March 31, 2015

Tomatis: Listening vs Hearing

Tomatis: Having followed the métier of my father and become an ear, nose and throat specialist, I was looking into the problem of hearing loss among aircraft workers, but at the same time was treating an operatic baritone—the leading baritone, in fact, of all Europe at the time. He was having difficulty singing in tune, and specialists all over had told him it was because his chords were stretched, too slack. So they were giving him strychnine; at first I was even doing that too, doubling and tripling the doses with no success. 

Then one day I decided to give him the same test as the factory workers, and the first surprise was that there appeared to be the first stages, in him, of the same kind of loss—the beginnings of professional deafness. He'd been singing for a long time, which lead me to the hypothesis that singers over a long period of time could damage their own ears, which would lead to professional deafness. And what I found after looking at hundreds of singers was a deficiency around the frequency of 4,000 cycles, which is about an octave above the range of a flute. It was the same deficiency as I had found with workers exposed to factory noise. When the loss reached down into the area of 1,000 and 1,500 Hz, I found that singers had real trouble with control of pitch. From this I concluded that there was a range of response with allows one to sing in tune. I called this the "musical ear." 

Marie-Andrée Michaud: One can hear, but not listen, isn't that so?

Tomatis: That's the case with most people. And the more I go into it, the more I'm convinced that those who know how to listen are the exceptions. Most people hear, they're equipped with ears, and think that they have reached the summit. No. That's a passive phenomenon—you let yourself be bathed in sound, but you don't integrate any of it. But listening is integrating, and the will is an essential part of it, so that we go from a passive phenomenon to an active one. Amongst other things, listening has an advantage because if you make the ear work to its full potential, it acts as a charging dynamo for the cortex. The more the listener knows how to listen, the more he is stimulated. 

And it goes much further than the ear. It's the whole body which reaches out to listen. You become an antenna, which leads to verticality. And immediately the voice becomes more beautiful. The more you speak and sing well, the more you charge the brain; the more it is charged, the more you want to speak, the greater the ability to formulate your thoughts, and the feedback loop between the voice and the ear is closed. The better you feel, the more you sing; the more you sing, the better you feel. And your consciousness rises at the same time. 

—Marie-Andrée Michaud, "One Who Listens Speaks: An Inverview with Dr. Alfred Tomatis," Pre-and Peri-Natal Psychology, 4(1), Fall 1989

March 30, 2015

The eye is the mirror of the voice

WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE IN AMERICA

THIS eminent London vocal teacher, whose visit to us is the present sensation in the New York vocal world, declares that the art of singing reached its highest point at the middle and end of the last century, but since then, owing to the development of instrumental and orchestral music, it has been comparatively neglected. There is no longer a school of composers who write especially for the voice, although the human voice will, when properly used, never cease to be the most beautiful of instruments.

Mr. Shakespeare is a pupil of the elder Lamperti, and, like his master, makes much of the breath in vocal culture. According to him, the two principal signs of correct singing are: (I) that very little breath is used in producing a note, and (2) that the action of the larynx should be automatic and unconscious. With proper breath-control there is freedom of tongue and of other organs, and there is a sensation as if the voice came floating out on the breath. Wrong voice-production, on the other hand, brings with it a constricting of the throat, an embarrassing of the tongue so that the vowel and consonantal sounds can not be clearly produced, and the perverted action manifests itself in rigid lips and cheeks and in protruding eyes. The jaw also becomes rigid, and the singer is unable to produce artistic tones. Mr. Shakespeare maintains that in singing the jaw should be entirely independent of the movements of the tongue, and that it would be “ possible to learn to sing merely by producing the voice with the jaw absolutely loose combined with a right breath-control.”

The smiling expression during singing is an excellent way to bring the various muscles concerned in the vocal act into right adjustment for freedom of action. The eye is the mirror of the voice, and a person is singing rightly if the eye conveys the intended expression. To quote Mr. Shakespeare’s words, “Every emotion of the mind has an appropriate facial expression. As long as the face remains inanimate, so long will the sound of the voice be dull and monotonous; where—as vivacity of the features is invariably accompanied by life and brightness in the tone of the voice. Whenever on the dramatic stage the expression of ardent love is desired, but through absence of vocal skill the face becomes fixed, the result reaches the ear as vehemence and anger rather than affection."

Mr. Shakespeare may be considered as the last prominent exponent of the old method of teaching singing. He clings to the traditions of his masters, claiming no special originality of his own, but dimly following out of the instructions he has received. Last winter we had Mme. Blanche Marchesi and now we have a singing teacher almost equally famous. It remains to be seen if Mr. Shakespear will fulfil the expectations that his reputation has aroused. It is difficult for a teacher to adapt himself to new surroundings, especially when in the new surroundings will be critics on the alert to discover any defects either in theory or in practice. When at home, Mr. Shakepeare's foreign pupils are those who seek him out because they have full faith in him, whereas, in this country, which he visits for the first time professionally, he will find a more critical and unfriendly atmosphere. In Werner's Magazine, however, he will have an impartial and accurate reporter. It will be our endeavor to tell our readers a full account of Shakespeare's lectures, so that those of our readers who are unable to attend them in person will profit by this distinguished London teacher's visit.  —Werner's Magazine, 1900: 475-476

*****

The eye is the mirror of the voice? This snippet of text reminds me of something read in an old manual, which was expressed as not having tension around the eyes. Mancini? Nathan? Or someone else? Suffice it to say, it's an old idea, one that can get lost in our "source" and "filter" view of vocal pedagogy. 

You see, it all goes back to this whole eye/ear matter, which isn't complicated at all. All you have to do is have a student experiment by tightening the muscles around the eyes while singing, and then not tighten them and note the difference. Hello! The song that is squinted through will sound quite different than the one that is not. 

But this has nothing to do with the ear, you say: it's just a matter of squeezing or not squeezing the throat! 

To be sure, one does feels the impact of tenseness or lack thereof within the throat, but the ardent critic would do well to reflect on nature and her response to various stimuli.  

What can be observed when a loud unexpected sound is made? The listener squints, recoils and contracts, while the face becomes fixed in an effort to protect the listening faculty: all things opposite to that which takes place in the executive singer, who's listening faculty is open and extended. 

Readers can find out more about this "listening posture" in Alfred A. Tomatis' The Ear and the Voice, Scarecrow Press, 2004. 

March 29, 2015

Tried & True

William Shakespeare (1849-1931)
All the exercises of the old masters were practiced on the vowel "ah," so typical of the open throat and freedom of the tongue. As these two masters did not refer at all to the note, we must conclude that they meant: when mastery over the breath and open throat during singing is attained, the note now unimpeded, looks after itself. 

