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. 

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