August 17, 2017

How to Fill the Lungs

In practicising to fill the lungs, the singer should stand upright, close the mouth, and inhale very slowly through the nose, whilst at the same time inducing a gradual upward expansion, as though the air descended first to the region of the abdomen and then mounted by degrees to the upper cavities of the chest. The body throughout, although firmly supported, must be in a state of muscular relaxation.  

During the act of inflation, the stomach must be slightly drawn in, the ribs raised to their full extent, and the front wall of the chest allowed to rise—all without any perceptible elevating movement of the shoulders or collarbone, which are not permitted to move from their normal position or take any active part in the process of expansion.



A noted pedagogue once told me: "You can't learn to sing from a book!" And while this is widely considered to be true, I didn't let that stop me. And if I had let it stop me, I never would have found Klein's book, a passage of which is included above. 

What does it take to learn from a book? I believe it involves a high degree of proprioception—that is, the person reading must already have a feeling for singing. The book itself must be written from a procedural point of view. It must give clear, concise instruction in what to do and how to do it. Theory isn't enough. Knowledge about the vocal mechanism is not enough. There must be a doing to do.

Klein offers the reader a wonderful bit of doing two paragraphs after the two you see above when he tells the reader to hold the breath for three counts and then writes out—"to be actually counted."

If you go through the steps Klein has delineated and then hold your breath for three counts, well, by golly, you will feel something, a something that wants to be repeated. I can tell you what this is in one simple word: Lift. Acquiring it whether the mouth is closed or open is the next order of business.

August 11, 2017

You Are Enough: Barbara Cook



"When asked what her advice usually was to aspiring singers, she told the Associated Press that it boiled down to three words she learned early on and that were her guide. 'You are enough. You are always enough. You don't have to pretend to be anything other than what you are. All you have to do is deeply embrace who you are and you'll be fine. In life, aren't you drawn to the more authentic people? Of course. You're not drawn to phonies.' " LATimes, August 2017.

I only heard Barbara Cook live twice, both times at her 80th birthday concerts with the New York Philharmonic. A friend gave us his tickets, and then I bought my own. Glorious music making, I knew I was hearing the kind of singing one hears only too rarely today—where the singer risks everything, goes deep and sings from soul to soul. And at the end of the concert, she put the mike down, stepped to the very front of the stage and sang Bernstein's "Some Other Time" from On the Town. I cried tears of joy and applauded till my hands were sore.

My advice? Find her on Youtube—the interviews, concerts, everything. Get good and lost for a couple of hours. You will be richly rewarded.

July 10, 2017

Vincenzo Cirillo

Vincenzo Cirillo, the bass of the Church of the Unity, in Boston, is a teacher who represents the old, sincere, laborious Italian school. He came to Boston in 1873, under an engagement to teach singing at the National College of Music, and after the collapse of that institution, continued in the city, engaged in instructing his numerous pupils till the year 1880-81, which he spent abroad in the inspection of the best schools of singing in the Old World, and in the study of the latest phases of teaching as practiced in Italy. Signor Cirillo is a graduate of the Royal Conservatory of Naples, and a member of the St. Cecelia Academy of Rome, as well as the holder of eight diplomas from various societies in Italy. His first teacher was Alessandro Busti. During his master's sickness, Cirillo taught his special pupils, and after his death, continued at the Conservatory for five years, till the increase of his private pupils compelled him to resign his position. He also studied under Alfonso Guercia and Domenico Scafati, who shares with Lamperti and Vannuccini the honor of heading the list of modern Italian teachers. In 1879, Cirillo was appointed director of the choir of the Church of the Immaculate Conception of Boston, where he produced several of his own compositions, the chief being a brilliant and original "Stabat Mater" for six solo voices. He has published a lecture on the Neapolitan School, a method of vocalization in three divisions, and a large number of secular compositions. He is now at work on an opera founded on a Grecian story. 

Music and Drama,  November 11, 1882: 13. 


You can find Cirillo's excellent lecture on the download page in the right hand column. His teaching on the "compound vowel" has been addressed on these pages multiple times, which you can access using his label below.  

July 8, 2017

10 Things I Keep in Mind in the Studio


  1. No one owes me a damn thing. 
  2. Be kind.
  3. Focus on the teaching. 
  4. Make it simple: Keep it simple.
  5. One thing at a time: Then connect the dots. 
  6. Problems are solved by basics. 
  7. Take nothing for granted.
  8. Sound can open Pandora's Box.
  9. Listen with your eyes and look with your ears. 
  10.  Singing is grounded in joy. 

July 7, 2017

10 Things to Keep in Mind During Your Fabulous Singing Career


  1. No one cares about your vocal technique. What matters to the listener is the product. What you do in the practice room is your concern. 
  2. No one is handing out awards for practice. Get used to enjoying it. You'll be spending a lot of time alone in a room learning music. 
  3. Success comes and goes. Learn to ride the wave. 
  4. Be humble. There are things that only you can do, and plenty of things that others do better. The art is to know the difference and your limits. 
  5. Talent doesn't always win. Life is not fair. Yet really beautiful voices have a way of finding their place in the sun. 
  6. Histrionics are no substitute for real technique, which should enable you to move your listener. Being able to do this standing still, using your voice and not moving a muscle, is the real art. 
  7. Learn to say no and mean it. 
  8. You will have trouble with managers. Real success means knowing how to manage yourself. 
  9. You can only really sing when you have to sing. The Muse isn't interested in hobbyists. 
  10. If you are going to teach, keep in mind that no one is going to listen to you until you reach 40. Make sure you actually know something. 

July 4, 2017

10 Books for the Vocal Pedagogy Geek

Here are 10 books you may find to be worth your time while you while away your summer weeks at the shore or by the lake.

  1. So You Want to Sing Sacred Music: A Guide for Performers, Edited by Matthew Hoch, (Rowman & Littlefield, 2017). 
  2. Loralee Songer, Songs of the Second Viennese School: A Performers Guide to Selected Vocal Works, (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016).
  3. Valerie Mindel, So You Want to Sing Folk Music, (Rowman & Littlefield, 2017). 
  4. Matthew Hoch, Linda Lister, Voice Secrets: 100 Performance Strategies for the Advanced Singer, (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016). 
  5. Anna Hershey, Scandinavian Song: A Guide to Swedish, Norwegian and Danish Repertoire and Diction, (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016). 
  6. Joan Melton, Singing in Musical Theatre: The Training of Singers and Actors, (Allworth Press, 2007). 
  7. Joan Melton, Kenneth Tom, One Voice: Integrating Singing Technique and Theatre Voice Training, (Waveland Press, 2013). 
  8. Joan Melton, Dancing with Voice: A Collaborative Journey across Disciplines, (Voice Theatre Solutions, 2015). 
  9. Matthew Hoch, A Dictionary for the Modern Singer, (Rowman & Littlefield, 2014). 
  10. Joan Frey Boytim, The Private Voice Studio Handbook: A Practical Guide to All Aspects of Teaching, (Hal Leonard, 20013). 
My favorite cover from the selection above? Melton's Singing in Musical Theatre: The Training of Singers and Actors (Allworth Press, 2007). Very elegant, just like Joan herself. 

June 29, 2017

New Cover for Hidden in Plain Sight

My little 104-page book is receiving an elegant new cover courtesy of Jeff Macauley—a graphic designer and cabaret artist here in New York City. To say I am happy is an understatement: I'm thrilled! 

While covers are one thing, content is another—and in this case, the reader will find my introduction to Klein's succinct and timeless instruction: instruction that is founded in the teachings of the father of voice science. And therein lies the most interesting thing: Klein is unique in presenting the great master's teaching, especially as voice placement is concerned since García did not address the matter in his own writings. 

I should mention that this cover has a particular meaning for me—a private one—which I am not adverse to divulge. 

You see, Pauline Viardot-García, who appears in the text, was wont to wear black and purple/lavender silk dresses when she taught. Her brother considered  Viardot-García the genius of the family, and it is through her student Anna Schoen-René, who in turn taught Margaret Harshaw, that this book was found in the first place. Without the Viardot-García purple/lavender connection, you wouldn't be reading this post and blog. 

I hope you will take as much pleasure in reading Klein's text as I did in bring it to you. It's the real deal.

May 15, 2017

New Fangled Deep Breathing

The Courier says; "If all the aspirants of future vocal honors could have heard David Bispham at Steinway hall no doubt some of them would today direct their attention to other fields. Mr Bispham did not sing. This was one of the occasions when he talked. The baritone appeared under the auspices of the National Association of Teachers of Singing. Herman Klein, Chairman of the executive board presided. 

