December 31, 2014

Mme. Schoen-René Travels to Europe

TThere she is smiling at the camera on the deck of the S. S. Bremen in 1935, on her way to Europe with Edward Johnson, the general manager of the Metropolitan Opera; Carl Friedberg, the German pianist and teacher; and Keith Falkner—the English bass-baritone who studied with Albert García, the grandson of Manuel García. 

Of course, Mme. Schoen-René probably worked with Falkner, who had much success as a concert artist in America during the 1930's. Like Schoen-René's other students, Risé Stevens and Kitty Carlisle Hart, Falkner starred in several movies during the late 30's. However, those films are now considered lost, which is most unfortunate, since it would be great to see as well as hear him sing (click here to listen to Falkner sing two Purcell songs which were recorded in 1935). 

Mme. Schoen-René would have been 71 when this photo was taken, which survives as a glimpse into the world of a great teacher, who, during her lifetime, was considered the leading exponent of Pauline Viardot-García and Manuel García. 

December 19, 2014

Maintaining the Vocal Tradition of the Garcías

TTo have talked with someone who heard Beethoven conduct, who heard Malibran sing and who was a member of the cast of the first Italian opera given in New York, would almost seem to take one into the realms of spiritualism, for Beethoven died in 1827, Malibran in 1836, and the 'Barber of Seville" was first sung at the Park Theater in 1825. Manuel Patricio Rodriguez García did all of these things, for was he not the son of Manuel del Popolo García, one of the most famous operatic figures of the early years of the last century, and hence a brother of the lovely Maria Felicita García Malibran and Michelle Fredinande Pauline Viardot-García? And, furthermore, did he not sing in that historic performance of "The Barber"? 

They are all dead now, however, García having passed away at the age of 101, and his sister, Pauline Viardot-García, in Paris four years later, aged eighty-nine. Nevertheless, the royal line of García is not extinct, at least as far as the vocal tradition is concerned, and New York, which was a place for such storm and stress for the Garcías has the honor of possessing one of the exponents of the García tradition in Mme. Schoen-René. 

"I had been associated for twenty-five years with Pauline-Viardot-García," says Mme. Schoen-René," and she had been my only teacher. I had been forced to give up my singing in opera because an attack of asthma had left me with trouble in my breathing, and so I had devoted my time to teaching. My pupils had all been women but the question arose of my teaching a man, and I went straight to Viardot with my difficulty. I told her I knew nothing about the male voice and asked her advice. "Go to Manuel," she said. "No one living knows more about the voice than he!" 

Meeting with García

"Accordingly, armed with a letter from her, I crossed to England and made my way to García's little house at Cricklewood on the outskirts of London. While I was waiting, I heard two young men talking in the next room. I could not distinguish what they were saying but could hear only the two youthful voices, so I sat in the room looking at some pictures of Jenny Lind, Lablache, Pauline Viardot and other great ones who had been only memories for many decades. In spite of all these famous folk, I was touched by the simple but cozy interior of the house. 

"Presently the door opened and the two men entered. One was young as the world counts years but the other was Manuel García, then in his ninety-fourth year, yet although bent like an old man, talking with the voice of a boy. 

"When the other man had gone I gave García my letter and told him my story. Coming so highly recommended by his sister, he was naturally interested at once. We discussed the situation and finally he said he would like to hear me sing. I told him I had been unable to sing for several years. He lost interest at once. "If you cannot sing," he said, "and sing perfectly, you cannot teach!" This was said with such an air of finality that I felt that the conversation was closed. As he looked at me he said, 'You have been going to Pauline every summer; what's the matter with you?'  I told him then of the nervous condition that had resulted from asthma, but he finally prevailed upon me to sing for him, with the result that he took me as a pupil.

"I went to García simply to learn from him how to train the male voice, but my own singing and my general health were restored so completely that when I went back to Viardot-García she said. "No more teaching! You go back upon the stage!" 

Forsakes the Stage

"You can imagine how this upset me, but I determined to continue teaching for a while at least and later to consult García. When I took my first man pupil for him to hear, I told him that his sister wanted me to go back upon the stage, but he advised against my doing so. 'If you are very selfish,' he said, 'you will do it, but I think it would be unwise. First and foremost, you have pupils singing in grand opera and you would be competing with them. But much more than this, because our science is dying out, singers are now demanding to be made artists in three years. Isn't it better to bring out ten singers than to sing yourself?' I asked him what Viardot would say and he replied, 'Pauline is a García. She will understand!'

"So, that is why I did not go back on the stage and sing, but continued teaching, and I must say I have never regretted it. When you speak of any of the Garcías, you speak of the ancien régime of singing. 'We have no method, we have no school,' he once said to me, 'we only have science, the science of singing which my father and I worked out!'

"I have often been asked whether I have improved the method and my reply is invariably that I couldn't if I tried, and, what is more, I don't want to. The further back I can go, the better, because García was the founder of the art of singing through the perfect knowledge of technic and control of the voice. That is why I have never attempted to 'improve' on what García taught me. I have all the exercises and the cadenzas which he and Viardot-García wrote for me and they go everywhere with me. 

"I could write a book about García and his wonderful personality, as well as about his teaching. Never a day passes but but that I remember some quaint phrase that he used in talking to me. I remember once when we were in his garden, for he was a passionate lover of flowers, he lifted a particularly beautiful rose on its stem and said: 'The rose is the most grateful of all my pupils. You search for a perfect tone: here it is!' He was disappointed in many of his pupils. He was very intense in teaching and gave his heart and his life to them for art and art alone, so that when he died he felt only about $11,000 and his little house. 

García and Wagner

"García and his sister were a proof of the fact that singing Wagner's music does not injure the voice. I do not mean that either of them appeared in Wagner opera but many of their pupils did. Wagner claimed that his music required more vocal study that the Italian music because a great technic was necessary. After all, the ultimate limits of expression such as Wagner demands can be reached only by singers whose technic is prefect. Wagner, you know, could not find a German baritone for Wotan in the premiere of 'Walküre' so he chose García's pupil Scaria, to whom he also confided Gurnemanz in the world premiere of 'Parsifal' at Bayreuth. After the first rehearsals of the Bayreuth Festival in 1876, a number of the artists went to Viardot-García for lessons, amongst them the great Wagnerian tenor Neimann, who was afterwards heard at the Metropolitan in the first season of German opera there. Viardot-García was said to have been the greatest musician of the Nineteenth Century. The old Emperor William established scholarships for all artists singers of his royal opera houses to go to her and practically all the great singers of note of that era were either García or Viardot pupils. 

"When Pauline Viardot-García died in Paris in 1910, the last of the royal line of García passed away. Manuel died in 1906, but at the celebration of his hundredth birthday he said that his greatest sorrow was that Pauline would not sing for him. 'But I cannot sing any more!' she protested. 'Ah, my dear,' he said, 'if you had practiced every day you would still be singing!' She was then eighty-four years old!

