November 30, 2015

The Cross of Voice Science

Giovanni Clerici (1861-1924)
Observe that the sounds must appear to the singer to be reflected in the back part of the head; he must feel them there, rising as the note rises, falling as it falls.  —Giovanni Clerici, Perfection in Singing (1906): 15. 

He's right, of course. But try telling that to the moderns who are trained to think about the vocal tract as the only resonator. According to them, one should not think about sensation in the head. They take García's statement about sensation of tone literally (you know the one I am talking about right?—which is discussed in Hidden in Plain Sight: The Hermann Klein Phono-Vocal Method Based upon the Famous School of Manuel García) and consider voice placement to be a vampire to which they must hold up the cross of voice science.

We go back to go forward! That's what my own teacher would say—a statement which makes a hell of a lot of sense from an auditory perspective (and has everything to do with the awareness of bone and air conduction), and is nonsense to the modern who only knows what he sees.

While moderns busy themselves with looking at their voiceprints, the ancients were busy listening. 

November 26, 2015

The Ear is the Spine 4

Singing requires no powerful effort, but the point of support should fall where it is least apparent and least felt. The attitude of fear, of uncertainty and doubt, namely the drawing in of the body below the waist, with the limp back, results in clavicular breath so laborious to control, because all effort is thrown upon the chest-muscles. How often we see a great artist when singing at his best, bear forward on the right foot, showing the straightened condition of the spine. And these are the voices that thrill with expression; these are the singers that carry an audience with them! There is no pretense to originality in this "secret" referred to in the interview with The Voice. It was learned from Italian masters but has been corroborated in later years by reading more than once in different works of physiology that the straightened backbone frees the respiratory machinery.  

—Sabrina H. Dow. "Further Talk Upon Methods In Teaching Singing." The Voice, 1886: 165-166. 


The elongated or "straightened condition of the spine" does more than free the respiratory system. It is also an expression of an open ear, which enables the singer to sing. You can learn how to obtain it—that is—how to find your voice—at The Ear and the Voice: Workshop in New York City on December 5th, 2015, where participants will rediscover the teachings of the old Italian school from a revolutionary perspective.

November 24, 2015

Vocal Wisdom & William Earl Brown

Margaret Harshaw was loath to recommend any book on singing—insisting that you couldn't learn to sing from one, but if she could be persuaded to name one, you would hear her mention William Earl Brown's Vocal Wisdom which contains the maxims of Giovanni Battista Lamperti, son of the great Italian maestro Francesco Lamperti.

"You have to know something to know something!" she would say. What she meant, of course, was that you would better understand Lamperti's teaching if you had been around the block a couple of times. If not? Then you had better start running. 

The chief function of the head in the producing of a singing tone is that of a reflector. William Earl Brown, The Musician, 1932.  
William Earl Brown, a teacher of singing for more than half a century, who had a residence and studio at 57 West Seventy-Fifth Street, died on Tuesday of a heart attack in Mount Sinai Hospital at the age of 82. He was active as a teacher and was at work on the manuscript of a book on his profession to supplement an earlier volume, "Vocal Wisdom." Mr. Brown studied singing in Austria, Germany and Italy, his teachers including Lamperti. Suriving is a niece, Mrs. Kelsey Flower of Deerfield, Mass.  —NYtimes, May 17, 1945.

November 21, 2015

The Throne of the Pharynx 4

Now take your position—stand firm so that you may change from one foot to another. Put your tongue in place, resting in the bottom of the mouth and throat. Drop the jaw. Remember the voice is your instrument, but you are the director, inspirator, guiding power; you formulate, control with your will, intelligence, emotions. Now assume control of your throne as a singer, at the throne of the pharynx—the cerebellum back between the ears. Put your finger on the little tip in front of the ear and press lightly, partially closing the ear. Take the word Alm, or Hum, and let it resound through the head cavities. This will show you where sound is focused. No matter how high or low the note, always place it at this point—behind the ears. Never higher. It will correct the effort of reaching up when that is always its first place. The mistaken effort of reaching up is what prevents its placing itself. 

