February 29, 2012

Dr. Cathcart on Modern Views of Breathing

DDr. Cathcart has appeared before on these pages before (click on his name in the labels section of this post). I think he's a rather curious fellow since he was an MD and studied singing in Italy with Domenico Scafati - a student of Crescentini. The discussion below follows an address he gave to the wizards of the voice teaching profession in 1894. Simply put, the argument revolves around the matter of what should happen during inhalation: does the abdomen go in or out?

The participants fall into two different camps. On one hand there is William Nicholl, a student of Manuel García (he also has appeared on these pages) who was of 'the-lower-abdominals-must-come-in-on-inhalation' school, while on the other there is Dr. Lennox Browne, he of 'the-lower-abdominals-must-go-out-on-inhalation' school. Dr. Browne was a follower of Mandl, whose work made its way into Lamperti's book on singing, causing as much confusion as García's words did about "Coup de Glotte'. Why confusion? There is evidence to suggest that Lamperti was far from from being a distend-the-abdomen guy (the matter deserves a separate post/article).

One interesting thing is Cathcart's assertion/observation that deep breathing can "not take place unless the inner ends of the collar-bones" are raised.  

Dr. Cathcart on Modern Views of Breathing

The Musical Herald and Tonic Sol-Fa Reporter 

April 2, 1894

A paper that evoked lively discussion was read by Dr. Geo. C. Cathcart on the 17th before the Tonic Sol-fa Association in the hall of the Y. M. C. A., Aldersgate Street, London. Dr. G. Sims Woodhead presided, and said the lecturer's views deserved attention, for when the Cathcarts took up "muscles" it was well known that something of interest would be elicited. Various models and diagrams assisted to make an involved subject clear to the numerous specialists present. To the lay mind, however, the anatomical questions raised were too deep for immediate endorsement; but it is important that a summary of Dr. Cathcart's views should be presented, as they contradict- in the most cheerful manner, the almost unanimous experience of existing teachers.  
He objected to the principle of a successful voice-trainer, that all or any movement of the collar-bone during breathing was injurious. Such rigidity was unnatural; indeed, anatomically and physiologically incorrect. The inflated lungs protruded from 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 inches above the collar-bones, which should be slightly raised to prevent pressure on the lungs, attention being directed chiefly to costal breathing. Neither need there be any alarm that injury would be caused to the larynx by collar-bone breathing. This was demonstrated by an experiment; the finger placed in the neck of a rubber water-bottle could easily withstand pressure from the weight of a man standing on the flexible bottle, and with the same ease the larynx withstood any pressure of air from the lungs.  
Dr. Cathcart also objected to the well-known experiment of singing before a candle flame without unsteadying it. The difficulty of doing this frightened some people unnecessarily, for the tremor was merely akin to that on the hand when the biceps were kept rigid and the arm slowly extended, in the way the lecturer showed. His Italian singing master in Naples said that the abdomen must recede and not obtrude during inspiration. The nearer the breath was kept up to the vocal cords the stronger, rounder, and more sympathetic would be the tone. When we inspired deeply we felt as if we drew the breath up to the upper four or five ribs. A greater enlargement of the breathing cavity was made by the ribs than by the diaphragm. Medical writers centred their attention chiefly upon the action of the ribs, and dismissed the action of the diaphragm in a few words. The most natural way was to let the diaphragm act involuntarily. The diaphragm played practically no part in deep inspiration, and must be regarded merely as an organ of respiration. The old Italian school was founded on a correct anatomical basis, and was more rational than the modern school, especially as it called into play a large number of muscles, and it met the requirements of good voice-production. Dr. Cathcart depreciated the value of the laryngoscope, which showed the vocal ligaments only when bad tone was produced, owing to the false vocal cords being open. He contended that the old Italian school best produced power, purity, and endurance. He concluded with a remark of the vocal writer and male soprano, Crescentini, who said, "When you are master of your breath you are master of your voice, and when you are master of your voice you are master of all the music that ever was written for it." 
Dr. Lennox Browne said he could bring as much evidence on the other side with regard to the old Italian school and drawing in the abdomen. The laryngoscope need not interfere with the muscles of the larynx as had been stated. Dr. Cathcart had been thorough in his investigations, but did not properly represent what were the views of the speaker. "If you were going to fill your shelves or cupboards," said Dr. Browne, "you would no doubt fill the lower ones first," and the same principle applied to filling the lungs. Text-books of physiology, notwithstanding Dr. Cathcart's statement, always said that the diaphragm and lower ribs were the primary agents in breathing. It was a disgrace that singing was the only art that was founded on empirics. After thirty years' professional experience, Dr. Lennox Browne could not think that his science was all wrong, nor could he consider that all the teaching of Lamperti was wrong. Dr. Cathcart claimed a scientific basis for his views, but to draw in the abdomen was unscientific. 
Miss Kate Behnke related her experience of some pupils who came to her for voice lessons, and who were also swimmers. Swimmers who adopted collar-bone breathing soon tired, and when she had cured this fault in teaching singing, their difficulties also disappeared. She had been demonstrating with the laryngoscope since she was eight years of age, and could produce fair tone with it, but good tone could not be obtained owing to the difficulty of adjusting the resonance when the mirror was in the throat. 
Suhgeox-major Dixon vigorously attacked Dr. Cathcart's statements, but his remarks were more of the nature of assertion than argument. 
Mr. Thorpe, speaking fluently and lucidly, traced the action of the vocal apparatus. The entire breathing surface must be used to the greatest extent. The fake vocal cords were the proper agents for making equal the vibration of the true vocal cords. 
Mr. Nichol, an experienced vocalist, had altered his method to costal breathing by Dr. Cathcart's advice, with a marvellous gain in quality and control of the voice. 
Mr. J. A. Birch said that deep breathing, a simple term which met all his requirements, necessitated the inflation of the upper part as well as the lower part of the lungs, but he certainly believed in costal breathing. Singers who confined themselves, however, to clavicular breathing, did not last long. Not one singer in fifty that came to him breathed deeply. While it was bad to obtrude the abdomen too much, ho thought the happy mean was between the two schools represented. For good tone, however, he depended most upon the form of the mouth. 
Messrs. Venables, Field-Hyde, and others having briefly spoken, Dr. Cathcart replied that his method had cured him of a serious speech defect. The best tone he noticed was obtained from voice-trainers who taught and got a good compression of the breath. He explained that he did not advocate clavicular breathing alone, but deep breathing could not take place unless the inner ends of the collar-bones were raised. When one style of breathing alone was used teachers often effected cures by changing the breathing. The abdomen could not be obtruded without drawing down the collar-bone, so pressing it upon the lungs. Their chairman had been a champion runner of Scotland, and the lecturer was secretary of the greatest of our athletic clubs, and both could say that the practice of athletes was to draw in the abdomen just before starting to run.—Votes of thanks closed the discussion. 

