December 28, 2018

Year's End Musings

I've been blogging here on VOICETALK since 2009, and can hardly believe how fast time as zipped by—a curious thing considering the number of antique vocal texts I have read—time itself being rather malleable from this reader's perspective. 

The question I ask myself is this: Have things changed over time? 

From one perspective, one could say yes; they have, considering the technological advances that have been made since the invention of the laryngoscope in the early 19th century.

While Manuel García did not invent the laryngoscope, he was the first to use it for a practical purpose—his student Mathilde Marchesi noting that her teacher had a bad cold and wanted to see what was happening in his throat. Garcia's use of the laryngoscope had a life-changing impact even if he abandoned its use in teaching voice. Essentially, he confirmed his theories with it and moved on, and refrained from using scientific terms in the studio, observing that they only confused the student.

Are students that much smarter now?

It's quite common now to encounter a student with a comprehensive knowledge of anatomy, acoustics, and physiology.  But all too often, these same students with advanced degrees have real vocal problems, problems that their knowledge base is helpless to address.

Then there are the gadgets.

It is now commonplace for a voice teacher to use acoustical data in the voice studio. Does this help the student? 

Call me old fashioned, but I belief that the best technology available to the student and teacher is a great pair of ears. Educated ears at that, since not all ears are equal and even the best voice print can't tell you if the tone is beautiful or not. 

Lilli Lehmann believed it took a good six months for a student to recognize differences in vowel quality—and the more I teach, the more I believe she was right. How long does it take for the teacher? I'd say about a decade. 

Back to all those texts I've read and what has changed. Reading a lot gives one perspective. You see things come and go. You notice what sticks, what stays, and what melts away. What that in mind, here's what I think, which is not a novel idea by any means.

We have gone from an auditory age to an intensely visual one, which is ironic when you consider singing is an auditory phenomena. In terms of bel canto this means beautiful singing. It means that the genesis of legendary vocal pedagogy happened long before there were any movie theaters, televisions,  flatscreens, and iPhones.

No technology. No second hand visual stimulus.

Even the greatest recorded voice—a second hand auditory stimulus—is no match for the living sound of the teacher's voice in the studio—the voice itself transmitting a wealth of information, that is, if the teacher has been properly trained and knows how to impart said training.

Now, teachers and students look at graphs, computer screens, into their phones; instagraming, creating memes, and spending a great amount of time using visual tools to communicate auditory phenomena.

Yet, how hard is it to get a student to look in a mirror?

Very hard indeed! 

While texts from a hundred and fifty years ago can only give us a hint of how great singers sounded, they do tell us what tools they used— and yes, mirror work was required. Those same texts also tell us what thoughts those singers were taught to think (yes, this is where I trot out the term voice placement). Taken as a whole, they remind us what Beverly Sills is noted for saying: "There are no shortcuts to anywhere worth going."

What are some of the vocal abilities that were required that you hear little about today?

Messa di Voce

Mezza Voce

The Trill 

To date, I have not encountered one student, who, with the knowledge of their advanced degree, can demonstrate these terms. Sure, they can talk about them with academic precision, but these vocal abilities are dead to them functionally-speaking. As a result, the freedom of voice that they seek eludes them.

Where does this leave us?

Before we get all in a dither about the latest technology and join the cult of the straw, how about we all master the simple hard path that legendary vocal masters have laid out before us?

  1. How about we stand in front of a mirror and accept ourselves? How about we all sing in that mirror with a pleasant expression? Mind you, the mirror is cheap and never lies. So why aren't you using it? 
  2. How about we all learn to sing a real honest-to-god trill and not that bleat that passes for one? Marchesi's students are exemplars of the trill. Go find them. Go read Hermman Klein's instruction on the Trill. Jenny Lind that some salient points too. 
  3. How about we all learn to sing a true mezza voce instead of crooning? Yes, I have heard quite a few male opera singers do it onstage—and not when they are singing Musical Theatre. This has been going on for about a decade now and was once considered unacceptable. It continues only because conductors and coaches allow it to happen. Sorry, but crooning isn't bel canto. 
  4. How about we all learn to sing a true messa di voce? The hardest thing to do, and yet the most rewarding. Read Garcia on how to go about it. 

Find a teacher who can demonstrate and teach these required vocal abilities and you may have found your voice. 

November 12, 2018

Seven Requirements of the Old Italian School

The chief characteristics of the old Italian school were clearness, smoothness, volume, intensity, compass, ease, and endurance—seven characteristics shown now as ever by our song-birds; and we, like them, have to obtain effortless, full sustained, and beautiful tone if we wish to sing well. In order to do this we must have our bodies right, and our minds must perceive Where to Will, How to Will, What to Will, and—what is most important—What not to will. A pianist cannot strengthen his third finger by using his fourth; and in like manner a student of song cannot strengthen his voice by falsely placing or falsely directing his Will. As before said, to one student who fails through want of ability, thousands fail through want of clearness or direction on the part of the trainer and imperfect perception on their own. A student must always keep in mind what he wishes to attain; it is not any sound that will do, but only beautiful sound, and beautiful sound is the result of clearness, smoothness, volume, and intensity. 

The old school was celebrated for these conditions, but especially of volume, a property modern singers lack. 

—Charles Lunn, Philosophy of Voice (1900), Ninth Edition, page 17. You can find Lunn's book on the Download page. He was a student of Vinceslao Cattaneo. 

November 4, 2018

Bel Canto des Wortes


A truly wonderful, insightful, and provocative book from a student of Francesco Lamperti—Cornelie van Zanten's Bel Canto des Wortes (1911) should be required reading in vocal pedagogy programs. Serious, real-deal, historically-informed old Italian school of singing, it puts to shame recent volumes that claim as much but offer far less.

Use a Google translation app to get your feet wet. Then swim.

Find Bel Canto des Wortes on VOICETALK's download page in the right hand column. 

October 30, 2018

The Ear is the Spine

"The ear is the spine: the spine is the ear." —Alfred Tomatis 

The Einstein of the Ear wasn't kidding either. Tomatis meant this literally. According to his observation, the ear has everything to do with how the spine articulates itself within space, which observant voice teachers know from long experience. No one has to conduct 10 studies before they accept this as fact. They see it with their own eyes. That's empiricism for you. 


High level classical singing? The singer's spine is a heck of a lot more extended than that of the cabaret artist. Tomatis would observe that this is a result of the sound—as guided by the ear—shaping the body. 

Now that's a different perspective. 

In our day and age of knowing everything about the vocal mechanism, we all too often think in terms of the garage mechanic; where muscles are manipulated and air is moved through a system. But if that was the case, we'd all be great artists, wouldn't we? Simply extend the spine and voila! A great opera singer is born! 

But it takes a lot more than that to make an artist. As the Halloween candy is handed out tomorrow, I am going to looking at all the skeletons, ghouls, and goblins and thinking about singing.

October 21, 2018

The Ten Minute Rule

Ten minutes. That's all you need. Just ten minutes. 

This is what I tell avocational singers who enter my studio. They have jobs. They work umpteen hours yet want to sing—and think I am going to ask them to practice for hours at a time. 

Ah no. That's not how it works.