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

November 19, 2015

Lamperti's Method & Noise-Machines of the Modern Age

To sing well is to breath properly. Sufficient attention is not given to this important fact. Respiration may be decided into three kinds: The diaphragmatic, the lateral and the clavicular. It is a false idea that women should use only the lateral, which calls into action merely the ribs and the breast-bone. Women who lace tightly adopt lateral breathing because they are forced to do so, and thus destroy the action of the diaphragm. Clavicular breathing is employed by raising the shoulders, leaving the diaphragm in repose. This is the most superficial and hurtful mode of breathing, often noticed in persons whose lungs are not developed or are naturally weak. Diaphragmatic breathing is distinguished by the contraction of the diaphragm, the thorax and shoulders remaining in complete repose. This is the only kind of respiration that should be cultivated by singers. By so breathing the larynx remans in a natural position, and is not strained. 

To obtain a proper singing breath, the pupil must assume an easy, unconstrained posture, standing upright but learning the head forward in a persuasive attitude. It is the first attribute of a good singer to be able to develop sympathy between himself and his audience. Singers often allow the mouth to assume an unpleasant, even repulsive expression. This is wrong. A smiling position of the mouth, the lips touching the teeth, the chin kept back naturally, and never elevated or pushed forward; these important details are all essential; and form a proper adjunct to perfect breathing. 

Another fact which commands attention is after taking in breath, to keep mouth and chin perfectly still while singing exercises. From neglect of this many errors arise, such as slurring and false intonation. Moving mouth and lips is a bad habit, and must be avoided. A singer who indulges it will never attain success, but it places a check upon the most splendid powers. The next and shoulders must always retain an easy position. A slight cause is sufficient to prevent breathing—even raising the shoulders wrinkling the forehead, or depressing the head. Any motion which shows effort, causes wrong breathing and produces tones lacking in power and purity. Notes resulting from bodily exertion lose all their beauty. The pupil should stand while practicing, and must take in breath slowly through the nose, so as not to dry the throat, and obtain the deepest inspiration possible. A gymnastic exercise of the breathing organs may be practiced without singing, and is both desirable and healthful. 

After taking a full breath, the pupil should prevent the larynx changing position, by keeping down the back part of the palate. The tongue should be slightly hollowed in the middle, the mouth assuming a smiling position, not too widely opened sideways, and of an oval shape. The lower jaw must not be stiff or the throat will be contracted. The freedom of the chin depends upon the easy position of the neck and throat. By keeping the opening of the mouth in an oval shape and raising the lips, so as to show the upper teeth, the wave of air will break against the roof of the mouth and the voice will vibrate more powerfully. 

Breath must be taken in slowly, which will cause a sensation of coldness at the back of the throat. When this ceases, the Italian vowel a or the syllable la is to be sounded. The vowel a should be neither too close nor to open, but have the sound which belongs to the word l'anima. This vowel must be wholly founded upon the breath, and will become too open if the breath escapes before the sound is produced. The color of the voice depends upon a correct method of breathing. This study, as before stated, is the first and most important lesson and indispensable to success in singing. It is the only true foundation to build upon. The pupil must be careful, when attacking the sound, to hold the breath by imagining that he is still taking in more breath, so that the voice may lean upon it and be sustained by the column of air. The note will then be pure, with no slurring. Breath must be slowly taken in, in order to be slowly given out. The strength and duration of the sound depend upon the elasticity of the lungs. To test whether the breath is taken and expended rightly, the experiment of holding a lighted taper close to the mouth may be tried. If the flame does not flicker during the emission of the sound, it proves that the air is gently emitted and the pupil breaths correctly. Great care must be taken to avoid noisy breathing. It is very injurious to the singer and distressing to the listener. This fault is caused by not commencing to take breath through the nose. It is highly important that the breath should be sustained after the voice is taken off, just as if the note were still sung. This is done by expanding the diaphragm, and will assist and accustom the singer to broad phrasing. When a full breath has been taken, the note must be attacked immediately. Delay causes the bad habit of slurring, so common among singers. 

