August 27, 2010

The Traditions of Fine Singing

One of the last direct representatives of Pauline Viardot-Garcia and Manuel Garcia was Anna E. Schoen-René (1862-1942), a professor of singing at The Juilliard School from 1925 to 1942.  She taught many well-known singers including Putnam Griswold, Florencio Constantino, Sonia Essen, Mack Harrell, Florence Easton, Margaret Harshaw, Risë Stevens, Lillian Blauvelt, Karin Branzell, Charles Kullman, Thelma Votipka, George Meader, Paul Robeson, Eva Gauthier, Lanny Ross, and George Britton.

As far as I have been able to ascertain, the interview below with Schoen-René, which appeared in the November 1941 issue of The Etude, is the only one given during her life-time that includes anything remotely related to vocal technique. It was the same year that her memoir America's Musical Inheritance was published.  She died a year later.   

One of the more interesting things in the article is Schoen-René's assertion that the student must not only judge tones after they have been produced, but must “understand the anatomical principles underlying their production and the sensations they cause." Schoen-René also asserts that the voice must be resonated from the face, and vibrate freely there. This is the concept of voice placement. 

Click each jpeg and then drag it off onto your desktop. Then click it on again. You should then see each one at full resolution.


August 26, 2010

Klein on Garcia

Here's an interesting account of Manuel Garcia given by Herman Klein to the American Laryngological, Rhinological, and Ontological Society in 1905. Klein studied with the great 19th century maestro for four years, and then proceeded to have a long career as a writer, reviewer, and voice teacher. He came to New York in 1901 as Garcia's exponent with the express purpose of organizing the field of voice teaching, and was the first chairman of the National Association of Teachers of Singing, which was later renamed The New York Singing Teachers Association

Garcia was 100 years old at the time of Klein's address. 

The Larygnoscope, 1905
Manuel Garcia, Teacher, Discoverer, and Man. By James E. Newcomb, M.D.

Dr. Coffin announced that it had been the intention to have an address by Walter Damrosch, but at the last moment Mr. Damrosch had found it impossible to come. He had, however, been fortunate in securing the presence of an intimate friend and associate of Signor Garcia's, Mr. Herman Klein, a distinguished music teacher, and took pleasure in introducing him to the Section.

Mr. Herman Klein said that the invitation to address the Section being entirely unexpected, he had not had time to prepare an address, and therefore felt somewhat at a disadvantage in speaking, after the eloquent words of the preceding speaker. He wished, however, to congratulate him upon the absolute truthfulness of all his remarks, and the appreciation which they had shown of the character of Manuel Garcia. He also felt at a disadvantage in replacing so distinguished a musician as Mr. Walter Damrosch, but that he had one advantage over both these gentlemen in having been a pupil of Garcia and his friend for thirty-one years.
In 1874 he was engaged in business in Liverpool, with no idea of a musical career, when he received a request from his parents that he would return to London and for professional reasons join them there. The house which his parents had taken was larger than they required, and they had rented the ground floor to an eminent teacher of singing, whose name, of course, was known to him. That teacher of singing was Manuel Garcia. He received his pupils and taught in this house for upwards of nine years, and Mr. Klein was brought into daily and intimate contact with him, a very great privilege, and one which he felt he appreciated then nearly as much as he did to-night, though to-night there was a feeling of added happiness and pride.
His father was not a great believer in longevity, but one day he had spoken of Garcia as a man who would live to be one hundred and fifty. That showed he was at any rate a great believer in Garcia's capacity for living, and the speaker said he thought the reason for this was that although Garcia was then seventy years old, he was the most energetic, lively, vigorous, quick-moving and quick-speaking man he ever knew. He has had the ordinary share of man's cares, and has had more than the ordinary share of man's hard work, but nothing has ever occurred to disturb his equilibrium or the regularity of his living; or, if it has, he has never shown it. He was always a man much younger than his years, and it was difficult to realize in those days that his elder sister, the great Malibran, had been dead for exactly as long a period as the speaker's mother had been living, for the latter was born in 1836, the year that Malibran died.
He (Garcia) was a great teacher even in his earlier days. He had a marvelous faculty for discovering the nature of a voice and training it in such a way that it progressed like the growth of a tree, the trunk carefully trained to grow toward the sun, spreading its branches in due proportion, and the roots growing long and strong beneath the surface of the earth, thus producing a perfect plant.
The teacher of singing, as a rule, is anxious to do more than is really necessary, and wants to decide at once whether the singer is a soprano, mezzo-soprano, contralto, or what not. But Garcia never troubled himself about that. He thought of the middle portion of the voice, and that as the tree must develop from its trunk, so must the voice develop from its medium tone. Mr. Klein described the working of the vocal cords, and explained that which could not have been known without the aid of the laryngoscope, that when the inner edges vibrate they produce the falsetto or medium voice; and that therefore that is the part of the voice which, when carefully employed, suffers least from strain, gives the truest quality, and the most beautiful and sympathetic quality, and should be the point from which to start the growth of the voice.
At the time the speaker first knew him, Garcia was working with all the knowledge that the laryngoscope had brought him; but he had been a thorough master of the art of teaching on the pure Italian system which was one of more or less natural results brought about by natural effects, long before the discovery which has proved so valuable to science. Mr. Klein had never seen Garcia use the laryngoscope, although he had seen him teach a great many students. He never thought it worth while to teach by means of technical or physiological expressions. His great idea was, as far as possible, to keep the mind of the pupil clear and free from any technical expressions which were calculated to confuse the mind of the student, and this was no doubt the manner of the great Italian masters before him. It should be remembered that Garcia, who knew and knows everything worth knowing about the human throat, with all his technical ability, was content to teach by the old process without the assistance of more artificial resources.

