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. 

April 4, 2017

Pure Tone & Diction

FOR the last few years, every now and then, some earnest student writes this question to a journal devoted to musical art: “What do people mean by pure tone?” and another equally persistent student will write to know “What is carrying power?” Either of these subjects, or both, could be demonstrated to the questioner in three minutes by the cultivated artist. How? By simply singing in that way. But to write or speak for the benefit of others, and enlarge upon tone per se so that they can understand one, is indeed a difficult task; for, as it is something you cannot hear from my speech, nor see in written words, you will have to take it upon faith that what I say is the truth, and faith is the one thing necessary in this art.

Language in Its Relation to Tone Quality

Clara Brinkerhoff c. 1865
To begin with, all singing is based upon some kind of language, and language is the representative of the people who are born to the tongue. The tongue as we know, represents the condition, geographical position, and climate of each and all peoples. Language is embedded in our very bones, viscera, muscles, blood and nerves. That is why diction—pure and clear speech—is vital to good singing. Allowing that to be the case, it follows that the breath of which tone is formed, and breathing in and out, follow the same law of nationality; so, for no cause whatever, except that of birth and heredity, we find certain peoples, both in speech and song, have breath in tone, or what is called breathy voice; using it thus, even though the teacher may caution the pupil till his head and heart ache at the thankless task, day by day. These faults can be cured, but never by singing, although some pieces sung may seem to be free from this difficulty, or so far as to seem only a veiled voice, as this defect is sometimes called; yet it is there, and breath passes through tone, obscuring its color, or timbre, as fog does the sun—and is one cause of disease of the mucous membrane, a permanent hoarseness ensuing, by inflaming the pharynx, being, as it were, an imitation of bronchitis.

Energy of Tone

Now, as breath or air has not one quarter of the energy of pure, undeflected tone, you can see why the carrying power is so much smaller, if more breath or hindrance enters tone, than the pure tone produces by its natural energy properly focused, although the bulky tone, to the ear of the person singing seems of much greater force, and louder to him, from this rush of breath into voice; but it is only the narrow stream of pure tone which travels well through a hall; there is no impulse to carry farther, as would be the case if all were sent as arrow from a bow. These hoarse “breathy” singers and speakers always begin with exhaling the breath instead of on the inspiration, as certain other nationalities do. The breathy singer uses mostly upper lungs and shoulder support, both in speech and song; and that brings us to what is called school or method; meaning all that relates to tone and diction in singing.

Schools or Methods

The purely German method produces a very deep breath but gutteral tone; and large volume is generally produced, also largely breathy consonants; and is what it is because it is taught by Germans, who have their peculiarities by heredity. The French school or 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. The ear and larynx being formed by its use give them mostly light, narrow nasal sounds for brilliant execution, and screamy ones if highly dramatic action is required for the subject. Well, so far, we do not seem to find a model for American singers; in fact, you can have the last-named method in New York, by paying for it at one of the conservatories which import their teachers from Belgium and France. What is called modern Italian or Garcia is more than half the French method of La Porte, and has many errors that should be crushed. The old Italian method is free from any of these errors, being based upon nature's laws, and language itself, for controlling voice and obtaining beauty. Fortunately, the English language with all its apparent consonantal difficulties yields well to this school, so soon as we know exactly how to form all the consonants in the right way and place the impulse for consonants and all the vowels at their own home of resonance. For instance: I claim every one can sing naturally the common scale of two full tones and one-half, first register, and three full tones and a half, second register; they are placed, as in a scale in movable doh according to grade of voice:



By making the sound of hard c at the sounding of the vowel, you will notice, as for instance, firstly, o is in the centre of roof of the mouth, hard palate; do not sing its vanish. E is found at once just above upper teeth. All sounds, (no matter where the natural home of their vibration) must touch the lower lip* (made firm by muscle under it which connects with diaphragmatic action) when it passes to outer air for its fine artistic timbre of clear tone and carrying power. Patti was taught this when a 1ittle child; so was I. Children imitate without difficulty. And this brings us to carrying power.

Carrying Power 

When a voice fails to carry and is not breathy, it is as if it were half fog from being made sombre, or deflected by the form of mouth-opening used for singer's voice, which is produced by lack of knowledge, causing the tone to glance backward towards softer portions of the throat, which artists often use, but not accidentally, by a carom, as it were, made at the hard palate because the tone struck the cushion made for it by the form of mouth-opening; something like that of an East India ginger jar. Most people know what it is to pocket a billiard ball by scientific cushion-stroke. Just so the tone is pocketed. Improper holding of consonants will do the same thing; as a raised tongue for n. Just learn that all sounds are controlled by the sane laws and one of the great difficulties will have passed away.