This is the meaning of such expressions as "placing the voice," the voice "on the breath," or the "breath under the note," So the art of the singer, though a subtle one, is yet quite simple. He bring his notes one by one into the fold. Each sounds to its appropriate tone spaces automatically accompany it. 

Try the experiment of whispering the "Ah" softly for five seconds, then in the same breath increase the pressure to five seconds. Observe that on adding to the pressure, the breath is inclined to slip away. Practise the until you succeed in prolonging the "Ah" without losing command. 

Next prolong the "Ah" for ten seconds on the lowest sound of the talking voice, much lower than you usually sing. The cords are now brought nearer together; and being slightly tightened their edges offer some resistance to the breath pressure which sets them in vibration. The slackness of the cords, by allowing any uncontrolled breath to slip through, and the fact that while sounds such low notes we cannot hold the throat, makes the exercise valuable for strengthening the breath muscles and one which should be practiced often. 

The ancient Greeks accustomed their orators to recite the longest verses in one breath, on the lowest tones of the voice. They thus cultivated control over their respiration. Try this by counting up to forty on your lowest possible tones in one breath. It is a capital exercise. —William Shakespeare, Plain Words on Singing, G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1924: 21-22

*****

The use of "Ah" on the "lowest sound in the talking voice, much lower than you usually sing" is the very same teaching Herman Klein called "singing position," which appears in Hidden in Plain Sight: The Hermann Klein Phono-Vocal Method based upon the Famous School of Manuel García (VoiceTalkPublications 2013). We can gather from this that Old School voice teachers were far from quixotic. Rather, their teachings were of the tried and true sort, having been gleaned from observing and following nature. 

Who you are and what you read

Readers of VoiceTalk are from the continental United States, Ukraine, Germany, China, France, United Kingdom, Russia, Canada, Spain and the Netherlands—in descending order. How do I know this? Blogger has a "stats" page where I can keep tabs on who reads what when and how often.

Right now, about four-hundred of you visit this page every day, which renews my faith in the future of singing, even if the focus of VoiceTalk is in the past.

What do you read? Well, that's a curious matter. Like me, you have a taste for 19th century singers teachers and their students. However, the posts with the greatest appeal have been those about the wanton destruction of New York City Opera and its archives, which is followed by my oh-so-very-arcane post on "How Manuel García Taught Blending." This is followed in short order by "Blanche Marchesi: Sounding Boards" and "Nasality: The Wrong Idea of Voice Placement." "Kiri te Kanawa's voice teacher" is also in the top ten too, as is "Sex & Singing." No surprise there!

But what tops them all? A throwaway Valentine's Day post titled "Les chemins de l'amour." Of course, I have no idea why this is so: it could be zillions of students clicking on the title for their juries or love birds in Paris.

What don't you read? My posts on the work of Tomatis don't alway grab your attention, I am sorry to say, but that may have everything to do with the complexity of the subject matter. While the larynx has been studied extensively, the inner workings of the ear and its relationship to the voice have yet to be subjected to the same level of scrutiny—and therein lies the main difficulty. However, interest in the subject is growing.

As always, I am ever grateful for your feedback, comments, and emails, which come from everywhere and out of the blue. You have no idea how your words make my day.

Thank you for sharing my passion and reading VoiceTalk. 

March 28, 2015

The Look of Listening

Buddha at the Met
Buddhas and bodhisvattas. They're all ears depending on the country of origin. Why is this? The traditional view is that he or she is listening to the cries and suffering of the world with compassion—and you need big ears to do that. 

A somewhat more nuanced view is that the Buddha is listening to his Self, or that which is beyond the Self—an idea that finds expression in the work of Carl Jung, a student of Sigmund Freud.

Tomatis referenced the Buddha's ears and face in a more practical sense, this being his description of "listening posture" which appears in The Ear and the Voice, and which I've written about repeatedly if only because it's the big elephant in the room. 

I first learned of the Buddha's "look of listening" from Paul Madaule, when I attended a workshop he gave at Westminster Choir College in the summer of 1999. We talked for a few minutes during a lunch break, and when I asked him what he meant by Tomatis' "listening posture"—where the singer opens the envelope of the ear to higher frequencies, he showed me with his hands and face what Tomatis had taught him: The face of the Buddha.

I knew right away what he meant since I'd had an interest in Eastern Philosphy, and subsequently realized that this "look" could be found in great singers, including my own teacher Margaret Harshaw, who's teaching came back in a flash. She told me that "The face feels ironed!" and "It's like a facelift," which Tomatis also refers to in his text

Now, there are many vocal pedagogues and audiologists who will assert that the singer doesn't need to focus on higher frequencies since they are above the level of sounds made in speech, but these folks unwittingly assume the audition of the singer to be a passive matter as well as synonymous with what can be seen on a voiceprint, since a good tone that isn't "noisy" cuts off around 4000 Hz.

According to Tomatis however, in order for singing to happen, the singer must move from passive hearing to active listening with an auditory system open from high to low. Having experienced his program of listening training and utilized his methods in the studio, I can only agree. Tomatis' observation becomes evident in the student who goes from singing from memory to reading a score. Even those who know the score and have excellent reading ability often experience a lessening of vocal quality and ease. Why? They're busy looking and have stopped listening, the "look of listening" having been lost.


Photo Credit: Buddha at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, snapped with Daniel's Dinky iPhone. Note: Paul Madaule has written an excellent article on "The Look of Listening" which you can find here.

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.

March 26, 2015

Visual Dictionary

It's always interesting when science confirms something you've been taught to do is actually true. That was the case recently when I came upon a scientific study which showed that the brain finds new words that have been learned as pictures rather than groups of letters. Well, I was taught to do that when I studied at Westminster College by a wonderful pianist and coach—Glenn Parker. 

Glenn taught me, genius that he was, to make a movie in my head when I sang a song, which not only enabled me to remember it, but also to give it life. A few years later, I took a class in meditation which taught the same concept. Visualization it was called. Now, who can you find using this approach? Foreign language programs like Rosetta Stone! 

Undoubtedly, this "wisdom" isn't anything new, but rather is part of how the brain has worked since the stone ages, when human beings were creating cave pictures.

So, science now knows that while your brain is reading the word "apple" on this page, it's really seeing something like the picture accompanying this post, even if you're not consciously aware of it. Fascinating, no? 

What is old is new again. Now go learn a song in pictures. Make it—and your audience—come alive.

March 25, 2015

Somatic Integration & Singing 3

Making the shift from passive awareness to active listening of sound is what makes singing possible, despite protestations by some vocal pedagogues that the singer should not listen to the voice, but should feel it instead. They are half-right insofar that listening, in addition to involving audition of bone and air conduction, also involves vestibular information. This is the third route of awareness of which many speak, yet few know that its true origin lies within the ear, which Tomatis addresses in his work. 