Voice, though most precious and necessary, is not all. The pupil must possess not only voice, and a fine ear, but also an artistic instinct, a musical temperament, and an excellent memory. No one should devote him or herself to this art who is without the first requisite, which is "voice." Or, if anyone possessing a strong voice and musical feeling (both natural gifts), after sufficient trial, should find it impossible to sing in tune, it would be folly to waste any further time and money in study. Persons having thin, weak voices, of small compass, should not be encouraged to study or expect to attain success, unless their age be such as to give hope of acquirement of further volume and compass. Art does not give more voice to any individual than nature has furnished him with. A pupil may study with all his energy, and with every care; he may succeed in learning to breath properly, but this does not give him more voice. Art does wonders in educating and bringing it out, but can never accomplish the miracle of reconstructing the organ of voice-production. Still art can do more than one would suppose. Pupils with small musical talent but good ear, have been trained, after acquiring a perfect system of breathing, to fill a fine position on the lyric stage. Of these, the women began study at about eighteen, and the men were not over twenty, as a rule. Young pupils of great musical ability, yet with small voices, have also found sympathetic audiences, and, after some years of practice, have developed their voices with good success. But a beautiful and powerful voice is useless unless educated by the rules of art—otherwise it will be nothing but one of the noise-machines of the modern stage. —Freund's Music and Drama

Hattie A. Farnsworth, "Lamperti's Method," Werner's Magazine of Expression, January, 1886: 4-5. 

November 18, 2015

The Smell of Fear

I can smell it in the air, just like I did after 9/11.

Fear with a capital F.

Students walk in the door with the faint whiff of why am I doing this circling them.  

What does this fear make us do? Check out locks, call our kids to tell them we love them, cancel vacations and rein everything in until we feel safe enough to stick our necks out again. 

It stops us cold. And we lock our breath. 

Some of us have a hard time recovering, that is, getting back to where we feel free enough to be ourselves again, while some of us never get going again. 

Who wins then? 

As this article in the NYTimes suggests, the response to the attack in Paris on the part of those in Fashion and Art has been to scale everything back, mute it down, and maintain a let's-not-toot-our-horn-just-right-now approach.

There’s a temptation, when confronted with fear, sadness and human loss, to turn away from luxury; a natural instinct to dismiss frivolous subjects as inappropriate at such a serious time. —NYTimes 

Likewise, are opera, cabaret, dance, theatre, rock & roll, Broadway and music lessons a luxury that must be discontinued in the face of fear? I mean: shouldn't we be making bombs instead? 

No! I say—a thousand times No

Whatever the actions of others, let us not rob ourselves of our humanity.

Photo Credit: Pinterest 

November 17, 2015

The Lamperti School: Albert B. Bach

Albert A. Bach (1844-1912)
The art of singing is, in spite of the great progress we have made in science, still based on empiricism. Originally the old Italians built up the whole art upon it; and only in our time has it received a more scientific foundation through Helmholtz, and especially in his 'Vocal Theory." ....Even Laryngoscopy has hitherto been of very little use in the development of the vocal art, as the formation of tone cannot be properly taught by its means; observations on the vocal chords can only be made on the vowel ae, and then it is necessary to have a foreign body in the mouth. The formation of tone under such conditions is too mechanical, and is indeed unnatural; the higher intellectual conception of tone is wanting. But the tone ought to be noble, poetical, and animated, and to be produced through inspiration, as only thus can we do justice to the art of singing.

It is unwise to break with our empirical traditions, and to look down upon the old Italians with disregard, as to overlook the progress which the art of singing has made through science. We must, however, not overestimate the latter. Let us go impartially through the different sciences, examine and investigate how far they are of practical use in the art of singing, and then we shall find that empiricism must always help us in our studies.