"And so, it is the greatest honor, I can assure you, that I am able to carry on the work of this great family of teachers. Pauline once said to a pupil of mine who is now singing in the Metropolitan, 'You may consider yourself my artistic grandson!' So, that is what I tell my pupils, that they are privileged to consider themselves the grandchildren of the Garcías!"  —John Alan Haughton 

Musical America, May 10th, 1924. 


Anna E. Schoen-René joined the faculty of the Juilliard School of Music in 1924, the same year in which this article appeared. Her student, who appeared at the Metropolitan Opera and is referred to as Pauline Viardot-García's musical grandchild, was undoubtedly George Meader. 

December 9, 2014

The Vagus Nerve

The vagus nerve plays an essential role in the act of singing as well as in speaking. It has several tasks. Usually, nerves are either motor with direct command over muscles, or sensory if their task is to refer perceptual information. Some are both somatic motor and sensory. For instance, the fifth cranial nerve gives the face its sensitivity but also allows the mobility of the jaws. 

The vagus nerve combines all of these functions. It is somatic, motor, sensory, and parasympathetic, giving it the ability to regulate the abdominal viscera. Moreover, it spreads over an immense area of the human body. Its contribution to phonation is fundamental. It is by design asymmetrical, with the right branch being shorter than the left. It emanates from the base of the skull, sends several sensory fibers to the dura mater covering of the brain, and then divides into various branches. 

Let's begin with a closer look at the right vagus nerve. It is most important to remember that one of its branches innervates both the lower part of the external auditory canal and the tympanic membrane. This is its only external point of emergence but it plays an enormous role. It is also important to emphasize that the vagus nerve extends a sensory nerve fiber onto the muscle of the stirrup, which receives its motor activation from the facial nerve. 

From The Ear and the Voice by Alfred A. Tomatis, Scarecrow Press, 2005. 


"You will never get a bright tone with a dull face." —Harry Gregory Hast. 

December 7, 2014

The Tragedy of the New York City Opera Archives

It will come as no surprise that the two most read posts on VoiceTalk concern the demise of New York City Opera and the drowning of its archives in hurricane Sandy. 

The drowning itself erased 60 years of New York City Opera's history; submerging photographs, recordings, scores, orchestra parts with annotations, playbills, original drawings, set designs, financial information and god know what else under 8 feet of water. Of course, no one really knows what was lost because the archive was uncatalogued when water poured into the basement at 75 Broad Street, where it was taken after being removed from Lincoln Center. However, reports made to this writer by those who handled the material suggest the loss of priceless information. 

Of course, the administration announced that the sunken soggy mess would be restored, an arduous and expensive proposition. However, as of this writing, nothing more has been heard of the archive's fate. All this comes to mind as New York City Opera is slated to emerge from bankruptcy court in the first weeks of 2015. 

The situation is all the more tragic when one considers that the New York City Opera archive was offered to the New York Public Library of the Performing Arts, not once, but twice. However, those offers were retracted by the last administration, which thought itself better equipped to administrate its own history and then housed it in the worst possible environment—the first law of archives being the utter avoidance of basements, where water damage is a real and present danger. Hubris, abject ignorance, dumb luck or stupidity, it all amounts to the same thing: the cultural history of New York City Opera now lies in the memory of the diaspora who performed and worked for the company.

I believe it's time to reassess the business acumen of the self-appointed masters of the universe.

Note: January 13, 2016. While the company formerly known as NYCO has emerged from bankruptcy, the fate of the NYCO archive has not been reported and is presumed to be lost. 

December 5, 2014

When Hearing Becomes Listening

Everything about singing is organized around the ear; it is the superior regulator. The buck stops there. How does this come about? The ear has a double role, based on two polarities. The vestibule organizes the motor activity involved in singing. This is linked to the act of listening carried out by the cochlea. The process begins with assuming a listening posture to which the singing posture will be added. 
But first we need to discuss singing in the context of communication systems. All communication entails a speaker and a listener. When the listener replies, he becomes the speaker and the speaker becomes the listener. As soon as either one of the two decides to enter the dialogue, there is an element of control, allowing that person to monitor himself. Consequently, the speaker is the first listener of his own speech. In fact, upon deciding to speak, his brain activates phonation so that a message can be emitted. Control is activated simultaneously, regulating different parameters such as intensity, timber, articulation, attack and release of sounds, the melody of the phrase, and the choice of words. Every aspect of language is monitored in this way, and with singing there is even greater control. This control resides in the ear, where three pathways insure this function. 
In reality, we are describing three circuits, two of which arise in the larynx. The first and best circuit is bone conduction. The second circuit, air conduction, relies on muscles and tendons. It gives poor results, and you must avoid using it. By knowing the various loops, you can understand the mechanics of phonation. The two channels you will be using are the internal bone conduction circuit and the external mouth circuit. Each has a completely separate role and the use of each is entirely distinct. The first controls the voice and the second controls articulation. The second depends on the first. Without bone conduction, there is no emission, even if articulation is good. 
The mouth circuit does not permit good control over phonation because of its anatomy. Any sound emitted is always complex. It contains a fundamental tone and an associated gamut of harmonics. Once it is launched into the air, the sound is dispersed and no longer subject to control. The high partials travel in a straight line. This effect is even more pronounced at higher pitches, also called directional. The low frequencies, contained in all sounds that are emitted, expand in a circle, bathing the outside of the ear.  So when we hear ourselves we hear a preponderance of lows. 
When we listen to our own voice on a recording, we are alway surprised to hear how we sound. While making sounds in a room with good reverberation, the feedback we get allows us to control high and medium frequencies as well as lows. This is an example of cybernetic control. Singing obeys the same laws of regulation and hearing becomes listening.  

From The Ear and the Voice by Alfred A. Tomatis (Scarecrow Press, 2005)

December 1, 2014


Persons who have superior knowledge and understanding of a particular field, especially in the fine arts, literature, and world of fashion. 

I know quite a few voice teachers who project this persona to others, especially to colleagues and students. It's what the latter pay for actually, isn't it? And with good reason: Doesn't everyone want to study with someone who knows the ropes as well as how they are made? Of course (to continue the rope analogy), it's a good thing if the teacher has made ropes at some point, and has made them well; but this isn't always the case, especially as "coaches" are concerned. And this is where things get sticky. Anyone can "know" a great deal about the voice—stacks of facts as I like to say, but this knowledge isn't helpful to the student if it isn't grounded in functionality: that is, if the coach can't sing, if only because being able to sing is the principal means whereby information about singing—and singing itself—is really learned.  