If you haven't yet studied Tomatis' The Ear and the VoiceI encourage you to obtain a copy and make your way to pages 86 and 87 (copyright infringement prevents me from quoting the text in toto), where you will find an excellent exercise for acquiring an open ear—what Tomatis describes as Listening Posture, and what I believe brings about the correct opening of the mouth described by Giovanni Battista Mancini in Practical Reflections on the Figurative Art of Singing (1777) as well as the "singing posture" described in Hidden in Plain Sight: The Hermann Klein Phono-Vocal Method based upon the Famous School of Manuel Garcia (2013). 

It is the first and most important step for the student of voice, while also being the most difficult for those lacking the necessary audio-vocal control: one which facilitates all styles and timbres of the voice, and enables the "imposto" which is part and parcel of the teaching of the Garcías. 

How to practice Tomatis' exercise from a practical standpoint? My humble suggestion is that the student understand his instruction as being initiated before inhalation, sustained during exhalation, as well as involving the elongation of the spine and the opening of the ribs—for therein lies the full expression of the open ear. 

Somatic Integration & Singing 2

If the pupils opened their mouths incorrectly, I would show them how to do it right; and by many practical demonstrations, I have finally fixed a general rule which I will give here. This is: every pupil must shape his mouth for singing, just as he shapes it when he smiles. The upper teeth show a little, and are slightly separated from the lower ones. With many proofs and still more examples and much patience, I always obtained the desired result of discovering the necessary execution or such a rule. Besides, it is very easy, and in conformity with the best methods of the best schools. Let the teachers follow this method with their pupils and I dare to promise them the most satisfactory results. In giving them practical demonstrations, they can emphasize still more the truths of these rules by making their pupils pronounce the Italian vowels A-HA, E-A, I-E, O-OH, U-OO. With the above indicated position on the mouth, they will see that this position is not changed in going from one one vowel to another, except in pronouncing O and U.

—Giovanni Battista Mancini, Practical Reflections on the Figurative Art of Singing, Milan 1777, translated by Pietro Buzzi, Gorham Press, 1912: 93-94

*****

Legion have been the singers who have attempted to integrate this teaching and have failed. Why? As indicated in my last post, the "smile" is applied from without rather than being an expression of the ear. Yet the truth is always before us: if it sounds right it will look right too. And this can be the hardest thing to learn. Why? More often that not, the student cannot look and listen at the same time; that is, he can't see what he looks like when he's singing well or correct it when he's not. As such, his auditory-vocal control is not yet functioning at a high level. 

This lack of control is evident in the student who is instructed to stand in front of a mirror and observe or correct what he sees, and right before the sound comes out of his mouth, looks down at the top of the piano or to the floor. Why? The ear, which must focus just as much as the eye, is still learning to do its job.  

It takes courage and skill to face your Voice

Somatic Integration & Singing

Neurologically speaking, two systems are at work in the middle ear.  

The first is under control of the facial nerve which innervates the muscle of the stirrup,

The second system is under the control of the trigeminal nerve, or forth cranial nerve, which innervates the muscle of the hammer. 

This is extremely important when we use a neurological approach to understand how the ear functions; we realize that the human ear is decided into two parts and not three as usually thought. The first part includes the inner ear, which is regulated by the muscle of the stirrup. This muscle is located in the middle ear and is innervated by the facial nerve, which simultaneously controls all the muscles of the face and the platysma of the neck. The second part includes the external ear, in particular the tympanic membrane or eardrum which is regulated by the muscle of the hammer. This muscle is innervated by the trigeminal nerve, which also controls the muscles of mastication. 

So, on one hand, the stirrup and its muscle maintain a stable pressure of the liquids within the ear. On the other hand, the hammer and anvil regulate the tympanic pressure in response to the sounds that one wishes to perceive.  

—Alfred A. Tomatis, "The Ear and the Voice," Scarecrow Press, 2004: 59 


*****

The action of the muscles of the face and neck are integrated with the muscle of the stirrup? Really? Are you kidding me? 

No, I am not. 

The student who comes into the studio after a really bad day, and looks and sounds terrible is not making things up. Rather, the ear of the student had been impacted by events, auditory or otherwise, that keep the envelope of the ear from opening which it must for singing to occur. 

Where am I going here? It's simple really: Many old school manuals indicate that the opening of the mouth must be towards a smile. In Tomatis terms this instruction can be viewed as an expression of an open ear. It's not any more complicated than that until the student imposes this position onto his face in mechanical fashion. 

The truth is, the ear can't be fooled, which is easily deduced by anyone with eyes to see and ears to hear. The tell-tale sign? The conformation of the eyes. You've seen this when meeting someone who really doesn't want to meet you, and their mouth moves into a smile while their eyes stay dead. Listen carefully and you'll hear a dead tone too. 

Believe it not, this illustrates the huge difference between the modern school which too often in relies on positioning and the old school which—literally— relied on the ear.

Helping the student's ear to open? That takes great skill and patience on the part of the voice teacher. Learning how to keep it open and give expression to real feeling in spite of the vicissitudes of life? That's the real art.

March 23, 2015

The Problem With Placement 2

"Voice Placer" c. 1890
Vocal pedagogues have been peddling the idea of voice placement for a very long time, perhaps the most famous being Francesco Lamperti, who taught his students to listen to the center of the head whilst singing sotto voce. 

It's a controversial concept, if only because voice science has rightly determined that the cavities of the head do not contribute to vocal tone, which is made in the vocal tract. Yet the idea has had a very long shelf life. What accounts for this? The simple answer is that singers keep talking about it, one good example being the well-known tenor Matthew Polenzani, who, when asked where he felt "words and vowels" replied: 

For me, I feel everything out in front of my eyes. Everything I do happens in this focal point [indicates just out from the eyes]. For me, the voice starts inside of the body and it ends up in front of my eyes. And in front of my eyes, this focal point, that's where the projection happens.  —Leslie Holmes, "A conversation with Matthew Polenzani,"  Journal of Singing, Vol 63, No. 4, March/April (2007): 477 

Here's the thing, and my thing about this whole thing: Should Mr. Polenzani be robbed of his audio-vocal control—that's what we're dealing with here actually—because science tells him the vocal tract is the only resonator, and that his facial cavities make no contribution to vocal tone? Should he stop listening to his voice in front of his eyes?

I do not believe so. Unlike some of my colleagues, I take Mr. Polenzani's self-observation to be an actual phenomenon rather than a matter of self-delusion. What accounts for it? The short answer is the ear, specifically in how it processes and perceives vocal tone.

I tackled this matter head-on in my introduction to Hidden in Plain Sight: The Hermann Klein Phono-Vocal Method Based upon the Famous School of Manuel García (VoiceTalkPublications 2013). There, I demonstrated that García, Lamperti's great rival, recognized the "effect" of voice placement even if he focused on its "cause."  I also showed—for those curious enough to read the footnotes that accompany my text, that voice science, i. e. acoustical research, is catching up with historic teachings.


