October 14, 2014

Marchesi on the New Religion

Blanche Marchesi as Brunhilde 

5. THE FOUNDATION OF A NEW RELIGION 


There was once a laryngologist in New York called Dr. Curtis. He became the friend and helper of the whole singing crowd in that city, and especially of the singers at the Metropolitan Opera House. The complaints among the singers were numerous, the vocal accidents serious. Dr. Curtis began to collect material, people like Van Rooy, Ternina, and host of other German singers, principals and choristers, showing signs of similar affections. In most cases the vocal cords were actually injured. 

About the same time the voice of Edouard de Reszke began to fail, and Jean de Reszke, dissatisfied with his own voice, began to consult Dr. Curtis on both their cases. Jean de Reszke became a regular visitor at the private house of Dr. Curtis, and he would talk with his brother night after night, scrutinizing vocal methods and their consequences. 

Edouard de Reszke's case was similar to that of Rokinstansky, the bass of the Vienna Opera Company (mentioned in section on Nasal Method). After forcing the volume of his voice, he got into difficulties, being unable to reach his top notes as easily as before. He tried to save himself by singing through his nose. 

"The Triumvirate" decided after many conferences that it is the hit of the glottis which endangers the singer's throat. No doubt they were right on this point, as we fully agree that to hit the glottis in singing must be the source of many vocal troubles. But they could not distinguish between the hitting and the closing of the glottis, and at once decided to condemn every method that allowed singers to make their vocal cords meet when emitting them. 

Other singers were invited to be present at those discussions and some of our school, like Melba, Eames, Calvé, Suzanne Adams, and Sybil Sanderson, who had all been trained in the García-Marchesi Method, were shown the "bogey" of the "coup de glotte" and its terrifying consequences. At these meetings war was declared upon all followers of our method, and the artists' minds were worked upon passionately until they really believed that their way of using voices was perilous.

It was decided that vocal cords must be prevented form closing suddenly. This was the turning-point that brought about an error cultivated ever since. 

How could one sing without closing the vocal cords suddenly? Either by starting the note with an h (ha) which would make every fresh start sound husky air being forced through the vocal cords whilst a note is attacked (first you would hear and h, then a sound), or else by starting a note with the aid of a preceding consonant. 

All consonants were tried and, arriving at the letter m, they decided that this was fulfilling all their expectations. They thought they had here struck a gold vein in the dark labyrinth of their vocal ignorance. 

The letter m, if you will try it by sounding a note at the same time, starts like the French em, then, passing straight through the nose, a nasal sound follows. But they thought that even an e (French) preceding the m might be dangerous, and so they decided to start singing notes on m with closed mouth, which makes the sound immediately pass through the nose and resemble the mooing of a cow. Obviously, their funny-bone did not trouble them. Neither did they object to unaesthetic noises. 

I found to my profound astonishment that the male singers, whilst nervously pacing up and down the room were doing the most ludicrous exercises, producing noises belonging to a cattle farm rather than the green-room.  

Convinced that they had found a way to relieve the vocal cords of most of their work by avoiding the closing of the glottis in emitting sound, they decided to perform all exercises on the letter m with closed mouth and to try to sing otherwise through the nose as well. They thought that to send sound through the nose was to take a heavy weight from the vocal cords, whereas the exact contrary is the truth. A sound sent to a bad sounding-board throws the whole weight of the work back upon the vocal organ and makes it attempt greater efforts to obtain volume. 

This was the starting-point of this new religion, but did not stop there. 

It spread like a prairie fire, and all the ignoramuses, glad to find a new gospel at last, preached the pernicious discovery from the North Pole to the South. Dr. Curtis taught it to all his singing patients. He lad down in his book on the voice a curse against all those who teach the "coup de glotte." 

This naturally meant García and all his followers, including my mother and myself. But these were all idle words. The serous fact witnessed by the whole world was that Edouard de Reszke's voice failed completely when was still a fine, strong man. His instrument was beautiful, but the nasal method destroyed it. His brother Jean de Reszke one of the finest singers the world even knew, fell a victim to the same practice in the prime of his life. 

The tenor's voice succumbed more slowly but no less surely to these exercises, And so the most fascinating tenor had to retire from the operatic stage. Although they were the first victims of their "discovery," they grew enthusiastic over their new thought and, wishing to save all singers, drew more and more fellow-artists into their circle, thus causing havoc in the singing profession. 

One of the first to listen to them was my mother's pupil, Melba. Her voice was perfect, her legato of a rare quality, her staccato and trill perfection. They talked her over, explaining that attacking notes straight away, and especially staccato singing, would be her ruin. 

And so, as my mother told me, Melba returning one day from New York to work with her, as she did each year, suddenly started attacking all her notes with ha and avoided her lovely staccato. My mother immediately saw that she had listened to a new advice and showed her profound astonishment at the change. Melba owned timidly that the new religion had influenced her, explaining how dangerous some people considered the direct attack of notes. My mother, not knowing whether to be angry or to laugh, energetically countered the doubts suggested to her; in fact, she felt profoundly offend that, having given to the world such a perfectly trained voice, people should dare to dispute the method that had made that instrument so beautiful, especially after complete success had already been attained with this voice through her method. She was, however, able to dispel these doubts and to induce Melba to resume her former ways. After that, Melba remained faithful all her life to her teacher and her method, singing thus to a great age. 

Students who are working successfully in our school have often had to listen to violent attacks on our method from which they benefit. It may happen that they are not sufficiently clever to understand the ugly motives that my inspire such mean proceedings and fall victims to their weakness. Some have actually disappeared, never to be heard of again, after abandoning the only way of salvation. 

Jealously sometimes takes such queer forms that it becomes difficult to detect it. When the danger is understood, it is generally too late. The same happens with singers leaving school and starting a career; everybody tries to influence them and it needs a from character to remain untouched by the many idle words that spear dangerous advice. 

I have seen many of my finished pupils after years of perfect work and triumphant success, yielding to the poisonous insinuations of the Iagos who always lurk in the dark in the neighborhood of professional singers. 

When my mother began to reach a great age, Jean de Reszke started to teach. The nasal method spread, and all those who claimed to have worked under him with the aim of becoming teachers themselves insisted on imparting that new gospel. Although his studio in Nice had become a veritable Mecca for singers, very few artists prominent on he world's stages can be traced back to his teaching. 


Blanche Marchesi, The Singer's Catechism and Creed (1932): 91-95. 

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