November 1, 2014

Madam Klenner on the García Method

As far as the article below is concerned, those with an inquisitive mind and some understanding of historical vocal pedagogy will learn quite a bit about the manner in which singing was taught a hundred years ago. Of course, Madam Klenner doesn't give us the all her method. That wasn't done in her day; and still isn't, I dares say, by many teachers who keep their technical resources to themselves, thinking them proprietary information. However, she does give us quite a few clues, which are useful to those who have studied the teachings of the Garcías.

We do learn that she taught her students (women) to allow the abdominals to sink in upon exhalation, a controversial matter at the time. We also learn that Viardot-García advised her students to take four long breaths before they went onstage; a procedure, though it be simple and forthright, is one that is often forgotten in the mental mayhem that precedes performance.

Madam Klenner also talks about the student's belief in the teacher, and how the teacher must convince the student. Both are necessary, which remind me of something Viardot-García said in an article I read—the source escaping me at present, the gist of which was: "If I tell you to jump out the window, you must do it!"

The García Method is a most practical science. 


*****


New York Singing Teachers

An Inquiry Into Their Qualifications, Their Theories, Their Practices, and Their Results. 


[The editor of Werner's Magazine (which long has been the organ of the vocal profession) is consulted almost daily, either in person or by mail, by those in search of vocal instruction. There is no use of denying that among those advertising as teachers are incompetents, charlatans, and even knaves. So far it has been difficult, if not impossible, to separate the good from the bad teachers. The vocal profession has not yet crystallized sufficiently itself to set up a standard of membership, and there is no way of preventing anyone, no matter who he may be, from hanging out a sign with " professor of singing emblazoned thereon, or from making all sort of pretentious. In the absence of State regulation—and Werner's Magazine does not believe in too much paternalism in government—the Press, especially in this country, is the most effective agency to employ to safeguard the interests both of the public and of the vocal profession. This is the task that this magazine has set for itself. Twenty years of experience and investigation qualify the editor to direct the inquiry into the qualifications and methods of those soliciting vocal patronage. We disclaim at the outset any motive other than a desire and a determination to serve the profession and our readers who honor us by their support and confidence. We are sure that competent and conscientious teachers will welcome this effort and will cooperate with us to accomplish this desirable end. As to the other kind of teachers — we do not care what they think or what they do. — Editor.]

Mme. Katharine Evans von Klenner.

ONE does not talk long with Mme. Katharine Evans von Klenner, about how she teaches girls to sing, without hearing the word "method" and the method above all others that commands her enthusiasm is that of Manuel Garcia fere. He was the father of the celebrated Malibran and sang with her here when New York was very much "down town" and the century was young.

"There has been hardly a singer or vocal teacher of note in Europe within the last sixty or seventy years," said Mme. von Klenner," but has come under the influence of one or another of the Garcia family, so the school he founded is the greatest historically. I went to Europe expecting to study with Marchesi; but after following all the teachers about, Shakespeare, the two Lampertis, Stockhausen of Berlin, I settled upon the Garcia method and began with Desireé Artot of Berlin and afterward with Viardot-Garcia at Paris."

Mme. von Klenner did not follow the all-too-common practice of taking two or three lessons and then signing oneself, "pupil of Thingummy," but studied with the primary intention of becoming a teacher. She went to her lessons, note-book in hand, and was permitted not only to study her own voice, but to listen to the correction of the faults of others. Believing with her whole heart in the Garcia method and in her ability to impart it in all its apostolic purity, she is ready to go on to the next step: "The pupil must believe in me. There is no success attainable unless the pupil has confidence in the teacher. Conversely, the teacher must convince the pupil. You know the old trick of telling the timid tenor that the note is only E when it is really G. If he knew it was G, he couldn't sing it without forcing. The influence of fear is so large a factor in singing that the teacher must have the power to inspire her pupils with the belief that they can do what she says they can. I am thoroughly convinced of the usefulness of suggestion.

