble on more information about her recently while looking for something else. That's how it goes with historical vocal pedagogy research: you start out, and before you know it, find yourself in another part of the galaxy. This something else took my breath away, if only because the stars aligned to reveal something about her teaching, which I will get to presently. 

Mme. Ada Soder-Hueck was born in Amsterdam in 1874. A contralto, she studied voice with Marianne Brandt in Vienna, her teacher being a rather famous student of Pauline Viardot-García. Soder-Hueck immigrated to America in 1904, sang at the St. Louis World's Fair, then appeared with the New World Symphony in New York City, where she stayed, opening a studio at the Old Met, teaching there until her death in 1936 at the age of 62. Walter Damrosch described her as one of America's most "outstanding" voice teachers, which is born out by records which reveal Mme. Soder-Hueck to have students appear on the opera and concert stage, including Caesar Nesi, Elsie Lovell Hankins, Rita Sebastian, Gladys Burns, Percy Buchanan, Walter Mills. She had her opinions, of course, which made me laugh out loud, but not for the reasons one might suppose: 

Not only is Mme. Soder-Hueck a singer of reputation; she is also a thorough musician and pianist, and in full possession still of her remarkable voice, added to which she has the ability to impart her rare knowledge to others, for she is a born teacher with her whole heart in her work, her method is the beautiful old Italian school of bel canto. Again, she says: "As a teacher my results have been achieved with the 'García Method' every tone placed in the mask of the face. I believe in producing a tone which flows with all the ease of a ball that is tossed in the air. My method is eminently successful in developing freedom of voice and ringing high notes, the whole compass of voice growing rich and full. The method also develops fine lower notes, as I prove with my contraltos and bassos, and professionals coaching under me are delighted with the marked improvement they gain in a short time. In these days of death of tenors, I have always been in demand and specially successful in training the tenor voice, and I have brought out some remarkable tenors of varying styles, who by this time are making a great name for themselves. My singers are always ready on short notice to fill church or concert engagements. They have a large repertoire in the different styles and languages, and managers engage their singers direct from my studios." —Musical Courier, Vol 75, 1917, 30 

Why did I laugh? Well, because there it was again in black and white in the second sentence, something I knew to be part and parcel of the famous school of Manuel García, but others had refused to acknowledge: García taught his students to sing in the mask.

Oh, I'm quite aware that García directed his student's attention to "cause" rather than "effect," that much is clear, but effect is still effect no matter how you slice and dice the words. It's simple really. Obtain ringing tone in a rounded vocal tract and you have effect, which the García School called singing in the mask. How to get that far? Well, you need a good voice teacher to teach you the principles.

Mme. Soder-Hueck also had this to say:

The secret of the vocal art is relaxation, if production is to result in the true lyric quality (bel canto) or spinning the tone. Only then is the true timbre brought out, vibration given full play, and the voice enabled to make its strongest appeal. A pleasant and pleasing facial expression, stage presence and poise, all so important in holding an audience, result when the vocal apparatus is fully controlled and at ease. And so it is that the singer attains full artistic freedom and gains command of emotional effects. Resonance and volume of tone come not from effort but from relaxation. —Daily Sun, Sept, 4, 1931

What does teacher man think when he reads the above? Relaxation has nothing to do with passivity. Thank you, Mme. Soder-Hueck, for revealing yourself, like everything else, hidden in plain sight.   

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