David Bispham
"Mr Bispham was announced to speak on the subject of 'General Principles in the Art of Singing.' His essay, a lengthy paper, was filled with wisdom, eloquence, humor and advice. To those about to take up careers as singers he quoted the laconic advice of Punch to those about to be married, namely, 'Don't.'"

Here are a few extracts from Mr Bispham's essay: 

"There seems to have been during the last few years more than a revival of interest in the art of singing. The interest has increased until it has positively become a craze, and who can tell what it may lead to? A renaissance of that branch of prevails; there seems to be signs of a general artistic revival in this country, for, besides an awakening among the other arts, such as painting, literature and architecture, even the drama shows signs of a revivifying, while people are actually 'opera mad,' and a very good things, too, if it leads to the formation of what we most need, national opera in our own language, founded upon the best of modern foreign models. But to the end that we may have opera without being obliged to import singers, we must encourage and train the voices we have at hand and form models of our own for future generations to look up to—examples for them to emulate. Indeed, they are not a few already, of whom we have great cause to be proud—women and men of American birth, and at least partly of American training, who, after study and work abroad, have returned to our own stage where we have been proud to welcome them with the greatest of foreign singers of our generation. 

"I fear, however, that the average young woman, who, with a healthy voice and a good ear, thinks to make a success upon the stage, the literary aspect of her art. If so it may be called, counts but for little. 

"Musical journals are full of advertisements of singers who have made a certain amount of success as far as it goes, and from these ranks we are constantly hearing or recruits to the stage, principally in light opera, as in the recent case of young Edward Johnson, who is making such success in New York at this moment 

"The one thing about our would-be artists that is more striking than almost any other besides the natural cleverness of our own countryman is the lack of seriousness that many of them make so plain that he who runs may read. The 'get rich quick' person must understand that if he is every going to get rich by singing it will be through no process of celerity. 

"In Italy we are accustomed to thinking of singing as a natural gift. In England we are accustomed as considering it as rather a pedantic acquirement. In Germany, more than anywhere else in Europe, singing has taken on an intellectual touch; while in France, the artistry of all that is done upon the stage is fully apparent. Here in America, if anywhere in the world, we should be able, as we see compounded of all the other nations, to combine the good points of them all. Nowhere better than in New York have the singers before our public been able to acquire a knowledge of the methods of their brother and sister artists from other countries, for have we no upon the stages or our two opera houses the representative vocalist of Europe, and are not our own, who are working there with them, holding their ground without a shadow of a doubt? Fortunately, the stage in this country is no bar to respectability or social standing; therefore to use is open the highest that the theater has to confer, and it is open to gilded ones, from whatever stratum of society—from the lowest to the highest. The aristocracy of art in this country is assured and is respected. The only really bad thing about the stage is the bad work that may be heard or seen upon it. The only really bad thing about a singer's career is bad singing. 

"Now, how to ensure good singing: Of course, there is only one way to sing, and that is the right way. There is only one kind of person that can sing, and that is a real singer. You may talk and write about singers and their work from now until doomsday, and it will not carry one iota of weight as against a simple song, beautifully sung; and yet it is necessary to talk in order in inculcate ideas and instill into the minds of beginners certain doctrines—the A, B, C or their art. The teacher finds that some who try are not singers, and never will be or can be. Others have the power, only it needs to be brought out. Others have voices and nothing besides—'Vox et practer nihil.' 

"Many, indeed most singers, think they are called, but few find they are chosen. Of course, voice is necessary. We all remember Rossini's three essentials for singers: 'First, voice; second, voice, and third, voice.' That was doubtless true then, but more is required in this day, and in this city, than every before in any other part of the world, with the single exception of Covent Garden, London, where the conditions are practically the same. 

"Breathing seems to be the especial stumbling block for both master and pupil alike. However, it is to the singer that the bow arm is to the violinist—absolutely essential where any real work is excepted. 

"Jenny Lind, whom I personally new when she was an aged lady, had no patience with the new fangled deep breathing. She said the chest was made for that purpose, and acted accordingly, and wonderful in her prime was her breath control. There was never a doubt of that; but the public of fifty or sixty years ago thought little of those matters. The voice was all with them, and we have only to take a rapid glance at the condition prevailing then to recognize how enormously our own field of operation has broadened. We must act accordingly. Singers were Jenny Linds or Pattis—or they were not, just as now they are Melbas and Tetrazzini's, or they are not; but that was for the one kind of singing that generally prevailed at that time. Now there are so many other kinds, and the requirements of the stage are so vast that while a Sembrich will cover a wide space, a Lilli Lehmann will overlap a large part of that and cover new ground in other directions. Yet they all must, and do, sing after one fashion or another, to the great satisfaction of the public, which admires this or that school of music in which they prefer to hear their favorites. 

"It would be interesting to know the vocal process of the vocal education of a Caruso. Maybe he just sang, as so many or his countrymen do. We never heard Caruso during his years or work at home, or in St. Petersburg, or in South America. Yet the same voice was there, and the illuminating grace of experience has in these latter days made for him a name by which he will be remembered for generations. Even in this case, however, let no pupil think that it has been all play—all beer and skittles. 

"Tamagno was another type of great voice which came to his own by its own methods. No master could teach him much of voice culture. Vannuccini said he 'bleated like a goat' and told him so. His musical educations, notwithstanding his enormous vogue in 'Otello' and other Italian operas, where volume of voice was the principle requisite, was so limited that, to my knowledge, when he was engaged to sing a performance of Rossini's 'Stabat Mater,' in Florence, he not only did not know the music, but had never even heard of it before! He sang it, however, with the greatest success, no such effect having been created by any singer in my experience of oratorio as in his rendering of the 'Cujus Animan.' 

"Jean de Reszke was the stuff of that I would like to see more tenors and all other singers made of. His career was the outcome of sheer intelligence. 

"The first of the general principles I take to be the breath, which  I hold to be the alpha and omega of song, the middle and both ends of the art. By 'art; I mean not only that of singing but of speaking whether from the platform or the pulpit, at the bar or upon the stage. 

"Were we all made alike we would all sing alike. As a matter of fact, we are all make alike only up to a certain point, and on general principles. Through ages nature has formed Italians so that it is plain to the eye that a man or a woman is an Italian, and upon hearing and Italian sing without seeing him you would say: 'Oh, that's an Italians' voice.' The same is applicable to Germans, French and English. 

"I am at a loss to know how more particularly, within the time at our disposal this evening, to enter into the subject of the general principles of the art of singing than to insist upon the utmost clarity of explanation to the pupil of the various points touched upon, for can be more puzzling to the beginner than to be told by one whom he considers as authority, and who has explained himself—if the expression may be used—by means of strange gestures, that the song must come from the pit of the stomach, or the back of the head, or that is must float, or that it must emerge from his larynx as if it were strips of paper being drawn from the mouth of the prestidigitator? I beg of those who may have found some benefit in using any of these mysterious movements to do so as sparingly as possible if they would avoid mystifying the pupils still further over an already sufficiently complicated attainment, and I would beg them of general principles to settle down with good common sense to find out, not what they can hammer into the comprehension of their pupils, but how clearly to elucidate the subject so that what is in the pupil may be brought out. This is the true meaning of education. The word training presupposes the existence of something capable of being trained; if that is not there all is in vain." 

Johnstone-Bishop, Genevra. "The Musical World," Los Angeles Herald, Tuesday, April 7, 1908: page 3.

May 1, 2017

Tomatis Talks

For nearly forty years, Dr. Alfred Tomatis has been travelling in the meanders of our auditory appendages. For him, it is in the hollow of the ear that man must seek the source of his equilibrium.  During this interview, we lent him our ears most attentively...

Psychologies: You have written about pregnancy and autism, dizziness and music, dyslexia and foreign language learning....at the center of all your work, the ear.  Is that so important?

Alfred Tomatis 
Dr. Tomatis: The ear deserves more attention than is currently given. This is not an organ made simply to cause otitis! Behind this little appendage there is nothing less than the brain. The ear appears even before the nervous system. As the evolution progressed, it progressed by leaps and brain followed the movement. The ear has two functions. First, it gives energy to the brain. It's a dynamo. And it works for all living beings, from fish to man. Then, it allows us to situate ourselves in space. Thanks to it, we can stand, climb, descend, walk ... The more mobility increases, the better the ear.

Is this parallel evolution of the ear and the brain always verified?

