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.

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