In his modest way, Garcia was fully aware of the value of his invention, and knew what was being done with its aid. He knew that it was not alone for the purpose of singing that a great Providence had enabled him to discover it, and he did not regard it as an essential for teaching singing. For other technical studies, apart from the laryngoscope, he had a very cleverly constructed model of the human throat which he had brought from Paris. This enabled students to see what the interior of the throat was like, but beyond that, Garcia confined himself to the model of his own voice and to instructions as to the manner of using it. He was, therefore, proud that this great year should be recognized as it was in such exalted quarters. He certainly regarded his discovery as of greater value from the medical or scientific standpoint than from that of the teacher.

The speaker expressed great approval of a little book by an eminent music teacher in Berlin, who seemed to thoroughly understand the wonderful teaching of Manuel Garcia from the technical point of view. A very interesting point was one for which Manuel Garcia was alone responsible. As the result of his observations with the laryngoscope, he was able to describe for the first time the exact manner in which the vocal cords acted in the attack of a vocal sound. Being in France at the time, he gave this the name of the "coup de la glotte" (the stroke of the glottis). In a book published later he mentioned this coup de la glotte, taught it, explained it, and demonstrated it. As long as he did this himself, it was all right, but in the course of years there grew up a generation of teachers who, having read what Garcia taught, brought out their own text books also, and they began to teach the "coup de la glotte" according to their ideas. The result was that sooner or later the phrase assumed a wholly strained and incorrect meaning.
The speaker told how Madame Melba had expressed to him her surprise that he believed in the coup de la glotte. "What," she said, "you believe in that terrible thing, the coup de la glotte, and that it is the way people attack their notes?" That was the idea she had formed of Garcia's term, and it was the idea that to some extent prevailed to-day in Paris; but the manner in which Manuel Garcia himself described it was that it was the simple first explosion of the sound produced by the voice, the stroke of the glottis in the act of emitting the vocal sound. The two ideas were as far apart as the poles.

Some eleven or twelve years ago, a lecture was delivered at the Lyceum Theatre in London by the famous baritone, M. Maurel, who claimed to have discovered the true art of singing, as no one else had known it before. Incidentally he violently assailed the coup de la glotte. Of course his view was the wrong one, but for some time the term had been in disgrace, for hundreds of teachers had taught it so badly that it had become discredited. With some persuasion the speaker had induced Garcia, who was present at the lecture, to write a letter to the Sunday Times categorically denying M. Maurel's statements, and making the true meaning of the term perfectly plain. Nevertheless, the false impression still persisted.

With regard to his own studies with the famous teacher, Mr. Klein said he had no time to relate reminiscences. He would only say that Garcia was the most perfect master of every branch of his work that could be imagined. His wonderful powers of observation, his patience, his marvellous appreciation of the capacity of the organ, and his ability to exactly train it within its true limits, and no further, had never been surpassed by any other teacher, and yet to all appearance, no man was ever so completely unaware of the greatness of his work.
In 1841, sixty-four years ago, the great singer, Jenny Lind, came to him in Paris with a voice completely shattered by bad training and over-exertion. She showed that she had had a beautiful voice, but nearly everything in its management was faulty; the registers were wrong and she could not even make a shake. Between August, 1841, and July, 1842, she studied with the great teacher, and he completely renovated her voice; and, thanks, of course, to the natural strength and beauty of the organ, he turned out the Jenny Lind who was the vocal marvel of her time.

The speaker closed by expressing again his appreciation of the privilege of being present at this gathering, held in honor of his great master. He felt like a stranger far away from his native land, who yet on some great festive occasion could enjoy being in the midst of those who were thinking and feeling as he did. He was very proud of having been able to address the meeting, and would not fail when he again saw Manuel Garcia to tell him the story of that evening, and he would like in advance to offer the Section Senor Garcia's thanks for the compliment they rendered him, for he would assuredly value it no less than the honors which had been bestowed upon him in London at the same time.

Of course, my vocal pedagogy sleuth mind is thinking: Who was the voice teacher in Berlin that wrote the "little book" that Klein approved of?  Ferdinand Sieber? 

And isn't it interesting that Garcia endeavored to keep the student's mind free of technical expressions, tended to the health of the middle voice, not bothering with voice classification in the beginning of study, and taught by the old process?

August 25, 2010

The Simple Idea of Manuel Garcia

Though it is now known Manuel Garcia was not the inventor of the laryngoscope, he was the first person to use the instrument to view the vocal folds in action during singing, a monumental achievement.  What follows is an address by Manuel Garcia on how he came to see the vocal folds for the first time, and what he subsequently discovered.  His remarks are in addition to those he made (which made him famous) in 1855.

Transactions of the Seventh Session of the International Medical Congress, 
by J. W. Kolckmann, 1881, p. 197

On the Invention of the Laryngoscope
Signor Manuel Garcia, M. D. (Honoris causa), London 

Manuel García by John Singer Sargent 

To make a suitable reply to the flattering expressions addressed to me by our Chairman, and sanctioned by your approbation, would require a habit of speaking and an eloquence that I do not possess. Parvus inter magnos, I can but assure you how highly I appreciate the honour you have done me, and hope for your indulgent acceptance of my simple, sincere, and humble thanks.

In compliance with the desire which Dr. Semon was good enough to express in your name, I will tell you how the idea of the laryngoscope presented itself to me, and what were the results to which it led me. I fear, however, that this fragment of autobiography may prove a greater tax on your patience than you anticipate.

When I began to teach singing, the physiological explanations I was obliged to give to my pupils were purely empirical, and did not inspire me with any confidence as to results. At that time the vocal phenomena had been very imperfectly studied; thus, the number of registers, their extent, their individual characteristics, were not identical in the minds of all musicians. The timbres were often confounded with the registers; for no treatise of singing had yet appeared based upon anatomical and physiological considerations. In all cases instinct alone, sometimes happy, sometimes erroneous, was the only substitute for accurate knowledge.