"Learn to sing! Learn to sing! Learn to sing!" Pauline Viardot-García cried to an interviewer who asked what composers should do in order to restore the art of beautiful singing. But how many composers do you know who can sing? And what about the coach who has set him/herself up as a voice teacher? I can put both categories together and count the number who can on one hand—a sorry state of affairs.  

We'd think it really odd that someone could know all about the English language, it's history, grammar and literature, but not be able to speak English. Yet many who teach, write and pontificate about singing can't sing.

What's up with that? 

November 26, 2014

The Gift of Curiosity

Margaret Harshaw
Calling curiosity a gift may be stretching things a bit; after all, how is one to quantify what seems natural, inborn and a force of nature? Whatever the case, Margaret Harshaw had it in spades. She was the most curious person I have ever known regarding the voice, which sparked something in me. Once, I heard her say in an incredulous tone that the majority of singers weren't curious about their instruments. They took it for granted, most of them never even putting a finger into the back of their mouths to investigate the soft palate. 

She had a point, I have come to see, now that I have taught myself. Only a distinct minority have a natural curiosity which impels them to know more, the rest simply wanting to know what to do, and how to do it. While this may seem like enough, I am bold to say that enough isn't enough in the long run. You have to know more to run the gauntlet called career, one that lasts a long time. 

Knowledge about the voice is more than stacks of facts. It is made up of impressions, both physical and auditory which must be renewed on a daily basis, nothing taken for granted or overlooked. Yet everything must be held lightly, since grasping too hard makes both singer and singing inflexible, hard and stiff. How to be joyously practical? Flexible, pliant, yet powerful, singing beautiful music beautifully? That's the real skill, one which Miss Harshaw taught by example. 

On this eve of Thanksgiving in the United States of America,  I am thankful for the gift of curiosity. Flame lighting flame, from past to present and into the future: I owe the existence of VoiceTalk to the doyenne of voice teachers and sincerely hope you've enjoyed this page as much as I have in giving it life. And as she might say, I hope it makes you think

November 24, 2014

Authentic Voice Production by W. Warren Shaw

We often hear singers who are said to possess naturally phenomenal voices and who's voices are naturally "placed." This description of the voices of highly gifted singers contains a germ of truth—but the truth is so garbled and distorted by the term that there is often conveyed a false and misleading impression as to ways and means of acquiring what is sought. 

The term "voice placing" as applied to tone production has a very real meaning from appearance—that is to say, the voice appears to be static both to the producer and to the hearer. The danger in the use of this particular term in the field of instruction is that the ideas concerning the constructive process of vocal development are apt to bring about misconceptions which may, and often do, offer serious obstacles to normal progress in this desired development. 

The apparent static condition—which is doubtless the original cause of the use of the term "placing" or "placement" of the voice—is not in reality a static condition. It is merely an appearance. 


All such phenomena are directly accounted for by bone conduction, and by vibration of air in the chest cavity, but by no stretch of the disciplined imagination can it be conceived of, as having anything whatever to do with the augmentation of air waves which might influence either the volume or quality of voice. 


Putting the voice in the head is meant to accomplish the purpose of producing it in such a manner that it will be resonant and also relieve the throat of undue strain. It seems to be in the head, or as it is sometimes expressed, "in the mask." 

The voice properly produced naturally goes to the resonance chambers and is reflected. The phenomenon is really accounted for by the reflection of voice or air waves from the resonance cavities. 

"Things are seldom what they seem"—and the practical application is that this "seeming" must not be taken as an indication that the voice should be put in the head—for by so doing the ostensible purpose is defeated. See to it that the opening to the upper resonance cavities is not unduly restricted. 


From Authentic Voice Production (1930) by W. Warren Shaw, student of Francesco Lamperti, William Shakespeare, and Luigi Vannuccini.  This book is not as readily available as Shaw's The Lost Vocal Art and its Restoration (1914), hence the reader is advised to seek out a good music library or search Abebooks for a copy. Its main virtue is that Shaw writes about historical vocal pedagogy teachings having benefited from an understanding of voice science.


November 22, 2014

Pauline Viardot-García's Method of Breathing

Pauline Viardot-García 
There are three kinds of breathing: (1) the diaphragmatic or low breath, (2) the intercostal or middle breath, (3) the clavicular or high breath. All three together mean full contraction of all the inspiratory muscles, necessary for the singer's health. However, for the purposes of singing, the combined diaphragmatic and intercostal breath is to be used. 

It is advisable to have the pupil practice this kind of breathing on a divan with the following scheme: 12 waves inhaling and exhaling (diaphragmatic breath exclusively), 6 waves (diaphragmatic and intercostal breath combined), 2 waves full respiration (for health's sake, 7 counts in, 7 counts out). 

The first attempt to apply the correct procedure of breathing is 4 counts in—4 counts hold (hands on lower ribs) and then from 4 to 24 counts exhale on ZZZZZZZZZZZZ like a humming bee. After this exercise, the pupil may learn to sing sustained tones in the middle or lower range (according to the quality of the voice, on "OH" or "OOH" or just humming. 

From Reminiscences of a Vocal Teacher (1941) by Emi de Bidoli, student of Pauline Viardot-García and her pupil Aglaja Orgeni


It should be noted that Viardot-García also had her students perform their first breathing exercises with a closed mouth, that is, by breathing through the nose. For more details, see Viardot-García's Hour of Study in the download section in the right hand column.


November 13, 2014

The Throne of the Pharynx 2

Francesco Lamperti (1811-1892) 
Practice breathing slowly at first, then quickly. Now see how nearly you can approach the yawn without yawning. Now, put your finger far back on the tongue to the point of gagging. This position of the mouth and throat is favorable to good tone by opening the throat in all directions. 

All these exercises practiced carefully in a strong whisper will be of great value in disciplining, strengthening and controlling the vocal organs, and if the emotions, feelings and expressions are practiced intelligently, they will enable you to assume any character, mood or expression desired at once, but each must be mastered separately. 

When we have acquired control of the breath, the next step is to open the back part of the mouth. Think of the singer's throne at the back and top of the pharynx and raise the soft palate and head muscles without effort, widen the whole pharynx.The very thought will do it. You will observe at once the change even in the speaking voice; always support the tone with balanced ease. 

This exercises will not only make a musical singing, speaking and reading voice, but it will banish clergyman's sore throat and many other forms of throat trouble, which come from wrong placing. Placing means simply adjusting, balancing all points with ease. If we open the back part of the mouth, the front will take care of itself. Take the Italian ah and aw broad, and be sure that you open  the throat, for you can say them without opening the throat. 

Open the throat as much as possible without fatigue or strain and you will be astonished at the volume of voice developed at once, without effort. 