Note: The "voice placer" image comes from an issue of "Musical Courier," and illustrates the lengths to which teachers of singing have mistaken cause for effect. 

March 21, 2015

Less Science and a Little More Nature

THE ART OF SINGING By Mme. A. Litsner de Fére.

THE progress made in an art depends largely upon the publicity given to the ideas and observations of those engaged in it. One idea suggests another; remarks call forth comment. With singing, as with every other art, it is desirable that those who have had experience should bring the results to public notice.

The course now generally followed by teachers in publishing methods of their own is, however, to be deplored. Garcia, Lamperti and other eminent pioneers have written methods fully expounding the principles of the art of singing. All subsequent methods are based on these works, and differ merely in some minor points of application or interpretation. The necessity for these later methods may be questioned. Are they intended for pupils’ self instruction, or is it supposed that a teacher will forsake the masters’ methods to adopt another teacher’s method—too often written with the sole idea of bringing the author’s name before the public?

To introduce some new feature, and lacking in really valuable matter with which to vary the fundamental principles of an art so simple in itself, physiology has been resorted to. Practically, it is now contended, in many methods, that an almost surgical knowledge of the vocal organs should be had by a pupil beginning the study of singing. Yet the task of training the voice is of sufficient importance in itself to justify a 3 or 4 years’ course, without adding an unnecessary study of physiology and anatomy. Puzzling breathing-exercises have also been devised, some of them harmless in themselves, but generally superfluous. In still other methods we find advocated sundry modes of “ voice-placing."

Notwithstanding all these various methods, the final test remains the same. The only proper method is that which makes the singing appear, to the audience, full, natural and pleasing; to the singer, easy, devoid of any strain or effort. The difficulty lies in the fact that methods assume that all voices should be treated alike. Physicians who diagnose a particular disease advise the use of medicines not intended for other ailments. But vocal instructors of the method writing class, who favor certain rules, proper, perhaps, in some special case, advocate their general application.

Every voice should be trained according to its nature, and only such treatment given as it is found, upon examination, to require. The voice must be cleared of all imperfections before the final touches of dramatic execution are given. Unfortunately, teachers are inclined to follow some fashionable system exactly as it is published, instead of using discretion with regard to the nature and requirements of their pupils’ voices.

Some 15 years ago the Italian method was the favorite one here. Speaking with a prominent teacher, at the time, about the Paris National Conservatoire of Music, where I had been awarded first prizes, I was astonished to hear him assert that the Conservatoire was no authority here, the ground for his opinion being simply that the French method was conducive to tremolo in the voice, and that no French singer seemed able to sing steadily. My remonstrances that this defect was due more to the excitable nature of the French than to their professed method were of no avail. Times have changed since then, and it seems now as though it were the turn of the French method to become fashionable. It has many advocates, at any rate, among others, Mrs. Thurber. Indeed, there is a tendency among prima donnas to go to Paris for study. Moreover, the free tuition offered by the Paris Conservatoire is an inducement to go there. One would be surprised to see the number of American students in the Conservatoire. It is a mistake, however, to think that vocal instruction abroad is so far superior to ours.

Stockhausen, Faure, Delle-Sadie and other modern foreign teachers have also written methods, and are just as partial to them as teachers here are to their methods. If the method taught at the Paris Conservatoire is so much superior to all others, how is it that most of the female singers graduated from that institution during the last few years have proved of no great account? How is it that at the last concours of the Conservatoire the results were so discouraging as to call forth from the Paris press unfavorable comments? There and here, the error is the same. Scarcely a perfectly even voice is met with; and by the indiscriminating application of their established rules, defective voices, that require special training, cannot be perfected. The chief cause of fault-finding with voices at the last concours of the Conservatoire was their weak medium register. I had an interview on this subject with a reporter of the Herald (Paris edition), and mentioned to him that I had been asked to remain and teach in Paris, and that if I ever did so, I intended to have as pupils some of our American young ladies with weak medium range. He remarked that I would have no difficulty in finding them, for they all seemed to be deficient in this respect.

The evenness of the voice depends, to a great extent, on the medium register. In its perfection lies the beauty of a voice. We sometimes find a naturally good medium voice in young ladies who have never had a lesson; but as soon as they begin to study, the teacher establishes the three-register system, tells the pupil on which note to change from chest to medium, recommends all the different exercises in breathing, and adds a course of lectures on physiology —whilst the poor girl’s voice is quickly ruined.

I have studied in the Paris Conservatoire. Two of its present teachers, Mr. Archaimbeau and Mr. Crosti, were in my class. My experience of the manner in which vocal defects and weakness in the medium range are generally treated has been that they seek to conceal them. So long as the singer's voice is young, its brilliancy of execution is all that is apparent; but when the voice has been used for a few years, its fundamental defect reappears and the voice, especially in the medium, instead of improving, becomes so weak that it is practically worthless.

I have continued to study the art of singing ever since I graduated from the Conservatoire, and as the result of my experience I would say that vocal art depends on a very few but important points. (1) The placing of the voice; (2) the quality of the tone; (3) the break in the voice from chest to medium; (4) the manner of breathing.

I. The placing of the voice embraces opening the mouth, and the throat. The only natural way of opening the mouth is as in a smile. The body should be perfectly quiet, and there should be no strain on the muscles of the throat or neck.

2. The quality of the tone its fulness and richness, is obtained by a proper placing of the larynx and correct management of the breath. First, practice with the vowel a (ah) on the whole compass. The voice depends on the quality of the tone. Only through intuition can the teacher be a competent judge of the quality of the tone. He must also be able to give a proper example; for as he judges of the quality of a tone by hearing it, so a pupil must receive a correct tone that he may know what to imitate.

3. By an erroneous interpretation of Garcia’s method, all pupils are made to come to F (first space) in chest. Garcia gives us a wide field wherein the change of the register may be made. He says that a soprano may reach even C (below the staff) in a rich quality of medium. This is never attempted, for the weakness of the medium in most voices will not permit it. The secret and the only reason why singers’ voices are not perfect lies right here. The break in the voice may be entirely avoided, unless a pupil has already studied the ruinous system of establishing changes of registers.

The way to breathe has been the subject of much scientific writing; but here, again, we want a little less science and a little more nature. Breathing, as Garcia tells us, is a slow inhalation and a gradual exhalation. This is the natural way to breathe, and any scientific method robs the singer of that feeling of freedom, composure and self-control, that is absolutely necessary to enable the singer to give expression to her song.

Were these simple, natural rules more carefully observed, and the older methods of Garcia and Lamperti applied, bearing in mind the nature of the voice to be trained, I think we should soon notice the difference in singers, and have as many “stars” as we had 20 years ago.

