June 24, 2013

Herman Speaks

One can learn quite a bit about how voice teachers taught from a short article such as the one below. What are some of the particulars? While Manuel García and his student Herman Klein knew a great deal about anatomy and physiology, they knew better than to foist it on their students. Why? It confused them. I could say the same thing, since every time I hear myself talking about the action of this and that, pharynx and larynx, it rarely, if ever, helps the student. Why? It doesn't help them do anything, not in the beginning anyway. After they can sing? That's another matter. Then it makes more sense. Anatomy and physiology may be good to know, but singing - from the student's perspective, is less about knowing and more about doing

What is the teacher's task? To give the student a series of exercises and experiences that lead said student to sing. It's really that simple, and is the difference between a 'declarative' and 'procedural' approach, and having everything to do how we learn (see my posts on Katherine Verdolini and motor learning for more information). Knowing what to do, and how to do it? That's the responsibility of the teacher. 

Enjoy the article! 


The Musical Herald of London, in its January number published an excellent portrait of Herman Klein by Mendelssohn, and an article that also mentions this celebrated teacher's visit to the United States. We quote some points that may be of interest to students of the voice: 

Do you go into the physiology of the voice? 

Only so far as regarding it as essential for a teacher to understand. García understood it, but did not confuse his pupils with it. I remember he once brought me a papier maché model of the human throat, but he never used any terminology but that which the merest layman could understand." 

You recognize that there are certain registers? 

Yes, their existence is unquestionable to my mind, and the summa ars its to obliterate them. In the case of women's voices, I speak of three registers: chest medium and head. I do not recognize the existence of intermediate registers, though I do recognize 'intermediate' qualities of tone which tend to unify these registers. I should describe the man's voice as divided into two main registers, with a series of notes of 'intermediate' quality of tone to combine them. 

You spoke of singers' needs as to languages? 

I speak three languages besides my own, and to my mind the whole secret of singing well in a given language is to listen carefully with one's musical ear and imitate like a parrot, but at the same to preserve the beauty of tone, no matter what my be the vowel or the word. Many singers imagine that in singing in a foreign language they must distort their throats in some peculiar way. 

How would you describe such bad tone?

The singer bawls or barks, or declaims as we frequently hear Wagnerian singers do. There are also singers  who have never been taught to give a ringing, resonant tone, which is something more than breath and hardly worthy of being called voice. These two extremes worry me. They are weeded out by the concert agents before long, but during training the teacher must put up with them. 

You must have wooden pupils sometimes? 

Yes. I was rather referring to the cold, dull, monotonous singer who things that one tone does for a whole song. I also deprecate efforts to overdo interpretation. Some singers sacrifice everything to the word, the result is that the beauty of the voice or the song disappears. 

The Musical Courier, January 29, 1902

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