In singing songs and operas, the attention must be given to expression and there is not time to think of a favorable position for the voice, but if you have acquired the habit of keeping the throat open it will adjust itself in according with natural law. The secret of rapid improvement in voice lies in mastering each particular essential, before taking up the next. 

We are supposed now to be building or restoring a voice, but the best voices will be improved by correct practice. If nature has given you a fine voice, well placed, then the right practice will give it expansion, and bring possibilities before you of which, perhaps, you have never dreamed. If your voice is small and thin, you can take comfort yourself with the knowledge that all things are brought about by condition and practice, and if you understand the laws of acoustics and the adjustment of the vocal apparatus, a small voice may be increased greatly in power and extent, and, what it lacks in power it may make up in intensity and sweetness for the softest tones, when controlled rightly, may be heard as distinctly as the loudest, and with far more pleasing effect. Intensity comes through control at the throne of the pharynx. 

—Student of Fransceso Lamperti, Manuel García, and Antonio Sangiovanni, c. 1890. 

November 8, 2014

The lynx ears of Lamperti

The writer was a pupil of the elder Lamperti, and of Vannuccini—direct descendants of the great masters of their Italian past—also of Shakespeare, Lamperti's principal English advocate, a man of fine intelligence, and of great musicianship and wider experience before the public than most teachers among his contemporaries. 

The secret of the so-called lost art of singing he sought in vain among the mazes of physiological science, and never did he place much reliance upon these puzzling questions. He tried to show his pupils not only how to master the physical by close attention to it obvious demands, but how to guide all so as to bring about the purest and most artistic vocal results by means of the exercise of that higher mental quality which our author denominates the psychological principle. 

Shakespeare seldom trained pupils for the stage; he taught them to sing. If they succeeded in oratorio, concert, or opera, it was because they knew how to sing, not because they were foisted upon the public and happened to succeed. He was heart and soul with the older Italians in discountenancing mediocrity. The lynx ears of Lamperti and of Shakespeare would not—could not—allow what they considered wrong in note or phrase, or ultimate inner sense to pass unchallenged. 

Reliance upon the principles of physiology to correct physiological defects is, of course, essential; but the art of song is mental, and so is psychological in its higher development. When the body is in subjection to the mind, the will works its way with the world, and the spirit will hold sway over all things inanimate. By bringing to bear upon it the suavity of Italian vocal art, even the majestic roughness of the German tongue may be toned done without loss of strength and with positive gain of beauty. 

David Bispham's introduction to The Lost Vocal Art and Its Restoration (1914) by Warren W. Shaw. 


The old masters never told you what to do nor how to do it, from any learned physiological or anatomical standpoint. In most cases, they did not know about these things themselves; and because they did not know, they were free from all possible deterrent influences of this kind. The result was freedom of tone. 


The smiling mouth spoken of by the old masters was meant by them to be a manifestation of the happy spirit—joyousness. When this instruction was reduced to a mechanical principal by the consideration that the mouth should be in a smiling position, naturalness of expression was jeopardized. Another cart before the horse. The old Italian idea of "impostazione della voce," or placing of the voice, was accomplished by singing forward and focussing the sound, is of the greatest of the greatest value in establishing vocal poise. The idea of focussing the voice forward on the line or level, concentrating the attention upon the sound, is the greatest value in establishing vocal poise. 


The old masters and singers were fully aware of the fact that the singer is at first incapable of correctly estimating the value of his own voice as to the quantity or quality, and hence the entire dependence of the singer upon the judgment of the master. By constant attention to the advice of the master, the singer's ear was educated to the recognition of both good and bad effects. The power of discrimination in the effect of their own voices was thus established. Coincidentally, familiarity with the physical effect upon the singer himself during the production of his own voice was an added factor in the consciousness of right and wrong production. 


Manage the voice with the ear. Don't manage or try to mange the vocal mechanism. 


Go into any large studio building and listen to the more than meaningless, the heartrending, almost inhuman sounds emanating from the throats of many students during their lessons. What a pitiful story is told in the plaintive efforts to find the way, and what a colossal monument stands, not mutely, to the benighted views of the day concerning voice-training, current among the hundreds of teachers who are the real perpetrators of the living outrage!

Witness among the vast numbers of students the seeming prostitution of their divine right to the exercise of just a modicum of common sense in the matter. The students sing their exercises or fancy that they sing them, but in the absence of any thought or intelligence or natural expression during the supposed singing, they are actually uttering sounds which could be more properly characterized as cat-calls, shrieks and howls, grunts and groans, which might be expected to be heard only in the corridors of an insane asylum. 

Tell the operating surgeon—the voice teacher—or the willing patient victim—the pupil— of your impression, and you will be patronizingly told that all this is necessary to the placing of the voice. Yes, they are getting their voices placed in a position where it is incapable of expressive utterance either in truly powerful and intense mode or in the nuance or delicate shading. 


The principal devices recommended are, first, the physical "lift" which is best accomplished by standing erect and gently stretching the body upward from the hips. The condition of elasticity as opposed to rigidity is imperative—hence the upward stretch of the body should not be overdone. This activity is conducive to a condition of flexible firmness of the immediate parts involved in tone production, that than a condition of relaxation. 

The necessary tonicity of the voice can never be established while the muscular system is relaxed. 

The second device is not physical. It is the singing on an imaginary line. This device is one which was used by many of the old Italian masters of my student days in Italy, and which was used by the old Italian masters who taught these singers and teachers. It was handed down by word of mouth and by precept and example—but I never found a lucid explanation of it in print. In my opinion, it is the most effective thought ever advanced by the representatives of the old Italian schools for promoting ideal conditions. I believe it to be one of the greatest secrets of the successful training of singers in the art of "bel canto." 

The following diagram represents the idea, which may easily be understood. The vertical line is at the height of the forehead and at any distance whatever from the singer. The thought of the line of common level of all tones should be carried out in singing exercises, including all intervals—likewise in the singing of songs. 

From The Lost Vocal Art and Its Restoration by Warren W. Shaw (1914) 


Click on the label below to find my other post on The Lost Vocal Art and Its Restoration, which contains an additional photo of the Warren's concept of singing on the "line." This being one of the most fascinating texts in regard to the Old Italian School, the reader is encouraged to read Shaw's text in its entirety at the link provided at the beginning of this post. 

November 7, 2014

Naked Singing

The ear is a funny thing, which I can say now after a lot of observation; because it's pretty clear to me that singing teachers, whether they know it or not, are messing with it. As evidence, I cite the curious things which happen in the voice studio. 

What am I talking about? 


The student is breathing, feeling every muscle in the body lift, the spine lengthen and the rib cage open. Vowels are played with for a long while, over the course of weeks, months even, and when the tone starts to get focused, clear, beautiful—so present you could touch it, the "look" appears. It's always the same look. The oh-my-god-does-it-really-feel-like-this look. 

