August 31, 2013

Manuel Garcia: An Appreciation by Hermann Klein

Manuel García (1805-1906)
The most illustrious singing teacher of the nineteenth century." Thus I have described Manuel Garcia in dedicating to him my book "Thirty Years of Musical Life in London." I think I might justifiably have gone a little further and set him down, once and for all, as the greatest singing teacher that ever lived. If there was at any period a greater, or one as great, the world has certainly failed to consecrate his deeds and his memory. But my contention is hardly likely to be traversed; and the interesting fact therefore remains that the most illustrious singing teacher of all time is also the oldest, for on the 17th of this month he beats every record of musical longevity- at any rate in the exalted ranks of the art- by attaining his hundredth birthday. 

Manuel Garcia, like all truly great men, is genuinely modest. They are making a considerable fuss in England over the occurrence of this unique anniversary, but in the performance of the various "exercises" therewith connected no one will display more calmness and reticence than the venerable maestro himself. His honors, like his years, will sit lightly on him. He told me nine months ago, when we were chatting about this event, that he anticipated it with a certain amount of interest and pleasure, but he was afraid it would prove somewhat laborious, and from that point of view he heartily wished it were over. His has been a life of exceptional activity, as well as abnormal length; and he is thoroughly enjoying the repose which is rewarding his seventy odd years of strenuous work. 

What a marvelous story would be the bare record of Manuel Garcia's life! Alas, I doubt whether it will ever be presented to the world in anything approaching complete shape. I remember asking him a long while ago if he would let me write his biography. He shook his head as he replied: "Who wants to read my biography? No. I alone should not cut a very interesting figure. But I belong to an interesting family, and I have collected a good quantity of material relation to the them, including many anecdotes, which I may feel inclined one of these days to have published." A few years later, after he had practically given up teaching, I returned to the subject, but he then told me, to my intense regret, that the material he had previously referred to had been either lost or destroyed, and that he had abandoned all idea of attempting a history of the Garcia family. Whether any other member of the family is in a position to undertake the task remains to be seen. In any case, however, a full and complete history is now out of the question, for Señor Garcia's memory is no longer reliable enough to enable him to recall minor details, or even many of the more important episodes, associated with his gigantic past. 

Those not personally acquainted with Manuel Garcia either as a teacher or as a man, may be interested to learn that there is naught about him of the laudatory temporis acti. Your average centenarian, I believe, exists more or less in the atmosphere of bygone days; he dwells upon the glories that have ceased to be, and believes little in the new or the modern. Garcia does not belong to this type. He lives as completely in the twentieth century as he did in the nineteenth, and at least in his knowledge of the world and its affairs is thoroughly up to date. As regards the human voice he quite believes the old adage "there are as good fish in the sea as ever come out of it." But where the art of singing is concerned he takes up another attitude, for he believes that the era of truly great singers has passed. In the preface to his "Hints on Singing" (published 1894) he alludes to the causes that have led to the decline of the florid style, and mentions, "as one of the most important, the disappearance of the race of great singers who, besides originating this art, carried it to its highest point of excellence." He continues: "The impresario, influenced by the exigencies of the modern prima donna, has been constrained to offer less gifted and accomplished virtuose to the composer, who, in turn, has been compelled to simplify the role of the voice and to rely more and more upon orchestral effects. Thus singing is becoming as much a lost art as the manufacture of Mandarin china or the varnish used by the old masters." 

That he is himself the last of the great teachers I do not hesitate to assert. There are no doubt some admirable voice instructors still to be found in various parts of the world, but not one, surely, who can compare with Manuel Garcia in wealth of tradition, in unerring instinct for probing to the utmost the capacities of a singer, in comprehensive grasp alike of the physiological and the aesthetic sides of his art, and in perfect mastery of every technical detail that goes into the making of a finished vocalist. His extraordinary talent as a voice teacher was made manifest by the unparalleled success of his pupils, and not the least remarkable of these examples was the triumph of Jenny Lind, who, when she went to Paris in August, 1841, was (I quote W. S. Rockstro) suffering from "chronic hoarseness and other marked symptoms of deterioration," brought on by inferior training, faulty production and overexertion. When she left him in the summer of 1842 "she had learned all that it was possible for any master to teach her." Her voice "had acquired a rich depth of tone, a sympathetic timbre, a birdlike charm in the silvery clearness of its upper register. * * * She was born an artist, and under Garcia's guidance she had now become a virtuosa." 

