February 2, 2015

Luisa Cappiani on Modern Methods

Luisa Cappiani
A voice teacher once said to me: "We must teach singing by anatomy and physiology of the throat. We must know exactly which cartilage, mucus membrane, false or true vocal chords, fibres, etc., we apply for this or that tone." With a smile I replied: "This you can never do, as a tone of the human voice does not depend upon one cartilage or one membrane etc." 

For the pianoforte, we know that we require for different sounds, big or low, steel string of different thicknesses. To understand the anatomy and physiology of certain parts of the body is essential for vocal teachers and students, but they need not understand the throat. More important is their understanding of: 

The bony framework of the face, for receiving the tone from the vocal cords: 

The facial muscles, with lips and tongue, for articulation: 

The ribs, with the intercostal in unions with the acoustic chambers (nasal bridge) and the diaphragm and abdominal muscles for breathing. 

Study of the throat muscles, etc, is neither essential nor desirable for the student of singing, as giving attention to them usually results in a tightening of those muscles, which produces throaty tones. 

The larynx, a wondrous, subtly built instrument of still more wondrous mechanism, is a complex apparatus. In its action for bringing forth the different tones, we cannot detect in which tones the several fibres, cartilages membranes, etc., are at work. Their actions are in union for the pre-convieved tone. 

Sir Morrell Mackenzie, the eminent throat specialist, says in "Hygiene of the Voice": "It would be hopelessly impossible to count the movements of the muscles which work the vocal chords." 

The famous vocal teacher, Trivulzi of Milan, said: "To be a good vocal teacher depends on one's refined ear." 

It was he who brought forth not the musical world so many celebrities, including the tenor Rubini, the soprano Frezzolini, and others. Frezzolini was to far from seventy when I hear her sing divinely and with a fresh young voice, the aria from "La Sonambula," vocalizing with greatest ease the runs and trills in the cadenzas. At this age, was that not proof that she had the correct tone-production and that it was possible to preserve the voice through a life-time?

Lamperti, as a youth, was the accompanist of the famous vocal teacher, Trivulzi, and in listening to the well-produced perfect tones of Trivulzi's pupils, his ear being naturally refined, he became Trivulzi's successor, at the latter's death, and in his turn, made celebrities from common singers, thereby gaining renown as a vocal teacher. Lamperti did not say to his pupils: "For this and that tone, use the crico, or thyroid, or arytenoid cartilage," but to correct a bad tone, he said simply, "Do it otherwise," and was not contented until the pupil had found the right way of tone-production in a perfectly free, elastic vowel, not stiffened in the throat. 

Could Trivulzi and Lamperti hear of these modern anatomical teachings, they would have a good laugh in their graves.

Cappiani, Luisa. Practical Hints and Helps for Perfection in Singing, 1909.  


*****

Refined ear versus stacks of facts? That's the juxtaposition or tension between approaches Madam Cappiani was describing in Practical Hints and Helps for Perfection in Singing in 1908. Has much changed since then? Yes, we know a lot more facts about the vocal instrument, but the refining of the ear? That's a whole other matter, one which is renewed with each generation, which is why I often refer to singing as a language. While we will undoubtedly accrue many more facts about the voice as time and research allow, the truth of the matter is that having access to facts will not lessen the time it takes to learn to sing, which takes repetition and immersion—just as language acquisition does in the child. 

To be sure, there are those who come out of the box singing quite well (Tomatis was the first to posit that the child can hear the mother's voice in the womb), but even for these students, the learning curve, especially as classical music is concerned, is rather steep. With this in mind, it is certain that singing is a matter of the ear, even for someone like Mandy Harvey who sings well even though deaf. Having sung quite a bit before losing her hearing, Harvey demonstrates that singing, like listening, is an active process, the guiding force of the proprioception of vibration being a vestibular function of the ear. 

Madam Cappiani was a student of Francesco Lamperti.

Photo Credit: New York Public Library 

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