We stop, and upon inquiry, feelings of openness, vulnerability, and self-consciousness are reported.

This is naked singing. 

It's as though the sound itself, or the means by which is produced, makes one feel exposed, raw, far too open for comfort sake, yet incredibly alive. It's a heady experience, and takes some getting used too. And all we are doing is working with vowels. But such is the power of sound when it innervates rather than enervates. When it stimulates the ear, which then opens.

My teacher described this as feeling like a house with all its doors and windows thrown open. Yes, we can see you. Yes, we can hear you. That's what you want, right? To have a voice? That's what it's all about.

You have to lift up—and I mean physically—to a very different place than the one you normally occupy when you are talking during the day. When you start doing this all the time when you sing, you may have the sense (again, another feeling) that there is something Platonistic about it. You know, the philosopher who believed that this world was a shadow of something greater? It's like that. Singing calls out the real.

November 6, 2014

Elizabeth Fleming: Inheritor of the Bel Canto Tradition

Joseph Hislop 
A remarkable document by Myron Myers, a student of Elizabeth Fleming, herself a student of Maria Parea and Joseph Hislop, can be found here. I stumbled across it the other day while looking for something else, then completely lost interest in my original search after being caught up in Myer's account of Fleming's teaching and pedagogy.

Of course, the curious thing about Fleming's pedagogy is that its reminds me of the teaching of Margaret Harshaw, who, like Fleming, was known for her sense of humor and forthright manner. Harshaw taught along similar lines, one point of agreement being the student had to learn how to feel the sound. I could not agree more, since feeling the tone is a vestibular function of the ear, which has everything to do with the audition of bone conduction (no, this dog is not letting go of that bone).

If I have learned anything, it is that the bone-conducted sound is heightened for singing, even when "crooning," which throws into relief the whole idea of "singing as you speak." Of course, the question to ask is: how do you speak? But that's another post.

Enjoy Myron Myers essay. It's great stuff.


November 4, 2014

The Old Italian School & Bone Conduction 2

Franceso Lamperti (1811-1892) 

The note emitted from the larynx impinges on the whole of the palate and vibrates toward the back of the head. Such use of the voice never fatigues, never causes huskiness, and allows the complete control and manipulation of the organ that it is a delight to the hearer; that "spinning of the note" to an impalpable thread that is yet audible in the farthest corner of Albert Hall; that lyric sweetness that is a characteristic of Italian Singing.  
 — From "A Great Singing Master" by "Erica," The Musical Courier,  July 6, 1892.

Written by a student of Franceso Lamperti in the last year of his life, the snippet above illustrates another example of the Old Italian School's conception of voice placement, which I regard as the audition and activity of bone conduction. Open Vocal Wisdom and you will encounter this same phenomenon, which modern voice science does not seem to have much interest in studying. Right now, the party line is that the singer's perception of voice placement is an individual and arbitrary matter; and like religion and sex, should not be discussed in polite company. It should be abundantly clear to those reading VoiceTalk that the Lamperti School thought otherwise.


November 3, 2014

The Old Italian School & Bone Conduction

In a series of letters on the state of music in Italy and France, written in French by I. A. C. Bombet in 1814 and published in 1818, we found a curious footnote on voice placing. The author says:
The first thing requisite is to place the voice at the back part of the throat, as it is done in pronouncing the vowel A in the word ALL. A second position may be formed by means of the same vowel as pronounced in the word ART, and a third, upon the sound of the diphthong EA in the word EARTH. 
I did not know what to make of this, as many vocal teachers talk about placing the voice well in front of the mouth. French teachers usually direct their pupils to "sing in the mask." Other teachers insist on resonance in the nose. Some instructors try to get the tone on the lips. I took the book to my life long friend Whitney Mockridge, and asked him his opinion. 
"Yes," said he, "that is the old Italian method. Lamperti told his pupils to sing from the backbone. Battistini, whom I consider the greatest living exponent of the old bel canto, says he always thinks of his voice as floating over the spinal column like the little ball that dances over a jet of water."
On another occasion I asked Whitney Mockridge why it was that everybody talked about placing the voice well forward whereas the old Italians apparently placed the voice well back.
The reason is that most persons mistake effects for causes. The voice that feels to the singer as if placed back upon the spinal column will sound to the hearer as it was placed in the very front of the mouth. The singer hears people talk about the tone being well forward and he tries to place his voice there, as vocalists say."
I remember Whitney Mockridge telling me a long time ago about the counsel Adelina Patti gave him at the beginning of one of his concerts tours with her:
"Never try to sing big. Think only of quality. I always address myself to the front rows only and let the back of the concert hall take care of itself. I would much rather give a perfect miniature than make a big daub."
I have heard Patti sing in the huge Albert Hall in London when by no act of courtesy she could be called anything but an old woman. Yet the quality of tone in the notes that were left, was there, and her voice carried to the remotest seats of the vast concert room. She had no flannel around the sound of her vocal tones. Her voice did not arrive by telephone or by the tubes of a ventriloquist. Perhaps she did not know exactly where she placed her voice. Perhaps she did. At any rate, she was as much a born singer as Liszt or Rubinstein were born pianists. If she did not know where she placed her voice, and if she could tell not one who to place a voice, she at least had the intelligence not to ruin the natural beauty of her voice by trying to make it bigger than it was. She was content to remain a rose and leave to others the ambition to swell into cauliflowers and cabbages. 
—Extracts from "More About Singing" by Clarence Lucas, The Musical Courier, August 24, 1922. 

Whitney Mockridge was a student of the 19th century vocal pedagogue Francesco Lamperti, who is considered the last great empiricist, while Clarence Lucas, the author of the extract from an article which appears above, was Mockridge's friend. 

What is curious to me, of course, is this idea about singing from the backbone. If I didn't know better, I would say it was positively nuts. However, because I do know better—and about the work of Alfred Tomatis in particular, I hear Lucas and Whitney as discussing the auditory perception of bone conduction. As such, the matter is really about where one puts one's attention. As my own teacher once said: "It's like a bow and arrow: go back to go forward." It is also, I dare say, a matter of how one sings one's vowels. 

November 1, 2014

Madam Klenner on the García Method

As far as the article below is concerned, those with an inquisitive mind and some understanding of historical vocal pedagogy will learn quite a bit about the manner in which singing was taught a hundred years ago. Of course, Madam Klenner doesn't give us all her method. That wasn't done in her day; and still isn't, I dares say, by many teachers who keep their technical resources to themselves, thinking them proprietary information. However, she does give us quite a few clues, which are useful to those who have studied the teachings of the Garcías.

We do learn that she taught her students (women) to allow the abdominals to sink in upon exhalation, a controversial matter at the time. We also learn that Viardot-García advised her students to take four long breaths before they went onstage; a procedure, though it be simple and forthright, is one that is often forgotten in the mental mayhem that precedes performance.

