Mme. Lena Doria Devine

A student of Francesco Lamperti, Mme. Lena Doria Devine taught in New York in the decade after Lamperti's death in 1892. Readers will notice in the article below that her teaching concepts are in line with those articulated in Vocal Wisdom.

Devine was wary of the drive for teacher certification which was formally initiated by the National Association of Teachers of Singing- and later renamed The New York Singing Teachers Association.  In a twist of history, I served NYSTA as the editor of VOICEPrints for five years.  The organization now has its own professional development program that can be taken remotely.

The following article is from Werner's Magazine - c. 1899. 

Mme. Lena Doria Devine.

"/ claim to teach exactly as Lamperti taught: Sing-
ing on the breath, clean attack, the use of the legato,
and the value of Italian 'ah' as a throat-opener."

THERE are other Lampertis and many representatives of Lamperti methods, but Mme. Devine stands for the Lamperti pere method pure and simple. She acknowledges nothing that has not come directly from the renowned Francesco Lamperti, the last of the great masters of the old Italian school of singing.

Mme. Devine went over to Europe to study singing, expecting to take of Marchesi. While in Dresden she wrote to three teachers, making a sort of resolve that she would go to the one that answered first. That was San Giovanni, so Marchesi and Lamperti had to wait. She went to Milan and to San Giovanni, and purposely sang atrociously. Placing the voice? No need of that! God has placed the voice, and all that was necessary to do was to go ahead and sing! That did not look very encouraging, so that when somebody that was studying with Lamperti recommended him, she went along and heard the lesson, and thenceforward she knew what she had to do. The next three years she lived in Lamperti's house and studied. Mme. Devine's views and practices are outlined as follows:
"Men are more difficult to teach than are women. They do not take the same interest in their work. While I disagree most radically with Frank H. Tubbs in many of the things he says in the March No. of Werner's Magazine, I am compelled to say that he is right in his estimate of the brains and the ambitions of tenors. They have the most depressing way of giving up singing, even though they have perfectly lovely voices.

"I declare I do not see how Mr. Tubbs can say that the acquisition of the vocal art is at the most a matter of a few months. To know the thing that you want to do, to understand perfectly how it ought to feel and ought to sound, is not necessarily to be able to accomplish that thing. It is just as Lamperti says: 'If that were so, the world would be peopled with golden songsters.' Why, Lamperti told me it would take me six months of steady work to get myself into the condition where he could begin to teach me. In those six months I was unlearning,—among other things, the attack of the Garcia school. I had a teacher that taught me that method of attack and just about ruined my voice. I practiced the Garcia attack by saying ' Ah-ah-ah!' just as if you were warning a child to let something alone. 'Ah-ah-ah! Don't touch that' That is all wrong. Try to attack the tone in that way and if you listen closely you can hear a slight pop preceding the tone. In the Lamperti attack the tone begins as clearly and distinctly as the edge of a razor. There is nothing, and then there is the tone."

"It is made in this way." Mme. Devine turned the back of her hand toward the observer and beckoned, as if waving something over her shoulder, and then the tone came, infinitesimally small and distinct, without any click of escaping breath. It is as if you made the tone by inhalation. Of course, you do not. The voice in singing comes from exhaled breath; but if, before beginning a tone, you open your mouth and inhale until the air no longer feels cool to the throat and start the tone, apparently inhaling, you get an attack that is cleaner than by the method that lets the tone explode with a preliminary gush of breath. Of course, you understand that this breathing in with the open mouth is used as an illustration, and not as an exercise. You might dry the throat and hurt it by the inhalation of air unwarmed and unaltered by the nostrils."

"Some teachers say that even in a song the breath ought always to be taken through the nostrils."
''It ought to be wherever there is a pause long enough to permit of it. Oh, yes, without doubt. But there are times when one must catch a breath,—steal it, if you like to put it that way—when one can not shut the mouth and draw in the breath through the nostrils, without calling attention to the fact that one is breathing, and that ought never to be done. It is no business of the public how and when you breathe. They want to hear you sing."