Desirous of finding a more trustworthy guide, I began a course of anatomical and physiological studies, and the information thus acquired, added to the results of experience, were published in a method of singing; but some of the deepest and most interesting questions of plrysiology remained to me still unsolved.

I was especially anxious to find out what was the actual rule played by the glottis in the production of the voice; but where to find the necessary information?

The authors who wrote on the voice took their ideas of what the action of the healthy, living glottis might be from glimpses they caught of it through wounds, or from experiments on dead bodies, or from vivisectional researches. As for the acoustic laws that govern the movements of the glottis, every writer on the subject explained them by analogies found in musical instruments of different kinds. Thus, the stringed instruments, the reed instruments, the appeau, &c, have all served as means of comparison.

These two systems, one of induction the other of comparison, though the only systems then possible, inevitably led to different theories on the part of different observers, and could not fail to keep the mind of the student in a state of perplexity. To dissipate my own doubts, I could think of but one method—it was, to see a healthy glottis exposed in the very act of singing; but how could the mysteries of an organ so well hidden be unveiled? One 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 their respective positions, as if actually present before my eyes. I went straight to Charriere, 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 six 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. From what I then witnessed, it was easy to conclude that the theory which attributed to the glottis alone the power of engendering sound was absolutely confirmed, from which it followed that the different positions taken by the larynx in front of the throat have no action whatever in the formation of sound; although, combined with divers elevations of the soft palate, they change the shape and the dimensions of the pharynx. In these changes we find the means of varying the qualities of the voice known as timbres or Farbenklange.

I also perceived that vocal sounds are the results of explosions, not of communicated vibrations. This is proved by the fact that each separate lip of the glottis is incapable of producing any kind of sound. Besides, the lips do not protrude sufficiently to form vibrating reeds; and, if protruding, how could they vibrate in spite of recurring contact with each other?

Having thus seen the vocal organ in action, I next began to study the mechanism of the scale. This mechanism has two aspects—an exterior movement, visible with the mirrors; and an internal cause of that movement, which anatomy alone can explain. The exterior movement becomes manifest in the development of the scale. Beginning from the lowest note, the glottis is put in motion throughout its whole length; but as the voice rises, the anterior apophyses are gradually pressed closer by a movement which spreads from back to front, and they arc alternately in close contact. These continuous encroachments diminish the vibrating portion of the glottis until it becomes reduced to the ligaments alone.

The internal cause resides in the intrinsic muscles; and, among these, that which coats the outer surface of the crico-thyroid membrane—namely, the thyro-ary tenoid muscle—was to me of the greatest interest. The fibres of which it is composed, although all starting from the anterior and lower cavity of the arytenoid cartilage, are not all of equal length. The most internal are the shortest. Each successive fibre becomes progressively longer and terminates in a more distant point of the ligament; the longest and most external only reaching the thyroid cartilage. From this remarkable disposition, it follows that only the shortest fibres contract for the deepest notes, and, as the voice ascends, successive fibres come accumulatively into play.

To complete the subject, I ought to speak of the action of the other intrinsic muscles; but that has been already treated in the pamphlet read at the Royal Society in 1855. In the same paper I have also expressed my ideas as to the formation of the registers. If I have spoken somewhat in detail of the thyro-arytenoid muscle, it is that its special characteristics—the unequal length of its fibres and their insertion in the ligaments—have been disputed. But before venturing to represent as fact this result of my observations, I wished to make sure that I had not been mistaken; and, therefore, consulted Professor Thane, who, with a cordial interest for which I cannot sufficiently thank him, not only examined the contested point, but presented me to Mr. Shattock, begging him to assist me with his experience.

This is the drawing which that most skilful anatomist has been good enough to make for me. It entirely confirms the view which I have had the honour to place before you. I will not trouble you with further details.

The laryngoscope in itself is not an invention—it is a simple idea; and when I suggested to Dr. Mandl and to Dr. Segond that they should test its usefulness in the practice of healing, I was far from anticipating the brilliant future your science and skill reserved for it.

August 23, 2010

Finding Dalila

esearch can be very rewarding. Witness this afternoon's trip to the NYPL. I went looking for information on a certain important voice teacher (found it) and discovered something else. What was I digging through?  Musical America c. 1911. Near the page I was seeking was another with an article by none other than Jeanne Gerville-Réache, a student of Pauline Viardot-Garcia, detailing her singing of the grand aria Mon coeur s'ouvre â ta voix in Saint-Saëns' Samson et DalilaGerville-Réache performed in the North American premiere at the Metropolitan Opera in 1908. Her voice put Saint-Saëns' opera on the map. 

Jeanne Gerville-Réache (1882-1915)

How to Sing the Famous Aria of "Dalila" 

When in 1908 I accepted Oscar Hammerstein's invitation to create in America the part of Dalila a little council of war was called together in Paris at Mme. Viardot's house. It was to the famous singer that "Samson et Dalila" was inscribed. It was at her house in Croisse that on August 20, 1874, the first private performance had been given of that opera, which had to triumph in Weimar and in Brussels before receiving a hearing on the French stage.

Saint-Saens, much elated over the news that his work was to be produced in the United States, and Mme. Viardot Garcia, almost hysterical at the thought that "her opera" was to be sung by one of her pupils, decided to put me for a few months through the most strenuous training a singer ever underwent.