Nearly. There are animals like the snake, endowed with an important brain, but almost deaf. Conversely, bats have very fine hearing despite their very small brain. But these are exceptions. By perfecting, the ear is joined by additional organs: the vestibule, the saccule, the cochlea, ... They are the ones who assure man his verticality. But the most important thing is that the ear allows us to listen. Animals hear. Mammals have occasional moments of listening. To be able to listen, man needed his brain to grow in a fabulous way. I believe that man is made to listen. 

What is the difference between listening and hearing? 

Hearing is a passive phenomenon. We are inundated with sounds. But to take control of oneself in order to listen is a voluntary act which immediately determines verticality and engages communication. The traditional ascetics constantly repeat it: "Listen!" Probably because people do not listen. Traditions often say, "Listen and you will see." This formula is difficult for us to understand because we live in a world of vision starting with the Greeks and the Latins. We care for many autistic children who have phenomenal ears, but who see nothing since they do not listen.

Where does the importance of the ear come from?

This organ is more extensive than we think. The vestibule, which is the most archaic part, innervates absolutely all the muscles of the body. All our gestures leave the vestibule. In the course of its evolution, the ear has provided itself with an organ, the organ of Corti. It contains cells with an eyelash, such as protozoa. When these cells atrophy, the eyelashes that grow on them become more important, and this gives rise to the hair. The hair is a cutaneous destiny of the ear. Conversely, when Corti's cell loses its eyelash to develop its body, it is organized to give birth to all the sensitive organs of the skin. One can almost say that man is an ear in totality! One communicates not only with the ear, one communicates with one's body. To talk to the other is to play with one's body and the other's body. He who is not afraid of his body can make him vibrate when he speaks, and feel it inside. It is both a way of getting to know each other better and communicating better. In the same way, you can learn to make your body vibrate from within to avoid being afraid.

One immediately thinks of the sacred songs: the Gregorian chants, the "Om" of the Tibetans ... The elders knew this well! They sang to recharge the brain and to have control of this body that is underneath. Alas! The number of listeners is still extremely small. But I believe that man is on his way to becoming a listener.

For you, is this the next step in evolution?

It is an inevitable progression. The great listeners are those who hear the other. It's not nothing! We would have fewer social problems if everyone knew how to listen to the other. We live the world of the evil-listener, the dialogue of the deaf. But that's not all. The great listeners also know how to listen to their bodies. The tympanum is innervated by the parasympathetic nerves. If we knew how to listen to them from the inside, we would know how our heart, our breathing, our digestion ... All the somatizations are made along these two nerves. The psycho-somatic pathology is there! Knowing how to listen to your body, it would avoid quite a lot of pathologies.

But when one speaks of listening to one's body, one does not imagine that the ear participates in it. Rather, one is contemplating becoming aware of one's body.

Speaking of awareness, you touch the last level of listening. For he who knows how to listen to the fact beyond all that we have spoken of listens to the Universe. Listening becomes a very high level faculty. It is contact with consciousness.

What do you mean by consciousness?

Our ego is such that we would like to have awareness. No! It is the consciousness that takes us, which floods us. We are enveloped by it, and we spend our time refusing it. If one has the ear fully open, one can enter into a dialogue with the Universe. It is he alone who speaks. We are only transcribing, through a transistor called the brain, what the Universe wanted to express. We are very poor transducers! 

How do we learn to listen? 

One must first wake up the ear. For this we use filtered sounds and the electronic ear. The filtered sounds are sounds without memory, sounds that can not be associated with memories. This is why they are filtered so that the subject hears as he did in utero. With the children, the voice of the mother is used whenever possible. In other cases, it is mostly Mozart. But it is also necessary that the sounds really penetrate to the brain. We then use the electronic ear. It is a device that receives the sound exactly as a human ear should work perfectly. It is known today that 90% of the fibers of the auditory nerve are efferent: they leave the brain to go outside. When you receive a sound, it tickles the inner ear then the external ear. It is as if you were in a fortress: when a visitor comes in, you are looking for who he is, then you open the inner door before lowering the drawbridge. We listen to what we want to listen to! By forcing the doors to open, the tympanum is helped to stretch, the muscle of the stirrup to work, the ear to be formed.

Is it a re-education of the ear, as a limb is re-formed after being in a cast?

Exactly! The ear is re-educated in its listening function. For the brain to work, it needs four and a half hours of stimulation per day, at a rate of 3.5 billion stimuli per second. He can thus perceive all that surrounds him. There are no people with big ideas! Ideas are given to them. Intuition is that. Einstein said: "Genius is a spark once in life, and fifteen hours of work a day." Mozart was a great listener rather than a genius. But he received perfectly all that surrounded him.

Let's go to Mozart. In your opinion, his music is an instrument of personal development, even of therapy?

Music is an extraordinary instrument, which has been forsaken. We tried all sorts of music and we always go back to Mozart. When you listen to Mozart with the electronic ear, in filtered sounds, you have the pulse which immediately climbs to 120 pulses per minute. Like him! Mozart kept all his life a rapid pulse, a pulse of a child, it is probably why it was worn out very quickly and disappeared very young. But, to enjoy music, you have to have a good ear. Someone who hears Mozart with a distorted ear only perceives noise! Music therapy, for example, never takes into account the subject's ability to integrate. It is not enough to receive sounds, but they must be properly distributed throughout the brain. We have a primitive brain, the thalamus, which ensures the distribution of information. Unfortunately, this relay is also the receptor of our affective life. If it is overloaded, the distribution can no longer be carried out. The ear is at the crossroads of a multitude of universes. It has made me penetrate into many fields, from that of total non-listening, which belongs to psychiatry, to that of foreign languages.

This is the theme of the second book you just published.

I realized that all ears are the same at birth, in all corners of the world. It is the sound environment that changes. The variations are related to the atmosphere, climatic conditions, air quality ... The ear forms itself to receive the sounds corresponding to its native tongue. If he is allowed to hear differently, the subject can learn any language. We all have the ability to integrate all languages, provided we hear them.

Can you use your method as a simple tool for wellness and balance?

Yes! We are getting more and more people who do not have any particular problems, but who simply want to get to know each other better, to evolve. One does not need to have a serious problem to learn how to listen!

Interview with Dr Alfred Tomatis (Psychologies - Décembre 1991)

This post is a Google Translation of an April 17, 2017 post made by Olivier De Wulf—a Tomatis Practitioner based in San Francisco, California—and can be found here in the original French.

April 28, 2017

Master Words


A singer can transmit his emotions by feeling strongly himself. Sympathy is the sole transmitter of emotion, and the feelings of an audience are excited by our own, as the vibrations of one instrument are awakened by the vibrations of another.

—Manuel Garcia, The Musician, January 1897, page 20. 



Frank Herbert Tubbs was an associate editor for The Musician and wrote a column called The Voice in which the quote above appears without comment or attribution. 

Tubbs also wrote a very interesting article in Werner's Magazine about a lesson he had with Manuel García which you can find using his label below. 

April 27, 2017

A Good Teacher

It does not follow because one is highly educated, that he is what may be termed a good teacher. The good teacher is the educated person who is versatile and broad-minded in dealing with different pupils. The mental calibre and physical organization of pupils are vastly varied, and to be a good teacher one must appreciate these peculiarities, and adapt himself according.

Many pupils, especially female pupils, are exceedingly timid and nervous, and any exhibition of impatience or impetuosity on the part of the teacher disconcerts them. Yet there are teachers who fail to discriminate differences, or ignore them, and bluntly, sometimes even coarsely, attempt to correct their faults. Such teachers cannot be too strongly censured. The pupil, while endeavoring to do her utmost to correct her faults, feels this rude treatment keenly, and frequently through agitation and nervousness, makes matters worse, and the lesson is a failure.

The teacher who brings about such results, no matter how highly educated he may be, cannot properly be termed a good teacher. The good teacher, while correcting every fault, would do so calmly, and with quiet earnestness and dignity, making the lesson profitable and pleasant.

Some pupils need encouragement, the good teacher will judicially give it. A pupil of this kind will advance far more rapidly by this mode of instruction, than by being constantly found fault with, without one uplifting word of hope and commendation. Then there is the impatient, impetuous pupil. To get angry with such a pupil would only “add fuel to the flames.” The good teacher would never do this. A calm, straight-forward demeanor, would be a far more rational and successful mode of dealing with such an absurd peculiarity. Again, there is the conceited, egotistical, self-opinionated pupil. Every teacher is aware that a pupil of this nature can never succeed until this absurd trait has been eliminated. Such pupils generally desire to sing compositions far beyond their ability. The good teacher, by a little diplomacy, can easily cure such a pupil of this ridiculous individuality. From time to time it might be well to give him with proper criticism an aria such as he desires. The pupil would soon find that his musical aspirations were far beyond his knowledge and comprehension and thus cure himself. Such a pupil should be made to realize that person is more unpopular among musicians than one full of conceit. There are students who attempt to select their own repertoires. The good teacher will never permit this in an amateur pupil, knowing full well that the pupil can be no judge of his musical needs.