Hypotheses which have repeatedly served to explain certain phenomena are considered laws, but they cannot permanently have the necessary authority, and are displaced by higher hypotheses. It is indeed a wise ordinance of Nature that without mechanical instruments we cannot see the working of our voice apparatus, and we can only feel what we produce with it; for, after all, Art is entirely an outcome of Feeling.

The most important thing in the art of singing—I mean the colour of tone—cannot be described; we must hear good and cultivated singers, and they must in our studies enlighten us, and be our ideals. If the teacher be only a good musician, and not at the same time a good singer, the proper study of tone-formation is out of the question. It is such teachers that we have to thank for the new but false theories—that the learned ought to begin the tone-formation with the vowel u, and that there are five registers to equalize the human voice.

The excellent results we have obtained by the old method, in which Jenny Lind, Adelina Patti, Albani, Santley, Sims Revves, Lloyd, Lasalle, and others have been instructed, prove that, we should still cultivate and honor the old method, and adopt from the new only what is good and useful.

The vowel a (ah) is and remains forever the king of vowels; poor u has, after a service of centuries, not reached the position of a chamberlain, since it still fills, literally as well as figuratively, only the humble function of a "door-closer."

As to the registers, I will here only say that in some voices we observe feeble notes, which sound weak and contrast greatly with their stronger neighborly notes. Such, like all uncultivated voices, we can equalize by the true Old Method, which consists of piano singing.

In our studies we must never leave the ground of experience, and lose ourselves in speculations. The scientific foundations of singing—namely, acoustics, physiology, and anatomy—I have not fully treated, confining myself to such an exposition of them as I consider to be useful for the singer and musician. The ear, however, I have treated with particular care, as it is well known to be the best guide and teacher in our studies.

—Albert B. Bach, The Principles of Singing: a Practical Guide for Vocalists (1885): xi-xv.


The traditions of the old Italian schools have been bequeathed to Caselli, Aprili, Bordogni, Ronconi, Concone, Marchesi, García, Lamperti, Varesi, G. Engel, Seiber, Stockhausen, &c. All these masters taught, and some still teach, the old Italian method; but it is no longer Italy alone that teaches good singing. Every country has some intelligent teachers who are singers, and who have accepted and studied the old Italian method; and every town should have such masters, as these only can foster and further true vocal art.


Albert Bernard Bach (1844-1912), Hungarian baritone and author. He was born at Gyula and studied under Marchesi at the Vienna Conservatory in 1869-70, and later with Cunio, Weiss, and Gansbacher. He gave his first concert as a bass-baritone in Vienna. Later he studied in Milan (1876-77) under Lamperti, Ronconi, and Varesi, and sang at La Scala in 1877-78. He taught in Britain and German after 1886, and also sang there in oratorio and concert.

—Brian Tyson, Bernard Shaw's Book Reviews (2008), Vol 1: 117.


Art is entirely an outcome of Feeling. So wrote Albert B. Bach, and I could not agree more. This is literally true from the perspective of Alfred A. Tomatis, who observed that the vestibule of the ear regulates the feeling of the body within space. As such, singing is not only a matter of emotional feeling, but also physical feeling. To sing—and to sing well—the body must feel extended, lifted up, and innervated—even if you are singing the blues. These feelings, which Tomatis understood as the product of an open ear, was understood by old school voice teachers as the Singer's Sensation, and was discovered and refined through inhalation through the nose with the mouth closed or only very slightly open. You know you are finding your way forward when you can feel the muscles of your head move; and when these muscles move and are maintained from the get-go—rather than after 10 or 12 seconds of inhalation—every vocal technique will be within your reach, including the messa di voce, mezza voce, staccato, trill and coup de glotte of García.


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November 13, 2015

Mme. Schoen-René Sails on the Orbita

Madam Schoen-René c. 1921
Among the musicians sailing on the Orbita on Saturday, May 21, from New York was Mme. A. E Schoen-René, widely known as a vocal instructor. Mme. Schoen-René is on her way to Berlin, where from June 1 to Sept 15 she will hold master classes in voice, including both concert and opera répertoire. It is her plan to teach there during these months and return to New York in October, teaching here from then until May, 1, 1922.

