February 19, 2017

Falsetto Rant

I would say a few words in regard to vocal methods. All voices should be educated in some distinct school of vocal culture. The one who claims to teach his own method must surely be a brave man. Individual methods should be ignored. There is no method better than that which has made the Pattis, the Albanis, the Carringtons, the Gersters, the Ravellis, the Gallassis, the Del Puentes. 

There are three recognized schools of vocal culture, viz.: The Italian, the French, and the German. The Italian is the safest, and the only proper school for the culture of the voice. The French school is similar, still it varies to quite an extent in the culture of the male voice, inasmuch as it gives singular prominence to the falsetto tone. The German school treats the male voice in the same manner. In the French and German theatres, these tones are used, but in the Italian theatre this sort of voice is never permitted to be made use of. The special study of the falsetto tone is unnecessary. If the voice be placed properly, the most sotto voce tone can be easily produced. There is no harm done to the voice in the study of the falsetto tone, but it is a loss of time. Continuous words sung in the falsetto register, always sound weak and lacking in character. The abrupt transition from the chest to the falsetto tone, as is often heard in the singing of Capoul and Campanini is extremely disagreeable to hear. All German vocal teachers do not teach the German method. This school of vocal culture produces loud, screamy voices, and is injurious to the health, hence I am sure there are Germans in this convention who do not endorse it. This school aims at fullness in all the registers of the voice. The chest-tones are carried very high, the medium also, and the head-tones are made with the larynx forced down, thus producing an artificial fulness. This excessive volume robs the voice of height of compass, and agility. The physiological result is often a burning sensation in the throat, accompanied by great fatigue after singing, often resulting in bronchial haemorrhages, and sometimes in consumption and death. Several cases of this kind have come under my own observation.

A knowledge of vocal physiology. which means a knowledge of the muscles, and nerves which control them, and which come into play in the production of tone, and the practical application of them, I believe to be essential for all those who would become first in the profession of voice-culture; and I would earnestly urge all young teachers of the voice to give special attention to this subject. It is true, that lectures alone upon the subject of vocal physiology would never make one sing, but one who teaches should understand the subject, that he may teach safely, and without experimenting. For example, by this knowledge one learns that certain muscles cause throaty tones and that there are antagonistic muscles which remedy this defect, hence he is able to apply this knowledge in the most expeditious, practical and beneficial manner. Many examples might be given showing how this knowledge may be applied. In proportion as one understands this subject, in the same proportion must he be a better teacher. One should take a broad view of this voice-subject and avoid being bigoted, or too conservative, and also be chary of new methods.

Wheeler, Harry J. The Voice, 1884: page 188.


A student of both Manuel García and Francesco Lamperti, Wheeler is commenting on an address by a colleague in the passage above. What caught my attention are Wheeler's observations on various methods as well as his pithy words regarding male falsetto.
The special study of the falsetto tone is unnecessary. If the voice be placed properly, the most sotto voce tone can be easily produced. There is no harm done to the voice in the study of falsetto tone, but it is a loss of time.
The idea that old Italian school voice teachers going back to Porpora and Caccini taught their students to sing in falsetto is not supported by the historical record. Not this record anyway. Even more erroneous is the notion that falsetto was a means to an end. This record doesn't support that notion either: In Wheeler's world, there was a correct way to sing sotto voce and falsetto wasn't it. That it involved voice placement is perhaps the biggest clue.

Find out more about Wheeler and his teaching using the label below. You can also find him on the download page. 

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