If one cannot deal diplomatically with his pupils, if he cannot be polite and patient, he had better not attempt to teach. It is easy to say pupils should not give way to these idiosyncrasies, but such natures exist, and always will until the millennium, and they must be met. The good teacher will meet these individualities patiently. He will deal with them skilfully, teach earnestly, having constantly in mind to do and say that which will be of most value for that particular pupil.

The well-poised teacher is always judicious, courteous, earnest, faithful and conscientious. One possessing these qualifications, with a sound musical education, may deservedly be considered—“a good teacher.”

Harry J. Wheeler, "Some Characteristics of a Good Vocal Teacher," The Etude, April 1910, page 270.

April 20, 2017

Buzz

It's what we hear inside our heads when we sing, or better yet: it's what we had better hear inside our heads when we sing. 

Yes, I am quite aware of those who intone that the singer should not listen to herself. To them I respond: Do you shut your eyes when you drive? Because that's what—auditorially-speaking—you are asking your student to do when she sings. What this statement betrays is the teacher's lack of knowledge. 

The basics? 

Human beings with normal hearing process sound in two ways. 

  1. Bone Conduction
  2. Air Conduction

We hear bone conduction in our heads and air conduction outside our heads since it travels from our mouths back to our ears. 

Which route is faster? 

Bone conduction. It's what we hear and feel first. It's also what must be developed in nine out of ten singers. 

It is discovered in closed vowels like [e] and [i]. 

Margaret Harshaw introduced this concept to me during my first lesson with her in 1985. She called it "the buzzy business that never turns off." She also told me that it felt "hard" and would take a long time to get used too. She was right. Her words were underlined when I underwent Tomatis' listening training in Toronto in 1999. There, I listened to Mozart filtered at a high frequency and beamed into my head via bone conduction. The tickle of buzz I heard and felt informed everything I had been taught. To put matters succinctly? 

It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that buzz. 

That said, we also need the awareness of air conduction. They are inseparable, bone and air. In fact, you can't have one without the other. The old Italian school had a perfect visual metaphor for their relationship. 

The bow and arrow. 

April 18, 2017

Seduction

What a title. One that needs a bit of explanation, right?

You are singing in a choir, and the person standing next to you has a big voice. What happens? You are sucked into thinking that you have to keep up, sound bigger than you are (if you don't) and end up pushing the hell out of your instrument. 

Or this. 

You spend a lot of time listening to singers, copying what they do. The problem is that you really don't know what you are doing yet. It doesn't feel right. Your fear? You'll always be a wanna-be. 

Or this. 

You know you have a voice, have been taking lessons and like your teacher, but leave every lesson sounding hoarse. 

In each of these cases, the singer has lost himself. Is this smart? Of course not. But we all do this until the pain of going over the edge makes us stop, take stock, and figure things out. 

In the first case, the singer who over-sings has to learn to stay in his auditory sandbox. In the second, the wanna-be finds a really good voice teacher. In the third case, the singer figures out if there is something wrong biologically, or if the technique being taught—or the person teaching it—isn't up to snuff.   

In each case, stepping back before moving forward again requires the willingness to accept and learn from failure. The problem is that it's all too easy to let someone do your thinking for you. Stepping back also involves a degree of self-awareness that acknowledges that actions can be taken which will lead to a better result. This goes back to the old adage which observes that if you are doing something and not getting the result you want, you had better look at what you are doing. This is different, of course, from crippling self-doubt which prohibits one from taking action in the first place.

Seduction is very strong in singing circles. Instead of finding out what the voice is and what it can (and can't) do on its own terms, the singer gets lost in fantasy land. This is a huge mistake. If persisted in, a lot of neurotic behaviors can and do result. Grandiose ideas are common. Life becomes black and white, and the other guy is always black. He or she can't understand me. No one appreciates my talents, and so on and so forth. All this results from a false sense of Self—of trying to be what one is not. 

Here's one thing I've learned as a singer and teacher. 

No one has your voice. And you can't have anyone else's voice either. Sure, your voice may sound "like" someone else's voice. But it can and never will be that other person's voice. Better to find out what your voice can (and can't) do instead of trying to do and be something you are not. 

What else have I learned? 

We feel and hear ourselves first before the listener does. That is our job as singers. 

When you know what to listen for and how this listening feels, singing becomes a very pleasurable experience. This involves the audition of bone conduction—the awareness of buzz—which can be experienced via an open-throated [e] vowel. This is simple stuff, if you know what I am talking about. If you don't, you need to find a teacher who does. 

April 9, 2017

The Sacred Fire of Real Feeling


The old Italian traditional Porpora method or manner of voice-production and art of singing is founded on science. Porpora was a great composer, musician, and teacher of the singing-voice; the immortal Haydn was one of his pupils. Porpora was born in Naples, 1686, and after living in various cities of the world, died in his native city 1767. The late Dr. Bronson, who was a singer as well as an elocutionist, wrote a treatise on mental and vocal philosophy that has made all these traditional principles clear to the earnest student. This system unfolds the true philosophy of mind and voice, in accordance with the nature of man and the structure of language, which we may call tune,—the body the instrument, and the mind the performer. The principles and practice of the true vocal exercises, tend to develop and perfect both mind and body agreeably to the laws that should govern them.

Clara Brinkerhoff c. 1865
In forming pure tone, or voice, for the art of singing, the first requisite is secure a perfectly healthy distribution of the vital fluids throughout the body and a free and powerful activity of the mind. The point I claim is that without the mind as performer the voice is left too much to the physical utterance of sound, in automatic singing, whereas the singing-voice is above all the voice of the soul, and should communicate with other minds through its own perfect language. If this assertion is incomprehensible to any of my hearers it would not be so if they had heard Jenny Lind. The soulful predominated over and through the physical in her, till she could communicate with all hearers and delight them. This fervent, soulful voice can be obtained only by a full and synchronous action on the brain. the lungs, and the viscera. The soul operates naturally on the dorsal and abdominal muscles, thus setting in motion the whole body. A practical knowledge of these important principles, and specific use of these muscles for healthy breathing. and exercises of the vocal organs, should be the foundation of the art of singing, it being the only mode that trains the voice and gives expression to the passions and kindly sentiments.

To study this method is to convince the mind and demolish all previous theories, wherein the muscles of the throat and breast are taught to do work which will produce bronchitis and other evils rather than voice. This wonderful instrument, the human voice, I repeat, becomes at once performer and instrument. The nervous centre, semi-lunar ganglion, and solar plexus, the great centre of organic life situated under the diaphragm and partly behind the Stomach, and the great sympathetic nerves of vegetable life, have intimate connection with the smaller nervous centres. There are three orders of these nerves: one going to the blood-vessels and other parts of the vascular system; one to the contractile tissue or muscles of involuntary motion; and one to the nerves of organic sensation, conveying the impressions made on the organs. The spinal accessory nerve plays an important part in the Porpora method, it being used in controlling and moving the sternum or chest-bone in respiration, which, when properly arched, acts as a resonator. One of its fellow-roots goes to the root of the tongue and plays an important part in controlling the epiglottis. This little organ is also much used in the Porpora method in damping the sound in singing, and becomes a very important factor, aided by the superior cords in controlling the breath in the lungs till it glows, and then in this elastic condition is sent forth in soul-tinted, mellow tones, vitalized by the inward glow.

The epiglottis stands like a sentinel and does the bidding of the nerves of the spinal cerebral system. The pneumo-gastric nerve sends a branch to the oesophagus, larynx and trachea, commonly called wind-pipe, also to the cardiac or heart plexus, and just here we find the true meaning of music. It is the result of the harmony of our very selves, and is the sense of harmony. The entrance of any emotion, such as fear, renders it almost impossible to sing or pitch tone truly: when we are out of tune in our emotional life. Or unstring our nerves by late hours, loss of sleep or its causes, we are powerless to sing well.