"The teacher should be judged by the standard of ordinary voices. One may get hold of half-a-dozen magnificent voices and win a worldwide celebrity without having any good method to impart or ability to impart it. The natural beauty of the organ may overshadow the imperfections of style. The true test is to make the most out of the common run of voices as they come, to develop them to their utmost possibilities, both as to beauty of tone and length of usefulness. That I claim for the Garcia method."

The first thing one notices while watching a lesson, as Mme. von Klenner gives it, is that she plays the accompaniment and the pupil stands out in the middle of the large parlor floor where the teacher may get a good view from top to toe. During the vocal gymnastics and songs, the student must beat time quite decidedly.

"A very common defect nowadays," explains the teacher, "is the lack of rhythmical perception. Rhythm is the very beginning of music and we must not get so far away from the source that we forget the charm of the regularly recurring beat, even when the tempo is retarded or accelerated.

"The exercises I use to give flexibility to the vocal mechanism are the five-finger exercises of the voice," explained the instructress. "By practicing them systematically and assiduously, one becomes able to play upon the instrument anything that lies within its compass. By these drills one's vocal fingers, so to speak, grow strong and capable of inflections and delicate nuances. Most people seem to think that only light sopranos need strive to attain that facility. Where is the contralto today that possesses the command over coloratura that enables her to sing Arsace in 'Semiramide' or Handel's 'O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion?' Yet there is good music written for such nimble voices. The really first-class basses are able to do coloratura work. Look at Edouard de Reszkes. A certain pianist came to me to talk about lessons for his wife. She was a contralto, and he thought she need not bother about scales and the exercises to supple the voice. All she needed was to learn to make good tones for these songs that have so much to say about 'my heart.' I said to him: 'My dear sir, what would you think of me if I came to you for piano lessons and asked to be excused from five-finger exercises and everything except pieces in which I could strike heavy chords?' He saw the point at once."

"Do you give breathing-exercises in connection with tone-production only or by themselves?"

"By themselves. Breathing is of the very greatest importance. Its control is absolutely necessary to a beautiful tone. The exercises can be done while walking in the street. They strengthen the intercostal and the diaphragmatic muscles and by making them obedient to the will, enable the singer to control the emission of the breath.

"It is a mistake to sing against a tight frock. One might as well try to play the piano with tight gloves on. The constraint on the muscles hinders their proper development and eventually weakens them. That is the cause of the tremolo, so often heard. A great expansion should take place in the chest-muscles during song and they must have room to play in."

As the pupil progresses, the teacher draws attention to the quality of the voice with some such words as: " Let me have some of your nice warm tones now." At an early stage, she gives them phrases to intone on one note, like: " I will go;" "Sing a sweet song," etc. These are for the improvement of the enunciation of consonantal and vowel sounds and for the limbering up of the facial muscles. This is a point much insisted upon.

"What would you do if one came to you that was defective in tone-perception?"

"I don't think I should take such a pupil. Not that it is an impossible task, but it would be a very long one, without much reward in the end. There would never be the certainty attained that it is possible in one that has a natural ear and there are so many other things that a girl can do better that it isn't worth while. The case of one that flats or sharps is different. That is due to fatigue or excitement. It then becomes a question of physical condition and proper management of the breath or the control of the nervous system. If one sharps when excited, don't get excited, that's all. It is easy to say, I know, but if you have learned your song perfectly and understand what you have to do, and are accustomed to standing up before people to sing, you ought to get over that excitement in time. Here is a good thing to remember that I learned from Viardot-Garcia: When you come before an audience take four long breaths; adjust your breathing- apparatus four times. That gives one self-poise.

"I make it a point that every pupil must learn by heart the words and music of her song. Then if by any chance her copy should be mislaid, she won't be distressed at its absence. Also if the words are memorized perfectly, the attention is free to direct toward the expression of the sentiment which the poet and the musician have felt and wish to make others feel The audience does not know the words or the music but wants to hear and feel. The singer, not being hampered, is able to phrase and to breathe in the best way. If she does what she is told, she won't have time to think about getting nervous.