Werner’s Voice Magazine, Vol XII, No. 2, February 1880, Page 36-37.

*****

While I have not been able to ascertain if Mme. Litsner de Fére was a student of Manuel García or not, she certainly sounds like one, doesn't she? The clues are many, one of them being the emphasis on "nature," which the great maestro referred to quite often. I love articles like this one, which tell the reader not only how singing was being taught, but also how it had been taught. 

March 20, 2015

The Singer's Sensation

Manuel García (1805-1906) 
Sustained tones. Manuel García started every lesson with them, which, experience teaches, are not for the faint of heart. They are the equivalent of the now popular "plank" pose (more accurately called chaturanga), where the body is held in position for a long time so as to develop "core." You really have to decide that you are going to do both maneuvers with great intention or all bets are off. 

What must one have in order to perform sustained tones and the plank? Extension, which must rule the body's other great force—flexion. 

Telling this to students is one thing. Getting them to exhibit it is another. Standing up straight? Nice try, but that's not it. The baritone hunched over singing Rigoletto needs to exhibit extension just as much as the recitalist who stands still.

Breathing puts one in touch with it. However, it must be present even before a breath is taken, and is the product of an open ear, which is reflected in an open face, elongated spine, and open rib cage.

The old school called this the "singer's sensation."

One way to find it? 

Close your lips, separate your teeth like you are cradling an egg on your tongue, smile to yourself gently, inhale slowly into the middle of your head, and then suspend your breath for a good 5-10 seconds, all the while feeling the muscles of your head, face and body lift and expand.

March 19, 2015

The García School: Sigrid Onégin


Though I am not a collector, I do interest myself in things "García" when they come my way, which happened this week in the form of a rare (signed) photograph of Sigrid Onégin—a student of Anna E. Schoen-René—courtesy of Harmonie Autographs and Music, Inc. The interesting thing, of course, is that this photograph was owned by Madam Schoen-René herself. 

(While it is not clear to me when Onégin began studying with Schoen-René, it is clear from existing records that she studied with her in New York City in the 1920's. However, it is possible that Onégin began her studies with Schoen-René in Berlin, who taught there until 1919.) 

Onégin was a Franco-Germanic contralto who was known as an operatic singer in Europe before coming to America in the 1920's, where she was known as a concert artist. 

If you listen to Onégin's recordings at Youtube, you will find a very beautiful voice which exemplifies a kind of vocal training few receive today. Onégin's Mozart singing alone, which demands "perfect placement," shows the listener just how high the bar was set—her clear, unforced manner and gorgeous trill a model of old school singing. In Gluck's doomed Orfeo, the listener hears something which is not heard on stages today—an expressive use of portamento. Going deeper, Onegin's Verdi reveals a dramatic vocal quality, while her Saint-Saens is a pristine example of legato singing with rich, round tone. 

Does Onégin change her technique in the pieces described on this page? No! She does not. She reveals a mastery of technique which too few singers possess in our information-overloaded age. Mozart to Wagner, Onégin did it all—which is what García School singers were trained to do. 

How might the modern student pull this off? For starters, I suggest the following exercise from García's Hints on Singing (1894) which can be found in the chapter on timbre (and which you should see for yourself since García goes into greater depth). 

Q. What exercise will give command over the various timbres?
A. This: In the same breath, on the same note, and on each of the vowels a, e, i, o, the student must pass through every shade of timbre, from the most open (or bright) to the most closed (or dark). The sounds must be maintained with an equal degree of force. 

The real question is whether the student can practice this exercise smoothly with nary a change in natural vibration of the voice and the requisite "voice placement." Most cannot if only because the bar is set much too low from the get-go. 

Did you notice that García omits the vowel u in the exercise above? Knowing why means knowing how. 

March 14, 2015

Levels of Listening

There are four levels of vocal tone: 
  1. Throat
  2. Upper Lip
  3. Bridge of Nose
  4. Forehead
Guess which level is operatic? So thought a long-dead voice teacher who's words can be found in my files (don't ask who—I am writing from memory). I knew what he meant when I came upon them and have demonstrated his astute observation to students who want to sing classically yet find themselves at numero uno—which is one way of acclimatizing them to what lies ahead without laying on the verbiage.

Teaching students to listen is a different process than book learning, which motor-learning researchers call a "declarative" process. The signposts above involve aural discrimination—the process itself being "procedural" (click on Katherine Verdolini Abbott's label below for more information).

Have we forgotten how to listen as the old Italian school teachers listened to their students? I wonder about that in our age of visual information which blinkers through smart phones and Google glasses. Despite all this and more, it can be observed that the four levels of listening can be accessed through a process of "rounding," number one not being rounded at all, and number four being rounded the most.

Guttural to Chiaroscuro tone.

March 11, 2015

Set to Sing


The mouth of the singer, who speaks correctly, is always set to sing. The muscles provide a mechanism by which the vibrating air receives the echo. The more the mechanism is exercised through the will, the more precisely it works, and greater the acoustic effect upon the resonating cavities. 
Cornelie van Zanten, student of Franscesco Lamperti in Bel-Canto des Wortes (1911)

March 10, 2015

The Essentials of Beautiful Singing: A Three-Step Kinesthetic Approach by Karen Tillotson Bauer

While I have not been in the habit of blogging about new vocal pedagogy books very often, the approach taken  by Karen Tillotson Bauer in The Essentials of Beautiful Singing: A Three-Step Kinesthetic Approach has me tapping away on my laptop.

Bauer's book is a welcome one if only because there is a death of texts which focus on singing from a kinesthetic perspective. Look through most publisher's catalogues and what will you find? Multiple treatises which promote the teaching of singing from a "declarative" standpoint, that is, by acquiring stacks of facts regarding anatomy, physiology and acoustics. Great stuff to be sure, but anyone who knows anything about learning theory knows that this is not the way one learns to sing—which Bauer makes clear in her introduction. As example, Bauer's story of the vocal pedagogy grad student who tests out of a class yet cannot sing and teach effectively represents the conundrum of our time, one which reminded me of Charles Santley's remembrance of Manuel García—the legendary vocal pedagogue who was the first to see his own vocal folds while singing and spent time in military hospitals looking at exposed muscles and larynxes: "He taught singing, not surgery!"

Knowing the facts regarding anatomy, physiology and acoustics may be essential for the voice teacher and scientist, but this knowledge does not help the student learn to sing any more than knowing how a car engine is built teaches one to drive. It is for this reason alone that Bauer's approach of "cultivated simplicity" should be welcomed by information-overloaded students and teachers of singing.

Bauer utilizes a three-step process, each step involving "doing" rather than "knowing," which progresses—I am happy to say, from "big" to "small": from engaging the whole body to the fine art of articulation—a time-honored approach which also reflects current research in neuroplasticity and motor-learning theory.