Image of Girolamo Crescentini from the New York Public Library Digital Collection.  

February 14, 2012

Sex & Singing

Alex Grey 

The appoggio of the singer contains the grasping of the idea of being ready to sing, the need for action and the tension which triggers the vibration. Who has learned to master it, who possesses the complete expanse and calmness of instrument-tension on the absolutely elastic diaphragm, has secured the direct relationship between the experience of the inner world and the transmission to the "mortorium" in a high degree through the life force, which is transmitted from the physical to the spiritual.  
Most people have lost this direct relationship through impediments of life, most of the time they do not even miss it. Their professions are far from influencing their inner life in this sense. And when their bodies expose their inhibitions, in spite of cloths, they do not pay attention, they have forgotten to be serious about it. However, the singer is serious about it, and as much as he is complaining about dependency on his body, he does love it dearly for being the instrument of his spiritual vibrations, and for no worldly good would he exchange the moments of physical ecstasy and this genuine, expansive, physical and spiritual act, which accompanies his artistry.   
From Die Physiologischen Gesetze des Belcanto by Max Sauter-Falbriard, 1971.  
Note: Max Sauter-Falbriard was a student of Johannes Messchaert, himself a student of Julius Stockhausen, that latter studying with Manuel García.

I had the honor of judging a singing competition recently and came away with an observation, one that has been on my mind for quite some time. What was the observation? Singers who have the clearest vowels, greatest facility and beauty of expression have one thing in common: they all have very open faces, which—if we are to believe the observations of Alfred A. Tomatis—is an indication that the ear is open to the full range of frequencies. This doesn't mean that the students I heard grinned like madmen. On the contrary, their emotion—in some cases—was far from joyful. The face, however, was still very much open. They sang with joy.

Let me get to the matter another way.

Have you ever noticed that laughing and crying look remarkably similar?

Have you ever noticed the expression of the face during intense sexual pleasure?