"What is the Lamperti method of breathing ? "

"Deep breathing; by the expansion and the contraction of the diaphragm. To expand and to contract that, of course the ribs move, but the point of effort is at the diaphragm. Other methods of breathing may make good physical exercises for the expansion of the lungs, but they are not good for the production of the singing-voice. There must be nothing that will stiffen the upper chest, for that tightens the throat. Lamperti would not even let us go rowing on the Lake of Como, because the unaccustomed and violent exercise would induce contractions in the throat. The chest must be pliable and easy, so that one could bend any way. All the work must be done by the muscles of the abdomen."

"Isn't that injurious to women?"
"It is, if a woman fastens herself up in a corset that does not give room for expansion. If the organs of the abdominal cavity are crowded up together and then a person tries to expand the diaphragm, something has got to give, and the result is bad. But it is not the breathing that is at fault. It is the corset.
"On the other hand, deep breathing is just as beneficial for woman as it is for man. How many people go through life using only the upper half of their lungs! They suffer in consequence. The best proof of the good results of deep breathing is the way one gets hungry after a lesson. It is the greatest thing for the appetite. I get thin, hollow-chested girls, and the way they fill out is something interesting."

"Do you have the pupils practice respiratory exercises by themselves, that is, without tone; and do you have them practice respiratory movements without breath? "

"A certain amount of respiratory exercise should be given preparatory to the work in voice-culture. But much of this practice comes under the head of physical culture and is proper to the gymnasium rather than to the vocal studio. I advise my pupils to take physical culture and out-of-door exercise."
"Do you have the pupil retain the air in the lungs, neither inhaling nor exhaling? What is the maximum time in seconds for holding the breath thus?"

"As a result of practice it is possible to retain air in the lungs about forty seconds. Breath-control is the essential thing in the Lamperti method.' Singing on the breath' is the motto. There are just a few principles that I particularly insist upon, and not I either, for I do not pretend to teach on my own authority. I am not presumptuous enough to insist that I am the authority. I claim to teach exactly as Lamperti taught. I have his book, and for everything that I tell the pupil I have tradition—what I remember that he said to me and what he said to others—and I have chapter and verse. The few principles are singing on the breath, the attack, the artistic legato and the importance of the vowel a (Italian a) as a method of getting the throat open.

"You will notice that when people do not sing well, the vowel a is not a with them, but uh or oo or aw or something like ugh. A pure a requires a clear throat. A good singer has a smooth legato, without being blurred or indistinct. That is what makes it such a pleasure to hear Sembrich sing."
"You spoke of a pure tone. Has 'purity of tone' any standard other than that of each individual?"
"I believe there is what might be called an absolute standard of pure tone, one in which there is a certain proportion of harmonics to the fundamental note. A pure tone requires certain physical conditions. There must be a clean-cut attack and steady breath-control. When these are imperfect the tone can not be pure."

"Do you try to exercise the soft-palate ? Should it rise and fall for different vowels? "

"I very seldom call attention to it at all. I go at it in a round-about way. Jenny Lind says something about the disappearance of the soft palate on the high notes. I get, as Lamperti showed me, the lifting of the soft-palate by making the pupil smile and also by the little device of pretending that the higher the note is the farther up into the head back of the ear it is. Of course, the note is not there at all, but it assists the production if you imagine it is there."

An example was given later when the teacher swung round on her piano-stool and poked with her finger in the back hair of the pupil, and the tone, which was foggy and like that of a stopped diapason organ-pipe, instantly became clear and like that of an open pipe.

"Do you teach that the larynx should be held in the same position for all vowels? "
"I teach that no effort should be made except that necessary to control the breath. There must be no local effort about the throat."

"Suppose you had a pupil that sang out of tune, what would you do ? "

"I have two pupils now that came to me with this defect. One of them could not 'turn a tune,' as she puts it. Another one had a tendency to sing off key, but had generally a good ear. She used to give me the horrors. All there is to do is to get them to sing on the breath and constantly to call attention to correct intonation. 'Not quite the note. It is this. Listen. Do you see the difference?' That is the way I go at it. Wait a little and you will hear the girl that could not 'turn a tune."' She came in presently, an intelligent looking young woman.