The first step involves the acquisition of an "open body," which involves the necessary elements of posture and breath, while the second step involves acquiring an "open throat."

If the territory covered in the first step is familiar to most students and teachers, the second step recalls—if only in name, an aspect of historical vocal pedagogy which has taken a beating ever since Cornelius L. Reid declared it as having nothing to do with the real teachings of the old Italian school in Bel Canto: Principles and Practices (1950).  While it is no surprise that I question Reid's reading of the historical record, my larger point is that the term "open throat," while anatomically inexact, is highly descriptive of a very necessary auditory sensation, one which was highly prized by old school pedagogues. I salute Bauer for reintroducing this term, one which was ubiquitous in voice studios a hundred years ago and resonates with the teachings of García and Lamperti.

Bauer's third step involves "forward articulation" and enunciation, which incorporates yet another old school term. I found myself nodding in agreement in the section dealing with "The Kinesthetic Experience of Forward Articulation" where Bauer has observed—as I have, that articulatory events are mastered by slow practice, which gives the ear time to wrap its two tiny (inner) muscles around new events.

From here, Bauer tackles "Principles of Registration," "Developing the Upper Range," and "Legato and Musicality." As such, her work spirals out from the core of the body and into the higher functions of musical meaning. Its quite an arc. Well-written and easily comprehended, The Essentials of Beautiful Singing: A Three-Step Kinesthetic Approach needs to be in your library. 

March 9, 2015

Singing on the Breath

Franscesco Lamperti 
I HAVE always been told that the Italians are naturally and climatically an extraordinary singing people. It is not so. Take them in the mass and they have no more musical talent than the Americans, and do not evince one-half the love of pure harmony and sweet melodies that the Americans do. The great Lamperti says his best voices come from America. Out of eleven of his pupils here, I count six from America, and the leading star slngers of Europe are most of them Americans.

Whence, then, the celebrity of Italians in the vocal art? In the applied skill of a few extra gifted men, voice-philosophers, I might call them. These great men applied their superior gifts to the development and the training of voices till they have reached a perfection which commands the admiration of the world. But their pupils have been few and selected. They sought the best natural foundations to build on, and patience characterized their work. Three to four years' assiduous training was necessary for the highest success. Of these great “old masters," as they are called, Francesco Lamperti is the only one left, and indeed about the only man in all Europe or the whole world that continues to apply the old method. Why do other teachers forsake the true old method, which alone has given to the world the great star singers of the past? Simply because the method requires so much hard study and patient, long-continued labor, and the fact that pupils are impatient with it and rush for the prize unprepared. Signor Lamperti is bright and vigorous for a man 74 years old.

Will the old Italian method die with him? I think not. Very few will teach it for the reasons assigned, but there are some that can, one, at least, I know can and probably will. This is Mme. Sandri, Signor Lamperti's assistant. This lady is an accomplished musician, is thoroughly acquainted with the Lamperti method, having assisted him for thirteen years, and is enthusiastic in her calling. She will not set up an independent school while Lamperti continues to teach, but she will be earnestly solicited to do so when he retires. Lamperti is a very emotional man. To say that he is an enthusiast in his profession is to express it mildly.

The Italian people are the most loquacious people you ever heard, but their voices are right on the end of their tongues. They could not get them back far enough to make singers. Vowels as well as consonants are chopped up by the tip of the tongue and teeth, and are loud, rapid and harsh.

Singing with them is the natural and appropriate language of tragedy. They ridicule the American love of melody. They say this is childish and belongs to the nursery. Sing to them an American ballad, for instance “Way down upon the Suwanee River." When you sing “Oh, darkies, how my heart grows weary," they instantly ask: “What did he do? Did he kill himself? Who wrote the plot? How many characters are there in it? Sing the rest of it and let us see how it ended." Singing is nothing outside of tragedy, though, to a limited extent, comedy has been popular. Vocal concerts would starve; oratorio would be too intolerably tame.

You may say that if such is the popular taste, singing is subordinate to acting on the stage. So it is, and most lamentably so. Wild passion is stimulated, but the people lose all the elevating, purifying and tranquilizing influence of pure, sweet song. Are they right? Is it true that singing is the natural language of tragedy? What incongruity! They tell us that “music hath charms to soothe the savage breast." In the next breath they tell us that it nerves the savage to ferocity and deeds of blood. Shakespeare tells us that “ the man that is not moved by concord of sweet sounds is fit for stratagcms, spoils and treasons," but these Italians claim that sweet sounds should nerve him to stratagems, spoils and treasons. The assassin on the stage sings himself into the fell purpose of slaying his victim. I witnessed here the performance of “Norma." The orchestral parts, by seventy pieces, were ravishing, but I was more than disgusted when. Norma sang herself into a purpose to murder her two babes. There was something so shockingly incongruous between the sweet melody and the fell deed, I then and there declared against the subordination of song to tragic. exhibitions. This feature of the Italian stage, connected with ballet dancing, makes the Italian theatre anything but moral and elevating in its influence, and nowhere else can you hear public singing but in the theatres, and there in opera and almost invariably tragic opera.

American singers, as soon as they get their voice-training, get out of Italy. A few sing a little here to get an endorsement which will help them in London; some to try their voices and return to the teacher if need be; but England, Germany and America are where good singing is sought and rewarded for its own sake.

Now, about American girls coming to Italy to learn to sing. Most of them, encouraged and flattered by friends, think all they have to do is to go to Italy ; and nine out of ten fall into the hands of mere mount-banks, who rob them of their money and do their voices no good, but even spoil them. After study with other teachers, some of them come to Lamperti to learn that they have been carried backward instead of forward. There are many sad wrecks, all for want of correct information before leaving home.

But does not Lamperti ever spoil a voice? May as well ask, does a knowledge of arithmetic disqualify a boy for business. But is the Lamperti system easy? Harder work, both physically and mentally, his pupils never undertook. It requires brain as well as muscle, intense application and patient continuance. No pupil ever comes to Lamperti merely to learn to sing for the social circle. He has no short course; he wants no pupils who do not purpose a public career, and turns away any one wanting in talent to make a successful artist.

Does the climate help vocal art in Italy? Undoubtedly. Yet Italy in winter is the coldest hot country I know, and in summer the hottest cold country. I never loved America as I do to-day.

J. R. Mershon, "Music in Italy," The Voice, July 1888: 117.

*****

Articles like this one from The Voice—a monthly magazine published in Albany and New York City at the turn of the 20th century—tell the reader quite a lot for those who knew what they are reading. In fact, it contains an important paragraph for the student of historical vocal pedagogy which could easily be overlooked. 

The Italian people are the most loquacious people you ever heard, but their voices are right on the end of their tongues. They could not get them back far enough to make singers. Vowels as well as consonants are chopped up by the tip of the tongue and teeth, and are loud, rapid and harsh.