Even vocational singers need only practice for ten minutes at a time. 

The difference? 

Avocational singers should be able to practice singing a few times a day—say twenty to thirty minutes, while the vocational artist needs to think in terms of two and a half hours broken up in multiple ten minutes practice sessions. 

The vocational singer should practice technique for at least four to five practices sessions and only then devote sessions to repertoire. 

The beginning vocational student? Nearly all of the practice sessions will be devoted to technique. We're talking about the formation of beautiful tone: pure vowels, messa di voce, mezza voce, crescendo, decrescendo, trills, etc, etc—the high goal being an absolute technique throughout a two octave range.

If this sounds hard, you would be right. It's certainly not easy. It can and does that years to attain full mastery of the voice. But the sooner you start, the sooner you attain that mastery. 

Why ten minutes? 

Very simply: the mind goes to mush after ten minutes. Learning to master the voice means having to stimulate a very different response than the one associated with most activities. It's athletic, very active, and incredibly uplifting. Most young students have trouble finding the degree of innervation involved and then sustaining it for more than ten minutes at a time. It takes time to build up one's stamina—which is as much mental as it is physical. 

Training to be at a high level is an art unto itself. You have to start where you are going. So, if you are spending twenty minutes out of thirty at a lower level, that is what your practice is giving you. 

Be smart. Follow the Ten Minute Rule which reflects the tenets of neuroplasticity: if you want to change the brain you have to inundate it with overriding energy. This is much easier to do for shorter periods. 

September 20, 2018

My Trick

During a new student's first lesson, I will—at some point—place their hand on my solar plexus (after asking for permission), blow all the air out of my body—and sing a long phrase with full voice. 

Eyes go wide. Mouths gape. The student stammers: "How do you do that?"

How indeed. 

I am singing on the residual air in my lungs—but it's more than that: I am singing on breath than is compressed by my whole body. Paradoxically, I don't need to breathe to compress the air. It happens even before I inhale and involves extension. 

I can croon or sing like a Wagnerian on this breath.

Real control. It was taught to me by my teacher during my first lesson, or, I should say—it was a result of that first lesson—a lesson that it took me a long time to learn. 

To have full control you have to be fully alive. You aren't thinking about thinking. That's what academics do. They think about stuff. Good luck trying to get a room full of them singing! They have no breath whatsoever, their thinking depriving them of any real voice. 

Singers live on another level. One that is instinctual, sensual, full of pleasure and being. 

Full of the strong desire to sing and touch the listener.

September 11, 2018

Remembering 9/11


It was a Tuesday.

The opening night of New York City Opera's production of Wagner's The Flying Dutchman.

But it didn't happen.

I was listening to WQXR during breakfast and heard an announcer say that all the airports were closed: it was a national emergency—a plane had flown into one of the World Trade Center towers. Stunned, I turned on CNN to see a plume of smoke coming out from one the towers; then later, bodies falling through the air. My mother called to see if I was Ok and I said: "I'm sorry I can't talk right now!"

It was surreal. The phone lines were nuts. But I did manage to call a colleague at the opera who lived in Brooklyn to tell her not to take the subway to rehearsal—as if she hadn't figured that out already.

Everyone was helping one another. Reaching out. Being fully present.


The Flying Dutchman opened that Saturday, the company assembling in front of a raised curtain with the flag hanging overhead; me standing far stage left—your right—in the front row—shaking. We sang the national anthem—and I swear, it was the hardest thing I have ever had to do. The arc of emotion coming from the audience was so huge and overwhelming that I stood facing a wall afterwards in an effort to pull myself together. All I wanted to do was bawl my eyes out. And it's really hard to sing when you are sobbing.

Weeks later, pictures of fireman from the firehouse near Lincoln Center started appearing in the hallway backstage.

People stopped buying subscriptions. They found it hard to commit to a future when the present was so heartrending. Ticket sales dropped. Management made some really bad mistakes and NYCO left Lincoln Center; selling off the company's costumes and sets—its archives drowning in a basement on Broad street courtesy of hurricane Sandy—and wandering the streets of Manhattan like a beggar before declaring bankruptcy.

Yes, the company is back—a mere shadow of its former self—the diaspora of the original NYCO meeting for luncheons across from Lincoln Center: remembering, connecting, laughing, loving.

Family.

Bound together on a Saturday night.

June 24, 2018

Summer Recess

Rose Room, New York Public Library, 42nd & 5th Avenue 

Dear Reader,

I am taking a summer recess to work on important project. Look for more posts in the Fall. In the meantime: Please have some fun, get outside, and stay active in your community. 

Also: The world needs beauty right now, especially here in the United States of America. Please do what you can, ok? That includes acts of nonviolent resistance—a truly beautiful thing. 

Lastly: Need to be in touch? Contact me via my website(s) in the right hand column. It's always good to hear from you. 

Be well,  Daniel 

June 18, 2018

The Secret of Mme. Devine's Success

Mme. Devine, whose portrait appears on the front page of this issue, needs no introduction to the readers of The Musical Courier. She occupies an assured position in the front rank of New York vocal teachers. She is a San Franciscan, and made her home in this city some six years ago. A singularly large proportion of Californians who come to the metropolis attain prominence in their respective professions. Either the climate or sturdy ancestry seems to have bestowed upon them a more than ordinary amount of energy and ambition.

Lena Doria Devine
The secret of Mme. Devine‘s success is to be found in the possession of a very large share of this native energy, or capacity for hard work, combined with rare musical gifts and a thorough knowledge of the vocal art, derived from many years of study with Francesco Lamperti, one of the greatest of teachers. We may look upon him as the connecting link between the glorious old Italian school in the eighteenth century and what good there still remains in vocal art to-day. He received the traditions of that school from its last great disciples. such as Crescentini, Pasta, Velluté, and he has handed them down to us enriched by fifty years of experience and a record of achievements in teaching that stands absolutely unrivaled. No higher compliment could be given to the subject of this sketch than to say that she has shown herself worthy of this master in every respect, first as a singer, and now as a teacher. When Mme. Devine made her debut in BadenBaden, the late Herr Dr. Richard Pohl said in his criticism of the event: "Her voice is so well schooled that one immediately inquires with whom she has studied." On nearly every occasion the same praise is now bestowed on Mme. Devine’s pupil, Miss Duffield. At last then we have somebody who can give us Lamperti's results, and that is what we want. We are tired of Lamperti discussions, of "exponents," "representatives" and "certificates." We do not care how well a teacher can talk, lecture, write articles or books: We only ask for results: everything else is of no account.

Speaking of Miss Duffield to a representative of The Musical Courier, Mme. Devine said: “There is a case that illustrates what method and perseverance will do for a voice. Four years ago who would have thought that the little 'parlor voice' could ever sing before an audience of 10,000 people in an immense place like Convention Hall, Kansas City, and make the great hit that Miss Duffield did when she sang there with Sousa, a few weeks ago. Yes, it is wonderful what method can do for a voice. Given a pupil who has musical intelligence, artistic sensibility and undaunted perseverance, for such a one it is almost possible to create a voice. Did not Pistocchi make one of the most distinguished singers out of Bernacchi, whom nature had given an inferior vocal organ? Unfortunately the three qualifications mentioned are not often found in one individual. It is not so easy to find girls with the necessary mental and artistic endowments who will study consecutively for three or four years.