Fine singer's diction and carrying power will result from observing these laws.

Diction 

Diction is a word in general use at this time and takes the place of the term prosody; though this latter word is much more comprehensive, teaching as it does, true grammatical stress, and pronunciation of words, accent, quality, emphasis, pause, and tone, as well as the laws of versification.

Singer's Diction

Singing diction varies from speech in the fact, that so much foreign translation is adapted to music with unsingable words, or unsingable accent, with the notes set to it. For instance, a syllable is called short when the accent is on the consonant, as in hu-nger which occasions the vowel, in speech, to be quickly joined to the succeeding letter. In singing, the vowel u can be held longer, and the consonant forwarded later, to push on the last syllable—hu-nger. A long syllable is one where the vowel is slowly joined, in pronunciation, to the following consonant, as mood.

All this work in the various languages must come to the teacher of singing (no teacher of languages can do this work) who marks in the brain of the pupil the grammatical stress, or tone color, in order to make enunciation perfectly understood, and suitable in expression in the various languages.

The Vocalist, September 1896, Page 355-9.

*The sharp-eyed reader will note that Brinkerhoff's teaching on the lower lip resnonates with that found in Huckel's text which can be found on the download page.

April 3, 2017

By Their Throats Ye Shall Know Them

THE SUBJECT I have selected is so little considered in general, that I find it rather difficult to treat of in a way that can be easily comprehended by every one.

Clara Brinkerhoff c. 1865
Voluntary attention must be looked upon as quite a different thing from spontaneous attention, which is natural to our senses. Voluntary attention is, therefore, a graft, as it were, built upon or growing out of the natural attention by means of will-power; a thing to learn, we may say, yet rather a state or condition intellectual and soulful, to be developed through willingness to be interested. It may claim to be the one thing that makes a student of singing great in his art, when he has really attained such an intellectual condition, or spiritual state that he is in a receptive, absorbing mind-concentration, that he not only learns by listening, but the natural sequence is a growth and fructifying of words and ideas sown by the teacher in all earnestness, that the pupil’s studies advance rapidly and well; a vocation for the rest of his life.

This condition of attention is always attained by great singers. It enables them to listen to sounds, compare and examine their own and other voices with undisturbed thought, and continually enrich their vocal art.

Ribot, the French writer, says: “The power of fastening the mind upon non-attractive objects can only be accomplished by force under the influence of education derived from men or external things, till lasting habits are formed; acquired attention becomes second nature, and the artificial process is complete." The ego, or will, of the pupil during the study of singing, must yield true obedience, and desire to do so, in order to draw out the full talent of the teacher as well as that of the pupil, for voluntary attention is the product of the highest civilization, and does not exist in crude states. I judge Ribot has no personal experience common to most teachers of singing. 

I will show that astonishment will inhibit or arrest the breath. The pupil sees that, and can learn from that simple example to arrest or inhibit, by voluntary act, the breath, when necessary for good phrasing or perfect control of the vocal apparatus in inhalation or exhalation. 

I always begin in one way. The mind’s eye must be brought to bear upon the great central nerves that connect with the belt—I say, for lack of a better word. The first control of pitching the voice, I teach not with tone or scales, but with attuning the vowel sounds in discrete notes or concrete passages; that is to say, in martellato utterance, then flowing as in song-voice. Until this work is done no pupil should be allowed to sing. First, because the cultivated attention is not strong enough to watch and listen to the sounds of song-voice, which can be cultivated only through the ear. Secondly, because true attuning—that is, correct pitching—can only be done by the study of vowels uttered but not sung. Here the attention gets control of the action of the diaphragm, supporting the stream of continuous breath, that can be inhibited or arrested in the chest before a tone issues, while the main column of air acts as a part of the impetus or force received from the diaphragm, which will send the sound swinging through the air with the certainty of a well-directed ball, or an arrow from its bow. There is no such thing as artistic tone where there is no mental direction. That is to say, all tone is common-place, vulgar, also comparatively colorless, that has not a mental and spiritual condition for its basis. The grafted attention necessary for high artistic attainments, through eye, ear, touch, or the noble song-voice which represents the very essence of the being who sings, is able also to create for itself a refined and rare musical atmosphere, much better than the possibilties of foreign study, with its dangers, can give by attrition.