To this I may, perhaps, be permitted to add my own humble tribute, based upon four years' experience as a pupil and nearly a decade during which the distinguished maestro did all his private teaching at my parents' house in London. This recollection goes back, to the seventies, but it is as vivid still as if it were only last year. I can never forget the wonderful energy of the old teacher- already long past the prime of life- his amazing animation and untiring vigor, the freshness and spirit with which he threw himself into his work, the care that he bestowed upon the most minute mechanical details. He had a marvelous faculty for imparting exactly what he wanted to impart, and the inspiration by which he was moved rarely failed to inspire his pupils in turn. His voice was practically gone and his efforts were scarcely of the kind that one would dignify by describing them as "vocal"; yet when he emitted a note or declaimed a phrase there could be no mistaking what he wanted and imitation was therefore easy. Above all, he taught a style that was irreproachable in its purity, irresistible in its charm; and his treatment of the Mozart or the Rossini aria was a perfect model of the highest and most accurate tradition. He knew exactly where every turn, every gruppetto, every appoggiatura, every tiny nuance had been executed under the composer's direction, and to acquire that knowledge from Manuel Garcia was to obtain it from the fountain head and with a measure of authority that no other living being could have the right to dispute. 

The Musical Courier, March 15, 1905, 18. 

August 27, 2013

Gorgeous Goulet

Robert Goutlet (1933-2007)
I grew up with Robert Goulet's voice in my ear, but can't say that I really heard him - and I mean really heard him - until I started listening to him on Youtube. 

The Goulet that I knew as a young man was the one parodied on Saturday Night Live - a very different guy than the one who sang like a god in the 60's. Am I saying he wasn't good in the 70's and 80's? No. His voice was still beautiful, but time itself- the setting if you will - changed the way he was perceived. The Mad Men era, with its suave suits, slicked back hair and tuxedos gave way to leisure suits, aviators and facial hair - a very different look. While Goulet caught my ear, he wasn't in my sights. Until now. 

The man had a gorgeous voice. Operatically trained, the listener hears - especially in early recordings - a round, full and ringing timbre that is heard coming right through the face. At one time called 'singing in the masque,' this kind of production was viable across many kinds of media during the 60's. After that? Singers like Goulet found their way to Las Vegas.

There are fewer venues for this kind of singing today, the divide between Classical and Contemporary Commercial Music (a term coined by my colleague Jeannette LoVetri) having grown wider with each passing decade. Today, a guy like Goulet can sing in Opera and revivals of Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals. That's about it. No late-night TV shows or any of that stuff. Our culture has moved on. A crying shame if you ask me. What is a young man with a great voice to do, especially if he wants to sing Standards? Id tell him to start his own Youtube channel; be his own network and discover himself! 

You can find Goulet's official website here, an interesting blog post about him here, and his Youtube channel here

August 25, 2013

An American in Paris Meets Marchesi

Mathilde Marchesi (1821-1913)
Daughter of Secretary of Agriculture Tells of Musical Conditions in French Capital - Her Record So Far a Worthy One - Her Hopes and Ambitions

From the magic circle of the Presidential Cabinet come a well endowed daughter of music, en route on that artistic voyage that leads to the classical land of Grand Opera, Flora Wilson, daughter of the veteran Secretary of Agriculture, James Wilson is the recruit. 

Miss Wilson has but recently returned from Europe, where for four years she has been preparing her voice for the "test of fire" of American operatic audiences. Attesting to the value of her gifts is the fact that her candidacy for the Metropolitan Opera Company is under consideration, Administrative Director Andreas Dippel having heard her voice in a private audience a short time ago, is reported to have been very favorably impressed. 