But not to digress further. We find the pneumo-gastric nerve, a recurrent branch, goes to the larynx, and others to the face to exhibit the feelings. This inter-weaving brings the vocal organs into play, with the heart and lungs, with feelings and thoughts, while the main body goes to the stomach and unites with the great centre of organic life or solar plexus, under the diaphragm and partly behind the stomach; but the roots of these nerves are in the cerebellum, the seat of emotion, a receptacle of life. Intensity of thought, anxiety and care, therefore, impede respiration for want of the proper cooperation with the nerves of organic life; hence dyspepsia. The constituents of mind are will and understanding; the upper back part of the head holds the first brain, being understanding and will.

The light, brilliant voice is easily supported by lateral breathing and upper lung action, as it requires but little breath. This kind of breathing is used greatly by the French, who use very little tone-power. This breathing is universal in such singers as Patti, who prefer automatic brilliancy in their art to expression and feeling, that being a secondary condition in the mind of the singer. They make but small demand on those muscles and nerves that reach out to the seat of feeling. In fact, they lack vital contact from the cerebellum to the grand ganglion or solar plexus; without this contact in grand and serious music, all singing appears mechanical and artificial, or merely as galvanized bodies performing. The life is not in them. They may please us as do fireworks, but they cannot thrill us. How then, you may ask, can we be able to bring these varied activities into combined results of fervent voice and controlled breath for song? The answer is simply this: By teaching the pure utterance of vowel sounds consecutively, several times in one continuous breath; this support of the voice is called in Italian appoggiare la voce. The earlier the pupil begins, the better. All little children should learn to sing as a means of health, the pupil learning the exact position of the mouth, lips and throat-opening, for each vowel, which also represents distinct timbre or color of tone. Articulation follows later when the perceptive powers are quickened to watch vigilantly the slightest undirected motions of the organs employed,—jaws, tongue and lips.

There are no perils to the human voice equal to that of abnormal pitch of accompanying pianoforte or orchestra. By vocalization, or nature's own handiwork, as I believe, the vocal ligaments acquire a definite tension which produces a normal pitch for it. To force this voice-pitch higher than true vocal tension, is to attenuate the tones and badly inflame the surrounding parts of the glottis, where all sounds are generated and controlled. It was my misfortune, years ago, to sing a grand aria at a concert, with a piano tuned much higher than normal pitch. It took, to remove the hoarseness and inflammation from my throat, caused from singing with the piano, four months' time, as well as deep study on my part, of “ Hygiene de Chanteur," by Dr. Segond, of Paris. known better as Salviani in operatic circles, to restore my voice, by scientific knowledge, to its natural condition of purity and strength and compass. The doctors thought I had a cold; the professors thought I had simply lost my voice, and there was no help. From Dr. Segond I learned that I had strained the vocal cords. Beware of the high-pitched piano as you would an adder!

I do not believe than any written work on the voice can do more than lead the thought toward vocal development and act as inspiration to study. The vitalized voice of the artist-instructor alone can teach vital contact and artistic control to the pupil, so that he may comprehend at one bound the difference between a physical and a soulful sound, which has true fervor. The singer or writer who can inspire others to learn singing does a good work, but not what he could do if he had the person alongside of him, eye to eye. In learning singing more is done by absorption from the mind of the teacher than by absolute study. That is to say, the mental awakening or apprehension is often instantaneous in the pupil. because singing is, in a large degree, of the spirit. The imagination is often lacking. even with singers of long study and good physical voice; but by a few sharp glances from the inspired teacher, or a biting ejaculation, the mental fog is cleared up, and a beautiful scene is depicted on the mental mirror. It may be a sunset exquisite in color, with brilliant foliage, singing birds. and varied enhancement of nature, which reacts on the tone-quality of the educated voice, giving such timbre as would best paint the summer. Singing is painting with the voice instead of the brush or pencil. To sing without spirit or eloquence is not to sing at all. Mere utterance in similar tones is not painting. because one tone-color could not depict anything. The mere saying of words in one quality of tone would be painting it all blue or all black, or Stating that you did so. It conveys nothing to the mind of nature's truth in expression. This, then, is the great work of the teacher of singing, to draw out the voice in all its beauty and give it to its owner in perfect control.

Every voice locked up, as it is, in the human form, is solo and, sui generis. It rests within its master or mistress, as the case may be, till the brain makes it known. The whole man or woman, and even the little child is the human instrument created with us from the beginning. “The harp of a thousand strings” best expresses it. What a stupendous thought, that we have always had this wonderful gift of song within us, dormant though it be. Having always sung, it never ceases to seem strange to me how people live without singing. To sing: Why that is to live and enjoy life, to be an entity—a very world within yourself, aye! a very universe—to know all that a soul can feel, all that a mind can think, all that a body in all its perfection and beauty can show to prove a divine origin and plan. It is the grand comprehension of all that is heavenly, all that nature brings to us of her grandeur, all that is human in the intellect and soul summed up in sound and song. Yes, the human song-voice holds all the soul’s need of expression within itself. The instrument is a trinity—body, soul and intellect combined. Let us see to it, then, that none be deprived, however poor or wretched, of this great mercy God has given us for our happiness and His glory.

The tiniest child can be taught to sing easier than most grown people, because it is natural to sing. People who cannot sing have not availed themselves of the gift, and therefore are unnatural till they do so. Repression is the assassinator of the human voice in song, the most noble of all that appertains to man; and the greatest power it is possible to wield lies in this much-neglected spiritual resource, the inspired breath in song. All other instruments are imitators of its wondrous. never-ending qualities. in its divine incipiency.

As we each dwell alone in this world. without other companionship in our temples than our individual soul or spirit, with which we hold communion or fail to do so, we can reach out to others only by means of this spirit or soul within us. The better we are acquainted with our spiritual self. the easier we can commune with the spirit of others. The eye tells much, so does gesture, and, at times, so does speech; but all these are less potent to reach out from the individual to others than the voice in song. How-it sweeps at once over thousands in space, where no speech could be heard or understood! But as we one and all. I repeat, dwell alone in our temple and communicate only just so much as we can understand. one to the other, let us try to get at this oneness of comprehension that exists through the one element that can reach out to all humanity, hand to hand, heart to heart, spirit to spirit; then whatever there is of omniscience within us shall grow, so we need not always stand in the dark one toward the other. We must look for the key to this understanding through the element that is given us—vocal music.

First, let us agree that consonants are forms and vocal gestures, while the vowels, although differing a little in different languages, serve the same purpose for all human beings, that is, to convey the feelings of the speaker, reader or singer. The formation of the larynx is suflimently similar in persons of all nations, to give us the right to say they are all alike. There is but little doubt that if the German babe were placed in Italy at the age of two months, it would acquire the same smooth, pure utterance of Italian vowels as a native, provided it did not hear any German utterance at all. The climate would be an aid to this end. Reverse this order, and have an Italian of the same age placed wholly with Germans; it certainly would speak as a German, not as an Italian. Each child’s spirit and individuality might retain by heredity the characteristics of his nationality, but the Italian would have to be taught how to sing and utter through the larynx sounds suitable for song, and to articulate with delicacy every muscular motion so as not to mar pure sound; while the Italian surroundings would obtain such an influence over the German child in Italy that very little more would have to be done for it than for any native. But the Italian child in Germany would not have the same likelihood of becoming a fine singer without much more study of an analytical nature than the other, because his tongue and throat would be full of obstacles to pure tone, and his ear misguided from the cradle. Therefore, we who understand what work it takes to make a great singer out of a German throat and tongue, hearing him sing with the smoothness of voice and delicately-articulated language that we have lately heard, should not refrain from naming such a shining example as Herr Schott, who, for vocal color and pure method, leaves one no point to cavil at, without one descends to malice.

English, although pleasanter and less guttural, is nearly as difficult as German. The English vowels vary by position, depending very much on the preceding and the following consonant. We say there are four sounds of a. The a name-sound has a vanish e, second sound. Ah has none, and is made in that part of the scale or set of tones that favors medium color, not gay, not sad ; therefore, continual training on this vowel in vocal exercises to the exclusion of the others, does not build up a voice for emotion and expression, but simply a voice for the ordinary, quiet thought in life. The quality of tone may be excellent, but without gaiety, sadness, or breadth for grand thought and uplifted soul, it cannot give varied expression in song. The e, long and short, has a tendency to what is light and brilliant. 0 is dark; therefore the o, in order not to be too doleful, must be formed by intent near the teeth for brilliant music, where the E is naturally, with tongue and teeth lightly touching. But to go back to the a in hall, which opens the throat at its widest, and taking the deepest color in it, the voice can give more warmth than a or u (oo). I has a vanish, partaking of ah-e. All these vowels resound at separate points or foci in the mouth, or rather at the hard-palate, easily taught to the pupil by touching the angle or point the sound glances to with ease and vibratory quality. That this is as true as mathematics can make it, is easily proved. The fourth a, as in at, is at the back part of the hard-palate; never changes, is always there.