"Turn a tune?" she laughed." I couldn't turn a corner of a tune. My friends laughed at me for thinking of taking singing lessons. They told me they'd take care of my money for me if I didn't know what to do with it. But I am so fond of music and singing and I wanted to be able to sing so that I wouldn't make enemies by trying, so I began."

Mme. Devine is a great believer in the correct posture of the body for singing, the chest well forward, the hips in, the weight on the ball of one foot and the other foot forward of that so that it will be easy to bow.

"You are ready to do something then. If you want to bow or if somebody hits you and you want to ward off the blow, you do not have to get ready for action. You are ready. In that poise you do not need to fret about what to do with your hands. They do not bother you. It is the easiest way to hold your sheet of music. Your stomach is not in your way as it would be if you were 'standing straight,' as they call it, after the military fashion. I have had people say to me: ' I don't want my daughter taught to stand all scrunched up that way,' but they did not know any better."

There was presently to be an illustration of this point, for the pupil settled back on her heels, and instantly the tone became dead and lifeless and apparently was propelled with an effort. But so long as she stood forward with the active chest, the tone was good, even beautiful, and only once or twice in all the exercises deviated in the slightest from the correct pitch. All the pupils have to go through practically the same exercises. There is first the poise, then the hands go on the hips with the fingers on the abdomen so as to sense the action of propelling the breath from the bottom of the lungs. Then some preliminary inhalations through the nose and then soft, sustained tones, the greatest care being taken that the beginning of the note is perfectly clean and pure. The vowel a (Italian) was used exclusively. Mme. Devine opposes the use of oo or moo or koo or any of the devices in vogue with some. In some cases the pupil swelled out on the tone, but one girl, who had been with a teacher that encouraged shouting, sang through a whole lesson without the listener suspecting that she had anything but a light voice. In reality she has a very large voice and is inclined to bellow. After the long sustained tones, Mme. Devine commences at once on the do, do', ti, la, sol, fa, mi, re, do, first time mezzo, second time pianissimo. Then to cultivate the ear the exercise is: Do, do, ti, la, sol, fa, mi, re, do, re—(breath)—re, re', do', ti, la, sol, fa, mi, re, mi— (breath)—mi, mt', re', do', ti, la, sol, fa, mi, fa, and so on. The advanced pupils do this without accompaniment in order to see if their ear is correct.

Another exercise is a sort of staccato arpeggio, in the middle of which the pupil expends all the breath in a sort of sob and then recovers it quickly to finish the arpeggio in a clinging legato style. The quicker the recovery the better. The object of this exercise is to develop the capacity to catch a breath quietly and quickly.
Another exercise is a light and rapid run of two octaves, up and down the scale. Its fellow that follows takes the last four notes staccato and very lightly and then runs down limpidly and evenly legato. Mme. Devine holds that when the notes are in the voice, it not only does no harm to touch them lightly and on the breath, but rather strengthens them and does the whole voice good.  Instead of pieces, the beginner has the bravura studies of Lamperti, which contain every ornament known to florid singing and when sufficient progress is made, the pieces given are not "simple ballads," which really require the greatest possible art, but the ornate airs of the old Italian school,—" Una voce poco fa," " Ah, luce di quest" anima," "Regnava" from "Lucia," the airs of Bellini's "I Capuletti e Montecchi," or Rossini's "Semiramide," most of them with the ornaments and roulades that Francesco Lamperti wrote and added. Bit by bit these are studied and worked over, and if the girl is very studious and picks up things quickly, she has as many as three of these in her first year.

"I do not expect to make an artist of her in that time," said Mme. Devine," but I expect to be able to set her just that much farther on the way to becoming an artist, by equipping her with the ability to do any mortal thing set down for her kind of a voice to do." The most confusing thing about Mme. Devine's teaching is that she does not use the word "natural." Sing "naturally," or "I teach my pupils to sing naturally," is the commonest phrase heard in studios.