Have you noticed what the breath feels like when you are Riding the Tiger, that is, experiencing the intense sexual pleasure before orgasm?

This is the "motorium" that Sauter-Falbriard writes about.

The body sings during intense sexual pleasure. How can it not? It is open to the heavens and rooted in the here/hear and now. And while singing is not a sexual act, it relies on the ear being in a similarly heightened neurological state, one that is revealed in the face, the facial nerve having an intimate relationship with the inner ear. That's it in a nutshell.

A true understanding of this means that you will have found your voice.

I Sing the Body Electric by Walt Whitman

February 8, 2012

The García Lineage: Judith Doniger

Judith Doniger (1912-2007)

It was December of 2002. I had been researching the García School - my studies with Margaret Harshaw providing the impetus, and had interviewed Risé Stevens and Kitty Carlisle Hart, both students of Mme. Anna E. Schoen-René, Miss Harshaw's teacher. Casually mentioning the search for other surviving students to my friend Roberta Prada (the translator of Tomatis' The Ear the and Voice), she replied that a friend's grandmother had studied at Juilliard with Schoen-René, or at least she thought so. She could put me in contact with him to find out the details. I almost fell off my chair. In a matter of days, I was sitting in an apartment overlooking the East River interviewing Judith Doniger, who had just celebrated her 90th birthday. I was in the right place at the right time: Bill Ecker informed me that his grandmother had only recently begun to talk about her illustrious past, one which she had been reluctant to discuss. What got her talking? Mr. Ecker gave his grandmother a CD of her radio performances for her birthday.

Manuel García I
Pauline Viardot-García  Manuel García II
Anna E. Schoen-René
Margaret Harshaw  Kitty Carlisle Hart  Judith Doniger  Risé Stevens

Most people knew Judith Dongier as Judith D. Lipsey, the assertive Chairman of the Board at the Miller Theatre at Columbia University. But long before she made her mark in philanthropic pursuits (a product of her savvy investing), Doniger was a superbly trained soprano with a world class instrument. Graduating in 1935 from the Juilliard School of Music, Ms. Dongier had a busy career during the 40's and 50's in radio, concert and opera. Raising a family, however, eventually brought her career to a halt. We talked about this, her teacher and vocal technique on the 8th and 10th of December, 2002, a portion of our conversation appears below.

Judith Doniger, a native of New York, was born in 1912. Her stage debut took place at the age of four, on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera House dancing in the Isadora Duncan troop. Her first voice teacher was the great Italian baritone, Pasquale Amato. Upon graduation from high school at the age of 16, Ms. Doniger accepted a full scholarship to the Sorbonne University in Paris, where she continued her vocal studies with the renowned Russian soprano Anna el-Tour. She also spent several summers in Salzburg at the Mozarteum, working with the famed Austrian mezzo-soprano and regie, Marie Guthiel Schöder. Ms. Dongier's talent led her to several lead roles in opera productions in Vienna, at the Staatsoper. Ms. Donger returned to the United States, where she was awarded a fellowship at the Juilliard School of Music. There, she studied with the famous vocal pedagogue, Anna Schoen-René. While at Juilliard, she sang in the World Premiere of Richard Russell Bennett's Malibran. Ms. Doniger's professional career combined opera, oratorio and song, in both opera houses, symphony halls and the concert stage. She worked with several American composers, premiering songs of among others, Ned Rorem and Virgil Thompson. Famed conductors such as Arturo Toscanini, Wilhelm Furtwaengler, Bruno Walter, Vladimir Golschmann, Fausto Cleva and Fritz Mahler also led performances which featured Ms. Doniger. As she felt family was paramount, she negated a contract with the Semper Oper in Dresden and continued her career locally in New York on the concert stage and radio.  - Liner notes from a private recording made by Bill Ecker in 2002.

"No. I loused her up! I had three children!" I wasn't expecting this answer to my question as to whether she realized her dream of singing the role of Brünnhilde in Wagner's Ring. Schoen-René expected her to sing this role as well as many others. Family responsibilities, however, prevented the career trajectory that Schoen-René had foreseen, which may have been why Ms. Doniger didn't talk about her past very much. Of course, we live in a very different time. Women keep their maiden names, have careers and children, fathers staying home in some cases. The Renée Fleming's of the world bring their daughters up while maintaining a very active performing schedule. But such a thing was hard to pull off during the 40's and 50's, gender roles being much more rigidly defined. This is why Schoen-René was particular about who her students married, even if they married at all. Schoen-René would invite Ms. Doniger to dinner from time to time, which was as much a social occasion as it was a way for Schoen-René to keep tabs on her student.