“Then you think that it is largely a matter of sticking to it long enough?"

"Yes, provided you are on the right track. No amount of time spent on a bad method can make a good singer."

Requested to give a few salient points in her methods of teaching, Mme. Devine said: "Two things I will speak of because I insist upon them particularly, and consider their general neglect responsible for many unsatisfactory results. The first is forbidding beginners to practice at home; the second, insisting upon the mastery of all technical difficulties, as far as possible, before taking up repertory and interpretation. In regard to the first I would say that the attack of tone and breath control are the foundation, and they are not easy to acquire. It is imperative that until the student knows the difference between right and wrong production the attempt should be made only in presence of the teacher. "Practice without active attention and competent discrimination is worse than useless. A beginner should take daily lessons. and not sing at all outside of the studio. "In regard to the study of repertory I believe that all technical difficulties should be mastered before it is taken up. It seems to me that the following paragraph, written by Arlo Bates in reference to the art of writing, applies likewise to singing:

"'There is great danger in allowing the emotions to be aroused, while training which is merely technical is going on. Awaken in the pupil all interest in technical perfection which is possible. To excite his emotional interest in subject or sentiment is dangerous and obstructs his progress in the cultivation of skill in form and technic. Technical facility is gained by work, not itself inspiring, but done with the most patient exactness for the sake of the power it gives.'

“When the student has advanced to the point where it is advisable to use words, I do not begin to give simple ballads; I then take up the old Italian arias, because they contain all the technical difficulties to be found in any piece of music, while the pure vowel sounds of the language are conducive to the development of pure tone. These arias are studied as exercises, and it does not matter at this stage of her training if the student is not sufficiently conversant with Italian to understand the text. Public taste may condemn these florid arias in the concert hall; in the vocal studio they will always remain the crucial test of good voice production. Whoever masters them will have the power, range and flexibility necessary to sing anything, even Wagner."

"Then you believe that the old Italian method is perfectly adequate to modern dramatic music?"

"There is only one way to sing: the way Sembrich was taught. The idea that modern music demands a different kind of training for the voice seems to me absurd. The old masters taught their pupils to find the beautiful tone, and worked with them for years till they could do anything with it. What more can modern music demand? lf tonal beauty is to be made a secondary consideration, singing ill-generates into a hybrid, inconsistent art, and the sooner we come down to plain speech the better. Are screeches and howls, if delivered with sufficient dramatic intensity, to compensate for lack of tone quality and true musical expression? Because the old Italian method gave singers such astonishing control over their voices that they were able to execute the most elaborate vocal pyrotechnics, it does not follow that their method of voice production did not also make them capable of emotional and dramatic expression. The greater includes the less, the more difficult the less difficult. Remember the story of how Farinelli, when rebuked by Charles VI for wasting his marvelous powers on ‘never ending notes and intricate passages' changed his style entirely, and became the most pathetic singer as formerly he had been the most brilliant coloraturist. And why not? Does it not seem reasonable that a voice under such control that it is like a precise instrument on which the most elaborate runs and cadenzas can be played with perfect case, is just the kind of voice that will be able to give most adequate expression to the deepest emotions of the human heart, because a singer thus equipped can give up his attention and imagination without restraint to the thoughts and feelings he is interpreting, and his voice will readily and without effort respond to every impulse of his inspiration. The present confusion in vocal art as shown in the numerous conflicting opinions about registers and voice placing, is largely an outcome of the futile attempt to find a new method of singing for modern dramatic music. I thoroughly agree with the able critic of the New York Time: that there is nothing in the music of Wagner that demands the application of new laws to singing either in recitative or cantilena, and that ‘the so-called Wagnerian school is an illusion, a delusion and a snare.’"

Mme. Devine evidently adds to her other qualifications an unbounded enthusiasm which makes her an eager student of everything connected with her art and makes the seemingly arduous work of voice training a pleasure to her. Earnest and talented pupils are sure to find in her not only a painstaking teacher. but a sympathetic adviser in whom they can place implicit confidence.

—The Musical Courier, April 11, 1900, page 17.

❉ ❉ ❉ ❉

See? There is it again! That whole thing about singing on exercises and scales for a long while before singing with words. The very same thing that I keep hammering and yammering about on these pages. No one wants to do it until they find out the good it does. Finding that "good" takes time, often more time than the student wants to allow.

Students arrive at my door, many of them with advances degrees and vocal flaws firmly intact. They know something is wrong, but don't know how to fix it, but have not been taught to work on technique in a focused and systematic manner, having spent their time singing songs and arias, hacking away for 30-45 minutes with no improvement in sight. They wonder why things aren't getting any better, and talk about not "moving the air" enough, or having the right "support." You'd think from all this that singing was simply a matter of moving one's muscles. And yes, while the muscles of the body do move in particular ways, that's the least of it. You have to know what to think and pay attention to that before you become aware of your muscles.

The teachers of the old school made the student do simple things, like shut the mouth and breath though the nose. This "route" was then then kept regardless of whether the mouth was closed or open. Then the teacher attended to the student's vowels. Breath and vowels. Not muscles. Not moving air. Not any of the mechanically-minded stuff students "do" today—their doing being manipulative rather than creative.

If there is one simple truth that reflects the teaching of the old Italian school of singing it is this: Meaning moves muscles. That's the correct order of things. The Italian on the street corner calling cross the square does not think to move his muscles to communicate his joy in seeing his old friend. No. This face opens wide as does his throat; and his greeting sails across the distance, ringing and clear. Of course, he hears what he's doing as he's doing it—whether he's consciously aware of it or not. The singer? He has to become conscious without being self-conscious. That is what makes it art.

May 19, 2018

Martha Graham Tells It Like It Is

There is no place for arrogance in the arts, but neither is there room for doubt or a perpetual need for affirmation. If you come to me with doubts about a particular move in a piece, or if you come to me and ask if what you've written has truth and power in it, these are doubts I can handle and respect. But if you come to me and moan about whether or not you really have a place in the dance or the theatre or film, I'll be the first one to pack your bags and walk you to the door. You are either admitting that you lack the talent and the will, or you are just looking for some easy attention. I don't have time for that. The world doesn't have time for that. Believe in your worth and work with a will so that others will see it. That's how it is done; that's how it was always done. —Martha Graham/Interview with James Grissom

May 5, 2018

García at the Palais Royal

Palais du Justice which adjoins the Palais Royal 

On a September day in 1854, I was strolling in the Palais Royal, preoccupied with the ever-recurring wish so often repressed as unrealizable, when suddenly I saw the two mirrors of the laryngoscope in the their respective positions as if actually present before my eyes. I went straight to Charrière, the surgical instrument maker, and, asking if he happened to possess a small mirror with a long handle, was informed that he had a little dentist's mirror which had been one of the failures of the London Exhibition of 1851. I bought it for 6 francs. Having obtained also a hand mirror I returned home at once, very impatient to begin my experiments. I placed against the uvula the little mirror (which I had heated in warm water and carefully dried); then flashing upon its surface with the hand mirror a ray of sunlight, I saw at once, to my great joy, the glottis wide open before me, and so fully exposed that I could perceive a portion of the trachea. When my excitement had somewhat subsided I began to examine what was passing before my eyes. The manner in which the glottis silently opened and shut, and moved in the act of phonation, filled me with wonder.