With the composer at the piano and the greatest contralto of the country fairly holding a club over my head, I was made to rehearse three hours a day until Mme. Viardot Garcia gradually grew kind and finally uttered her celebrated, "Eh bien, ma petite, marche." This was her way of announcing to a pupil that her interpretation of a part was satisfactory. She was very sparing of praise and when a pupil heard the longed for "Eh bien, ma petite, marche," the pupil felt as though an audience of 3,000 had been cheering loudly. It was during those morning rehearsals that the following interpretation of the lovely aria "Mon coeur s'ouvre â ta voix" was gradually agreed upon by composer, coach and singer.

I will for the sake of convenience, number the measures of the aria (Schirmer edition) for one to one hundred. Let me first of all mark off those of the breathing pauses which are not clearly indicated by the music itself.  In measure 4, breathe after "voix"; in 6, after "fleur"; in 20, after "Dalila"; in 22 after "jamais"; in 24 after "tendresse"; in 27, between "serments" and "que j'aimais"; take no breath from "que j'aimais" in 27 until measure 31, where a very dramatic effect can be produced by breathing between E natural and E flat and repeating "réponds" on E flat and D; in 33, after "tendresse"; in 35, before E natural and E flat; take no breath from 42 to 45; take no breath form 52 to 55; in 69, breath after "rapide"; in 80, after "réponds"; on 82 after "tendresse"; in 84, between E natural and E flat; take no breath from 91 to 95.

Now for the tempi; 3-8 very slow and soft; a slight emphasis emphasis on "bien-aimé" in warmth and passion in 12; 15 and 16 extremely legato; more warmth and passion in 18-21; repressed passion in 23-25; slow down and sing in very large style 34 and 35; in 36-41 increase the volume of voice so as to work up progressively toward the climax in 42; 43 begins pianissimo, in strong contrast with 42, and ends forte, the voice increasing to fortissimo on G in 44 to drop again to the softest pianissimo on D. From 52 to 57 quiet recitative tone; emphasis on "frémit" in 60-61; steady crescendo form 64 to 77; then sing 79-100 like 30-46 with the added brilliancy and warmth of a finale. Almost every note in 91-94 should be detached and declaimed with the proper dramatic accent.  

Jeanne Gerville-Réache as Dalila

Fortunately, Gerville-Réache left a gramophone recording for the reader to compare with the written record. You can listen to it here.

The amazing thing, of course, is that Gerville-Réache's interpretation is very likely that of Viardot-Garcia's as given in the first private performance in 1874. Isn't that something?

For additional information on Gerville-Réache, please visit the excellent site Cantabile-Subito.

August 22, 2010

Walter Baker: American Romantic Organ Virtuoso

This weekend my husband Jonathan Baker and I are observing the Centenary of Walter Baker, Jonathan's mentor, who's New York apartment we call home. Unfortunately, I did not know Walter. He died in 1988, the year I came to New York and started singing with The New York City Opera. However, the world of opera and music is a small one. Walter, in addition to being a legendary concert organist, prepared the chorus for the premiere of Menotti's The Unicorn, the Gorgon and the Manticore at the behest of his protogé Thomas Shippers. And in a few degrees of separation, I sang a hearty happy birthday to Menotti in Spoleto Italy in '85 with the Westminster Choir, making my solo debut in Fauré's Requiem in Spoleto's Duomo, a stone's throw from Menotti's house. (Walter Baker, Thomas Schippers and Gian Carlo Menotti, carved their initials into the top of an old oak table which is in storage.)

Walter made a distinct impression on people. Singers loved him. In fact, everyone who met him did. Jonathan, who took care of Walter in the last years of his life, and inculcated his mentor's teachings, wrote the following article in The American Organist (May 1989) which gives the reader the scope of Walter's huge presence, both artistic and personal. 

Walter Baker in 1939
(August 21, 1910 -December 17, 1988)

As with all great musicians who achieve major career, Walter Baker was a child prodigy. After beginning piano lessons at the age of six, he soon turned his sights to the organ. By the age of nine he was playing church services regularly, and he acquired his first church position, the Patterson Church, when he was twelve. At this same time, he became a regular feature on the weekly Al Hoxie radio show, as both organist and pianist. (During the next 25 years he was to perform extensively for WACU radio in Philadelphia.) Becoming organist for the Ruby Theatre in Philadelphia when we was 15 (this was still very much the era of silent motion pictures), he was also performing with his successful, popular band, "Walt Baker and His Varsity Six," which provided additional income for his family.  

After spending a year (1927-28) in San Francisco training and working as a semi-professional boxer (managed by his older brother), Walter returned to Philadelphia and began organ study with Alexander McCurdy at the Curtis Institute, from which he graduated in 1938. "There is, and always will be, only one Walter Baker: he is completely unique," McCurdy was to repeat often through the years. The pupil-teacher relationship was to prove mutually advantageous. Walter was not only McCurdy's first important pupil at Curtis, but in the early decades of his career, his most successful. McCurdy worked vigorously to lay the foundation of Walter Baker's career, not only by instruction but by introducing him to many world-famous musicians and organbuilders, such as Ernst M. Skinner, M. P. Möller, Marcel Dupré, Joseph Bonnet and Leopold Stokowski.  

Walter Baker had listened to Lynnwood Farnum several times in the last two years of Farnum's life and maintained that he was without equal technically or musically as an interpretive organist. Through McCurdy, who was Farnum's pupil, he was to absorb, develop and, finally, embody what is now generally described as the American Romantic school of organ playing. 

Walter Baker had by this time won an appointment to the First Baptist Church of Philadelphia (1934-48), at the time a focal point of wealth and prestige. There, his Oratorio Society presented every major work in the repertoire, making the church a focal point of musical activity as well. The position at the First Baptist Church, which Baker gained when he was 24, may be said to have been his first major "break."