For many years she has had prominent pupils in the opera houses of Europe, where she has long be recognized as an authoritative teacher. In New York this season she had among her professional pupils Florence Easton, soprano of the Metropolitan Opera, Mary Kent, contralto, known both in the concert field and as a member Scotti Opera Company at Ravinia Park, Ill. George Meader, who studied with Mme. Schoen-René abroad, has worked here with her also and has now been engaged by Mr. Gatti-Casazza as a member of the Metropolitan Opera Company beginning next fall. Francis Maclennan, the operatic tenor, who has appeared with the Chicago Opera Company in Chicago and with the Society of American Singers in New York, has been studying with her and recently won a brilliant success as Radames in "Aida" at the Hamburg Opera.

Musical America, June 11, 1921.  (Note: Francis Maclennan was the husband of Florence Easton,  while Marie von Essen took the stage name of Mary Kent.) 


Two years before being invited to join the Juilliard School faculty, Madam Schoen-René was spending her summers teaching in Berlin, where she worked with Lucie Manén, who has appeared on these pages and recorded something of Schoen-René's teaching in Bel Canto: The Teaching of the Classical Italian Song Schools; It's Decline and Restoration (1987). Her word for this teaching was "imposto," which is a invented term for impostazione della voce—the placing of the voice.

Manén supposed that the singer could influence the action of the vocal folds by compressing the anterior nares of the nose together, which initiated a "ventricular mechanism" in the larynx. Of course, this had voice scientists running to disprove the idea, which is understandable, since no direct connection between the nose and the larynx is known to exist, nor is there some kind of switch behind the nose even if it feels that like to some (the nose is in the middle of the face and its muscles, don't you know). However, the savvy reader of this blog will know that there is a direct neural connection between the face and the ear, and that the ear plays a role in the action of the muscles of the body, which includes those of the larynx. This is the work of Alfred A. Tomatis.

If you really want to know what Manén was trying to describe, I encourage you to inhale slowly and gently through your nose (lips together teeth apart) for 12 to 18 seconds, suspend your breath and feel what is happening in the muscles of your head and face.

Click on the labels below to learn more. 

November 12, 2015

Florence Easton: Grandchild of Viardot & Garcia

Florence Easton (1882-1955)
To the Musical Courier: 

It gave me a great deal of pleasure to read the wonderful article about Pauline Viardot-García in a recent issue of the Musical Courier. My teacher, Madame Schoen-René, studied with Viardot for twenty-five years, first as a singer and later as a teacher; and from 1897 until the summer before he died, Madam Schoen-René studied with Viardot's brother, Manuel García, as a teacher of male voices. One of Schoen-René's most treasured possessions is a letter from Viardot (which I have seen), saying: "You are not only one of my most beloved pupils, but you are absolutely competent to teach, mine and my brother Manuel García's method of singing. Your pupils may call themselves our grandchildren." Madam Viardot wrote many very lovely songs most of which Schoen-René studied and sang with her. I have studied some of these songs with Schoen-René this summer and will sing them in America during the coming season. I am very proud to be able to call myself a grandchild of Viardot and García. 


Berlin, August, 1921 

The Musical Courier, Volume 83, September 1, 1921: 37.

November 11, 2015

Perfection in Singing by Giovanni Clerici

Giovanni Clerici (1861-1924)
It took a bit of creative sleuthing to find basic information about Giovanni Clerici, a highly regarded singing teacher in London. 

Conducting a careful search using Google Books and historical newspapers, I found Clerici's death and birth date after entering his name and the city of his last known residence, which happened to be Torquay, England—known as the "English Riviera."

Such an interesting fellow, Giovanni Clerici. He wrote a one act operetta—Lorraine—which was given its premiere at the Theatre Royal in Torquay in 1898, and also one of the more interesting and enjoyable books I have come across.