Not get them back far enough to make singers? That's the key phrase, which suggests to readers that the author of the article observed the great maestro's teaching. It's a familiar idea to anyone who has read Vocal Wisdom: The Maxims of Giovanni Battista Lamperti (1931) which makes clear that Lamperti's son taught as his father did, which is that the voice must start from the center of the head.

Your voice is focused only when in its entire range it is intense enough to feel started and stopped in the same spot—in the center of the skull. 

That's far from the front of the mouth, wouldn't you say? However, the teaching of Lamperti did not limit itself to one "place," that is to say, the voice was also monitored at the lips (this includes the front of the face, what is called the "mask"); both "places" encompassing the two modalities in which audition takes place, that is, through bone and air conduction.

But here's the thing. This isn't a complicated matter, nor is it an esoteric one. However, the inquisitive student will find that many modern vocal pedagogues dissuade his/her students from listening to what is heard in the head (note: feeling is a vestibular aspect of listening). But this is exactly what students of the Lamperti School were taught to do, and quietly too—which makes one listen to what one is doing. How does one do this practically speaking? To use the language of Lamperti School, this involves singing "on the breath," which is something more than filling the lungs with air.

Old School voice teachers often talked about "singing on the breath" and—in the same breath—a "column of breath." To find out what they were getting at, I suggest you close your lips, separate your teeth, inhale slowly for a good 10-12 seconds, then suspend your breath until you feel every muscle in your body "lift."

Hearing/singing pure vowels on top of this column of breath? Well, you will probably need a good voice teacher to help you figure that out. 

March 7, 2015

Thou must not think of a method

Francesco Lamperti 

Tu non devi pensare ad un metodo, altrimenti potresti perdere la voce. Madre Natura ti ha dato la voce; noi maestri cercano d'insegnare ad i scualari quello che tu pose i da natura.  
[Thou must not think of a method, otherwise thou wouldst lose thy voice. Mother Nature has given thee thy voice. We masters aim to impart to the pupils that which thou possessest from Nature.] 
Franceso Lamperti to student Fraülein Wilhelmine Triviri Ertz who taught singing at Carnegie Hall in 1896. 

March 4, 2015

A Rare Photograph of Pauline Viardot-García



VIARDOT-GARCIA. Michelle Ferdinands Pauline, a great lyric actress and singer, younger sister of Maria Malibran, is the daughter of the famous Spanish tenor and teacher, Manuel del Popolo Garcia, and of his wife, Joaquina Sitchez, an accomplished actress. She was born in Paris July 18, 1821, and received her names from her sponsors, Ferdinand Paer, the composer, and the Princess Pauline Galitzin. Genius was Pauline Garcia's birthright, and she grew up from her cradle in an atmosphere of art, and among stirring scenes of adventure. She was only three years old when her father took his family to England, where his daughter Maria, thirteen years older than Pauline, made her first appearance on the stage. His children were with him during the journeys and adventures already described, and Pauline has never forgotten her father being made to sing by the brigands.

The child showed extraordinary intelligence, with a marvellous aptitude for learning and retaining everything. At that time it would have been hard to determine where her special genius lay. Hers was that innate force which can be applied at will in any direction. She learned languages as if in play. Her facility for painting, especially portrait-painting, was equally great. Her earliest pianoforte lessons were given her by Marcos Vega, at New York, when she was not four years old. At eight, after her return from Mexico, she played the accompaniments for her father at his singing lessons, 'and I think,' she wrote afterwards, 'I profited by the lessons even more than the pupils did.' She thus acquired a knowledge of Garcia's method, although she never was his pupil in the usual sense, and assures us that her mother was her 'only singing-master.' Her father worked her hard, however, as he did every one. In his drawing-room operettas, composed for his pupils, there were parts for her, 'containing,' she says, 'things more difficult than any I have sung since. I still preserve them as precious treasures.'

The piano she studied for many years with Moysenberg, and afterwards with Liszt; counterpoint and composition with Reicha. Her industry was ceaseless. After the death of her father and sister she lived with her mother at Brussels, where, in 1837, she made her first appearance as a singer, under the auspices of De Beriot. She afterwards sang for him on a concert tour, and in 1838 at the Theatre de la Renaissance in Paris, at a concert, where her powers of execution were brilliantly displayed in a 'Cadence du Diable' framed on the 'Trillo del Diavolo' of Tartini. On May 9, 1839, she appeared at Her Majesty's Theatre as Desdemona in 'Otello,' and with genuine success, which increased at each performance. A certain resemblance to her sister Malibran in voice and style won the favour of her audience, while critics were not wanting who discerned in her, even at that early age, an originality and an intellectual force all her own. Her powers of execution were astonishing, and with the general public she was even more successful, at that time, in the concert room than on the stage. In the autumn of the same year she was engaged for the Theatre Lyrique by the impresario M. Louis Viardot, a distinguished writer and critic, founder of the 'Revue Indépendante.' Here, chiefly in the operas of Rossini, she shared in the triumphs of Grisi, Persiani, Rubini, Tamburini, and Lablache. With these great artists she held her own, and though in many ways less gifted by nature than they, her talent seemed enhanced rather than dimmed by juxtaposition with theirs. Her face lacked regularity of feature; her voice, a mezzo-soprano, but so extended by art as to compass more than three octaves, from the bass C to F in alt, was neither equal nor always beautiful in tone. It had probably been overworked in youth: although expressive it was thin and sometimes even harsh, but she could turn her very deficiencies to account. Her first admirers were among the intellectual and the cultivated. The public took longer to become accustomed to her peculiarities, but always ended by giving in its allegiance. For men and women of letters, artists, etc., she had a strong fascination. Her picturesque weirdness and statuesque grace, her inventive power and consummate mastery over all the resources of her art, nay, her very voice and face, irregular, but full of contrast and expression—all these appealed to the imagination, and formed an ensemble irresistible in its piquancy and originality. 'The pale, still,—one might at the first glance say lustreless countenance,—the suave and unconstrained movements, the astonishing freedom from every sort of affectation,—how transfigured and illumined all this appears when she is carried away by her genius on the current of song!' writes George Sand; and Liszt, 'In all that concerns method and execution, feeling and expression, it would be hard to find a name worthy to be mentioned with that of Malibran's sister. In her, virtuosity serves only as a means of expressing the idea, the thought, the character of a work or a role.'

In 1840 she married M. Viardot, who resigned the Opera management, and accompanied her to Italy, Spain, Germany, Russia, and England. At Berlin, after her performance of Rachel, in 'La Juive,' one of her greatest parts, she was serenaded by the whole orchestra. Here too she astounded both connoisseurs and public by volunteering at a moment's notice to sing the part of Isabelle in 'Robert le Diable' for Fraulein Tuczek, in addition to her own part of Alice—a bold attempt, vindicated by its brilliant success. 

