March 27, 2015

Methodism


Methodism 

  1. The doctrine, polity, beliefs and methods of worship of the Methodists. 
  2. (lowercase) the act or practice of working, proceeding, etc., according to some method or system.
  3. (lowercase) and excessive use or preoccupation with methods, systems, or the like. 

Methodism in singing has been around since there have been teachers. In fact, you might say that any book of scales or exercises is a method by virtue of its presentation of material and how it is used. If this loose description will not suffice, we have historic methods like that of Manuel García; who, I should point out, asserted that his teaching was not a method at all—which was something cobblers did, but rather—a science. 

What is the worth of a method, even one classified as scientific? I believe the answer lies in the nexus between knowing and doing, which is revealed in how one studied the art of teaching with the father of voice science and his sister Pauline Viardot-García.

To obtain certification from the Garcías, you had to be able to sing, that is, you had to be able to demonstrate the very thing you endeavored to teach. This working knowledge was then applied in the studio where the candidate prepared five students for a professional career, as well as an additional five students who had learned bad methods. All ten had to find their place as working artists. This took years of work. Only then was certification given.

Talk about a high bar! I don't know of any school or person who asks for this level of accomplishment today, one which Anna E. Schoen-René attained in the first decade of the 20th century. She published her letter of certification in America's Musical Inheritance: memories and reminiscences (1941), and also had this to say:

Scientific explanations can only be grasped by those educated in the principles of their art. 

Such a curious statement, is it not?

Being educated in the principles of singing as taught by the Garcías entailed something more than the acquisition of facts. The starting line? To use the terminology of García's time, this meant the ability of the student to wrap his or her ear around pure vowels. However, like other terms that were used by the old school, this is one that is little understood if only because it is tied to another term which is also considered obsolete: voice placement.

4 comments:

  1. I have come to my own philosophy that the best I can do for my students is to get them to stop singing for the teacher and rather sing for themselves, that is, to be observing what they are doing, how it feels, how it sounds to them (with full awareness that it sounds different to our ears), to get them to experience singing a tone while observing which muscles might be tensing. This awareness, I believe, will take them through just about any singing method. I would say that the biggest problem with any singing method is the tendency of some students to simply do it without questioning why, because they seek the teacher's approval, or are discouraged from questioning, or from laziness. I have been on both sides of all of those possibilities.

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    1. Observation is everything! Cannot agree more.

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  2. Also, regarding the story-line for learning songs — of course! This is how one learns long opera roles and those dialogue-y sections on stage (think "Hansel und Gretel", for example). In fact, it is sometimes the case that we come less than perfectly prepared to the first staging rehearsals, not because we didn't learn the piece but perhaps because we just learned about last-minute cuts or new tempi or anything the conductor, who just flew in that morning, may have changed. Or, hey, the company forgot to tell you which language the opera was being done in (it's happened!). Once you are doing some action, any action, parallel to the music (even when it seems to go against the words you are singing), you can learn it more quickly.

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    1. Thank you for your messages, Marcellina. You mention something very important, which is the readiness of the student to question and fully participate when studying. Too many want an easy "fix," as though learning to sing is akin to buying a product.

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I welcome your comments.