"Did you enjoy your career?" A question that needed to be asked: the answer forever set the record straight.

"I loved it!" She nodded with emphasis.

Ned Rorem and Virgil Thompson wrote songs for her. She had a Town Hall debut and traveled quite a bit until the approaching war put a stop to that, singing the role of Marzelline in Fidelio at the Vienna Volksoper as well as the Marschallin in Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier just before the Anschluss.

"What was Schoen-René like?"

"She was an amazing woman. I am very grateful to have worked with her. I had five years with her. She was my best teacher." Doniger later studied with Vera Schwartz who also taught Risé Stevens after Schoen-René died in 1942.

"Schoen-René was a volatile character, and a very, very strong opinionated lady. When she told you to do something, she expected you to do it right away. She was tough! All those German ladies were tough!"

Schoen-René was considered the greatest teacher of her time, and ruled the roost at Juilliard. Ms. Doniger had two lessons a week with her, singing scales for the better part of a year before being allowed to sing any repertoire.

"An open [a] was not her style. I sang a whole lot of scales, and most were covered, and all of them forward." She gestured with her hand towards the "mask" of the face and then indicated "covering" by raising her right hand, crooking her forefinger and placing it at the center of her head while simultaneously lifting—one might say—crinkling up her nose as though smelling something bad, or signifying marked disapproval. (Readers of this blog will, of course, recognize this as the "imposto" of Lucie Manén, who studied with Schoen-René in Berlin and wrote: The Bel Canto: The Teaching of the Classical Song Schools, Its Decline and Restoration.)

"This is where you make most of your tones!" Doniger said, tapping her finger.

When I mentioned that I had seen this very same expression in lessons with Margaret Harshaw, Ms. Doniger replied: "Now there was a great singer! We're from the same fount of knowledge."

Her voice deep and rich at the memory, Doniger said Schoen-René taught her that the tone had to be big, no matter what dynamic you were singing. Loud or soft, it didn't matter. 

"She didn't like small voices. It was a big resonant sound!" 

Schoen-René would place her hand on Ms. Doniger's abdomen to make sure the "support" was adequate. Her highest praise were two words: "Not bad." Ms. Doniger laughed at the memory. Schoen-René was very quiet if displeased. 

"Bright. Solid. Not lovable. She was what she was." 

Doniger went on, saying emphatically: "Schoen-René wanted you to stretch. She was of the school where you did the hard thing so that you had no difficulties." The Garcías? "Schoen-René talked about them as if they were gods."  

"Low larynx?" 


"High notes?" 

"Every high note you sang was with Ah." We were speaking singer's shorthand now.

Schoen-René, while Germanic, taught an Italianate tone. It was bright, chiaroscuro and highly resonate. Juilliard begged Doniger to join their faculty and teach Schoen-René's technique, but her life had changed course, and she didn't think teaching her strong suit. 

We talked about singing today, who was good and not so good, and how the world had changed. Ms. Doniger thought that students today were in an awful hurry. A few years after we spoke, I found a video of her appearance on a TV show called "Okay, Mother" which was broadcast in 1948, during the dawn of live television, eight years after the death of her teacher. Ms. Doniger appears at the end of the show, her Juilliard diction very much evident, talking about her Town Hall appearance. I heard that some kind of diction when I spoke with her, a testament to her training with Anna E. Schoen-René.

Listening to Judith Doniger sing is listening to another age and a way of singing that is being lost today. Hers is a voice that is undeniably resplendent, rich and colorful, the top notes soaring. Her singing in English is noteworthy: you can understand every word. The observant listener will hear that Doniger's vowels are different than what is heard today, being oriented towards Italianate tonal values, the [o] and [u] notable in this regard. You don't hear Americans sing English like this today, a casualness having invaded our stages and diction. Vowels of this character - one might say purity- would be considered affected. Doniger's diction does, however, give the student an aural example of how Italianate vowels were taught: one sound at a time, there is no hint of a diphthong.

The reader will want to click on the link to Margaret Harshaw's singing during her mezzo days and compare her singing to that of Ms. Doniger. The voices are remarkably similar, the technical approach identical. This is the García School.  

Special thanks to Bill Ecker for the generous use of recordings, biographical material and photographs which appear in this post.