She returned to Paris in 1849 for the production of Meyerbeer's 'Prophete.' She had been specially chosen by the composer for Fides, and to her help and suggestions he was more indebted than 5s generally known. She was indeed, as Moscheles wrote, 'the life and soul of the opera, which owed to her at least half of its great success.' She played Fides more than 200 times in all the chief opera-houses in Europe, and has so identified herself with the part that her successors can do no more than copy her. 

From 1848 to 1858 she appeared every year in London. In 1859 M. Carvalho, director of the Theatre Lyrique, revived the Orphée of Gluck, which had not been heard for thirty years. The part of Orphée, restored (by Berlioz) from a high tenor to the contralto for which it was written, was taken by Mme. Viardot, who achieved in it a triumph perhaps unique. This revival was followed in 1861 by that of Gluck's 'Alceste' at the Opera. The music of this—as Berlioz calls it—'wellnigh inaccessible part,' was less suited than that of Orphée to Mme. Viardot's voice, but it was perhaps the greatest of all her achievements, and a worthy crown to a repertoire which had included Desdemona, Cenerentola, Rosina, Norma, Arsace, Camilla ('Orazi'), Amina, Borneo, Lucia, Maria di Bohan, Ninette, Leonora ('Favorita'), Azucena, Donna Anna, Zerlina, Rachel, Iphigenie (Gluck), Alice, Isabelle, Valentine, Fides, and Orphée. 

In 1863 Mme. Viardot fixed her abode at Baden, and has sung no more at the Opera, though she has appeared at concerts, and was heard in London as lately as 1870. She has composed a great deal, and several operettas, the books of which were written for her by Turgenief, were represented in her little private theatre by her pupils and her children. One of these, translated into German by Richard Pohl, as 'Der letzte Zauberer,' was performed in public at Weimar, Carlsruhe, and Riga. In 1871 she was obliged, as the wife of a Frenchman, to leave Germany, and since then has lived in Paris. She has devoted much time to teaching, and for some years was professor of singing at the Conservatoire.

Among her pupils may be named Mme. Desiree Artot, Orgeni, Marianne Brandt, and Antoinette Sterling. Mme. Viardot has published several collections of original songs, and vocal transcriptions of some of Chopin's Mazurkas, made famous by her own singing of them and by that of Jenny Lind. Her three daughters are all clever musicians. Her son, Paul Viardot, a pupil of Léonard, born at Courtavent, July 20, 1857, has appeared with success in London and elsewhere as a violinist. Mme. Viardot is still the centre of a distinguished circle of friends, by whom she is as much beloved for her virtues as admired for her genius and her accomplishments. Not one of her least distinctions is that to her Schumann dedicated his beautiful Liederkreis, op. 24. 

We cannot close this brief account of a great artist without an allusion to her well-known collection of autographs, which among other treasures contains the original score of 'Don Giovanni,' a cantata 'Schmücke dich' by J. S. Bach, Mendelssohn's 42 Psalm, a scherzo by Beethoven, etc [F.A.M.]

A Dictionary of Music and Musicians, edited by Sir George Grove, 1890, p. 259


Note: Mme. Viardot-Garcia (1821-1910) gave this rare c. 1880's photograph to pupil Sophie Traubman (1866-1951), a soprano who was born in New York City and made her Metropolitan Opera debut in 1887. Traubman remained with the company for 10 seasons, appearing in the first American performances of Wagner's 'Das Reingold' and 'Götterdämerung,' where she sang the role of the Forest Bird to Lilli Lehmann's Brunhilde and Albert Niemann's Siegfried. She also appeared in 'The Barbier von Bagdad,' as Elvira in Don Giovanni,' in 'Siegfried' with Jean de Reszke in the title role, and in 'Carmen.' After subsequent appearances in Munich, Cologne, Vienna and London, Traubman taught voice in New York City at the Old Met on West 39th Street. 

Photo Credit: The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. 

March 3, 2015

Alessandro Busti's Studio di Canto per baritono & William Huckel's Practical Instructions for the Cultivation of the Voice



Students of historical vocal pedagogy can now download Alessandro Busti's Studio di Canto per baritono (1874/1865)the historic singing manual Lucie Manén wrote about in Bel Canto: The Teaching of the Classical Italian Song-Schools, It's Decline and Restoration (1987) that confirmed the bel canto teaching on the "start of the tone" she had been taught by Anna E. Schoen-René, a student of Pauline Viardot-García and Manuel García. Previously unavailable from the only library in America which had a copy (too fragile to scan), the text has recently been digitized by Landesbibliothek Coburg. 

Manén believed Busti had revealed a secret teaching of the old Italian school when he published the exercise you see below in Studio in Canto per baritono in 1864. However, the exercise had already been published by William Huckel in 1820 in his fascinating little book Practical Instructions for the Cultivation of the Voice. Perhaps Manén was unaware of this? Whatever the case, the inclusion of this exercise in two different texts—one published in Naples and the other in London—can be traced back to the same pedagogical tree: Busti had been a student of Girolamo Crescentini, one of the last castrati, while Huckel had been a student of Domenico Corri, a tenor who had studied with Nicola Porpora.


Busti's exercise for the start of the tone


Busti's book is essentially one of vocal exercises with very little text, while Huckel's is just the opposite, containing excellent instructions woven around carefully chosen exercises. 

Those who read Huckel closely will be rewarded with detailed vocal techniques. His nuanced instruction on the old Italian school teaching of opening the mouth departs from the usual focus on the smiling upper lip. Huckel writes: "The lower lip should be inclined to the smile, so that the tip of the under teeth may just be seen; for if the lip is allowed to remain in its natural position during practice, the probability is, that it will weaken and damp the tone." 


Huckel's exercise for the start of the tone


Huckel also has curious things to say about the joining of registers, which involves crossing from chest to head by "pressing from the back of the mouth; the pressure necessary may be compared to leaning forward when walking against a very strong current of air." When I read this passage, my modern ears heard the words "lift" and "extension," which refer to proprioception of the muscles of the body rather a forcing of air from the lungs.

Huckel also gives the reader excellent information on the "shake." In fact, he may be the first writer to illustrate the manner in which it should be practiced, the first exercise being done slowly on a half-note (which is how Jenny Lind had been taught to practice it by Manuel García). 

There is a lot more waiting for the reader to discover in Practical Instructions for the Cultivation of the Voice, which I find to be one of the most intriguing texts I have encountered. 

VoiceTalk readers now have two important 19th century singing manuals which compliment and inform each other.

Note: The reader will notice that the link for Busti's text utilizes a date of 1874; however, close examination reveals the text to be comprised of two books, the earlier one being published in 1865.