"Natural' is the most abused word in the language. Everybody picks on it and I am doing an act of kindness to let it alone. Everyone says that his method is the 'natural' one, and those who have no method at all think they are more natural than anybody else because they do not oppose nature; they let the pupils sing their own way whether it does violence to the vocal organs or not. The term 'natural,' as applied to singing, has no logical sense unless it means that use of the vocal organs that puts no strain upon any part detrimental to its healthy condition, that is, to get the greatest result from the least exertion. Every skillful thing is done naturally, because it takes advantage of all the favor in environments, but it is not done without teaching or practice. We have to learn how to get out of our own way and not to oppose ourselves when we are trying to do something, but we have to learn to do that and so it is not natural in the sense of being ' untutored.' "

"How many registers are there, and what is a register?"

"The idea that there are certain points in the voice where the method of production is changed is erroneous. Placing the voice upon the breath develops it into a perfectly even instrument. The consideration of registers in the sense of there being places in the scale where there must be a conscious change of the method of production does not enter into my scheme of teaching."

"What happens when the pupil makes a 'breathy' tone or a ' throaty' tone?"

"A throaty tone results from tightening the lower jaw or from making other muscular effort of the throat in that neighborhood. A breathy tone comes from an improper attack, which permits the breath to escape before the tone. By the way, while I think of it, Mr. Tubbs opposes the 'spoon-shaped tongue.' I favor it. It certainly facilitates the exit of the voice. One great defect of singers is that they let their tongue rise high in the mouth and thus shut off the voice. The mouth should interpose no obstacle whatever and the flat and even spoon shaped tongue leaves a free and open passage.  "It has become a fashion lately to make much of frontal resonance, but I dislike exceedingly the effects obtained by it. The tones that a soprano gets seem to me to be like nothing so much as a hoot. Lamperti calls particular attention to this 'frontal' tone and tells how to avoid it."

"Besides Lamperti and San Giovanni, who were your teachers?"

"Mme. Sandri for voice-production; and, for interpretation, Shakespeare of London, and Cornelius Rlibner, the composer and court pianist of Baden-Baden. But I put Lamperti first. It is amusing to me to see how many are claiming, all of a sudden, that they are pupils of Lamperti.  'I studied with so-and-so, and What's-his-name, and Lamperti.' They say this as easily as some people say ' and others,' when there are no more. Lamperti was first. No one ever studied with the old Lamperti long enough to know what he was driving at (and you could not do that in three or four lessons, because you could not understand his dialect), no one, I say, ever was with him any length of time, without feeling beyond all doubt that he was the greatest master of them all. Lamperti never took back a pupil that had left him to try another teacher.' Whoever has not the intelligence,' he said, 'to see that I am teaching the truth, will never be an artist, and I can not bother with him.' You may call this egotism. It was rather the consciousness of supreme power possessed by a great genius. ' God may have made the voices,' he said, 'but I take notice that it is I that have to teach them to sing.'
"I challenge those who say they have studied with the great masters to tell me why, if they have really done so, they talk so much about a thousand and one trivialities and so little about the one great truth he taught—the secret of the Italian school—singing upon the breath."

"Who are some of your pupils? What results can you show?"