"The García Centenary," The British Musical Journal, March 25th, 1905: 683

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To walk where the great García walked—as I did in 2016—was nothing short of amazing even if part of the main complex no longer stood. García would have walked here and then gone to his studio/home which is only a few blocks away on the Rue Chabanais. 


Photo Credit: Daniel James Shigo 2016

April 30, 2018

Beauty Incarnate



I've been singing choral music since I started singing in ninth grade, slowly making my way deeper into classical music and then opera. Even during my whole 23-year onstage career with New York City Opera, I was singing choral music in churches: getting up at what seemed like that crack of dawn after singing two performances the day before and finding my place in the choir. 

All music is sacred to me, and while I can't say I have a definitive belief in the god department, I can say this: I believe in music. It's my tether to a transcendent place that I know is real, but you'll  forgive me if I don't give it a label. I'd rather let it be. For me, that's what the Muse wants.

So much of the choral music I have been privileged to sing is beauty incarnate like the piece by Morten Lauridsen above. And while incarnate is a religious word, how about we forget the association and simply let the music enter in through the top of our heads and find our hearts? Don't we all need a bit of that right now?

Meet you on the other side. Then find your way here.


Abandon entouré d'abandon,
tendresse touchant aux tendresses?
C'est ton intérieur qui sans cesse
se caresse, dirait-on;
se caresse en soi-même,
par son propre reflet éclairé.
Ainsi tu inventes le thème
du Narcisse exaucé.

  
Wildness surrounding wildness, 
Tenderness touching tenderness, 
It is your own core that you ceaselessly caress, ... as they say. 

It is your own center that you caress, 
Your own reflection gives you light. 
And in this way, you show us how Narcissus is redeemed.


TRANSLATED BY Matthew Dufresne

April 24, 2018

Greg Robbins: Jazz Man on the Rise

Greg Robbins at the Manderley
It's not often that I jump on a Citibike after dark to venture downtown to a jazz club, in this case the Manderley Bar in Chelsea, to witness a gifted young jazz artist drop his first album. But I'm glad I did. 

His name is Greg Robbins. His album is On Your Way. And you certainly will be hearing more of him: The kid sleeps, eats, and breathes jazz. It's in his bones, on his lips, and pulsing through his veins. You hear it in every sound he makes.

He's also a bass, which is not your usual voice-type for a jazz singer. Lucky for him that he studied voice at a small college in Georgia with a beloved friend of mine—Harry Musselwhite—also a bass. The kid knows what he's doing in the vocal department, his fine bel canto training enabling him to sing from top to bottom with a rich mellifluous voice—one that calls to mind something of Ol Blue Eyes. No, not imitation of that great artist, but rather, the speaking of a common language—one that is word oriented. And that's a bit unusual too: While many young artists can be heard making an impression, Greg Robbins is busy making music with real craft. Having studied the great jazz singers of the past, Greg Robbins is poised to become one of them. 

April 16, 2018

World Voice Day

World Voice Day is now a real "thing," having been created by a Brazilian laryngology society before spreading to other latin American countries, then Northern America through leading voice scientists. 

The purpose of World Voice Day? From the Wikipedia article we find: 

A goal of World Voice Day is to encourage all those who use their voice for business or pleasure to learn to take care of their voice, and know how to seek help and training, and to support research on the voice.

Seek help and training? That rings a bell if only because I currently have a number of students who've had training. Really bad training. They've been yelled at and harassed by their teacher(s) and came to me all muddled despite having earned advanced degrees—as if earning a degree teaches one to sing. Ain't that a trip! Here in America, you can spend a lot of money for an advanced degree in vocal performance/pedagogy and come out on the other end a total mess with no real technique. And to top it all off you can be gaslighted—made to think that your lack of technique is all your fault. 

So, on this World Voice Day, I would like to encourage the reader to conduct due diligence. If you are searching for a voice teacher, are young and applying for schools, find out all you can about the institution and its faculty. If the teacher teaches privately you can contact their students and listen to their performances. Does this take a lot of work? Yes. Did I do it when I was starting out? No. I was as clueless as most young students are today. 

What makes one clueless? Assumptions like the one that puts stock in the letters behind someone's name. Doctor this and Doctor that. All these letters really tell you is that the person who has them jumped through a lot of hoops. That's all. Did the hoops teach that person to sing as well as enable them to teach others to sing? These questions can't be answered without some investigation. What should investigation reveal? The teacher's ability to embody the principles they teach as well as the ability to impart those principles.

And speaking of imparting principles of singing: It can take a good six months to unravel the knots that a student has been tied-up in as a result of bad training. Yeah. It takes that long if not longer. No one wants to hear that. But that's the deal. And that unraveling only happens if both the teacher and the student are patient enough to do the work. 

The teacher who gave me the most would often say that learning to sing is like going into a jungle and hacking away a clearing, then keeping the clearing open. This takes a hell of a lot of work—work that is hard to do in an institution which requires repertoire from the get-go. Yet, if it is done the right way, the student can be rewarded with the ability to sing for a very long time. And isn't that the point? 

April 3, 2018

The First Law of Tomatis

I'm living proof. I swear I am.

I obtained new hearing aids about a week ago after acquiring my first pair nine years ago. My first pair were made by Phonak. Top of the line. With a music program and two microphones in each ear. Teflon coating that meant I could wear them in the rain. You get the idea. They were good stuff. 

Now I have two spanking new Resound aids from Denmark, which has taken the market by storm—zipping past competitors with a chip that processes higher frequencies better. My new guys even talk to one another and utilize an app which interfaces seamlessly with my iPhone—all fine-tuned by my excellent audiologist who tells me there were four leaps in technology while I was having fun with my Phonaks. Why didn't I get new ones sooner? They are expensive, and I was doing quite well until one of the four microphones started to give out. So I made the leap. 

But let's back up. Living proof of what exactly?  

Tomatis' First Law, which states that the larynx cannot produce sounds which the ear cannot hear. 

I do not say this lightly. After a week of tooling around, I believe I am singing with the full ability or function I was born with sans genetic hearing loss; which was first noticed—and dismissed—by the audiologist who tested me the year before I entered college.

My range has extended at either end and I am experiencing a delicious sense of ease—so much so that I am teased into thinking I'm not doing a damn thing at all. Of course I am. I know my P's and Q's technique-wise, which is the result of many years of teaching and working on my voice. Yes, the knowledge I have stuffed into my brain and the hours spent practicing counts for something. But here's the thing: give a guy the ability to process technical knowledge with better input to the brain via the ear and it will amount to something. All this to say: Tomatis was a genius—and I believe I prove him right since my new aids give me increased function via better perception of higher frequencies. It's a real kick and something of an odd sensation to hear one's voice as though for the first time. 

I've been singing all my life. I had a 23-year career with a major opera company. I wasn't doing badly. In fact, I believe the technique I was taught made my career possible. Yes, luck had something to do with it, but even luck needs preparation. But let's be clear: even a small drop in the listening curve isn't inconsequential.