"I have a natural voice," said Miss Wilson to a Musical America interviewer, when asked when her talent was discovered and when its cultivation was begun. "Constant usage of it in song was sufficient for development up to the time I began studying at the Chicago Conservatory. Although of Iowan birth, my father's many years in Cabinet and Congressional life caused most of my time to be spent in Washington. While here I was accustomed to come to New York weekly in order to enjoy the privileges of training under Isadore Luckstone."

Her progress was of such rapidity that she was selected as soprano soloist at the Church of the Covenant at the capital. Her years abroad have been spent under the instruction of some of its best teachers, including Juliani, Jean de Reszke and the late Gabrielle Kraus. 

She also made successful appearances in recital in Paris, London and Lucerne. With that good record behind her she has no fear of failure of the result of her American début, which will be made in concert with two assistants at the Plaza Hotel, April 14. Following this she will sing in Washington, and both Mrs. Taft and Mrs. Sherman have written her that they will be present. 

Miss Wilson is a statuesque young woman with simple, cordial manners.

The conversation drifted back to Jean de Reszke. "I considered him the greatest of teachers. But you have to study grand opera under him. He won't teach you to sing ballads.

"There used to be the idea that women could not go about unaccompanied in Paris," said the singer, apropos of her experiences there. "The American girl has broadened Paris. This task is not insurmountable. However that may have been once, an American girl is as safe in Paris to-day as in her home city. There are so many thousands of American girls studying there that the Parisians have become broader minded in that respect. 

"Of course, they continue to look upon America as a gold mine. There are about three thousand singing teachers in Paris, and practically all of them live on the American dollar. And so many of these dollars are spent in vain! For possibly one girl in a hundred of all the thousands who are studying will succeed. 

"No American girl should go to Paris to study who has less than $2,000 a year to live on," continued Miss Wilson. "I've hear people say she can get long on $100 month, but she cannot get the lessons she requires and the right food.

"In New York and Washington, my home, a girl can get board for $7 a week and have a chance of getting enough to eat, but not in Paris. There the minimum charge in a pension where there is any sort of nourishing food is $9 or $10. And even then they are very likely to fee you on horse meat.

"Board, of course, is the student's simplest item of expense. She must have her lessons in singing, in acting, in French, and she must have her accompanist.

"The best and cheapest way is for two or three girls to take a little apartment together and have a maid to do their marketing and cook and launder for them. That is what I did.

"The great pity is that the teachers won't tell a girl with no voice to go back home. They'll keep on taking their money as long as there is any. You know Mme. Marchesi charges 60 frances ($12) just to try your voice for half an hour.

"I went to her the first few days I was in Paris for a trial. She was eighty-three then, and the kind of old lady that wants to take your down if you know anything at all.

"She asked me what I could do, and I told her frankly. She smiled drily and said: 'Then you'll have no difficulty in singing B flat. Sing it.' She didn't offer to give me the tone of the piano, and of course thought I couldn't do it. I made up my mind I'd show her.

"Luckily, I recalled a song in which there was a B flat, and I sang a bar or it for her, taking the high note successfully. She was so surprised she offered to give back my sixty francs. 'I know you'll come back to me,' she said.

"And did you?" was interpolated.

"Indeed I did not," Miss Wilson replied. "I went to Paris to study singing, not to learn how to get along with a very old lady."

"And you don't intend giving up society for a career?" was asked.

"But I haven't given up society," she protested. I will always have time for my friends, and I hope they will always have time for me. In Washington they are all very much interested in my success. And my father says he is very proud of having a daughter who is able to do anything. We were speaking a while ago," she continued, "of the American girl in Paris. My father has always been so sympathetic with my plans and ambitions. But I know of other parents who expect too much of their daughters in Paris. I mean they expect them to learn everything in a short time. Some one said that it took six years of hard study to make an opera singer. I believe that's a conservative estimate."

Sis years at $2,000 a year makes $12,000. Then, according to Miss Wilson, that is what your voice will cost if you take it to Paris for cultivation. And perhaps you had better keep the $12,000.

Musical America, April 10, 1909


Accounting for inflation, Mathilde Marchesi's $12 dollar 1909 half-hour consultation fee would be $300 in 2012.

The $12,000 that Flora Wilson spent in Paris for a four year course of study in 1909 would be $300,000 in 2012.

