Mme. Marchesi Gives Printed Lessons in Singing

Werner's Voice Magazine, November 1900

This distinguished Paris singing-teacher is writing a series of articles for Harper's Bazar. Much of what she says is patronizing or frivolous, and should have been edited out. The first temptation is to write a humorous criticism, but the training of the singing-voice is too vital a question to waste time either of ourselves or of our readers. We therefore from a large quantity of chaff winnow a few kernels:

"An attractive appearance, the gifts of the musician, quickness of conception, power of representation, a good ear, a sound and rich voice of extended compass, added to an ardent desire to become an artist—such is the essential equipment. From the very inception of one's studies, vanity, false ambition, and greed must be set aside, and art only must inspire the pupil with zeal, compel industry, and illumine the distant goal. If the young singer comes of artistic stock, her future, provided the conditions already referred to are fulfilled, may be regarded as assured. From her earliest childhood she lives in musical atmosphere; from morning until night music and art are the themes of conversation; she listens to master-works; her taste is ever undergoing a process of refinement, her ear acquiring practice, her ambition gathering stimulus. As she moves about her home, merrily dancing and warbling, no stiff and grim governess, no severe anti-artistic parent censures or forbids as useless or improper her harmless diversions. In most ordinary households, as in aristocratic families, natural expression of feeling is repressed; form, icy form, must be respected. From infancy, the child must not laugh too loudly, must not give itself up to grief or to joy; it must, so to say, grow used to the fetters of conventionalism. A child that has undergone this experience will seldom make its mark in art. Yet, training of this sort finds favor not only in England, but in America, where, as all are aware, business interests, which are guarded with feverish anxiety, are held the main objects of life, and art plays a secondary part. It is true that, within the last few years, a considerable change has been noted, particularly since America has drawn to her shores the leading artists of the age. and has sent her students to gather artistic education in Europe. But the impress of early parental surroundings and of their artistically inexperienced native land abides: the free expression of students' feelings, indispensable to lyric declamation, is become impossible. An icy coating has formed about the youthful heart; to thaw it, not merely years of study, but contact and influence of lively and happy men and women, all aglow with the spirit of art, is needed.

"How shall the education of a child be conducted which, from infancy, has revealed the possession of an acute ear, a vivacious temperament, and valuable gifts —a sweet voice and one true of pitch; of a child who, from morn to eve, sings with faultless intonation the melodies it overhears ; and prefers sitting at the piano and fingering the scales to busying itself with dolls?

"With due consideration for the bodily health of this gifted little creature, its parents, after it has learned the alphabet and is between seven and eight years of age, may give it piano-instruction, without, however, constraining it to too constant practice. When the girl reaches her twelfth year, and change to womanhood claims all her physical strength, to preserve her voice for the future, all singing must be strictly prohibited. Woe to those who disregard this injunction! Now that the goung girl's lips are temporarily sealed, her general education must be commenced. Literature, declamation, history, harmony, history of music, French. German and Italian languages—all these branches of learning must be thoroughly studied. The soundness, strength, and endurance of the voice being determined, and leaving nothing to be wished for, the study of singing may, when the student is eighteen or nineteen years old, be begun.

"When intonation is uncertain, the voice small as to compass, or worn or displaced through other methods: when the outward appearance is displeasing and the disposition gloomy or reserved—I unhesitatingly advise the pupil against the choice of an operatic career.

"To become an operatic singer one should possess, besides an attractive personality, a strong voice, resonant in all its registers : the conceptive power of a born artist, an iron memory, and unquestionable talent for the stage. The concert-singer must study voice-placing, conception, interpretation, declamation, foreign tongues, etc.. thoroughly and diligently. It will scarcely be believed when I assert that the concert- singer must master the art of song more completely than the operatic songstress; that the work must be more finished, even, than that of her haughty sister. The operatic songstress is aided by the stage-setting, the scenery, the orchestra, the chorus, and her brother and sister singers, all of which hold the attention of the public, and cause it often to overlook small defects: while the concert-singer stands alone in his or her solitude, and reveals the slightest shortcomings. It is only through absolute completeness of performance that the concert- singer wins the favor of the public and rises to the highest position attainable.

"Some of the new prophets say there are not three registers in the female voice. To this I answer: There are. The connection of the registers often offers extreme difficulty; in some cases, particularly when the voice is naturally hard, unyielding, and powerful, months of study are necessary before the tones are made even and the passage from one register to another becomes imperceptible. Contralto and mezzo- soprano voices are in this regard more difficult of management than soprano voices.

"I caution the pupil against a too violent attack (called coup de glotte) which many teachers counsel, and which wearies the vocal cords. A beginner must not practice, at the very outset, more than half an hour daily. Concerning the opening of the glottis, when attacking the tone—this new discovery, this fantasy of an overwrought brain, must be steadfastly opposed. For the completion of the tone, the closing of the glottis, on the two edges of which, as it is known, the vocal cords lie, is indispensable. The efficiency of the vocal cords must be increased by their being drawn together, provided always that in the attack of a tone a hard impulse (known as the coup de glotte, as mentioned above) be sedulously avoided.

"The position of the mouth must be natural and absolutely unartificial. No change must take place in passing from one register to another; no forced, grinning smile worn during study; this is but a mask applied to the face, and leads to the formation of the shallow, open tone that the French term a voix blanche, and makes sustained singing almost impossible. In vocalizing, as also in exercises, in florid style the pupil must never change position of mouth, as this produces a change in vowels. It happens, unfortunately, but too frequently that songstresses, through incorrect tone-formation and a wrong attack of higher tones, distort their mouths in order to produce by force the complete tone. This bad habit, this dangerous effort, would be prevented from the very beginning by good schooling. Song is dependent upon internal not upon external mechanism.

"Habits such as drinking glass upon glass of iced water, eating fresh bread, and nibbling at sweets all day long, must be overcome. The student of singing must make great sacrifices for the preservation of the voice; the singer is usually the slave of his or her instrument. Bicycling, rowing, dancing, long walks, reading late at night, singing too soon after meals, exposure to excessive heat or cold, too frequent theatre parties or social gatherings—all must be abandoned."