"The following are some of my pupils: Edward W. Gray, tenor of the Old First Presbyterian Church Choir; Mrs. Nestor Lattard, mezzo soprano; Edward Groeschel, soloist of the Schuberth Club, Jersey City; the sisters, Jessie and Bessie Abbott; Louise Gehle, contralto, and her sister Augusta Gehle, soprano; Mrs. Charles Sprague Lippincott, of Nebraska ; Miss Florence Merritt, niece of the assistant editor of your magazine; Miss May K. Mason; Miss Ida Benedict, the composer and soprano of the Old First Presbyterian Church; Miss Mabel Denman; and the coloratura soprano, Miss Blanche Duffield. Among the professional teachers that have studied with me are: Mr. E. Springer, of Chicago; Miss Caroline Belcher, of New Jersey; Miss Mary Merrill, of South Georgia College; Marie A. Summers, of Brooklyn; Miss Katharine V. Dickinson, of the Alton, 111., Conservatory.
"But the method I teach is not my method. It is Francesco Lamperti's and it is only because it is his that it is so valuable. The results that he got were such singers as La Tiberini, Jeanne Sophie Lowe, Cruvelli, Grua, Brambilla, Catherine Hayes, Desiree Artot, La Grange, Angelica Moro, Paganinni, Galli, Risarelli, Augeleri, Peralta, Albani, Stoltz, Waldman, Aldighieri, Campanini, Vialetti, Derevis, Mariani, Palermi, Everardy, Shakespeare, Van Zandt (mother and daughter), Valleria, Lilli Lehmann, Sims Reeves, Sembrich, Volkman, Robinson, Reichman, Organi, Galassi, Gayarre, and Ripetto.
"Is not that a list? What a teacher he must have been to have got such pupils as Albani, Campanini, the Van Zandts, Lehmann, Sims Reeves, and Sembrich! Patti was at one time a pupil of his, but perhaps she got her method from him in a more indirect way. Shortly before Adelina was born Signora Barili studied singing with Lamperti. So when anybody asked the question that is so familiar, ' How old is she?' The maestro used to say: 'Tacete, tacete' (Wait, wait), and then he would count up. He knew."

"You studied abroad. What do you think of it? Is it necessary?"

"Yes and no. There are in this country excellent teachers capable of making finished artists. So it is not absolutely essential to go to Europe ' to get the finishing touches,' as the phrase goes. At the same time, no student that has the means should be satisfied until he has spent a year or two abroad; in the first place, on account of the broadening influences and inspiration he will receive from such an experience. At home the singing-lesson is obviously one out of many interesting things that occupy the mind. But over there, there is nothing else. In the time when you are not directly studying the voice, you are either consciously or unconsciously learning Italian if you are in Italy or French if you are in Paris, and that is good for you and makes in the direction of your work. Not being with one's family or friends, you spend more of your time in the studio hearing the others and you get along so much faster than if you took two lessons a week and forgot all about it except when your lesson times came. 

"In the second place, the public and the managers are prejudiced against one that has not had European study and something of a European career. One thing is certain, though; there is no excuse for going abroad to study until one has built a solid foundation. It is even harder to steer clear of voice-wreckers abroad than at home, because some of them have tremendous reputations."

"Is the piano the best instrument to use in giving lessons ? How about the violin?"

"The piano is the most convenient, but I consider the violin a most valuable aid in cultivating the voice. The legato can be illustrated much better on the violin than on the piano. I remember having a most interesting conversation with Sembrich on this point, while she was studying with Francesco Lamperti at Lake Como. She assured me that her knowledge of the violin had been of the greatest assistance to her in the cultivation of her voice.

"Speaking of Marcella Sembrich, I would state that she thought well enough of Francesco Lamperti to take lessons of him even after she had studied four years with G. B. Lamperti. She came to him from Hamburg, where, in an access of delight, the students had unharnessed the horses from her carriage and themselves had drawn it. She could not get the attack at all. Lamperti offered to send out for a pupil that could show her, but she wanted to try it herself. It did not make any difference to Lamperti that she was already a great singer; what he wanted was somebody that would do what he said. So he wandered into the next room to look out at the weather and —did not come back. Mme. Sembrich waited and then began to cry. Mme. Lamperti, coming in and finding Sembrich in tears, tried to comfort her by saying: ' But you are Sembrich.'  "I had rather interest that old man than the crowds that do not know whether I sing well or ill,' she replied.  "Mme. Lamperti went and found the master and the lesson went on." "But that just showed," continued Mme Devine, "that Lamperti did not pay any more attention to one pupil, just because she had a name, than to another that tried to do as she was told. It also gives one an inkling into what has made Sembrich one of the first singers of the modern world. She is not satisfied just to do well. She wants to do the best. She hadn't a natural trill when she came to Lamperti. She has worked at it until now it is beautiful."