While I haven't yet been able to ascertain who Clerici studied with yet—assuming, of course, he studied with someone, his book—Perfection in Singing (1906)contains the kind of advice one expects from an old Italian school maestro. It's also excellent advice too. 

One of Clerici's students was a Jamaican gentleman by the name of Louis Drysdale, who sang in England as a member of the Kingston Union Choral, and rather than return to Jamaica, stayed in England and took lessons with Clerici and Gustave García. "Dri" as he was called, became a very good teacher in his own right—his most famous student being a young Marion Anderson.

Perfection in Singing is very much worth your time—Clerici's opening gambit alone worthy of attention. 

To the Teacher  

Cultivate all sorts of desirable moral qualities. 

Thus, be gentle, yet firm; genial yet dignified; eager yet patient; learned but not pedantic; versatile but not delusory; systematic but not inflexible; reverent to all classic things, but not bigoted or narrow towards all new things that are good. Finally, cultivate a kindly and friendly relation between yourself and your pupils. Make them feel as though you are taking them by the hand as children, to travel into a land of "fairy," as Spencer said:  

"Music does demand much toil and many weary hours of drudgery from her votaries, but how wondrously does she reward the brave and faithful who endure her trial. 

While notions of fairyland may make the reader smile, that same reader should not forget how music made his heart open, soar, and even brought him to tears. That it has this power is certain. Learning to wield it is a whole other matter. 

Perfection in Singing is an excellent resource. 

November 9, 2015

What do the muscles of the middle ear do?

from "The Ear and the Voice" 
There are two tiny muscles in the middle ear, the tensor tympanum, which is associated with the hammer, and the stapedius which is associated with the stirrup.

What do they do?

Using a compact description from brtbalu's otolaryngology, we see that the contraction of the stapedius fixes the stirrup and 1) reduces the "transmission by up to 30 dB for frequencies less than 1-2 KHz," while both muscles serve to 2) "dampen unwanted resonances in the middle ear system causing spoken words to be heard with clarity." These two muscles also 3) protect the ear from "damage due to excess noise" and 4) attenuate the low frequency sounds from within the body.

This is the standard view.

However, it should be pointed out that the four points above outline a passive rather than an active perspective, this being the difference between hearing and listening, the latter the observation of Alfred A. Tomatis, who had very different ideas regarding the role of the muscles in the middle ear arising from his astute observation that there is a space between the stirrup and the cochlea which does not permit the full transmission of frequencies. As such, his view —as I understand it—is that the middle ear acts less like a transducer than it does an antennae, the actual transmission of sound taking place via the bone in which the anatomy of the middle ear is encased.

Excellent listening is most likely when accompanied by exceedingly functional hearing. Fitness of muscles in the middle ear makes possible the optimal use of hearing. This requires an ongoing coordination between the muscles of the hammer and the stirrup. Under optimal conditions, these muscles act synergistically rather than antagonistically. Their reciprocal actions induce an optimal tone resulting from a balance between the flexors and the extensor muscles. 
The muscle of the stirrup is an extensor; the muscle of the hammer is a flexor. The muscle of the stirrup regulates the inner ear. It is the last of the extensors to have developed and controls a set of synergies that will be described in the chapter about posture. 
The regulatory system controlled by the ear impacts the whole body and prepares it for singing. In fact, to "prick up one's ears" is to open them. Moreover, it also opens the entire body by acting on all the extensors.  
—Alfred A. Tomatis, The Ear and the Voice: 52. 

Tomatis was the first person to observe the integration of the muscles of the ear with those of the body, specifically the interplay of the extensors and flexors. It's a matter which many singing teachers perceive intuitively by observing how the student enters the studio. The student who enters upright with an open countenance and resonant speaking voice (they go together don't you know) is going to have a very different lesson than the student who enters with head hanging and mouth mumbling. In the case of the latter, a teacher who can enable the student to extend is nothing short of a miracle worker.