Madam Klenner also talks about the student's belief in the teacher, and how the teacher must convince the student. Both are necessary, which remind me of something Viardot-García said in an article I read—the source escaping me at present, the gist of which was: "If I tell you to jump out the window, you must do it!"

The García Method is a most practical science. 


New York Singing Teachers

An Inquiry Into Their Qualifications, Their Theories, Their Practices, and Their Results. 

[The editor of Werner's Magazine (which long has been the organ of the vocal profession) is consulted almost daily, either in person or by mail, by those in search of vocal instruction. There is no use of denying that among those advertising as teachers are incompetents, charlatans, and even knaves. So far it has been difficult, if not impossible, to separate the good from the bad teachers. The vocal profession has not yet crystallized sufficiently itself to set up a standard of membership, and there is no way of preventing anyone, no matter who he may be, from hanging out a sign with " professor of singing emblazoned thereon, or from making all sort of pretentious. In the absence of State regulation—and Werner's Magazine does not believe in too much paternalism in government—the Press, especially in this country, is the most effective agency to employ to safeguard the interests both of the public and of the vocal profession. This is the task that this magazine has set for itself. Twenty years of experience and investigation qualify the editor to direct the inquiry into the qualifications and methods of those soliciting vocal patronage. We disclaim at the outset any motive other than a desire and a determination to serve the profession and our readers who honor us by their support and confidence. We are sure that competent and conscientious teachers will welcome this effort and will cooperate with us to accomplish this desirable end. As to the other kind of teachers — we do not care what they think or what they do. — Editor.]

Mme. Katharine Evans von Klenner.

ONE does not talk long with Mme. Katharine Evans von Klenner, about how she teaches girls to sing, without hearing the word "method" and the method above all others that commands her enthusiasm is that of Manuel Garcia fere. He was the father of the celebrated Malibran and sang with her here when New York was very much "down town" and the century was young.

"There has been hardly a singer or vocal teacher of note in Europe within the last sixty or seventy years," said Mme. von Klenner, "but has come under the influence of one or another of the Garcia family, so the school he founded is the greatest historically. I went to Europe expecting to study with Marchesi; but after following all the teachers about, Shakespeare, the two Lampertis, Stockhausen of Berlin, I settled upon the Garcia method and began with Desireé Artot of Berlin and afterward with Viardot-Garcia at Paris."

Mme. von Klenner did not follow the all-too-common practice of taking two or three lessons and then signing oneself, "pupil of Thingummy," but studied with the primary intention of becoming a teacher. She went to her lessons, note-book in hand, and was permitted not only to study her own voice, but to listen to the correction of the faults of others. Believing with her whole heart in the Garcia method and in her ability to impart it in all its apostolic purity, she is ready to go on to the next step: "The pupil must believe in me. There is no success attainable unless the pupil has confidence in the teacher. Conversely, the teacher must convince the pupil. You know the old trick of telling the timid tenor that the note is only E when it is really G. If he knew it was G, he couldn't sing it without forcing. The influence of fear is so large a factor in singing that the teacher must have the power to inspire her pupils with the belief that they can do what she says they can. I am thoroughly convinced of the usefulness of suggestion.

"The teacher should be judged by the standard of ordinary voices. One may get hold of half-a-dozen magnificent voices and win a worldwide celebrity without having any good method to impart or ability to impart it. The natural beauty of the organ may overshadow the imperfections of style. The true test is to make the most out of the common run of voices as they come, to develop them to their utmost possibilities, both as to beauty of tone and length of usefulness. That I claim for the Garcia method."

The first thing one notices while watching a lesson, as Mme. von Klenner gives it, is that she plays the accompaniment and the pupil stands out in the middle of the large parlor floor where the teacher may get a good view from top to toe. During the vocal gymnastics and songs, the student must beat time quite decidedly.

"A very common defect nowadays," explains the teacher, "is the lack of rhythmical perception. Rhythm is the very beginning of music and we must not get so far away from the source that we forget the charm of the regularly recurring beat, even when the tempo is retarded or accelerated.

"The exercises I use to give flexibility to the vocal mechanism are the five-finger exercises of the voice," explained the instructress. "By practicing them systematically and assiduously, one becomes able to play upon the instrument anything that lies within its compass. By these drills one's vocal fingers, so to speak, grow strong and capable of inflections and delicate nuances. Most people seem to think that only light sopranos need strive to attain that facility. Where is the contralto today that possesses the command over coloratura that enables her to sing Arsace in 'Semiramide' or Handel's 'O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion?' Yet there is good music written for such nimble voices. The really first-class basses are able to do coloratura work. Look at Edouard de Reszkes. A certain pianist came to me to talk about lessons for his wife. She was a contralto, and he thought she need not bother about scales and the exercises to supple the voice. All she needed was to learn to make good tones for these songs that have so much to say about 'my heart.' I said to him: 'My dear sir, what would you think of me if I came to you for piano lessons and asked to be excused from five-finger exercises and everything except pieces in which I could strike heavy chords?' He saw the point at once."

"Do you give breathing-exercises in connection with tone-production only or by themselves?"

"By themselves. Breathing is of the very greatest importance. Its control is absolutely necessary to a beautiful tone. The exercises can be done while walking in the street. They strengthen the intercostal and the diaphragmatic muscles and by making them obedient to the will, enable the singer to control the emission of the breath.

"It is a mistake to sing against a tight frock. One might as well try to play the piano with tight gloves on. The constraint on the muscles hinders their proper development and eventually weakens them. That is the cause of the tremolo, so often heard. A great expansion should take place in the chest-muscles during song and they must have room to play in."

As the pupil progresses, the teacher draws attention to the quality of the voice with some such words as: "Let me have some of your nice warm tones now." At an early stage, she gives them phrases to intone on one note, like: " I will go;" "Sing a sweet song," etc. These are for the improvement of the enunciation of consonantal and vowel sounds and for the limbering up of the facial muscles. This is a point much insisted upon.

"What would you do if one came to you that was defective in tone-perception?"

"I don't think I should take such a pupil. Not that it is an impossible task, but it would be a very long one, without much reward in the end. There would never be the certainty attained that it is possible in one that has a natural ear and there are so many other things that a girl can do better that it isn't worth while. The case of one that flats or sharps is different. That is due to fatigue or excitement. It then becomes a question of physical condition and proper management of the breath or the control of the nervous system. If one sharps when excited, don't get excited, that's all. It is easy to say, I know, but if you have learned your song perfectly and understand what you have to do, and are accustomed to standing up before people to sing, you ought to get over that excitement in time. Here is a good thing to remember that I learned from Viardot-Garcia: When you come before an audience take four long breaths; adjust your breathing- apparatus four times. That gives one self-poise.