The second was two years later when at 26 he was included in the management of Bernard La Berge. Alexander McCurdy, well aware of the caliber of his pupil's development, persuaded La Berge to travel to Philadelphia to meet Walter Baker and hear him play. Walter's secure musicianship, brilliant technique and command of the organ's tonal resources were not all that the shrewd La Berge found: Walter's astonishing good looks, combined with his boldly romantic and charismatic personality, were a concert manager's dream come true. Walter's instant and continuing success with the public won him repeated tours for the next 20 years. He suave appearance, sonorous speaking voice, awesome projection of personality and intensely poetic interpretations were to render him a unique image in the public's imagination. 

During the long tenure of Mary Vogt as musical director of the Wanamaker Store in Philadelphia, over 400 recitals were given there by Walter Baker. It was in the store's Grand Court that he conducted the world's first televised performance of Wagner's Parisfal, with the Philadephia orchestra and a chorus of 300, on Good Friday, 1948.

From 1948 to 1951, Baker worked as assistant conductor to Dimitri Mitropoulos at Philadelphia's Robin Hood Dell and with the New York Philharmonic. He also served as organist of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in New York City (1949-59). His constant church work, recital tours and conducting left little time for his teaching appointments at Westminster Choir College, Peabody Conservatory of Music, and the Mannes College of Music.  Without a doubt, his most successful pupil was the late Thomas Schippers, who wrote of Walter, "He is one of the few genuinely great musicians of our time." Schippers had Baker prepare and direct the choirs for the world premieres of Menotti's The Unicorn, The Gorgon and the Manticore and Poulenc's Sept répons des ténèbres, the latter commissioned for the opening of Philharmonic Hall at New York's Lincoln Center.

It was, however, as a concert organist that Walter Baker achieved his widest recognition.  From 1936 to 1957, in tour after tour, he brought a glamour and passion to the concert stage that had not been associated with organ recitals before. His profound and electrifying interpretations of Reubke, Liszt and Reger ignited the imagination and set a performance standard for an entire generation of organists, now in their 40's and 50's. 

Walter Baker's astonishing invention, indeed genius, for color has been much written about and commented upon. This was most fully revealed in his startling conceptions of now seldom-heard showpieces- Karg-Elert's Pastels from Lake Constance, Paul de Malengreaue's Le Tumulte au prétoire and Daniel-Lesur's Scéne de la Passion, to name a few examples.

Not only publicists and concert agents, but rank-and-file organists across the county still use the term "legendary" and "giant" to describe Walter Baker. Even during the last 20 years of his life, when stroke after stroke robbed him of his phenomenal technique and coordination (though not his vitality and style), the aura and mystique still hung heavily on him.

And perhaps that is the word: personality. For it was Walter Baker's personality that engulfed his art with a volcanic emotional power, a childlike wonder and a sheer scope of vision that was able to stun audiences and confound standard criticism.

The smoldering look in Walter's 1939 headshot was captured after the photographer intentionally insulted the great organist. He certainly got it.  

Happy Birthday Walter!

August 21, 2010

Nancy LaMott

The first time I heard Nancy LaMott's voice was at Christmas time in a nick-nack store connected to the Popover Café, a restaurant on Amsterdam Avenue, just North of 86th Street, the same place where Barbra Streisand waltzed through the door moments after her name was invoked by my dinner companions in idle conversation- causing near hysteria.  But that is another story. LaMott's haunting voice soared over the simple yet arresting piano accompaniment of The Christmas Song in such an affecting way that I stopped dead in my tracks.  Half the song went by and I didn't move.  Amazed at what I was hearing, I turned to a man behind the counter and asked: "Who is that?" He replied. "That's Nancy LaMott.  My partner produced her albums."  And then he stopped, took a moment, and said in a lower voice: "You know, she's not with us anymore."  My jaw dropped open.  No.  I didn't know.  How had I missed her?  I bought LaMott's Just in time for Christmas CD right on the spot.  

I've been fascinated with LaMott's voice ever since.  She used a 'mixed' voice as well as a soft heady tone, sometimes alternating between the two within a song with consummate skill.  As well, her singing always had 'line', and you could understand every word.  No histrionics.  Just a direct and honest approach.  Truly, she was the greatest cabaret singer of her generation.  Jonathan Schwartz, host of American Popular Standards at WNYC went further saying:

"She was the greatest cabaret singer since Sinatra." 

The proof is in the pudding. Here she is singing Rodger's and Hammerstein's I Have Dreamed from The King and I.  Again, the accompaniment is spare and masterful, and showcases LaMott's voice beautifully.  And here she is singing Too Late Now.   Lastly, here she is singing I'll Be Here With You.

Her voice, more than anything, has heart, a quality that can't be taught as much as lived.

Please visit her website to obtain her music.

Lastly, special note needs to be given to Christopher Marlowe, who wrote the arrangements that provided a gorgeous setting for LaMott's jewel of a voice. You can be find them here.

August 19, 2010

How we learn to sing

How do we learn to sing? And how does an effective voice teacher interact with a singer? These are two questions that were addressed in a masterclass I attended a year ago as part of NYSTA's Pedagogy Weekend. The presenter was Dr. Katherine Verdolini Abbott, a professor and voice science researcher at the University of Pittsburgh. Her research is as provocative as it is instructive.  

Here's some of what I gleaned after seeing Verdolini in action.

1) Learning to sing is not unlike how we learn our native tongue as a child.  It involves implicit memory, which does not involve the conscious recall of information, unlike explicit memory, which does. What does this mean practically speaking? It means that giving a student lots of facts about the vocal mechanism is akin to making a child diagram a sentence before they can utter 'ma-ma' and 'da-da.' In short, singing is a 'language' that is learned like any other; bit by bit, moment by moment sound by sound. Analysis comes later! This recalls the words of Anna E. Schoen-René (a student of Pauline Viardot-Garcia) in her book America's Musical Inheritance (1941): "Scientific explanations can only be understood by singers already educated in the principles of their art." 