Room and board for the four-year undergraduate program at Manhattan School of Music is $223,400.


Photograph of Mathilde Marchesi courtesy of Harmonie Autographs and Music, Inc

August 22, 2013

From the Archives and Beyond: Arthur de Guichard, Ida Caron & the Lamperti School

It's a very curious thing to find one's work when looking for something completely different and realize that one has forgotten all about it. Such was the case when I found a copy of VOICEPrints (I was the founding editor) from 2008 in which I had written an article about a member of The New York Singing Teachers Association who had studied with Lamperti. You can find it here. (I have also placed a link in the right hand column where other articles I have written for the same publication can be found.) 

Here's the deal. If you don't toot your own horn, one is going to hear what you have to say. Speaking of which: I once interviewed a very well-known soprano (who has since retired), who told me that she was brought up with the mindset that one should not put one's self forward. She rather regretted this towards the end of her career. Why? It was a false premise to think that it was bad to "put it out there." She thought she might have had greater opportunities if she hadn't held back on self-promotion. 

The idea that one is only good enough if others recognize how good you are and push you forward? Guess what? That only happens to outstanding voices, the kind of which- I have to tell you- are quite rare. As it is, you can have a fabulous voice and have to fight for air! Why? There may be something missing in the "package."  

When I was hired at New York City Opera, I was told outright that I was hired because I fit the costume. Tis true. Yes, I could sing - and yes- I didn't look bad either. But from the costume department's point of view, I was a hired because I fit their specifications. I had the "package" that was required, and was in the right place at the right time.

Back to the brass section. There is a way to toot your horn without being obnoxious about it. In my case, that means giving the reader useful information. What one doesn't want to do is be the person at the party who can't talk about anything but themselves: "Enough about me! What do you think of me?" That gets boring pretty quick! 

Enjoy the article! When I read it again, I was struck by how the Lamperti School emphasized breathing. Of course, that was the focus of my last post. 

August 20, 2013

Breathing 101

No, this post will not be be about where your diaphragm is not, or whether you should develop your "core" muscles—a word that always makes me think of apples. Nor will it discombobulate you with the names of those muscles. None of that mental clutter. I have something else in mind. Something much more radical: a practice that comes from a student of Giovanni Battista Lamperti who prudently recorded it in her lesson book.

Here it is in brief.

Inhale gently through your nose with your mouth closed for 18 seconds.  
Exhale gently through your nose with your mouth closed for 18 seconds. 
Avoid breathing high into your chest/throat and low into your abdomen. 

That's it! Nothing more complicated than that. What does this practice reveal? That the student may be prone to grasp or gulp for air; that they may have more trouble on the exhalation than on the inhalation—and vis-a-versa; that singing doesn't involve pushing air out; that stillness is quality of mind; that freedom comes from discipline; that there is an intimate connection between the lungs, ear and face. I could go on (and I will at another time), but that's enough for now. The author of this practice also said not to talk too much about it in the beginning. Wise words if you ask me.

August 17, 2013

Eydie Gormé: Star Singer

Eydie Gormé (1928-2013)

I had hardly gotten back from Italy and over jet-lag when I learned that Eydie Gormé had died. My god! She was a star singer! Everything one could hope for she had in spades: rhythm, range, personality, clear diction, instantly recognizable timbre, musicianship oozing from every pore. She sang the Great American Songbook with indelible style, eschewing Rock & Roll at a time when everyone else in her vocal category—Barbra Streisand among others—were jumping on the bandwagon. Touring with her husband Steve Lawrence, Gormé cemented the impression in listeners ears of a savvy artist, singing what suited her best. 

Here she is below, knocking "I Wanna Be Around" out of the park on the Tonight Show in 1966. 

Those with a pedagogical bent should play close attention of Gormé's face, since it typifies the "Singer's Face." What is the dominant characteristic? Openness! This openness being an indication of an open ear—a very good thing. What is another characteristic? The groove between the upper lip and cheek. This is also a sign of an open ear. Every singer who is worth their salt should study this incredible artist. There is much to be learned, the look of a great listener being but one aspect. 

Gormé's joy in singing is palpable. She's on fire with music and life. Is there any other way to be as an artist?