The mouth must open conformably to obtaining that particular point of resonance, which also indicates the timbre, which will be gay and brilliant and nothing else. It has no contact with nerves or muscles that are called upon for deep feeling, which the will can obtain when needed. The tone personifies pleasantness, and almost mirth and joyousness. To use this quality in church music would belittle the subject.

The purest delivery of tone is the grand desideratum. This occurs only after the skilful automatic articulation has been thoroughly learned, so as not to become in the slightest degree an obstacle to the elastic column of air, which unwinds itself as if from a spool, giving itself out in lengths and breadths suitable to the phrases of the music. These measurements are made by the damping of the voice, done by the epiglottis; not that one has any sensation or feeling, but the pupil does what he or she is told; the result is perfect control of the breath in voice and artistic phrasing, full of grace and expression. This could never be done with a person who has been badly taught to work the larynx and make a shackly effort wrongly called stroke of the glottis, until the habit was broken. All articulation must be made in the mouth; none in the throat, for good singing. The larynx is not in the mouth, but articulation is, for singing. One of our sweet singers who, I believe, never took lessons of a lady, or, if she did, not n English, consequently had, when I heard her last, defects in singing that tongue not noticeable when she sang in Italian. On one occasion, she was singing at a concert in St. George’s Church, from the organ-loft. There is much echo in the church at times; it was so at this time. A lady in front of me asked me to explain to her what the strange noise was that she heard when Miss Kellogg sang.

Her voice was as clear as a bell, but her articulation was so crude that she articulated in the throat audibly. The echo exaggerated the defect, but it was there. I admire the lady very much, and thank her for many delightful hours in the Italian opera, and feel very proud of her for her courage and perseverance. But had she had teachers who knew the difficulties of the English tongue and corrected the automatic bad articulation she used in speech, that hampered every effort no matter how hard she studied to do well, she would stand higher to-day in the world of song. The very fact that the chin, which is the controlling will-power of the voice, supported by the diaphragm and abdominal muscles in proper breathing, was continually moved up and down while she sang, laid her open to criticism from those who knew that her method was bad.

It has been the fashion to overlook the teachers located here, and go abroad. The people of to-day are beginning to look at things for themselves. Spiritual thought is displacing materialism; so we may look for singing of a higher order, and voices trained on truer principles, right here.

The tremolo, so common, is caused by the forcing of the larynx, causing oscillation. This is sometimes supposed to be an ornament, but it is not. It is an excrescence. Those who press the larynx produce it and cannot help it. It is very different from the sacred fire of real feeling, which passes into the tone of a spiritual singer, causing a tremor of electric force to reach out to the entire audience, as if the singer were inspired, for in that the pitch remains true. But a tremolo is always false coming from a disordered larynx, is offensive to persons of good taste and is unmusical to the last degree. It is a mark of crudity and base art. Let it be frowned down.

I have been particularly requested to give an opinion on the work and influence of the conservatory on vocal art. If I say anything at all I must say what I believe, no matter whom it hurts; for if my speaking on the subject were not for the purpose of advancing art and vocal music, why should I say anything about an institution which has come to this country to stay,—because it makes money. What can be said in favor of an institution that universally neglects the primary theory of music and the two cardinal points on which it is based—difference of sound, and difference of value—in its vocal department, and leaves it to chance as to how the pupil obtains it!

A conservatory, as generally understood, is a public place of instruction, designed to preserve and perfect the knowledge of some branch of fine art, as a conservatory of music; and is a word derived from the French in this sense. The Conservatoire of Paris is devoted to the drama and music in all branches. Its scholars are mostly French from various parts of France. To those who reside far from art-centres the conservatory should be a boon. Whether it is or not, is partly what I wish to discuss.

As one of the multitude of those who give a portion of their time while in the full control of their own artistic powers, for concert room, oratorio, or, as in some cases, even opera, to teaching their art, I will take our side of the question: Where should the individual go who desires to learn the art of singing and naturally music? I will say go to the private teacher, by all means, maestra or maestro, of any nationality who loves the art of teaching, who has creative power, who has knowledge grammatical and rhetorical of English, who is well read, who, if not a poet, must at least be acquainted with the poets in several languages, and have sufficient knowledge of physiology to be able to explain and answer simple questions, such as will be asked by most of the intelligent pupils of to-day, who read musical literature, and all should read it. The teacher should have a fine feeling for accent rhythmic, grammatical and rhetorical, or, as I would rather call it aesthetical, which cannot be taught by rules, but depends on taste and feeling. When the words for vocal music are lacking in any aesthetical sense and accent, the teacher should be able to change them or supply a better sentence. In English music, this is an every-day necessity, even in works of very good composers, because they have not studied singing. For this reason, teachers who can only speak broken English should not be allowed to teach American or English opera, oratorio, or songs. They know nothing of the requirements of the language when set to music. The Latin languages are more facile and adaptible for music.

The greatest of all needs is the fine feeling for tone per se; to know tone~quality; to be able to class a voice correctly, keeping it within its natural limits. Articulation alone can designate these limits.

What can give this fine sense? Only great cultivation, either by cumulative heredity or by means of hearing and comparing voices, and aknowledge of the structure of all that appertains to voice-production; knowledge not obtained by books in a theoretical way, but from possession of voice; a voice used in every way possible. A man or woman who could not recite finely a short poem, in order to cultivate the mind of his pupil, and lead on by such means to expression, as well as sing it, had better learn to do so, or be relegated to teaching the tonic sol-fa system to the masses where it may not be required of him.

There are undoubtedly teachers in the city of New York and in all the principal cities of the Union, who can be classed as thoroughly able to fill all that I have said the private teacher of vocal music should have, and many other qualifications not mentioned which really belong to the art of singing; but this 15 all taught by the same person; even to giving them the elementary knowledge of Italian;—a very necessary study, as it aids in forming pure tone, and cultivating the ear of the pupil for the niceties of timbre or tone-color, unimpeded by too many consonants, while the automatic art of intonation is being taught.

The great truth in this art is there is a place for everything, and everything should be in its place. The slightest motion of jaw, tongue or larynx, may be an intrusion, and out of place.

I think the curriculum I have given, if one may so call it, will show what the private teacher should do, if able, as our best teachers are, to obtain from $4 to $5 a lesson. But it must be remembered that all comes from one teacher. Now, how is it at the conservatories?

Who can tell us? I will begin with the Conservatoire of Paris, in which I had the honor to go through all the vocal classes, as auditeur, by permit of Auber, who gave the privilege, never before accorded, because I was an American. Alter passing through several classes and noting the manner of teaching, I felt greatly discouraged as to the possibilities of adding to my store of knowledge as a teacher of the vocal art. At last I reached the class of declamation, taught by a thorough musician who had been a great Italian tenor singer, and was every way a model teacher; but his great faculties were handicapped. I wish I knew a better word to express my meaning than that, but so it was; harsh voices, unimproved minds, and ambitious individuals, came to this judicial teacher, who was to decide their fate for the future. To the Lyric, to the Provinces, or to teach—he was the one to say, and from him there was no appeal. I criticised his class. He said, excitedly: “It is not my fault, it is the system; the voices are trained by several teachers, so that by the time they reach me they are half worn out.”

The Academy in London brings out singers—or at least tries to; how many succeed? But when we think that these pupils are suffering all the time with one throat trouble or another; some taking iron—or size, as they call it,—Others having uvula or tonsils cut; all goes to show that there is something wrong in the system.

Now we come to New York and Boston. I know of my own knowledge of voices receiving very great injury, and in other cases neglect. The cause of this in many cases is money. A pupil goes to a conservatory to learn piano or take singing-lessons, thinking it will cost less. The question is put to the visitor: “Well, Sir, or Miss, which teacher do you want; how many in your class? The terms are so and so for Mr. this or Madame that. If and three~quarters of the hour you can sit and listen to the others do the same as you do.” “Oh,” will say the young lady, “I think you charge very high for so little time devoted to me."

“I cannot help that; we have to give $5,000 a year to that teacher for his name, so we consider that the terms, $30 a quarter, for his class are cheap for only four in the class.”