2) Learning to sing involves attention. Attention is not the same as awareness, which is a product of explicit memory and is about making judgment calls about 'parts'. Another way to say this is that learning to sing involves active listening rather than passive hearing. 

3) How one uses feedback is important. It seems that too little is just as bad as too much. If the teacher is stopping the student every second and making value judgments, the brain doesn't have time to make sense of the stimulus being given. In short, lessons need to be more about 'doing' and less about 'talking about doing.'

4) Learning to sing involves repetition. Lots of it. The child learning his/her native tongue benefits from the same technique an adult does when learning a second language. And what would that be?  Immersion. Singers need to immerse themselves in the 'language' - the sounds - of singing. 

5) Use of imagery is only helpful when it addresses physiological processes. The more general it is, the more ineffective it becomes. 

6) Confusion is a sign of progress. It means that the student isn't controlling the process any more, but rather, becoming the process. 

For additional information on Verdolini's research, I highly recommend this article.

August 13, 2010

Talks about Singing by Annie M. R. Barnette

As noted before on these pages, its rather unusual for a student to write about their studies with an esteemed singing master, much less pass this instruction along with sufficient detail. But that is exactly what Annie M. R. Barnette has done in Talks About Singing: Or, How to Practice (1886).

You many remember my post on Luigi Vannuccini? Well. It just so happens that Vannuccini was Barnette's teacher in Florence.  I am sorry to say that after much searching I can't find a picture of Barnette or her dates- at least not yet. The little that I have gathered about Barnette is from her book: apparently the chapters appeared serially in the Chicago Tribune. I can't imagine that happening today, can you? She also lived in Boston during the same period as Vincenzo Cirillo. The place was fairly swimming with representatives of the Old School!

Luigi Vannuccini (1828-1911)

There is a lot of common sense wisdom in Barnette's book. And like many others of the period, the exercises given are progressively difficult. No singing of coloratura right off the bat for these students!

One outstanding aspect of Vannuccini's instruction is that he only allowed the student physical control over the solar plexus area. The rest? That seems to have been regulated by the student's ear.

The teachings of the Old School are sprinkled throughout Barnette's book like diamonds on a sandy beach: everywhere one steps the light gleams.  

You can read or download Talks About Singing here

August 8, 2010

Still the Beloved Oracle of Paris

Musical America- April 30, 1910

Still the Beloved Oracle of Paris
The Wonderful Old Woman Whom Famous Musicians Eagerly Consult in Their Moments of Doubt- The Friend of Liszt, Wagner, Schumann, Brahms, Berlioz, Whose Career Began Before That of Beethoven Ended

When I cross the Place de la Concord, I look up to windows of the corner house of the Boulevard St. Germain and I send my love and a grateful uplift of my heart of Mme. Pauline Viardot. I wonder how many others do this. I wonder how many people know that she lives there and is just as interested in the world and its doings as she was seventy years ago, when she was just nineteen and had it at her feet. Certainly among composers, singers and artists it is well known that she is there, for in moments of doubt they go to consult her. And behind closed doors it is sometimes possible to hear famous chef's d'orchestres being treated like naughty school boys, or great singers listening to home truths they are not accustomed to hear. But here the charming thing happens. Whoever goes to see her goes because she is the oracle, and they become like children, ready and eager to learn. There are no ruffled plumes. There is no wounded vanity—only a grateful acceptance of things said which perhaps no pther person in the world is equally well qualified to say.

Mme. Viardot was born in Paris in 1821. She is the daughter of Manuel de Popolo Garcia, Spanish tenor and teacher of singing, who in 1925 went to New York with an Italian opera company. It was in this city that, at the age of four, she took first piano lessons. Four years later we find her accompanying her father at his singing lessons, and it is thus that she learned his method. 

It must be remembered, however, that she was only eight years old, and that before becoming a singer she was first a pianist—a pupil of Liszt—making her début about the same time that Joachim appeared, and also as an infant prodigy. Her first appearance as a singer was in Brussels, in 1837.  After this her success was such that the doors of the whole world opened to her. She shared the triumphs of Grisi, Rubini, Lablache, and all the great stars of the day. With these geat singers she held her own, though in many ways less gifted than they. Her irregular features, the not always equal scale of her mezzo-soprano voice, were surely drawbacks, but behind them was an intellectual force all her own, and she turned her very deficiencies to good account. Artists, men and women of letters, all that were intellectual and cultivated, were among her first and ardent admirers. The well-known and much-quoted portrait of her by George Sand represents her so clearly and in so few words that one need scarce resist repeating it.  

'The pale, still—one might at first glance say lusterless—countenance, the suave, unconstrained movements, the astonishing absence of every sort of affectation—how transfigured and illuminated all this appears when she is carried away by her genius on the current of song!"

At Berlin, Viardot astonished the public one evening by singing at a moment's notice the part of Isabella in "Robert le Diable" in addition to her own part of Alice. Later she returned to Paris for the production of Meyerbeer's "Prophéte," the part of Fidés having been especially written for her. In 1859 came the revival, after thirty years of Glück's "Orphée," the leading part being restored by Berlioz from a high tenor to the contralto for which is was originally written. Her appearance in the rolé was a unique triumph. After many wanderings and a long stay at Baden, she once more returned to Paris in 1871, at the beginning of the Franco-Prussian war, and for many years she was professor of singing at the Conservatoire here.  

Any one who had ever met Mme. Viardot would know her for a great person. Yet to those who know her intimately she seems the simplest person in the world. I have come across old friends of hers—old pupils, casual acquaintances, people who have seen her but once, maybe, and whenever we have, to use the Scotch phrase, "foregathered" on the subject of Mme. Viardot—the same look of real interest has come into their faces. That is what she does for people. She calls out the "real," and happy are the artists who have had the great privilege of coming under her influence.  