Deep breathing is a sign of power and mind-concentration, and can be taught in singing to all who can learn voluntary attention, and is a part of its formation as an attribute. I find the ear docile in training the attention that is to be grafted on the natural spontaneous attention. But the ear for music can be only cultivated rapidly and well by creating the soulful intellectual condition which permits an aesthetic growth quite independent of the will. This growth goes on unfettered by sleep, or even by busy cares; that is to say, work impossible to do to-day is done some following day, and at no interval produced or practiced through voluntary attention. I think the impression of the great importance of artificial attention to the song-voice is soon attained by those pupils who meet the teacher daily; so rapid is the progress, that one would say that the art of the teacher was capable of being transfused into the minds of those pupils who lay down their will for the time, receiving in return the concentrated knowledge and experience of the teacher, as a power, a glowing substance, that will awaken a noble zeal for study.

There are many ways of doing this. My plan is very simple. The untrained mind, no matter what the age may be, must yield perfect obedience, in doing the work in hand. I find it necessary, sometimes, to listen to the pupil in another room and make corrections from there; for sometimes self-consciousness is disturbed and offended; but it is a good place for the pupil to lay down his will and yield obedience, so necessary to the success of fine art. In all strong physical natures, we find the short middle register or laryngeal wire and its octaves, very assertive; in fact, in many cases it creeps up and makes an offensive mixed quality, causing the next register to be variable and impure in quality.

This is the real key to our personal character. “By their fruits ye shall know them." I say by their throats ye shall know them; for the greatest sign of a highly-cultivated attention makes itself felt by clear forward articulation and fine vowel utterances that hold the entire scale of expression in their prismatic tints and soul-touching power. Correct dynamics come from the inspiration of thought.

—Clara Brinkerhoff, "The Art of Acquiring Attention For the Study of Singing, " Werner's Magazine, September 1890, Page 223.


Born in London, Brinkerfoff inculcated the principles of the old Italian school of singing from her mother, Clara Rolph, who was a student of Domenico Corri, himself a student of Nicola Porpora, considered the deepest root of all vocal instruction. At odds with the teaching of her own time, Brinkerfhoff taught that there were three registers: mental, moral and physical. Find more on her teaching in subsequent posts. 

April 1, 2017

Breath & Brains

Reading antique articles on historical vocal pedagogy is not without its challenges for students of vocal art, especially for modern vocal pedagogues whose brains are filled with facts pertaining to anatomy, physiology and acoustics. Mind you, facts are important, very important indeed in our day and age (don't get me started on our current political scene here in America), but one has to learn how to deal with them when reading articles like the one below.

The writer quoted by Werner's Magazine of Expression is none other than Giulia Valda, a student of Francesco Lamperti. Her words about the diaphragm will undoubtedly confuse those who think they know better. My advice? Don't get hung up on the diaphragm. Keep in mind that the empiricism of the old Italian school of singing involved a highly developed sense of touch—which, if you don't know, involves the ear. What is to be avoided entirely? The sort of criticism heard from those who enter conservatory on fire and then leave burnt out and looking for someone or something to blame. Nothing is good enough, least of all themselves.

Valda gives the reader quite a few "hints" in this article. To fully understand their meaning, you'd have to work with a teacher who knows what she is talking about. Yes, that would be me. 


Mme. Giulia Valda's paper on the "Method of Francesco Lamperti" was received with the respect and attention due to such a master. In the main these were her words:

"Bending his ear the closest to nature's mode, to the tone-bloom from the throats of the birds, Francesco Lamperti learned his secret for successful song. Bending his ear the closest to the artless art of the king of instruments, he determined to make the voice like the violin, the instrument that is closest of blood to the bird. Lamperti's method was based on one interwoven principle: Breath and brains.

"Francesco Lamperti was the last exponent of the old Italian school. He was the confrere of Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti. Often in their hours of comradeship and communion, Lamperti dictated right imperiously to those masters of composition: 'You must get such and such intervals in, or you can not get the pure violin quality in the voice.'

For twenty-eight years Lamperti was the president of the Conservatory of Milan, which was supported by the government. Lamperti preferred to instruct the pupils of this conservatory, because, said he,' they are bound to do as I say.'

"The roll-call of the illustrious names that studied under him comprised such singers as Albani, Sembrich, Valeria, Stolz, Waldman, La Grange, Artot, Paganini, the Van Zandts (mother and daughter), Collini, Galassi, Campanini, Bispham, and many others.

"Campanini was second tenor in an insignificant position outside of Milan. A baritone pupil of Lamperti was singing with the company. He came to the maestro and said: 'There's a great voice in our company. You would make a good tenor of him.'

"'Bring him along,' answered Lamperti. The maestro taught him gratuitously; and Campanini made his debut at La Scala.

''Now, what was 'the system of teaching' and ' the true art of singing', which these great names of the lyric stage and in musical composition so enthusiastically recommended above all others? His idea was first, to follow the golden-throated little birds, in their natural tone-idea; second, to give to the human voice the tonal ladder of the violin, and, therefore, its brotherhood with the birds.