"I am very careful, too, about the pronunciation of the words. I speak French, German and Italian myself. I also speak English, which is a thing to be thought of. It is a language that most of my pupils will use the greater part of their lives in song and in speech. I declare I don't see how so many vocal teachers can lay claim to having ears acute to note a fault of the pupil's when they seemingly can not detect any difference between ' de' and 'the.' My husband, Captain von Klenner, assists me in the languages and Mr. George S. Kittredge with the solfeggio. I devote myself entirely to the interpretation.

One of the young women taking her lesson, whom Werner's Magazine was permitted to hear, was working at the trill. The exercise used for the development of that ornament was the common one, first quarter notes, then eighths, then sixteenth notes, and so on until the alternation became so rapid that the listener lost count. The teacher did not. She was listening very sharply and at the least uncertainty called the student's attention to the fault and made her beat the time more decidedly.

"When do you begin preparation for the trill?"

"When the voice is ready for it. If it is stiff, the time is longer; if it is supple, the time is shorter. I am a doctor. I doctor symptoms. I don't treat every case alike any more than a physician gives the same medicine to every caller."

One of the students sung "On mighty Pens" from the "Creation" and another gave "Rejoice greatly." Neither was what would be called a coloratura soprano though neither had a large voice but there was a warmth in their tones not usual in those able to execute as nimbly as they.

"Rarely are the possessors of big voices real artists," said Mme. von Klenner.. "There are more delightful singers with big brains and little voices than with big voices and little brains. The girl with a large voice seems to think that will carry the battle and so does not want to do too much studying. Well, to an extent that is the way with them all. They never think how the great artists have had to study—seven, eight, nine, ten years. If they put in three, they are patriarchs. Let me tell you this: The moment you think you have finished, you have finished. That is the end of you. To be an artist, you must never stop studying."

"What vowel do you use in the beginning ?"

"Italian a first, the others as they progress."

"What do you think of studying with a teacher of the opposite sex, a man with a woman teacher, a woman with a man teacher ?"

"I don't approve of it. I don't think a woman can teach a man as well as an equally capable teacher of his own sex, not because she doesn't know how, but because she doesn't experience the same sensations when she sings that he does, and singing so largely depends upon the sensations. A contralto might teach men, but I am a soprano.

"I am certain that it is even worse for a man to attempt to teach a woman. He can not tell her how to produce shades of color in her voice, because it is incapable of description and he can not show her how. I have known many good voices ruined by male teachers.

"There is one good thing about this phase of woman's work. In vocal teaching, if in nothing else, she is as well paid as a man is for equal service. In my club, I hear others of my sex declaim against the injustice that compels us to take less wages for as good work as men do. I can say truthfully: ' I don't find it so.'"

"Where do you begin to build up the voice, from the bottom up or from the top down ? "

"I begin with the medium register and train from that in both directions. Where does a rubber band break when stretched too tightly ? In the middle. Where does the voice give way when overworked? In the middle. But then a singing-teacher is like a doctor and makes her diagnosis of each separate case. This one needs this course; the other one needs something different but all should have treatment making for health of the body and the health of the voice. Tone production is the knowledge of certain universal laws governing the vocal apparatus."

"Should the vocal student go to Europe?"

"Not before she has finished her studies in America. Really one can do better in New York than abroad. The very best teachers over there are so advanced. It would be well if one could go to them for a few finishing lessons, but it is folly to start in at the very beginning and expect to get through in a few weeks or months. The teachers there train their own people well but then they are more patient, more content to hasten slowly. But our girls—they have no repertory and no languages. What language they have they speak badly. They do not command the interest of the European teacher. The American girl to them is simply a kind of foreigner that comes from California or Brazil or New York or some such wild place. They don't know America from Posen, and they don't care. They think we are all shockingly rich over here and put up their prices to the very highest notch when they get an American applicant for instruction. I understand American girls and I understand their pocket-books. It is all well enough to go abroad when one wishes to learn roles and to get a European reputation, but in ordinary cases a girl does not get as much for her money abroad as she could get right here in New York."