"When should a girl begin vocal lessons?"

"I do not believe she can begin too soon. Children that are not neglected begin at a very early age to sing, if they hear music and if their parents sing to them. To have no ear for music simply means that no attention was paid to the child in that respect When they are yet 'little folks," seven or eight or even younger, I think that they should begin systematic instruction, everything being done gently and lightly, even playfully. There should be no effort to develop strength in the voice because the tissues are too frail to admit of strength. But flexibility and suppleness can be gained, the child can be taught how to breathe and to control the breath. It stands to reason that the child is better fitted to do those general things that do not require fine, deliberate coordination of the secondary muscles than it is for writing in school or playing the piano." 

"Then when the mutation of the voice comes, there is much less of a change in the girl's than in the boy's voice, and the suppleness of the voice remains. With it, too, remains the control of the breath. That has become habitual and does not have to be learned after the girl has acquired faulty habits of breathing from wearing corsets. The control of the breath is the work of a long time, and childhood seems to me to be the time for that. If a girl sets out with an operatic career in view, eighteen years is pretty late, considering what a lot she has to learn. To succeed, she ought to be able to sing in at least three languages. Besides the acquisition of technique, see how many roles she must learn. Mr. Tubbs (I hope he will not think that I have a personal grudge against him) says twenty-four is a good age. I do not know about that. A woman of twenty-four feels that she must get results right away. She has no time to spare. She must make her appearance while she is still young and before she has begun to look passe. That is why there are not so many good singers, considering that so many are studying. l am delighted to find that Sir Morell Mackenzie in his 'Hygiene of the Vocal Organs' agrees with me as to the desirableness of teaching children. Christine Nilsson, Jenny Lind, Adelina Patti, Albani, and many other famous singers sang, when children, even in public. What spoils children's voices is putting too severe work upon them for too long a time, but lessons fifteen minutes long, in which the child sings on the breath and lightly, are not going to do the damage that the untaught screaming of children in public schools and Sunday-schools yelling at play, and the lack of interest in good production will do. Just to find out by visiting a studio once a week that there is such a thing as trying to make beautiful tones is an incentive to a child to try to imitate, and is an education in itself.
''I have one little girl pupil now. She is thirteen years old, and, while her voice is small, I do not attempt to develop it in strength. Everything she takes is lightly done and the lessons are only a quarter of an hour long. Some of the expressions she uses to illustrate her understanding of what I tell her are most interesting. Someone was telling her of another little girl's singing. ' Yes,' she says, ' she does like I used to. She freezes her voice. She puts too much breath in it' Now, I never told her that, but it illustrates exactly the effect of mixing the breath with the tone. It makes the liquid water turn into a kind of cold slush. 

''I think I should like to have a class of little girls to teach singing. I used to be able to interest the little ones so, when I was a teacher in the public schools. I believe it is possible to bring children up to be singers, if you begin at the age when they are forming the habits of such elementary things as the use of the voice."

"Should a pupil practice out of the teacher's hearing?  How long should one practice? "

"The pupil should not practice away from the teacher until he has mastered the correct way of taking each single tone upon the breath. A pupil should not practice more than fifteen minutes at a time. That must be supplemented by mental study."

"Does the vocal profession offer to a man as good opportunities as the law, medicine or a mercantile life? "

"Yes, to the man of exceptional vocal endowments, but to no others."

"Have associations of teachers helped the profession ?"

"I do not think they have very much. They ought to, just as similar associations have done in other professions. But the trouble is, these meetings are used more as an opportunity for advertising than for mutual aid and the advancement of truth."

"Do you believe in State regulation of singing-teachers, such as there is for lawyers, physicians, engineers, and plumbers? "

"I do not. I think it would be utterly impracticable. The ability to answer a number of questions would be no criterion whatever of the ability to teach. Some clever writers on voice-culture have shown themselves to be poor teachers. The only salvation that I can see is to get the public to know a good teacher by the results he gets and for honest publications to denounce incompetents and frauds and to expose their claptrap methods of fooling the public."