She stopped one of her pupils at a lesson one day and asked:

"What are you trying to do?"

"I am trying to think of all you say." 

"Well, as you are singing sacred words," Mme. Viardot replied, "try to think of all that THEY say." 

She often says to students, "Trust no one but yourself to help you. Sometimes another artist may, but no one can help much. You must do it yourself."  

She not only gives lessons of singing, but lessons of courage, patient endurance and self-control. I have known her to put aside great suffering with a quiet joke. "I may be allowed to have my little pains like any one else." Or to a pupil in grief she will say, "Now sing me something gay. For artists must be able to make themselves sing truthfully any kind of music when they least feel it." For many years, owing to the failure of her eyesight, she has been obliged to rely on her infallible memory while teaching her pupils, whom she invariably accompanies. Yet I believe that she has never been heard to mention this as anything except one of the quite ordinary incidents of life.  

Her great principle in teaching it to make things easier. Her school is to train up. To her, each difficulty is but a stepping stone to greater things. Her idea is that the wish to be great is already the beginning of greatness. She is the one remaining link between traditional knowledge and unestablished self-sufficiency. She is the remnant of the school which always sought for greater ends. She cannot understand the school which accepts limitations. To her the artist who sings but one or two roles, and thereon makes a reputation, is but the merest beginner.  And this is easily understood, for she not only sang all the operas of her time, but also all the Lieder. In studying these latter with her it gives one a thrill of surprise to hear her say of Schumann, for instance, "I will not venture an opinion of my own. But I will tell you what the composer told me." They were great friends, these two. Schumann dedicated the "Liederkreis," op. 24, to her.

Mme. Viardot still plays the piano beautifully, and often, to illustrate how a phrase shall be sung, she will play it. At other times she will perhaps only speak the words, and when she does this is like the flashing up of an illuminating flame.  

She speaks all modern languages without accent, and her answers are pithy and convey her meaning without superfluous words. Her soul belongs to every one and to every country.  Her natonality is sunk to the exquisite development of her understanding of human nature.  

The calmness of her face, her quick alertness to be guided in any direction her companion wishes to take her, the observant way she has of listening to every remark made, her opinion given after reflection—always an opinion based on thorough knowledge, her great simplicity and sympathy—all these things proclaim her greatness, and, although I have never heard her sing, nor seen her act, after meeting her and talking with her, I know that she is one of the greatest persons I have ever met.  

Nothing can bring home to us more convincingly the conception of the immense strides that music has taken during the last eighty years, than the fact that some one is alive and with us, who knew Liszt, Wagner, Schumann, Brahms—as a young man—Berlioz, and how many others! —and who has seen Joachim come and go.  There were giants in those days. And the rapid evolution of music makes us forget how near in point of years we still are to the great spirits who forged the music to which the heart of the whole world responds today.  

When Schumann wrote his songs he perhaps dreamed in a happy moment that they might be sung in the homes of all countries. But he well knew at that time it was only to the few that they would speak. Brahms had much to endure. César Franck suffered deep humiliation. Wagner fought to secure a place of his "new" world of music- that new world which already some of us dare to call "old" and out of fashion.

All this and much more our valiant torch-bearer has seen and lived. She comes to us from the "Golden Age," carrying the sacred fire. During eighty-one years her hand has never wearied; her flame has never flickered. And this is a long time, for it takes us back to six years before the death of Beethoven.  

Louise Llewellyn

Pauline Viardot-Garcia told her family and students in May 1910 that she would pass away in three days. And she did, nineteen days after this article appeared in Musical America

August 7, 2010

One Writer

he 'one writer' alluded to in my last post was Camille Saint-Saëns, who, in his memoir Musical Memories, wrote an evocative remembrance of the woman who championed his music - Pauline Viardot-Garcia. 

Her voice was tremendously powerful, prodigious in its range, and it overcame all the difficulties in the art of singing.  But this marvelous voice did not please everyone, for it was by no means smooth and velvety.  Indeed, it was a little harsh and was likened to the taste of a bitter orange.  But it was just the voice for a tragedy of an epic, for it was superhuman rather than human.  Light things like Spanish songs and Chopin mazurkas which she used to transpose so that she could sing them, were completely transformed by that voice and became the playthings of an Amazon or of a giantess.  She lent an incomparable grandeur to tragic parts and to the severe dignity of the oratorio.

Superhuman rather than human, playthings of an Amazon or a giantess?  No wonder she was a legend in her own time.  You can read Saint-Saëns' chapter on Viardot-Garcia here.

August 6, 2010

Rogers Remembers Viardot-Garcia

Clara Kathleen Rogers attended the Leipzig Conservatorium of Music at the age of 13, being the youngest person to have been admitted.  While there she heard both Jenny Lind and Pauline Viardot-Garcia sing.  Here is Rogers' remembrance of Viardot-Garcia in her memoir Memories of a Musical Career (1919).  

Pauline Viardot-García

I also recall the surprise that Viardot Garcia gave us. She set aside a morning for the students at the Conservatorium, as we thought to sing for us, for she was at that time filling a Gastrolle at the Leipzig Opera House as Fides in Meyerbeer's "Prophete." But instead, what did she do but play a trio of Beethoven with David and Griitzmacher! And what is more, her playing of it, when compared to that of any of the best musicians of the day, was second to none! She sang to us afterwards. Her voice was not beautiful; it had not in itself the charm and insinuating quality that some far less celebrated singers possess, but her control over it, her execution, her dramatic fervor, were marvellous! She was also a musician through and through and one felt it in all she did.

I've read the same observation elsewhere, that Viardot-Garcia's voice was not beautiful.  One writer even said that it sounded like bitter oranges.  Even so, she had great success both as a singer and voice teacher.  One of Viardot-Garcia's students was Anna E. Schoen-Rene´, who taught Risé Stevens, Mack Harrell, Margaret Harshaw,  Florence Easton and many others. 