Was I was intuitively interested in matters of technique as a result of hearing loss years before I knew it even mattered? Probably. You could also say that addressing that loss gave me the means to understand the principles of the old Italian school of singing in a new way. 

I have colleagues who are terrified of anyone finding out about their hearing loss. Not me. It's the deal, in as much as anything is the deal in our lives. Better to face it so that others can face it. That's why I write about it here. If you are a singer or voice teacher with hearing loss you owe it to yourself to do something about it. Your voice and students will thank you. On that score, I should mention that before one of my microphones starting failing, I had a 10-day tune-up via the Listening Centre in Toronto, which has proven to be the perfect jump-start for getting used to my new processors. Really good people who do life-changing work, I recommend the Listening Centre to you highly, especially if you are dealing with matters of audition.

Some day, a different kind of genius is going to invent a way to regenerate hair cells in the cochlea. Until that happens, those with hearing loss have better options than a decade ago.

April 2, 2018

García & Lamperti in the Studio

What did these legendary voice teachers do in the studio? That's what I've been studying for a long while now. Aside from the differences in their approach (García taught privately, while Lamperti taught small classes of 4 or 5 students), they were after the same thing: beautiful singing. How did they achieve it? Firstly, by making their students do simple things like sing long tones on all  5 Italian vowels.

They would start in the middle of voice, then work their way up and down the scale. Often, they used the chromatic scale—which hardly anyone does anymore. It's unforgiving. Try it. Sing between—say— C and G—going up and down half-step by half-step. See if you can do it while keeping the voice clear, open-throated, steady and full. Not so easy, is it? If accomplished, the exercise teaches the student one very important thing, which is that the tuning of the piano is foreign to that of the voice (btw: earlier voice teachers used the violin as part of their tuition, which—as Tomatis has observed—introduces high frequencies into the awareness of the student—a centering mechanism). Lamperti called this enharmonic tuning. 

What did both García and Lamperti require the student to have? A good ear. What happened if the student didn't have that, and couldn't do the exercise outlined above? If they managed to have an audition, they would have been discouraged from the outset. But we aren't so discriminating, are we? Most schools today take just about everyone who can pay the tuition. And I've heard quite a few doctorate students who can't sing very well, and have witnessed others who began their studies with a good voice, but ended up Humpty-Dumpty fashion—seemingly broken beyond repair. But I am getting off track. 

Simple to complex. That was the trajectory of the old school teachers. The elimination of vocal faults was part of the deal. Students were not allowed to sing in the nose or in the throat. That means, of course, that most of the vocalism heard (and taught) today on the Broadway stage would not have passed muster. 

What else? 

The august teachers mentioned in this post did not allow their students to sing with words before their voices were fully formed, that is, before they could sing all 5 vowels clearly and beautifully within a 2 octave range on a plethora of vocal exercises. The high goal was to obtain an absolute vocal technique. Who approaches vocal study like that today? No one that I know of. Every teacher I know gives students songs to sing from the get-go—or allows students to sing them. Me? I will work on technique in every lesson, allowing songs and arias insofar as to keep the student's interest. It's a devil's bargain since the work to be down remains to be completed. But what student will submit to a year of exercises? The smart ones take what I give them and work for the long haul.

Back to the big boys. 

Those 2 old legends must have been either monsters to deal with or patient—or both. Lamperti had a baton he whacked students hands with and was known to be the most strict with those who were the most talented. García threw books at his students and ruled with an iron hand. If you did not follow his advice, studied with another teacher, and wanted to come back, you were refused outright. It was the survival of the fittest. Now? The voice lesson is student centered, product oriented, and market driven. 

Both men had their tricks of the trade, to be sure. Both taught multiple generations of great singers. Both insisted on beautiful singing. 

What do teachers do now? You tell me. 

March 9, 2018

Placing the Tone

Tone is the product of the whole resonator, which comprises three resonant spaces, the neck, the mouth and the nose. That in the neck is the most important for "tone" and general quality, the mouth for vowel quality and the nose a powerful accessory to be added in due proportion. Below the larynx, i.e. windpipe and lung cavities, there is no proper resonation, but some vibration transmitted through the air and through the attachment of the larynx to the breast-bone.

Tone may be defined as resonance within certain limited spaces. We must consider what those spaces are. There is a large space in the mouth, the space behind the uvula, and (most important of all from an individual characteristic point of view) the nasal cavity. In addition to these, there is the big tube below the larynx that runs right down to the lower depths, and of course there are the big spaces in the chest. Now, resonance being the thing we are aiming at, it follows that the bigger the spaces are the more resonance we shall get, provided we use those spaces. Therefore have the mouth as wide open as it can be with comfort, not stretched open but just easily wide open. The cheeks should be high (as in smiling), as this brings them away from the side teeth, thus increasing the width of the cavity, besides which it makes the singer look happy. You will never get a bright tone with a dull face. 

At the same time it is necessary and advisable to warn students against wearing a perpetual smile. It kills most of the vowels and stiffens the jaw. Freedom and looseness are equally necessary in both joy and sorrow. 

The space behind the uvula should be wide and gaping, but not stiff. The larynx as low as it can go and loose too (which it will be if the breath is taken correctly). It is unconsciously drawn downwards and forwards in relation to the sense of expansion, and is adjusted to the needs of every vowel position. It is drawn up in the guttural consonants K and G. 

As the voice ascends in the scale the larynx must not be allowed to rise up, as it will often want to do, but must remain low and loose exactly the same for the high notes as for the low ones. The tongue should lie flat and limp and forward on the floor of the mouth. The lower jaw should hang quite freely without the smallest feeling of tightness. 

The spaces in the mouth and behind the uvula can by these means be enlarged to their utmost. "Gaping" is the right word. When you sit on the edge of your bed and revel in your first great morning yawn, your throat is in just the right position for singing. 

Now, it will be obvious to everyone that those two spaces can be enlarged. We cannot enlarge either the big tube or the nasal cavity, but we can use them. 

There is nothing that will add character and individuality to the voice so much as the proper use of the nasal cavity. It must, of course, be used with discretion. It is all a question of balance. The larger you make your other spaces the more you can use your nose. There is a vast difference between a nasal and a nosey tone. The one is beautiful, the other is not. The use of the nasal cavity is like the pinch of salt in the soup. Without it the finest soup will taste insipid. 

Why is it, do you think, that if you hear twenty throaty tenors sing they all sound alike? It is not only caused by their contracting or closing their throats but to a very great extent because they don't use their noses. You can quite easily proves this by experiment. So, when you are teaching tone production, you must see to it that all the spaces are used in their proper balance for the purpose of obtaining the necessary resonance, and it follows that the more you use the back spaces the more you can use the nasal cavity. 

Remember that tone comes from below and must be focussed in the front of the mouth where it going forces with articulation. 