At the present time I know two pupils who spent considerable money and time in a Boston conservatory, taking private lessons there. One, a gentleman, was taught to deliver the voice throatily and nasally; was not taught time, or to count; did not know the syllables of do, re, mi, fa, etc.; did not learn the keys; never sung scales to other accompaniment than the notes be sung being played by the teacher on the piano. He pursued this course for two years.

In this time two songs had been given him, but the words were neglected and the phrasing was without form or meaning. He was dissatisfied and complained to the manager, who offered to take charge of him himself; but the task was too great, even if he knew how to do it, to place the voice, which was nasal and guttural by education. Still he tried to encourage the young man, and urged some of the other pupils to tell him he was doing well. But the pupil was dissatisfied with his voice, and no wonder. The sweetness had all gone. It is too bad, with all the light we have, that a voice should be treated as if all were still in darkness.

A young lady I know went to a conservatory in Boston, and sung her fifteen minutes with three others in the class; but finding no improvement in scales, on the contrary, singing worse at every lesson, she withdrew. Her voice was extremely nasal and totally unformed; she had no idea of breathing except to draw in the abdomen and squeeze the throat. I doubt whether any good could be done in the presence of three other girls, giggling and sneering, if a teacher should attempt correction of the difficulty. When she got tired of singing la, la, she went away. The conservatory people were very kind to her (she was a boarder), and asked her to choose some other teacher; but as she did not like the singing of a lady teacher that they referred her to, she gave up the conservatory. Whose fault was it? When I questioned these two pupils—in no wise related or acquainted with each other,—why they had not done this or that work, such as I required from my own pupils in the first three months, the reply was that they could not afford to go into so many classes, as it would take at least eight to obtain the information obtained from one instructor in private teaching, who taught the old Italian system of voice production and singing. Every pupil in singing using ordinary notation should be taught the key-board of the piano, that he or she may have the occular demonstration of the scale as it changes in position, in different keys.

The greatest fallacy of the age is the idea that a great length of time is required to learn singing. Singing well is a brain-art, and not a throat-gymnastic exercise of skill. When the rational brain understands, the will controls breath and voice-production. I leave it to you to say why a pupil should be kept singing exercises without words, when the principal difliculty in the art of singing lies in the articulation. No scales of consecutive notes should be allowed till the tone produced is good, and firmly fixed in the mind of the pupil.

To sing exercises of several notes before the breath-control is understood, is to foster a bad method and keep the pupil from progressing.

I do not believe this breath-control is or can be taught in any conservatory, as at present managed; because it requires the most assiduous attention of eye and ear on the part of the teacher, as well as an entire sympathy with the desire of the pupil to obtain as soon as possible all that comprises the art of singing in a delightful manner, and suitably represents the noble spirit of song, as given expression by the best composers of music and poetry, through the human voice.

We hear it said by critics (who unfortunately are rarely singers) that one of the pets of the day, whose influence is great in the concert-room here and in London, has a miserable voice but is a good singer. This is an impossibility. His voice is harsh and disagreeable.

George Henschel is not a good singer; his voice is not properly formed; pure tone has not been developed. He is a good musician, but does not understand the instrument voice. He may be a good conductor; but nothing but ignorance of vocal art, or a life unworthy of a singer, could produce execrable tones. Bad, throaty method can so disfigure the voice as to dishonor the singer; wretched quality of voice does not belong to the good man or woman who is healthy enough to sing at all. The teacher, then, should take the pupil to task and exact proper conditions of life from him. Could one use such influence for good in class-teaching? I doubt it. Each voice and the mind of its owner must be wrestled with alone. The amount of mental battling done to bring a pupil up to a proper standard is unknown, and would be incomprehensible to the large number of half-taught teachers, or self-taught pupils. But as conservatories are to be preservers of art, or should be, they should come to some open decision; whether the pupil entering for vocal instruction is to be retained in the entire charge of one teacher till graduated, or be promoted from class to class, as is done in Paris. In any case, the pupil should be told distinctly what method of singing is taught in that conservatory. No conservatory has a right to the name of art-school which has not decided on the method that will be taught there, and until every vocal teacher has proved equal to the work required of him.

Then the public can choose either the clavicular breath-singing, shoulders touching ears; or the Garcia drawing in the abdomen method, an error picked up by him in 1824, in France, which makes the throat do the work, and destroys the beauty of voice by pinching the tones; or by the old Italian deep breathing, which leaves the throat free from all pressure, such as Garcia taught his daughter Malibran, previous to 1824.

The teacher who taught the last named (and only true method of voice-development) would not be willing to teach those who preferred to sing throatily or nasally. Students ought to go to the conservatories which have adopted this manner of teaching pupils to sing; then no dissatisfaction could arise. Let it be printed on every circular. Instead of being able to begin with a pupil in a rational manner, the teacher has a battle to fight against the automatic errors forced upon the pupil by faulty instruction for years. By this time the pupil begins to be disgusted with his or her own voice, and the results of the tuition. It does not make it any better to say that there are just as many errors committed by private teachers everywhere. They are not conservatories of art, but people scrambling to get bread, in many cases. It is a pupil’s own fault if he is taken in, you may say; but it seems to me that an endowed conservatory, such as we have in New York, should be far from anything like charlatanism, which is not the case when they take pupils at certain rates for fifteen minutes' time per lesson. As the other pupils in the class do the same work, it is only fifteen minutes of information to the pupil; therefore it is a matter that should be reformed at once by public opinion. Conservatories for instrumental music I believe to be advantageous; but never for the voice. The conservatory vocal teachers advise the pupils to take private lessons of them, because they know it is the proper way to learn singing as an art, whether for private or public uses. The National Conservatory has been unfortunate in its business affairs, so one of the principal teachers has hypothecated seven of the best pupils, and holds them for unpaid salary. The Conservatory has, therefore, a peripatetic adjunct not intended in its formation.  —Clara Brinkerhoff 

Lecture Delivered before the Polytechnique Section of the American Institute, by Special Invitation, October 20, 1887. Published in "The Voice" in three installments, December/January/February 1887-8. Brinkhoff's mother was a student of Domenico Corri, himself a student of Nicola Porpora. 

April 6, 2017

Brinkerhoff Speaks Her Mind

A Traditional Pupil of Porpora 

Now I would guarantee to prove that Farinelli, one of Porpora’s pupils, is not the only one who had the advantage of the great singing-master’s method of breathing and controlling the breath, which by this method becomes the voice and has the tenuity of an absolute substance, as much so as any visible, elastic material. I guarantee to prove this to you. It will not take half an hour to make you understand how simple a matter it is. I am a traditional pupil of Porpora, and teach the method of singing and breathing to my pupils so that they can breath without convulsive motion, or audible breathing, or jerking the breath out, when closing a phrase. This art or science I received from my mother, who was a pupil of Domenico Corri, who was a pupil of Porpora. There really is no reason for the old school of Italian singing to pass away. The old school requires a free and powerful activity of the mind, but very little action of the throat. You know that the modern requisites for singing are just the opposite—not mind and a great deal of throat work. This is supposed to produce the singer. But where is the expression? 

Werner's Magzine of Expression, January 1885, page 14.

Clara Brinkerhoff c. 1865
Leading the Witness 

I want to ask if you can take one good breath without raising the soft-palate.

—Discussion of vocal technique, Werner's Magazine of Expression, October 1887, page 151.

Science is for the Teacher 

The first great fact to be recognized in singing is, we only truly sing when we produce pure tone. In order to obtain this there must be a model tone given to educate the ear, as the eye is educated to know one color from another. All that science and art can do, is to lead us right back to nature and her laws for the mastery of the voice. Perfect vocal organs should give forth pure tones naturally, but they rarely do, even in childhood. The articulation of our language stands in the way of pure tone before it reaches the lips; and the voice often comes squeezed, or as a grunt or a shriek, or — as we have sometimes heard in opera—a yell that should horrify the audience and singer. Science teaches us that such and such a position, which includes the whole body as a factor in placing the vocal apparatus of the throat, tongue, lips and teeth in conjunction with the lungs, will produce unvaryingly the quality of the tone we wish at will. It is necessary for the teacher to know scientifically how to teach, physiologically and with art, pure tone. Oral examples alone can teach either child or adult the articulated consonants or pure delivery of the vowels. Slovenly articulation is almost the greatest hindrance to good singing. Each vowel plays an important part in the singing-voice, and determines by its position the tone-color, and also what we term register." If, after uttering or during utterance, we could take a mold in wax of each shape of the mouth and throat as modified by the vowel and tone-color issuing, singing would be more easily understood. Every person whose nervous system is in a healthy condition, who can pitch sound, can learn to sing the chromatic as well as the diatonic scale. Therefore we should learn singing in early childhood. Science is for the teacher and not for the pupil.