You can read the rest of Rogers' memoir here.

August 5, 2010

Clara Kathleen Rogers

Born with dual American and British citizenship and raised in Germany, Clara Kathleen Rogers  (1844-1931) essayed the operatic stage under the name of Clara Doria in Italy for several years after studying with the highly respected voice teacher Antonio Sangiovanni in Milan for two years.  A five year sojourn in England as a concert artist was followed by her return to America and subsequent tenure as a professor of singing at The New England Conservatory.  Rogers wrote quite a few books which had a wide influence, among them Your Voice and You: What the Singer Should Do (1925).   The following passage from Your Voice and You is relevant to other posts I've made on singing and the ear. 

Chapter III

How to Train the Ear to Perceive Different Qualities of Tone

You say you are not sure that you know the difference between a tone that is properly produced and one that is not; that you are uncertain, when practicing, what sort of sound you should expect to hear; that you are therefore working in the dark.  That is somewhat discouraging as coming from a singer who aspires to be an artist.  But do not despair, because it does not follow, necessarily that you are lacking altogether in that indispensable endowment musical sense.  It shows, however, that you have never accustomed yourself to analyse sounds, and your lack of auditory discrimination may be due simply to that. 

You ask what you can do about it? If your ear fails to acquaint you with those subtle difficulties in tone-quality on which the development and the perfecting of your voice depends, must you give up all hope that you can succeed as a singer?  No, certainly not yet; not till you have striven to overcome your dullness of perception- and failed! 

You can train your ear to perceive the different qualities of tone by listening with conscious intent to detect those differences.  Acquire the habit of listening intelligently to both musical and unmusical voices instead of simply hearing them.  If you follow up this habit persistently, with undivided attention, your ear will gradually become analytical enough to stand you in good stead for modifying the sounds of your own voice. 

The ear is to the singer what the eye is to the painter of draftsman.  If you would succeed in any branch of Art you must develop your powers of observation till they become keen and true.  It is wonderful, for instance, what the trained eye can see that the untrained eye is blind to.  The painter sees a variety of colors in a rock which to you or me may appear only gray.  The mariner, when at sea, can tell whether that dark gray streak you note horizon is a shore-line a cloud, or a fog-bank.  The habit of observing intelligently has made it easy for him to distinguish at sight between three things which to you and me all look alike. Yet at the start that sailor had probably no better natural eyesight than either of us.  

With the ear it is the same; you can acquire auditory faculties which you had no idea of ever possessing if you will set about forming the habit of listening with concentrated purpose to note the peculiar differences between one kind of sound and another; to analyze in what the pleasing or unpleasing quality consists in the different voices you hear.  You will then soon become aware of the pleasing or displeasing elements in your own voice, and as soon as you reach that point you will instinctively modify your tones to your own satisfaction.  Not only will you succeed in perfecting your voice but you will also immeasurably enrich your enjoyment of music in all its form by the increase of sound perception thus acquired.

You should understand, when we speak of the ear as the controlling medium of voice, that it is not the ear itself that determines the kind of sound we produce; the ear simply informs the mind and it is the mind which dictates the tone stimulated through the auditory nerve.  

But let me warn you against one thing.  There are those who will tell you that no one can hear how his own voice sounds.  Do not heed them, for there never was a great fallacy proclaimed!  On the contrary we have, or should have, a twofold sensitiveness to our own tones, for we hear them both subjectively and objectively.  If you have no consciousness of the way your voice sounds you may be sure that there is something wrong with you.

When I read the passage above, I am reminded of Dr. Alred Tomatis who maintained that there was a great difference between hearing and listening, the former being a passive process while the latter an active one.  Like Rogers, Tomatis also asserted that the ear can be trained, and in going further, even rehabilitated. 

Rogers touches on a matter which Tomatis devoted a great deal of attention, and that is the two modes in which vocal tone is perceived.  Rogers uses the terms subjective and objective, while Tomatis uses the scientific processes of bone conduction and air conduction.  As such, bone conduction is felt (stand in the shower, close your ears, and you will 'feel' the sound of the water on your skull), which is a subjective phenomena, while air conduction is - in contrast - objective insofar as being heard outside the body.  Both avenues become refined in the active listener, engendering greater quality of tone.  

Unfortunately, Your Voice and You isn't available on the web yet, but you can find Roger's other books here.

August 2, 2010


A Focused Tone

What is a focused tone?  A self-starting, self-stopping sound.
What causes tone to focus?  Effortless, non-violent yet intense vibration of the vocal-cords.
What makes vibration of the vocal-cords intense?  Inherent energy in compressed breath which feeds it.  

Why is vibration, though made in the throat, felt in the head?  Because there is no obstruction in it's way 'til it strikes the body element of the skull, directly above the throat.

What does vibration always 'hit' the same spot at the top of the pharynx?  Because there is an open path to that spot.  

What helps me to "feel" the start of vibration at this post-nasal spot in the head?  The sympathetic reverberation of the middle sinus in the skull- an enclosed cavity in the head directly above the pharynx.  In fact, the bony structure of the skull reports all that happens in the throat.  

What can prevent the focus of tone?  Pushing non-compressed inhaled air toward the throat to start it.

How can I make a focussed tone?  You can't!  It happens!

It happens when relationships between all parts of body and brain are established, completing the web of coordinate action.  

What must I do to weave this web of united action?  Emotional imagination knits together all action.  You can only give yourself up to it, and let it control you.  

A focussed tone is like the rainbow- it "happens." 
From Vocal Wisdom: Maxims of Giovanni Battista Lamperti  (1931)

August 1, 2010