You will find that nearly every new pupil that comes to you will sing almost entirely at the back of the mouth. This is to a great extent caused by our damp climate. It doesn't happen in Italy. Nearly all the throats are wide open there. It is a fault that must be cured at once. Usually the root of the tongue will be clogging up the space behind it, and the cure for it is to being that unruly member forward and let it rest peacefully and flat on the floor of the mouth. It must not be stiffened, for, if it is, the lower jaw will be stiff too, and vise versa. The thing to be achieved is to bring the tone to the front of the mouth. It is quite obvious why this is essential. Singing is glorified speech. We speak on our lips and in the front of the mouth. Nearly all the consonants live there. If the voice is at the back and the speech is at the front the one is pulling against the other all the time and the result is a continual struggle. Get the student to say the syllables la, na, ta, da, and get get him to notice what part of the hard palate the tip of the tongue touches for all these consonants. It is just over the teeth. Call that the target, aim the focus of the tone at it and score bull's-eye every shot. Every note that we sing, high or low, loud or soft, must be kept focussed on that spot and must not be allowed to be back on to the soft palate. It will go back if you let it, but you mustn't let it. If you do away goes your tone-colour and you won't be able to get it back again until something drastic, such as a forte or a fresh breath (and consequently a fresh start), comes to the rescue. 

Remember that all the bright tone-colours are in the front of the mouth. You need not bother much about the dull colours. It is easy to be dull.

Many people approach the act of singing as a tremendous business. It is quite a usual thing to see a singer walk to the piano in a perfectly easy, natural and graceful manner, and then, just before the song begins, the body stiffens, the arms become rigid, the hand, perhaps, clenched tightly, the face and jaw and throat and the whole box or tricks become set fast, a frown makes its appearance, and a look of dull solemnity takes at the place of the bright and natural smile. The singer is making the awful, though silent, announcement, "Ladies and Gentlemen. I am about to sing." Why all that fuss? How much better it would be if he would retain his natural ease and attitude, and simply open his mouth and sing. The eased naturalness of the performance is half the battle, and the message of the song will go straight to the hearts of the listeners if it is unhampered by a whole cargo of unnecessary contortions, all of which are detrimental to the production of a beautiful tone. The tone must flow out in a continual stream, just touching the consonants on its way, not stopping it but touching them as it passes, unimpeded either by them or by anything else. It must be like a man walking past a series of posts and tapping them as he proceeds, his movements not being impeded, but in fact enhanced and embellished by the act. So it must be with the outward flow to tone. 

You will find that many students will stop the flow of the tone immediately they come against a consonant, obviously separating the one from the other. Try to get them to weld them together and take the tone through the consonant whenever possible. 

Having achieved beauty of tone, the next thing must be to enlarge it to it utmost. This will be done by the use of the crescendo on single sustained notes, beginning always in the middle of the voice (say A natural) and working downwards to, say, E natural, then starting again a note higher than before and working downwards again, and so on. The crescendo should be maintained on each note as long as the beauty of the tone remains unimpaired. The moment the smallest sign of strain of forcing appears, the pupil must stop and begin a new note. There must not be the slightest alternation or movement of any part of the vocal instrument at any time during the crescendo.

Try to make the student realize what he is doing, and that he must feel as if it is all coming from below and focusing in the front of his mouth. Sometimes he will feel something in the region of his diaphragm, but he should feel absolutely nothing in his throat. If he has those sensations at the bottom of his big tube and in the neighborhood of his front teeth and nowhere else, he will be will on the way to mastering the art of tone production. These rules apply to his loudest forte and his softest piano as well as to all intermediate stages. Never cease to impress on him the fact that if he feels any sensation in his throat he is doing something wrong.

Harry Gregory Hast, "Placing the Tone," The Singer's Art (1925) 13-18


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Harry Gregory Hast (1856-1944) made his first appearance on these pages in 2009. Unfortunately, then as now, his book is not available for download. However, having been published in 1925, the likelihood that The Singer's Art is now in the public domain is strong since British copyright law, which extends 50 to 70 years after the death of an author, places the outer limit for Hast's book in 2014.

The passage above contains some of the most cogent instructions that I have encountered. Find the book if you can.

Click on Hast's label below for more information. 

February 27, 2018

Blanche's Art

Here, we hear Blanche Marchesi (1863-1940), the daughter of Mathilde Marchesi—the great voice teacher and student of Manuel García—sing at the age of 73! Madam Marchesi, though noted as being the "greatest singer without a voice," was no slouch. Listen to her trills, the pathos in her voice, and its youthful quality even when singing in the lower register. She had real technique, my friends! Find more of her art at Youtube, which seems to have just about everything she recorded. 

Lastly, the New York Public Library of the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center has an amazing Marchesi Archive, which was given to the library by Blanche Marchesi's son—Ernest de Popper. Oh, the hours I have spent there! 



February 26, 2018

Madam Marchesi's Requirements

Blanche Marchesi (1863-1940)
A new addition to VOICETALK's download page can be found in the Singer's Pilgrimage (1923) by Blanche Marchesi—daughter of Mathilde Marchesi who was herself a student of the legendary Manuel García. I really don't know why I haven't included it earlier, though may have decided against  doing so since it is not a vocal pedagogy work per se. However, having read through it on a rainy Sunday, I am struck as much by Madam Marchesi's stories, advice, and gossip as her prescient thoughts about singing—which appear towards the end of the book. Two such passages appear below, and includes her fourteen essential requirements for the voice teacher. This is followed by timely words about character. As in her other book featured in earlier posts—The Singer's Catechism and Creed (1934)—Madam Marchesi is bracing, somewhat astringent, and as authoritative as you might expect a musical daughter of the Garcías to be.

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  1. To have sung—not necessarily to have been a famous singer. 
  2. To have studied with a great master of the true school.
  3. To have heard great artists. 
  4. To have genius for imparting knowledge. 
  5. To love one's profession. 
  6. To be a musician. 
  7. To possess knowledge of the world's ancient and modern vocal music. 
  8. To be able to impart all branches of the art of singing—opera, oratorio, church music, songs, part sing, etc. 
  9. To possess knowledge of the world's most important literature. 
  10. To know at least the four principle languages. 
  11. To have, if not understanding, at least interest, in all the other branches of art. 
  12. To possess pathological, physiological and psychological instinct—and, if possible, knowledge—because soul and body must be in perfect accord if the voice is to be trained to perfection. 
  13. To have energy necessary to guide mortals. 
  14. Patience. 

This last is one of the most necessary virtues of a teacher and a rare one. First of all, patience is the outcome and result of real knowledge. Only the person who knows exactly the difficulties to be overcome, and who can judge the intelligence before her, can have the patience to point out the faults day by day and to help the student to master them. For serious study is long and the path is strewn with difficulties of all sorts. I do not wish to insist upon the terrific ignorance that reigns nearly all over the world considering the study of singing. People admit and know that the study of instruments demands endless years of patience, but expect that singing be taught in a few weeks. In singing the human body and brain have to work simultaneously; there appears many a Rubicon on the journey which has to be bridged over, or swum over. Only time and patience can accomplish perfection is physical training, for the training of the voice is a physical training, and athletes know how long muscles and nerves take to acquire certain qualities of ability and endurance.

Blanche Marchesi, Singer's Pilgrimage (1923): 282-284


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Character is required by the teacher as by the pupil. When Rossini was asked: "Maestro, what is wanted to make a singer?" he would answer invariably: "Primo voce, second voce, terse voce." When García was asked: "Sir what is required to make a singer" he would answer: "Primo character, secondo character, terzo character," and I add that, endowed in a less measure with other required qualities, but with a character and will to succeed, many a pupil has gone ahead and surpassed those endowed by nature with all possible gifts except character. 

