Tubbs & García: a first-hand account of the great maestro's instruction

Frank Herbert Tubbs has appeared on these pages before, as well as in the introduction to Hidden in Plain Sight: The Hermann Klein Phono-Vocal Method based upon the Famous School of Manuel Garcia, where he was cited as having studied with Manuel García (whom Tubbs understood as having originated the teaching of voice placement in the "masque") and Francesco Lamperti.

In the article below, Tubbs gives readers of The Voice a riveting account of his studies with the father of modern voice science—which, I must note, is rather unusual—first-hand accounts of García's studio instruction being more rare than once might think. In it, the reader observes García's condensation of principles, use of vowels to teach bright and dark timbre, correct method of breathing and vocalization, emphasis on tonal quality, word-sounding, and the ability to sing with one voice. As such, Tubbs offers the reader a remarkable document, if only because it contains information that is not found elsewhere.

Tubbs' advertisement also appears in The Voice (which was later entitled Werner's Magazine). From it, we learn Tubbs had not yet studied with Francesco Lamperti, which took place sometime after January 1886—and before Lamperti's death in 1892.


In America, thousands of miles away from home, the name of Signor Manuel García is known to every educated singer, and is familiarly known by last name. I called at the publishing house of Novello, Ewer & Co., in London and asked the clerk: "Can you tell me the address of Signor García?" 

"What Signor García?" 

(This gave me a shock! Could there be any but the Signor García?") Suppressing my indignation, I answered. 

"Signor Manuel García." 

The address was Manchester Square, which, being near, I sought at once. I found that he had abandoned his office and gave lessons only at his house. At first, no one was found who know where the house was; after a while, the manservant appeared who had assisted in moving, and he had the new address: "Cricklewood, Kilburn." Being a stranger, my next application was to a policeman, who pointed out the 'bus' to Kilbrun, "but as for Cricklewood, he new nothing about it." 

I was going to find García, if possible. On the 'bus I learned that Cricklewood was a village in the Parish of Kilburn, and fully a half-mile beyond the end of the 'bus-route. When I had walked about a half-mile, I began inquiring for Signor García. Each time came the information: 

"Yes, this is Cricklewood, but we know no one named García." 

Call after call was made in street after street, and no one was found who could give the desired information, until the sun was declining in the west, making that mellow, golden light never seen outside of England. Then the postman, making his round, was observed, and from him the location of Signor García's house was found. Strange to say, it was next door to where inquiry had been made! Could it be possible? The next door neighbor did not know Signor Manuel García! Of what avail is greatness? 

Walking up the nicely-kept garden, and ringing the bell, brought the servant, who, after showing me into the drawing-room, summonsed "the master." He entered, drawing off heavy gloves as he came, for he had been pruning his fruit-trees in the orchard. 

It was with a feeling of greatest veneration that I stood in the presence of this man. He it was who first saw the vocal cords in their work, by means of the newly-discovered laryngoscope. There, before me, stood the man whose vocal cords were first seen, and I was to hear their tone. He it was who taught Jenny Lind and Bataille. Were I in the presence of a king, I could not feel more like bowing my head, than I did as I came before this man. He is small, compact and wiry, then (1882) 78 1/2 years old. The snow-white hair and mustache, and the piercing dark eye distinctly mark positiveness of mind, and the life and animation entering every word and action impress the visitor, even at first sight. In spite of the white hair, García appears much younger than his years indicate. 

Signor García condenses his voice-cultivation into five distinct subjects: (1) "Sure intonation:" (2) "same strength of tone;" (3) "same quality throughout voice;" (4) "meaning of text apparent;" (5) "perfect enunciation." The importance of these headings he impresses upon the pupil over and over. Upon examination, it will be seen that much is condensed therein. 

"Why do you sing so stiffly?" he would ask: "do you not realize that stiff singing indicates a rigid throat, and a rigid throat interferes with sure intonation and good pronunciation?" Or: "Do you not observe that continual explosive tone, the loud voice softened so suddenly, is because you have so little control of the respiratory muscles? Keep the same strength of tone." 

So it would seem that all the subjects and principles discussed and employed by teachers are condensed into but five by Signor García. That to which he refers most often is quality of tone, asserting that if the quality of tone is not good to our ear (provided our ear is cultivated), the voice is faulty in one or more of these great principles.

The voice, according to Signor García, is "bright" or "dark;" or, to apply other terms, "clear" or "veiled." The "clear" quality is produced by lowering the soft-palate and raising the larynx, placing the throat in much the same position as when swallowing. The "veiled" quality is produced by reversing these positions,—that is, by raising the soft-palate so that the back of the throat and the roof of the mouth form an arched reflector; the larynx held low. These positions allow the extreme differences in the quality of tone. Between them are the various gradations of tone-quality and it is a principle of the method that the palate, pharynx and throat shall be so drilled that all may take, in response to instinctive command, that position which will produce the best and most appropriate quality which the meaning of the words demands. To this end, it is the custom of this master to exercise the voice with the Italian vowel a, first slowly and softly; and, as the muscles and membranes become more pliable and under control, more rapidly and with more fulness of tone. This fulness must never be allowed to become great in exercise-practice, and under no circumstances should a tone be allowed to sound harshly. 

