April 19, 2014

Herman Klein Talks Technique: Classical & CCM

Herman Klein (1856-1934)
Remember that guy Herman Klein, who brought Manuel García's method of singing to America in 1901, and wrote a manual with recordings that got lost for 100 years? Well, the oddest thing happened. You see, he called me in the middle of the night last night, waking me up. At first I thought it was a dream, but then I heard the operator's voice. 

"Hello! Trafalgar-7578?" 

"Yes? My god! It's 3 in the morning. Who is calling please?"  

"I have a Mr. Herman Klein on the line. Go ahead Mr. Klein!" 

"Hello!" The voice sounded far away, thin and somewhat muffled, as though coming through an old gramophone horn. "This is Herman Klein speaking!" His voice was a great deal more inflected than I imagined. A real lyric tenor. 

"Good god!" 

"Indeed! I wanted to ring you up and say thank you for republishing my book, which pleases me to no end, since it was—as you say—hidden in plain sight!"

"Well, thank you Mr. Klein!" 

"Call me Herman. We certainly know each other well enough to be on a first name basis, don't you think? After all, it's very American." This last word carried a whiff of sarcasm, and brought to mind his debacle with the American press. 

"Yes, Americans like to shorten and over-familiarize themselves with everything." 

"So I remember! Which brings me to the other reason I called."

"Yes, ah… Herman?" 

I have heard that some of your colleagues believe there is no difference between Classical and—what do they call it now? Oh yes. Commercial Contemporary Music. You understand, in my day, we went to the Music Hall for that sort of thing, which, it should be remembered, was not amplified. But to get back to my point: I hear that many of your colleagues believe there is no difference in emission." 


"Yes. In deference to my master, I never use the work production. He would say that production was for shoe makers, and voice teachers aren't in that line of work. We are artists!"

"I see your point." 

"I'm glad you do, my boy. Which is more than I can say for those at The National Association of Teachers of Singing."

"You're still rather upset about that, aren't you?" 

"Upset? Livid would be more like it. I spent nine years working for the accreditation and elevation of singing teachers, and what happened? Your confounded democracy made it impossible! Everyone agreed what needed to be done, but a few holdouts opposed standards for purely selfish reasons." 


"Yes. My arch enemy on the board proposed a school where he would be the director. Of course, I could see the dollar signs in his eyes. It didn't last, of course."

"I'm so sorry!

"You no more than I. But I only have a few more minutes, so let's get to it, shall we?"


"Please tell your colleagues that the big difference between Classical and Contemporary Commercial Music is not a mechanical one!"

"Could you clarify your last statement please?"

"Certainly! It's a matter of vowels, my boy. Vowels! Classical singing requires Italianate vowels, whereas, in Music Hall singing, you can do as you like. However, the other principles I wrote about, like 'Singing Position' and 'Placement,' are quite portable, and, of course, the function of the vocal cords remains very much the same.

"They call them vocal folds now."

"Really? That is so unmusical! You Americans think you know everything. But what of art, my boy? What of art? Now I really must go. Patti wants to rehearse Wagner songs."


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