Blanche Marchesi, Singer's Pilgrimage (1923): 286

February 25, 2018

The Foundation of a New Religion

There was once a laryngologist in New York called Dr. Curtis. He became the friend and helper of the whole singing crowd in that city, and especially of the singers at the Metropolitan Opera House. The complaints among the singers were numerous, the vocal accidents serious. Dr. Curtis began to collect material, people like Van Rooy, Ternina, and hosts of other German singers, principles and choristers, showing signs of similar affections. In most cases the vocal cords were actually injured. 

Blanche Marchesi (1863-1940)
About the same time the voice of Edouard de Reszke began to fail, and Jean de Reszke, dissatisfied with his own voice, began to consult Dr. Curtis on both their cases. Jean de Reszke became a regular visitor at the private house of Dr. Curtis, and he would talk with his brother night after night, scrutinizing vocal methods and their consequences. 

Edouard de Reszke's case was similar to that of Rokintansky, the bass of the Vienna Opera Company (mentioned in section of Nasal Method). After forcing the volume of his voice, he got into difficulties,  being unable to reach his top notes as easily as before. He tried to save himself by singing through his nose. 

"The Triumvirate" decided after many conferences that it is the hit of the glottis which endangers the singer's throat. No doubt they were right on this point, as we fully agree that to hit the glottis in singing must be the source of many vocal troubles. But they could not distinguish between the hitting and the closing of the glottis, and at once decided to condemn every method that allowed singers to make their vocal cords meet when emitting sounds. 

Other singers were invited tone present at those discussions and some of our school, like Melba, Eames, Calvé, Susan Adams, and Sybil Sandersen, who had all been trained in the García-Marchesi Method, were shown the "bogey" of the "coup de glotte" and its terrifying consequences. At these meetings war was declared upon all followers of our method, and the artists' minds were worked upon passionately until they really believed that their way of using their voices was perilous. 

It was decided that vocal cords must be prevents from closing suddenly. This was the turning-point that brought about an error cultivated ever since. 

How could one sing without closing the vocal cords suddenly? Either by starting the note with an h (ha) which would make every fresh start sound husky, air being forced through the vocal cords whilst a note is attacked (first you would hear and h, then a sound), or else by starting a note with the aid of a preceding consonant. 

All consonants were tried and, arriving at the letter m, they decided that this was fulfilling all their expectations. They though they had here struck a gold vein in the dark labyrinth of their vocal ignorance. 

The letter m,  if you will try it by sounding a note at the same time, starts like the French em; then, passing straight through the nose, a nasal sound follows. But they thought that even an e (French) preceding the m might be dangerous, and so they decided to start singing notes on m with closed mouth, which makes the sound immediately pass through the nose and resemble the mooing of a cow. Obviously, their funny-bone did not trouble them. Neither did they object to unaesthetic noises.

Convinced that they had found a way to relieve the vocal cords of most of their work by avoiding the closing of the glottis in emitting sound, they decided to perform all exercises on the letter m with closed mouth and to try to sing otherwise through the nose as well. They thought that to send the sound through the nose was to take a heavy weight from the vocal cords, whereas the exact contrary is the truth. A sound sent to a bad sounding-board throws the whole weight of the work back upon the vocal organ and makes it attempt greater efforts to obtain volume.

This was a the starting-pint of this new religion, but did not stop there.

It spread like a prairie view, and all the ignoramuses, glad to find a new gospel at last, preached the pernicious discovery from the North Pole to the South. Dr. Curtis taught it to all his singing patients. He laid down in his book on the voice a curse against all those who teach the "coup de glotte."

This naturally meant García and all his followers, including my mother and myself. But these were all idle words. The serious fact witnessed by the whole world as that Edouard de Reszke's voice failed completely when he was still a fine, strong man. His instrument was beautiful, but the nasal method destroyed it. His brother Dean de Reszke, one of the finest singers of world ever knew, fell a victim to the same practice in the prime of life.

The tenor's voice succumbed more slowly but no less surely to these exercises. And so the most fascinating tenor had to retire from the operatic stage. Although they were the first victims of the "discovery," they grew enthusiastic over their new thought and, wishing to save all singers, drew more and more fellow-artists into their circle, thus causing havoc in the singing profession.

One of the first to listen to them was my mother's pupil, Melba. Her voice was perfect, her legato of a rare quality, her staccato and trill perfection. They talked her over, explaining that attacking notes straight away, and especially staccato singing, would be her ruin.

And so, as my mother told me, Melba returning one day from New York to work with her, as she did each year, suddenly started attacking all her notes with ha and avoided her lovely staccato. My mother immediately saw that she had listened to new advice and showed her profound astonishment at the change. Melba owned timidly that the new religion had influenced her, explaining how dangerous some people considered the direct attack of notes. My mother, not knowing whether to be angry or to laugh, energetically countered the doubts suggested to her; in fact, she felt profoundly offended that, having given to the world such a perfectly trained voice, people should dare to dispute the method that had made that instrument so beautiful, especially after complete success had already been attained with this voice through her method. She was, however, able to dispel these doubts and to induce Melba to resume her former ways. After that, Melba reminded faithful all her life to her teacher and her method, singing thus to a great age.

Blanche Marchesi, The Singer's Catechism and Creed (1932): 91-94

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The New Religion? It's still with us, especially on Broadway, where it is considered the "natural" voice. Not too long ago, I went to a showcase of young singers who were studying with a certain coach, and every last kid sang through his or her nose. No one batted an eye. Could they sing up the scale? Nope. Could they belt? Sure. Was there anything attractive about their voices? Not really. But no one seemed to care. 

I call this approach bottom barrel. There is no where to go but up, but there is little interest in doing so since everyone is on the same low level. All together now! Lets sing through our noses! It's the American way! The sound shoots out without discrimination, awareness, or self-reflection. Ugly Americans all, claiming their right to sound as bad as the next person—and they'll be damned if you try to take away their guns—I mean tone. 

Shoot me. 

February 24, 2018

The Decline of Fine Singing

Sir,—I was very glad to read the article of Mr. Geoffrey Thompson in your last issue on 'The Decline of Fine Singing.'

As a student in the late eighties, and a practitioner since, and one who knew the de Reszkes and Plançon, and many continental artists since, I fully endorse his statement. The causes are many, and it is worldwide; but the root is the rapid growth of wealth in the world in general during the last seventy or eighty years, and the consequent rush of incompetent teachers, performers, agents, managers, and others anxious to get into the stream. Prior to about 1830 the teaching of singing was confined to the Italians, who, whilst knowing little or nothing about actual mechanism of the voice, had, about a century before, founded a school of singing whose fundamental found was quality of tone combined with ability to sustain the tone, and to enunciate. 

The actual mechanism of the voice is still a secret of nature's, as one can see by the many arguments and theories of production which appear in books and magazine from time to time. Eminent throat specialists have said the secret will never be discovered as there can be no means of watching or ascertaining the process. 

