Learning from the past while living in the present

Anna E. Schoen-René
What got you interested in historical vocal pedagogy?

That's what a young colleague I had just met asked me not that long ago. 

"Oh," I said. "I was taught certain things by my teacher who was a musical descendent of the Garcías, and when I went and looked at the texts within their school, found very little information which addressed what I had been taught. Wanting to know why this was so, I started digging. 

What did you find? 

That the Garcías didn't write everything down! I also found that most people don't save anything. Out of the many students who studied with the Garcías and their exponents, precious little of that information—say, in the form of lessons notes—is available to the public. That said, there were quite a few students who wrote books and articles, often without mentioning they were students. 

Why is that? 

Because, from what I can tell, the teachings of the Garcías were considered proprietary information. Teachers made a living from it, after all. When we look at old newspapers, we see Lamperti exponents jockeying for position—and can learn quite a bit about what they taught as a result, but the García exponents are silent for the most part—at least in terms of vocal pedagogy. They kept what they did in the studio to themselves.

Do you use what you've learned?

Of course. The first half of the lesson is taken up with scales and exercises which are then applied to repertoire. It's not rocket science. 

What do you mean? 

Can the student sing /i/, /e/, /a/, /o/ and /u/ clearly, easily, and in an attractive manner? That's one big Old school teaching. But you'd be surprised how many people think singing involves stuffing stacks of facts into their brain. "What's hard is simple. What's natural, comes hard." Remember that Sondheim line? Too many facts can make the simplest thing very hard.

Photo Credit: Courtesy Ernst Schoen-René. Schoen-René was a student of Pauline Viardot-García and Manuel García.