"I make it a point that every pupil must learn by heart the words and music of her song. Then if by any chance her copy should be mislaid, she won't be distressed at its absence. Also if the words are memorized perfectly, the attention is free to direct toward the expression of the sentiment which the poet and the musician have felt and wish to make others feel The audience does not know the words or the music but wants to hear and feel. The singer, not being hampered, is able to phrase and to breathe in the best way. If she does what she is told, she won't have time to think about getting nervous.

"I am very careful, too, about the pronunciation of the words. I speak French, German and Italian myself. I also speak English, which is a thing to be thought of. It is a language that most of my pupils will use the greater part of their lives in song and in speech. I declare I don't see how so many vocal teachers can lay claim to having ears acute to note a fault of the pupil's when they seemingly can not detect any difference between ' de' and 'the.' My husband, Captain von Klenner, assists me in the languages and Mr. George S. Kittredge with the solfeggio. I devote myself entirely to the interpretation.

One of the young women taking her lesson, whom Werner's Magazine was permitted to hear, was working at the trill. The exercise used for the development of that ornament was the common one, first quarter notes, then eighths, then sixteenth notes, and so on until the alternation became so rapid that the listener lost count. The teacher did not. She was listening very sharply and at the least uncertainty called the student's attention to the fault and made her beat the time more decidedly.

"When do you begin preparation for the trill?"

"When the voice is ready for it. If it is stiff, the time is longer; if it is supple, the time is shorter. I am a doctor. I doctor symptoms. I don't treat every case alike any more than a physician gives the same medicine to every caller."

One of the students sung "On mighty Pens" from the "Creation" and another gave "Rejoice greatly." Neither was what would be called a coloratura soprano though neither had a large voice but there was a warmth in their tones not usual in those able to execute as nimbly as they.

"Rarely are the possessors of big voices real artists," said Mme. von Klenner.. "There are more delightful singers with big brains and little voices than with big voices and little brains. The girl with a large voice seems to think that will carry the battle and so does not want to do too much studying. Well, to an extent that is the way with them all. They never think how the great artists have had to study—seven, eight, nine, ten years. If they put in three, they are patriarchs. Let me tell you this: The moment you think you have finished, you have finished. That is the end of you. To be an artist, you must never stop studying."

"What vowel do you use in the beginning ?"

"Italian a first, the others as they progress."

"What do you think of studying with a teacher of the opposite sex, a man with a woman teacher, a woman with a man teacher ?"

"I don't approve of it. I don't think a woman can teach a man as well as an equally capable teacher of his own sex, not because she doesn't know how, but because she doesn't experience the same sensations when she sings that he does, and singing so largely depends upon the sensations. A contralto might teach men, but I am a soprano.

"I am certain that it is even worse for a man to attempt to teach a woman. He can not tell her how to produce shades of color in her voice, because it is incapable of description and he can not show her how. I have known many good voices ruined by male teachers.

"There is one good thing about this phase of woman's work. In vocal teaching, if in nothing else, she is as well paid as a man is for equal service. In my club, I hear others of my sex declaim against the injustice that compels us to take less wages for as good work as men do. I can say truthfully: ' I don't find it so.'"

"Where do you begin to build up the voice, from the bottom up or from the top down ? "

"I begin with the medium register and train from that in both directions. Where does a rubber band break when stretched too tightly ? In the middle. Where does the voice give way when overworked? In the middle. But then a singing-teacher is like a doctor and makes her diagnosis of each separate case. This one needs this course; the other one needs something different but all should have treatment making for health of the body and the health of the voice. Tone production is the knowledge of certain universal laws governing the vocal apparatus."

"Should the vocal student go to Europe?"

"Not before she has finished her studies in America. Really one can do better in New York than abroad. The very best teachers over there are so advanced. It would be well if one could go to them for a few finishing lessons, but it is folly to start in at the very beginning and expect to get through in a few weeks or months. The teachers there train their own people well but then they are more patient, more content to hasten slowly. But our girls—they have no repertory and no languages. What language they have they speak badly. They do not command the interest of the European teacher. The American girl to them is simply a kind of foreigner that comes from California or Brazil or New York or some such wild place. They don't know America from Posen, and they don't care. They think we are all shockingly rich over here and put up their prices to the very highest notch when they get an American applicant for instruction. I understand American girls and I understand their pocket-books. It is all well enough to go abroad when one wishes to learn roles and to get a European reputation, but in ordinary cases a girl does not get as much for her money abroad as she could get right here in New York."

"Should a teacher be versed in the anatomy and physiology of the vocal organs? Is it necessary to teach them to the pupil? "

"I do not think it is necessary to teach them to the ordinary pupil but I do think that it is of the very greatest importance that the singing-teacher should know all about the organs with which she has so much to do. Doesn't any workman worth his salt know how the tools of his trade are made and what they are made of? Even if I don't approve of a certain doctrine or theory, I should at least inform myself as to what it is. I don't agree with it; 'Why don't I agree with it' One must examine herself and try to discover the 'why' of everything pertaining to her art and to her profession. The knowledge of the way the larynx looks when in action, for I have studied it hundreds of times; the familiarity with the parts of the larynx, for I have assisted at dissections; have broadened my mind even if I could never use the information in teaching."

"How early in life should one begin to take vocal lessons?"

"Well, of course, all the great singers began to study when very young, but I have had very little experience with children. Perhaps now and again I have had to straighten out some kink in a register of the voice, but I have never taken charge of a child's vocal education. A girl should begin to study about 15 or 16 years of age."

"What kind of deep breathing do you teach? You know there are those that say tone should be emitted at the same time that the abdomen is pressed out?"

"I teach the normal deep breathing, of course. I mean where the abdomen sinks in while expelling the breath."

"What do you think of the 'fourth register' of Mme. Lankow?" (See Werner's Magazine for December.)

"Mme. Lankow is a very dear friend of mine and I will say to you what I say to her, that there is nothing written for those very high notes; that there is no sentiment in them, no feeling, and that they are not beautiful."

"One hears public singers that apparently have a repertory of only six or eight or maybe ten songs. What do you think of the mental effect that such a small selection has upon the singer?"

"Why, it is dwarfing to the intellect. I endeavor not only to teach my pupils to sing sweetly and correctly, but to give them a musical education and develop their taste. If it be possible I get them to love the high class music. I am not one of those that sell music to their pupils and so keep them jumping from one song to another all the time, but I realize that this is the only chance many of them will have to make the close acquaintance of good music and so I take them back to Pergolesi and Lotti, and then bring them down the line of the masters, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, and the rest of them. I give them German lieder, French chansons ancient and modern, and try to exhibit to them every style worthy of attention. I want to broaden their minds.