Actually, Manuel Garcia (who died in 1906 at the age of a hundred and one, and was the son of an illustrious composer and tenor singer, and the brother of the greatest singers Malibran and Viardot) was the first teacher of singing to apply the study of physiology to the vocal mechanism; and he also invented the laryngoscope—the instrument still in use. 

Unfortunately, Garcia's study was not deep enough, for, physically, he ruined his own voice by faulty production, and he had to stop public performance at about thirty years of age. Also, he had not discovered the use of nasal resonance. These facts I can substantiate, as I was a pupil of his for three years at the R.A.M. That nasal resonance as essential is confirmed by the two great facts of the nose containing the largest sinus or resonator, in the human, and the tube or pipe formed by the nose is such as is used in the organ (instrument) to give the best quality tone. 

Another reason for the decline in the art is the fact of learned thinking the art is easily acquired, and with little work. Instead of which, under all circumstances, is is difficult, more particularly as it is an unseen instrument, and thereof one's senses of feeling, hearing, and intelligence must be the more acute. The art requires hard work, close attention, patience, perseverance, persistence, and a lot of it. 

Caruso said it took him nine years, Chaliapin took ten years, and the de Reszkes not less. A true artist is rarely fully satisfied with his work. 

—Yours, &c, B. Mayne. 

 The Musical Times, "The Decline of Fine Singing," December, 1934: 1117


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Could I find out anything about B. Mayne? Nope. Not after spending quite a bit of time doing so. Not after searching database after database. No matter. The man (and I am assuming it is a man) writes two things that concern this writer: 1) García ruined his voice with faulty production, and 2) knew nothing of nasal resonance. Lucie Manén—a student of Pauline Viardot-García—made this same charge in her book The Bel Canto: The Teaching of the Classical Song-Schools, Its Decline and Restoration (1987), having interviewed another student of the legendary vocal maestro, John Mewborn Levien, who told Manén that García did not teach the use of the nasal cavities as a resonator.

Let's take these two charges one at a time, shall we?

To the first: If García himself is to believed (and I wonder about that—which I will get to in a minute), his voice was ruined as a result of having to sing through puberty; that tricky time for a boy when hormones hit, the voice drops an octave and vocal range is limited for a period of time. While having to sing through puberty may have been an issue, the real problem is likely to have been his famous tenor father who was a bully as far as his son's aspirations were concerned. The clues are numerous with the elder García beating the crap out of his son on the deck of the ship that brought Italian opera to New York City, as well as the son's youthful attempts to escape his father by joining the navy and foreign legion. I have even come across a tale which places the son in Italy and singing very badly on purpose so as to send his father the reviews. Hello! What great voice teacher is going to piss on his brand by admitting to that? That said, kid García seems to have had a curious scientific bent about him, and merged the will of his father with his own after spending time in a military hospital where he observed the inner workings of anatomy as it related to breathing. My take? The younger García never wanted to be a singer, but did become a great voice teacher by following his own star.

To the second: Long time readers of VOICETALK will know that the introduction to Hidden in Plain Sight: The Hermann Klein Phono-Vocal Method Based upon the Famous School of Manuel García deals with the matter of voice placement (aka singing in the mask) in depth. They will also know that modern voice science considers the vocal tract to be the only resonator. The nasal cavities? They resonant only in so far as the soft palate is lowered and communication with the pharynx is achieved.

And there is this: Though García himself said next to nothing about nasal resonance in print, the daughter of his wildly successful student Mathilde Marchesi did. Writing in The Singer's' Catechism and Creed (1932), Blanche Marchesi had this to say:

The nasal method that has spread all over the world from Nice to New York is not only anti-aesthetic, but dangerous to the human voice. The section, "Foundation of a New Religion," in Chapter II, will furnish details of it. In sending sound through the nose instead of directly it towards the sounding-boards that give it beauty and life, we convey it through the very channel that should be avoided at all costs. It was given to us by nature for an entirely different purpose. The inner nose is formed of cartilage, which, like cardboard or wool, cannot offer any resonance. Singing thus without sounding-boards, we subject the voice to a cruel strain without obtaining any result, except that of destruction. Big, healthy sound sustained by the sounding-boards, on the other hand, is, as few people suspect, a great power. Vibration produced by the perfectly clear tone of a human voice can produce wonders. 

So, B. Mayne is correct on this one point: Manuel García did not teach nasal resonance! Look for my next post which will feature Blanche Marchesi's further thoughts on nasal resonance. 

February 20, 2018

García's Method of Breathing

In the article "Pseudo-Science in Song" by Charles Lunn, Signor Manuel García is quoted as giving the following directions for taking the breath: "Raise the chest by a slow and regular motion, and draw in the stomach." 

I was greatly surprised to see this, as during my study with Sig. García his directions for taking the breath were quite opposed to this method. In his "Art of Singing" he says: "To insure easy inspiration, it is requisite that the head be erect, the shoulders thrown back without stiffness, the chest expanded. The diaphragm should be lowered without any jerk, and the chest regularly and slowly raised. This double movement enlarges the compass or circumference of the lungs, first at the base." This does not sound like drawing in the stomach, and I know from personal acquaintance that he did not teach it. 

J. Ettie Crane, Potsdam, N.Y. 

Werner Voice Magazine, December, 1889: 270


I can easily explain Miss Crane's difficulty, in her letter in the Dec. No. of your magazine. My copy of García's singing school was bought in 1858. Messrs. Hutchins & Romer now publish two editions, one like mine, at 15 shillings, the other, from which Miss Crane quotes, at 12 shillings. 

I cannot date Sig. García's defection, but I should say it arose about 10 years ago. I have been very disappointed and pained at what I have heard of his later training, and naturally ascribed it to the weakness of age. I do not care to discredit a historical name, so only remark that the singers quoted by me were all trained on García's early principles, which are identical with Cataneo's and mine. 

Charles Lunn, England 

Werner's Voice Magazine, March 1890: 82


It's true. García did change his 1841 treatise in 1872 and excise the text which Donald V Paschke—in his 1984 Da Capo Press translation/compilation—translates as "and set the hollow of the stomach (The original is in French). Why the change? It's one of those great pedagogical mysteries.

Though Lunn is off by 7 years or so, he does make his point: the great maestro's instruction changed over the years—at least in print. Curiously, whatever García may have taught Ettie Crane, Garcia's original teaching surfaces again in Herman Klein's record of the great master's teaching. In Hidden in Plain Sight: The Hermann Klein Phono-Vocal Method Based upon the Famous School of Manuel García, Klein instructs the voice student as follows: "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 of collarbone, which are not permitted to move from their normal position to take any part in the process of expansion." 

Are we full circle now or what? 

Of course, my mind wonders: Did García teach men and women differently as far as breathing is concerned? Or is there another explanation? One clue (or complication) may lie in Anna E. Schoe-René's record in America's Musical Inheritance: Memories and Reminiscences (1941) of García teaching men to breathe into the lower back!

Crane hasn't appeared on these pages before even if she's been in my mind's eye for a long while. She was part of the "normal school" movement in America. Lunn, for his part, was a friend and defender of the great maestro, and considered García and himself as possessing the authentic teachings of old Italian school of singing.