"Should a teacher be versed in the anatomy and physiology of the vocal organs? Is it necessary to teach them to the pupil? "

"I do not think it is necessary to teach them to the ordinary pupil but I do think that it is of the very greatest importance that the singing- teacher should know all about the organs with which she has so much to do. Doesn't any workman worth his salt know how the tools of his trade are made and what they are made of? Even if I don't approve of a certain doctrine or theory, I should at least inform myself as to what it is. I don't agree with it; 'Why don't I agree with it' One must examine herself and try to discover the 'why' of everything pertaining to her art and to her profession. The knowledge of the way the larynx looks when in action, for I have studied it hundreds of times; the familiarity with the parts of the larynx, for I have assisted at dissections; have broadened my mind even if I could never use the information in teaching."

"How early in life should one begin to take vocal lessons?"

"Well, of course, all the great singers began to study when very young, but I have had very little experience with children. Perhaps now and again I have had to straighten out some kink in a register of the voice, but I have never taken charge of a child's vocal education. A girl should begin to study about 15 or 16 years of age."

"What kind of deep breathing do you teach? You know there are those that say tone should be emitted at the same time that the abdomen is pressed out?"

"I teach the normal deep breathing, of course. I mean where the abdomen sinks in while expelling the breath."

"What do you think of the ' fourth register' of Mme. Lankow?" (See Werner's Magazine for December.)

"Mme. Lankow is a very dear friend of mine and I will say to you what I say to her, that there is nothing written for those very high notes; that there is no sentiment in them, no feeling, and that they are not beautiful."

"One hears public singers that apparently have a repertory of only six or eight or maybe ten songs. What do you think of the mental effect that such a small selection has upon the singer?"

"Why, it is dwarfing to the intellect. I endeavor not only to teach my pupils to sing sweetly and correctly, but to give them a musical education and develop their taste. If it be possible I get them to love the high class music. I am not one of those that sell music to their pupils and so keep them jumping from one song to another all the time, but I realize that this is the only chance many of them will have to make the close acquaintance of good music and so I take them back to Pergolesi and Lotti, and then bring them down the line of the masters, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, and the rest of them. I give them German lieder, French chansons ancient and modern, and try to exhibit to them every style worthy of attention. I want to broaden their minds.

"By the way, I may say that my particular passion is the folk-song. I went all over Europe, except Russia and Greece, to hear wild tunes of the peasantry. I have visited Norway, Sweden, Germany, France, Italy; studied the gipsy music in Hungary and Roumania and special concerts of Berber airs were arranged for me when I was in Morocco and Algeria. I have published several of these folksongs of different countries."

"Have you written anything ?"

"Well, not any books but plenty of articles on my profession. I have translated stories and selected and arranged songs."

"What pupils have you now before the public?"

"Just as their names occur to me now, they are: Of public singers, Mrs. Mabel Larimer, contralto; Ada May Benzing, contralto; Miss Amie Michel, soprano, now studying with Mme. Artot in Berlin; Eleanor Creden of Boston; Lillian Watt, soprano, of New Bedford, Mass.; Mrs. Bulen of Pennsylvania and Miss Nellie Cramer of North Carolina. Of teachers, Florence Settle of the Salem (N. C.) Female Academy; Miss Lulu Potter of the Peace Institute, Raleigh, N. C.; Maude Weston of Elizabeth College, Charlotte,N. C.; and Miss Adelaide Laciar of Mauch Chunk, Pa.; are pupils of mine."

Mme von Klenner is a graduate pupil of Manzoni of Paris, a celebrated teacher of dramatic action and gesture.

As to her personal characteristics, she was born at Rochester, N. Y., and so is a townswoman of Susan B. Anthony. She has probably the finest mouthful of teeth in New York City, and even if she were not naturally of a cheerful disposition, she could not be blamed for smiling frequently. This is not to say that she smirks eternally and pays continual compliments. Her particular aversion is what she calls "the molasses people," all sweetness and no pungency. She rarely compliments and devotes herself to finding fault.

"My pupils are supposed to pay me money to find the flaws in their singing and to point them out so that they will avoid them. When they make a public appearance they will not find a throng of applauding friends but people that ask themselves: 'Is she worth the money I paid to hear her?' I want to prepare my pupils for life and life, I am told, is not all bouquets and flattering notices."

Werner's Magazine: a magazine of expression, Vol. 12, January, 1899, No. 5 


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