Werner's Magazine of Expression, March 1855, page 46.

More on Pure Tone & Diction

"Will Mme. Brinkerhoff kindly give a further explanation of the paragraph on page 358 of the September “Vocalist” commencing: “All sounds must touch the lower lip, made firm by muscle tender it, which connects with diaphragmatic action.”

In reply I would say that I give lessons at 47 West 42d St., and never by mail. The article or essay quoted was written by me and was to be delivered by me at M. T. N. A. meeting at Denver, Col., but was read for me, my health not permitting me to go there and be ready to give auricular and oral demonstration to all discussion, which should have followed any new proposition in vocal culture. But the quoted section is not really new. I have trained voices since I was fifteen years old (see Werner'sMagazine, March, 1896) and have never seen reason to change this, the old Italian method of voice training, although I gave much attention to the study of methods in various languages abroad, in national conservatories, etc.There are certain things which appertain to the vocal instrument and this is the first thing to learn and to do; understand, the instrument from head to foot is the human being. The voice is a result of how this instrument is strung. The quoted passage touches upon energy which is prepared in the brain and can be called upon by the singer, if—you wish this force. It is little comprehended. Electricity is not the same; sacred fire is as near as we can get to it in vocal parlance. Whoever opens his mouth to sing, before he has formed the will-desire to send out the note or tone, will not get perfect tone, simply because he, the human instrument, was not strung from head to foot, only partially so; the strings were slack and will-force feeble. If it were a violincello that you called upon to give forth its music, you would string the instrument to pitch. You would not dream of leaving the strings of a violincello slack, but draw them into good vibrating form; in a word, attuned to proper pitch. In the human being you first teach him how to stand. Then this action of will-force from brain to under lip muscle to diaphragmatic action at belt, is the work done for the instrument before the voice proper issues into buccale cavity and outward, into surrounding air, to be modified in tone-quality by the acoustic environment given it. If you wish to send a message a long distance in telegraphy, say from New York to Chicago, there would be a telegraphic relay instrument to renew its force and propel it on to Chicago by this means. It could go without, but not the same. I answer the questioner but I believe he would have to pay for the lesson by taking it from the teacher, because it is the teacher's ear alone and psychological comprehension, that can decide whether this contact is made. If the will is wavering or the intellect not fully apprised, he will not use this energy, so absolutely necessary for the use of the voice in grand artistic singing. The voice must be taught to vibrate with fervor and tone-fire, for that alone can show its heavenly origin, the greatest of all instruments if properly learned with understanding.

The Vocalist, October 1896, Page 433.

Brinkerhoff Slams García

Dear Editor: Your letter read, and the request of your subscriber (or should be one) desiring to know “at what time does Madame Brinkerhoff draw the line which divides what is called Garcia or Modern Italian method from the old Italian method?” He accepted the French method of La Porte in 1824. He did not teach his daughter, Madame Malibran, a most noted singer, for her great expression and rich tones of voice, anything except the old Italian method, as taught to himself by Rossini; but he did teach his daughter, Madame Pauline (Viardot) Garcia, his mixed method called Garcia method; her singing was, when I heard her, French method, and the language she sang in. It is quite necessary the questioner should understand the genus of other languages.

What I have to say on the voice is for the ear and not the eye. Words on paper cannot convey a tactile difference between two schools or methods.

Nothing can teach but the ear and voice of the teacher. The ear is what we cultivate and what we teach with, not the intellectual curiosity or mere desire to know.

As I stated in that part of my article on Pure Tone and Diction, relating to school or method, “the French method represents to us in voice and dramatic action just what this language can and does give—small volume in speech and song, through narrowed larynx and undeveloped diaphragm. The ear and larynx being formed by its use, give them mostly light, narrow, and to our ear, nasal sounds for brilliant execution, and screamy ones if highly dramatic action is required for the subject.”

The cause is lack of proper support from the diaphragm which is not used in this method. The Frenchman demands grace in song above all things.

The language—which is the expression of the people who use it—being keen and intellectual—requires grace and facility in expression.

The difference between the French method and the old Italian is in the inspiration and expiration of breath, the control of the breath inspired, and the shaping of the larynx for vowel sounds.

In the French method it is aplatre l'estomac, consequently the shoulders rise and the chest is drawn up, and the breath is held by the muscles of the throat, and if the thought or action is powerful, the breath cannot be kept behind the tone as a controlling force, and the tone is rendered screamy and hysterical.

Having heard Madame Viardot Garcia at the acme of fame for the Garcia school, she can stand as an example of that school. I heard her in Paris in 1861. It is not pleasant to remember, although I remember it very well. But I knew she was a great artist by her phrasing and delivery of such tone as she used. I want to say at this point I do not criticize her tone because it was what her method produced, and I had no right to expect any other. But I do not like to hear anyone who can sing the broad, rich English language or Italian (the first being richer than the latter in vowel sounds, its consonants being the great obstacles till dominated by the old Italian method, but the throat is all ready for the old Italian method) use the timbre of the French voice and method, except they sing the French language. Therefore I want the Garcia method, which combines, or seems to combine, the French and old Italian, crushed out, when people can sing the English or Italian language, so far as calling it the Italian method, because it is not.

Garcia borrowed from La Porte, in 1824, having heard his method first in Paris, afterwards in London, where he sang the operas of Rossini, who was conducting them. Garcia was a favorite pupil of Rossini.

No one can tell, except a linguist, why a Frenchman will persist in saying, even if he has been here twenty-five years, “The sheeps sell the say,” instead of “The ships sail the sea.” It is not lack of ear; it is the disobedience of the automatic action to feeble will. You may say the German is just as bad because his ear does not, or, rather, his automatic action does not enable him, after many struggles, to say a th. He will say, “I am dirty and my wife is dirty-too,” instead of “I am thirty and my wife is thirty-two.”

To show how language is embedded in the timbre of the voice, I will relate an incident of last season. On the first night of the representation of the “Scarlet Letter,” by Damrosch, sung by German singers, I was not surprised or in the least displeased at hearing this beautiful opera sung with the German timbre of voice; but after listening to a whole act, I heard no German words; I listened in vain for the shaping of their consonants and vowels, although I heard the German sounds or timbres. So I asked the lady seated next to me what language the people on the stage were singing. “German,” she replied. I said, “But I hear no German sounds. Will you kindly listen and tell me when you hear German words?” She listened and replied, “No, I do not hear German words, but I thought before it was German.” She asked me if it was English. “I know English very leetle. I speak it only mit mine leetle kind.” We could not decide it until the lights were turned on, and looked at the program, which read, “sung in English.”

This summer I asked a distinguished singer and teacher of Philadelphia in what language the “Scarlet Letter” was sung in that city. She replied, “Oh, German, of course.” “Did you hear it?” I asked. “Yes, and I enjoyed it very much, and it was sung in German,” she replied. “It said in English on the program,” I said. Well, if I was fooled, a great many more were fooled—beside myself all our party thought so too. What are you going to do about it? Gounod says, “I did not like Italian singing; their tones were attacked so differently from the French method of singing that it was unpleasant at first, but I went again and again for I could not stay away. I enjoyed it so much.”

The Vocalist, October 1896, Page 517-9.


Brinkerhoff takes no prisoners, that much is clear. In her last missive on this page (which continues a discussion from a previous post), she goes after Manuel García and makes two curious assertions; the first in that the Romantic tenor adopted the teachings of Pierre-François Laporte who was an actor and impresario; and the second in believing García to be a student of Rossini. Whatever the influence of these two men on the great tenor, the historical record is clear that García was a student of Giovanni Anzani who he met in Rome in this 30's.

But what about Pauline Viardot-García's voice? I believe Brinkerhoff's criticism of it and García's method may have its origin in García's Complete Treatise on the Art of Singing (García's son having recorded his father's vocal method in physiological terms) where the reader will find a description of the mechanism of inhalation which could be mistaken to involve a conscious inward pulling of the abdomen. It's this action and its presumptive effect on Pauline Viardot-García's singing that draws Brinkerhoff's condemnation.

I have my own theory on the voice of Pauline Viardot-García which does not involve Brinkerhoff's theory of causation, but rather, the curious matter of the ear and its relationip to the voice. Using records of Viardot-García's facial movements as well as descriptions of her voice, I believe a case can be made for Viardot-García being mixed-dominant.