The reason assigned by Signor García for using a in all exercise-practice, is because the tongue and throat are, while using this vowel, nearer their normal position (as in quiet breathing) than when using any other vowel. As strength and confidence come to the pupil he adds other vowel practice. He uses, however, the vowel sounds o and ee (long) for specific purposes; namely: the o for drilling the larynx to hold a low position, producing the "veiled" quality, and the ee for producing the "clear" quality by raising the larynx. 

The subject of registers is avoided by Signor García. "There are no registers; or, if so, they should be drilled out of sight. There is but one voice; make it of the same quality throughout and you see no registers; therefore, you have none." When, however, the certain changes which one discovers constantly in untrained voices are referred to, the master readily explains the mechanism which produces such changes of quality, but adds in a tone which ends all questioning: 

"Practice! Practice! Time will make the quality alike throughout the voice." 

To illustrate: The question was asked: "What makes the 'bad note" at E or F of the tenor voice?" 

"The tones below the bad note are produced by the vibration of the whole glottis: those above, by the inner lips. Where the inner lips join the thicker portion is a little fatty substance, and it requires much practice to bring this into perfect vibration. But don't think anything about it. Practice will remove all difficulty." 

The mechanical effort of respiration receives more attention from Signor García, and yet he refers continually to the tone and advises one to observe that, to see if the breathing is correctly performed. How to breath, according to the master's method, can be given almost in his own words: 

"Some people think, when they commence to inhale, that they must expand greatly the abdomen. Not so. The portion at the end of the breath-bone must push out a little when the breath is first drawn; but after the beginning of inhalation, the portion below the ribs should not expand much. The ribs at the sides should spread all they can, and the chest must expand fully. Then the lungs have all the air they can hold. While singing, be careful not to allow the air to rush out, but use it economically. Keep the quality of tone smooth. Don't allow the tones to begin loudly and suddenly die away. That shows loss of breath on them. Watch the tones the violinist produces. Hear how smooth all of them are. Hear how evenly the phrase of tones is made. Imitate that. While singing, select a good place for taking breath, and take all that is possible. Do not raise the shoulders in inhaling, for that crowds the throat-muscles, and this will not permit tones of good quality to be made. While singing, let the tones be peaceful and beautiful and the breathing will be good." 

Of course, when asked to describe fully the mechanical action required for the act of respiration, Signor García is ready to give the desired scientific information. It will be seen from the above brief summary, that strictest attention is to be given to producing a good quality of tone; that this good quality depends upon certain specified positions of the vocal apparatus, so drilled as to instinctively adjust themselves to express the meaning of the words employed, as fully as the intellect of the performer comprehends the meaning. 

Additional to such drill as has been mentioned, Signor García uses practice in producing distinct word-sounding, and also, over and again, in studying an aria, appeals to the intelligence of the pupil, that he may better comprehend and render clearly the meaning. 

"Of what avail are good tones if you say nothing? Why should we merely vocalize before our audience? Give the meaning clearly and intelligently, or don't sing at all. What were we singing? Oh, yes! Now let us tell the story as if our hearers never heard it before and it is full of interest to them." 

He claims that if our tones have been delivered with a good quality before words are attempted in song, that our chief attention (while song-singing) may be given to consonant formation. "Do you realize," says he "how badly we would discover the meaning of a sentence were we to omit the consonants? So it is in singing. Here, if I write the vowels of this sentence, can you make out what it means? I will space them, too, as they belong in the sentence:" 

"The consonants, " says Signor García, "present the obstacles to sound, and they are produced by five arrangements of tongue, lips and teeth: —

  1. Lips together as for pa, ba, ma. 
  2. Lips and teeth together, as for fa, va.
  3. Teeth and tip of tongue together, as for da, tha, ta. 
  4. Tip of tongue and palate together, as for la, na, sir.
  5. Root of tongue and arcade together, as for ka, ga.

"Practice such exercises as will drill these parts to produce instinctively the right consonant sounds, without interfering with the quality of tone produced. Now our mechanical work is out of the way, let us study our arias."

And the eyes of the grand old master would glisten as he turned to a loved opera or oratorio. The pleasure of writing of those pleasant memories must be deferred, for it is the purpose of this article to refer more to methods of mechanical drill than to the artistic portion of the teacher's work. One enjoys heartily the enthusiasm which Signor García uses while teaching an aria. 

The Voice: Devoted to the Human Voice in All Its Phases, January 1886: 10-11


Thank you for your comment, Max Den.
Those with sharp ears and eyes will observe that the father of voice science did not—I repeat—did not—teach the separation of registers.