April 9, 2015

The Throne of the Pharynx 3

Francesco Lamperti
Perhaps no master of voice ever lived who, in his day, was considered greater authority on the subject of vocal art and who enjoyed greater fame as voice producer. Probably no master of singing has had a greater following among noted singers. It would be hard to find a greater variety of nationalities than was represented in his class room. Lamperti was a high-strung, sensitive, nervous man and his piano was literally scarred all over with the beatings he gave it with his baton while correcting his pupils. He considered the voice the most perfect instrument for expression in music and nothing but perfection satisfied him. He had little regard for a pupil whose highest ambition was to be merely a concert singer. Concert singing to him seemed the tamest idea of vocal art. He said it did not bring out the passionate thrill in the singing voice as did opera. He would keep a pupil for months on on page of exercises or a part of an aria. When Alvary, who became a shining example of what a correct method, persistence, patience, perseverance can do, came to Lamperti, he had very little voice to speak of. It was thin, weak, with little resonance, and he had no thought of becoming more than a concert singer. But he became an artist. 

Rossini said it required three things to make a singer, "Voice, Voice, Voice." Lamperti said, "Voice, persistence, patience, intelligence, perseverance." It has been said of Lamperti that when he passed out he took his secret for posing the voice with him. This is not true. He had no secrets which he withheld from any one who could understand him. He had judgement, intelligence, discrimination, discernment, a finely organized artistic, musical temperament. Nothing but the finest and most artistic interested him. He considered singing the highest expression of art. His highest ambition and aim was to produce a beautiful quality of voice, an even scale, every note in the scale as beautiful as it was possible to make it. Nothing short of that could he tolerate; pure quality, beautiful quality, regardless of classification of voice, or any other qualification. He considered phrasing, reading, quantity, range compass, secondary to quality. It was natural that a student should ask him, "Is my voice soprano, contralto, tenor, baritone, bass?" He would invariably answer, "No matter about the classification. Make every note of the scale perfect from your lowest note to the highest. Then it will be time enough to decide the class of voice." Yes, he had a method, not only for every individual voice, but for every individual note of the scale. But as he used to say, no two voices are more alike than two faces. We must have a method adapted to each individual voice. He had judgement, adaptation, decision. He word was law. The pupil must follow implicitly his directions or quit. 

You frequently hear pupils say, "Oh, I would do anything if I could have a fine singing voice," and yet they are not willing to do the very thing that makes a voice, condition, adjustment, application. They seem to think that nature ought to endow them with a beautiful voice without any effort on their part. But ask them any of our finest public artists what is the secret of their success. They will invariably tell you, earnest endeavor, application, concentration of thought, patience persistence, perseverance, unremitting ceaseless striving, one thing at a time, until it is mastered. That was the secret of the success of Lamperti and of all the old Italian masters, and of all who would succeed. If the teacher of the present day should require of his pupil all that Lamperti required, he would give up in despair. American students have not time to spend to form right habits in singing. They are in too great haste to appear before the public. Some students have some fine notes naturally placed. Instead of making all the notes of the scale equally good, they spend their time singing, listening to and admiring their best notes, to the neglect of those which need the most attention. If we take the most difficult and master them first, all will seem easy and give satisfaction and pleasure. Finish the foundation well, then you will have something to build upon and every step will be advancement and satisfaction.

I have heard students regret that they could have studied with the Old Master. Yes, those who had the opportunity were fortunate for the discipline was as beneficial as the lessons in singing. Lamperti never gave his pupils any compliments or encouragement only to stimulate greater ambition, exertion, and interest to complete one thing at a time. He would keep a pupil weeks on a single phrase, if necessary; there was no other way not to complete it or step out, but as I said before, he would transform a weak, tuneless voice into a thing of beauty that was a delight to listen to. You ask: How did he do it? First, by mastering the control of the breath, the jaw, tongue articulation; then by keeping in mind an ideal tone—first as soft and sweet as possible, with the tongue in the bottom of the mouth and throat, the whole jaw relaxed completely as if dislocated at the point of junction, the mind directed to the cerebellum where all sound is supported, just back of the throne of the pharynx. Locate it exactly, first. Draw an imaginary line through one ear to the other, then from the upper front teeth to the back of the head, where the lines cross each other, is the life center for tone. Sound the letter E, and direct it to this point, just where the head begins to round up. Never sing a note without first placing it there,—high or low; have that point of support, placing. No matter how high the note on the scale may be, have the placing at this point only. If you make no effort to reach or lift the tone it will find its own place. If you reach for it, you push the tone out of its natural position. No one can make a perfect loud tone till he can make a perfect soft one. Most singers can yell, but few can make a delicate soft-tone a delight to the ear.

Student of Francesco Lamperti, Manuel García and Antonio Sangiovanni  c. 1890 

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