"Do you realize why the violin is called the ' king of instruments?' The violin gives the enharmonic scale,— that Greek musical scale whose intervals were quarter tones and major thirds. Our diatonic scale proceeding by tones gives only the seven tones; our chromatic scale proceeding by semitones, the twelve tones. But the enharmonic gives that Greek musical scale that gave thirty-six tones in the scale. To illustrate: On our piano we play C major. That C is also the home of D double flat and B sharp. We hear only one tone struck for these notes. The enharmonic scale, which the violin produces, gives us each of these tones separate and individual.

"This, first, is the violin-voice of the Lamperti method. It will give the whole shading or color of the old Greek enharmonic scale, which shook the soul of the antique world, agaze upon Homer's lips, or as it listened to the silver flutings of Sappho.

"Second, the violin is what is called legato singing, which means combining and uniting tone without slurring. In hearing the violin, your ear seems to pass from one note to another with no division or hiatus, as it were.

"Without the Lamperti method, the voice chops along like your downcast remembrances of the English Channel! Verily, if an inhabitant of Mars should encounter many of the present 'tone-methods,' he would sadly be persuaded that in these convulsive emissions of tone he was listening to abdominal pain and not to abdominal power.

'"Don't shout and bellow,' said Lamperti, 'but fill my rooms with tone.'

"Lamperti had a great idea of the true art of tone-production. How did he accomplish it? As Plato wrote in golden letters over the entrance to the akademeia at Athens, where he would teach the philosophy of the soul: 'He who knoweth not geometry, let him not enter here,' so Lamperti wrote over the entrance to the school where he would teach the philosophy of tone-production: 'He who will not learn how to breathe, let him not enter here.'

"Lamperti applied the truth of the old Vedantic philosophy: 'The spirit is the rider, the body is the car,' by saying: 'The breath is the car on which the tone, the master, travels.' Yes, and deeper still, Lamperti said: 'It is true you must have breath, yes, breath.'

"But that is, after all, only a mechanical process. You must have brains, too,—breath and brains, the two factors which, when multiplied together, produce the given quantity and quality of tone.

"'Voice, voice, voice alone," cry musical theorists, and their cry is a false one. Of course, there must be the God-given quality of tone, the feu sacre of temperament. But, in the human, the God-gift has to be guided, developed, unlike the birds, the untutored tribe that mate their notes with heaven. So 'Voice, voice, voice alone' will not do. Breath and brains have to supplement it.

"Lamperti's idea was the management of the breath. Breath is the guiding-star. Not one person in a thousand knows how to breathe. Believe me, it is true. If the lungs were stretched out to their full capacity, we should have miles of breath. Do you realize it? Now, what moves the breath? The use of the diaphragm. I want to write this in capital letters upon your consciousness. It is abdominal breathing alone. 'He who knows how to breathe well knows how to sing well,' said Lamperti. It is the use of the diaphragm.

"Said Rossini: 'Whoever sings in the Italian way sings all his life long."

'"In truth,' said Lamperti, 'in former days people succeeded in attaining that ideal song which, as Dante says, "touches the soul." ' Of such is the kingdom of Sappho, of Sophocles, of Shakespeare; for singing is but an extension of speaking. You can not support notes that express rage, irony, hate, or love, as the masters supported them, but by the natural respiration on which Lamperti insisted. Breathe from the diaphragm.

"After placing the voice on a level by breathing from the diaphragm, then you sing on your level. The mouth, the trachea, are simply a well through which the tone comes. Raise the diaphragm, by commencing to breathe, filling the lungs; the tone departs and the tone grows. The head-tones take care of themselves. I take my breath correctly, and then I sing on that platform. Begin the tones on that breath, crescendo, diminuendo, and take another breath. Be careful not to force the wrong muscles of the diaphragm. In doing that, pupils injure themselves, when, instead of inflating the lungs by drawing up the diaphragm, they inflate the lungs and push the diaphragm out. Therefore, they tire the muscles of the diaphragm. I use the natural method of breathing: As low as possible, from the abdomen. If you watch a baby, you will find one of the most natural forms of breathing. Other forms of breathing shove the glottis.

"Attach the breath to the diaphragm. You must control breath and tone.

"If you are going to sing, you must have breath and brains. You must have brains. The mind holds on to the breath. Concentrate the tone. You must think of your tone as climbing a ladder. You must think of it as descending a ladder. Your breath is the ladder. The rungs are the tones.

"Our maestro's conception from melodious Italy, from the very heart of its lily upon the Arno, is the florescence of the tone-world of the human voice."

Werner’s Magazine: a Magazine of Expression, August 1898, p. 487