"By the way, I may say that my particular passion is the folk-song. I went all over Europe, except Russia and Greece, to hear wild tunes of the peasantry. I have visited Norway, Sweden, Germany, France, Italy; studied the gipsy music in Hungary and Roumania and special concerts of Berber airs were arranged for me when I was in Morocco and Algeria. I have published several of these folksongs of different countries."

"Have you written anything ?"

"Well, not any books but plenty of articles on my profession. I have translated stories and selected and arranged songs."

"What pupils have you now before the public?"

"Just as their names occur to me now, they are: Of public singers, Mrs. Mabel Larimer, contralto; Ada May Benzing, contralto; Miss Amie Michel, soprano, now studying with Mme. Artot in Berlin; Eleanor Creden of Boston; Lillian Watt, soprano, of New Bedford, Mass.; Mrs. Bulen of Pennsylvania and Miss Nellie Cramer of North Carolina. Of teachers, Florence Settle of the Salem (N. C.) Female Academy; Miss Lulu Potter of the Peace Institute, Raleigh, N. C.; Maude Weston of Elizabeth College, Charlotte,N. C.; and Miss Adelaide Laciar of Mauch Chunk, Pa.; are pupils of mine."

Mme von Klenner is a graduate pupil of Manzoni of Paris, a celebrated teacher of dramatic action and gesture.

As to her personal characteristics, she was born at Rochester, N. Y., and so is a townswoman of Susan B. Anthony. She has probably the finest mouthful of teeth in New York City, and even if she were not naturally of a cheerful disposition, she could not be blamed for smiling frequently. This is not to say that she smirks eternally and pays continual compliments. Her particular aversion is what she calls "the molasses people," all sweetness and no pungency. She rarely compliments and devotes herself to finding fault.

"My pupils are supposed to pay me money to find the flaws in their singing and to point them out so that they will avoid them. When they make a public appearance they will not find a throng of applauding friends but people that ask themselves: 'Is she worth the money I paid to hear her?' I want to prepare my pupils for life and life, I am told, is not all bouquets and flattering notices."

Werner's Magazine: a magazine of expression, Vol. 12, January, 1899, No. 5

The García Lineage: Baroness Katharine Evans von Klenner

The voice teaching profession is full of colorful characters, and Baroness Katherine Evans von Klenner (1858-1949) does not disappoint, which is made abundantly clear in my previous post which details her foray into spirit communication with the dead.

Klenner is also notable for being America's first certified García Method exponent. While there may have been others who were given the nod by Viardot-García and her brother Manuel, Klenner was the first to publicize this fact in a big way, which propelled her into the first rank of singing teachers in America.

Klenner studied with Viardot-García with the explicit aim of being a voice teacher—an unusual request since the vast majority of students study with important teachers with stars in their eyes. Of course, to be an exponent of the Garcías, you had to be able to sing, which Klenner did as a dramatic soprano. Here is the first article which introduced Klenner to readers of The Musical Courier, which took something of a shine to her.

Miss Evans is a pupil and an authorized and certified teacher of the great Mme. Viardot of Paris. She is a finished exponent of the García Method, of which it is so often been said: It never lost a voice, but it very often found one," and it was as a teacher of this method that she first came to the National Conservatory of Music, where she is now in her fifth year. Desiring to replace a Marchesi teacher by the famous García Method the conservatory wrote Viardot-García, in Paris, asking her recommendation from among her American pupils of one, as a teacher. The reply that Miss Katherine was the one particular pupil so qualified, that Viardot could earnestly commend her, and the engagement of Miss Evans with the conservatory was thus immediately formed. 
Her reputation has grown with her emphatic success and by the honest work which brings its results, Miss Evans has turned out a relay of artistic pupils whose development is ample testimony to her powers. 
Her voice is a dramatic soprano of broad, firm caliber and pure and sympathetic quality. but its fullest development was not attained until under Viardot. While especially devoted to oratorio and to German Lieder, Miss Evans controls also a remarkable colorature power. But this is what she claims to be a distinguishing feature of the García Method, and of the García Method only. By it you can sing anything. The same voice which delivers a broad dramatic aria of large phrase and rigorous demands on sustained powers can, by the García Method accomplish flexibly the most brilliant fioriture, and will be equally at home in an oratorio recitative or a Proch variation. Upon this Miss Evans dwells with weighty emphasis. 
"Anyone," Miss Evans says, "who can express varied emotions in language can also be taught to express them in song. Singing is simply musical language brought about by perseverance and intelligence in the use of the vocal cords according to scientific principals.
Personally, Miss Evans is a young woman, tall and prepossessing in appearance, with a manner whole-souled, frank and exceedingly genial and refined.  
The Musical Courier, November 13, 1895.  


October 31, 2014

My Method Must Never Die

Perhaps the most curious book I have come across in my research is The Greater Revelation: Messages from the Unseen World received through automatic writing in various languages, including Chinese and Japanese, in the chirography and with the verified signature of those sending the messages by Baroness Katharine Evans von Klenner. Published in 1925 during the peak years of the Spiritualist Movement in America, the author was a rather well-known—if now forgotten—student of Desireé Artôt and Pauline Viardot-García, the sister of Manuel García

Katharine Evans von Klenner was a real baroness, having married Ferdinand Auguste Maria von Klenner (his name has also been recorded as "Rudolph"), an Austrian diplomat and linguist whose family lived in Italy. His death before the first world war left the musical daughter of the Garcias childless and alone, and may have been the catalyst for her interest in otherworldly concerns. Whatever the reason, The Greater Revelation is an unusual book, replete with messages from famous personages, including those from Manuel García and Richard Wagner. 

The Baroness herself was born in Rochester, New York in 1858, to a well-to-do Moravian family, and studied with Pauline Viardot-García in Paris before she was 20, her voice a dramatic soprano. By 1883, Klenner was an authorized exponent of the García Method in New York City, where she taught at the National Conservatory for a handful of years, before marrying and opening a private studio. A founding member of The National Association of Teachers of Singing in 1906, Klenner was an ardent supporter of national standards for voice teachers, both at the state and national level. When these goals were not realized, Klenner turned her efforts towards education and founded the The National Opera Club of America, which held its meetings at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel on Park Avenue and 50th Street for many years.

Klenner remained a potent force in the musical life of the New York until her death in 1947, teaching at Chautauqua every summer, all the while wearing a broach that contained the letters "P.V." which had been given to her by Pauline Viardot-García. Though Klenner's involvement in Spiritualism strikes us as odd and rather quaint today, her interest was shared by many singers: Antoinette Sterling, David Bispham and Emma Thursby among them. And while I cannot say I have ever seen a ghost, Klenner makes it quite clear that many spoke to her "triumvirate," their messages a fitting tribute on All Hallow's Eve.