November 8, 2015

Henderson's Three Words

William James Henderson (1855-1937) 
Three words must be kept in mind when thinking of breathing in the art of song: These words are "slow," "gentle," "deep." All the old masters insisted that breathing in song should be of the character described by these three terms. If the reader desires the names of some of these masters, here they are: Nicolo Porpora, Antonio Bernacchi, Antonio Pistocchi, Leonardo Leo, Domenico Gizzi Francesco Durnate, Guiseppi Amador and Francesco Brivio. The fundamentals of the method taught by these masters were the pure legato and sonorous, beautiful tone. To this they added training in vocal agility, but it must be ever borne in mind that this training was superimposed on a course of instruction in breathing and tone formation. 


Henderson was a highly regarded music critic at the New York Times, who, along with his colleagues Henry T. Finck, Henry E. Krehbeil, James G. Huneker and Richard Aldrich (who translated Lilli Lehmann's idiosyncratic Mein Gesangskunst into English), dominated the New York musical scene—and thereby influenced national standards—from 1880 to 1920.

There is much to learn from Henderson's criticism (and his book The Art of Singing), if only because he wrote about singers and singing in a way that is not done today. Here is one except from his column at the New York Times:

Occasion has frequently been taken to comment in this place on the bad singing of opera singers. Certainly most of them ought to stay as far way from the concert platform as possible. The stormy applause audiences of the Sunday night concert audiences means nothing. The is proved every year as soon as the opera season comes to an end. Throughout the Winter, while the opera is in full blast, the Sunday night concerts at the Opera House, where the singers of Mr. Grau's company display their vocal shortcomings, are attended by great audiences. These applaud and cheer the just and the unjust alike. But the instant that the opera seasons ends and the worshipped singers depart to that mysterious region known and "the road," some venturesome manager gives Sunday night concerts at the Metropolitan and brings forward singers not known to the opera mob, or instrumental performers of the first rank and forthwith there are empty seats. 
What does this mean? Simply that the Sunday night audiences are not composed of the music lovers of New York, but of that separate and singular class to which an opera singer is a sort of divinity. To the unbiased mind there is something pitiable in this attitude of prostration before the opera singing, and to those who have opportunity to peep behind the scenes of musical life it is contemptible. We are all weak and puny mortals, but none punier than the opera singer. But I shall be told that the worship of opera singers is not personal: it is for their God-given voices, their marvelous talents, their unique accomplishments. 
Well, it is true that most of them have uncommonly good voices. It is true that a few, a smaller few, have real talent, and it is also true that two or three of them have actually not buried those talents, like the man in the parable, but have, like the other man, doubled or trebled them by their industry. These are the singers whom the thoughtful commentator on musical doing delights to praise. But it is also true that there are opera singers who have neglected to cultivate their talents, who have not mastered the art of rightly using the voice, and who have not done anything whatever toward refining their taste, deepening their perceptions, broadening their conceptions, or disciplining their emotions. These singers break almost every law of art every time they appear upon the stage, but they are applauded to the echo. 
New York Times, Sunday, March 23, 1902 

You know what? My ears tell me that Henderson's criticism, written more than a century ago, could be made today.

Henderson studied singing with the noted bel canto maestro and voice teacher Angelo Torriani, wrote a librettonovel and textbook for yacht-sailing, and took his own life at the age of 81, three days after the death of his long-time friend and colleague Richard Aldrich.

Find out more about Henderson here, as well as at Justin Petersen's blog, which you can find here.

When you are done tooling around, you might take up Henderson's teaching; go sit somewhere quietly, shut your mouth, and breath slowly, gently and deeply. 

Photo Credit: New Jersey Biographical Dictionary (2008) 

November 7, 2015

ear ache

It happens during my first week at the Listening Centre in Toronto. Or rather, I become aware that something is happening.

The muscles of my ear begin to ache. 

The ache reminds me of what it feels like to wear a new pair of glasses that don't fit quite right. But this is more than that. I feel the ache inside and out. Not just behind the ear.

Then there is the matter of my posture. My spine, from the middle of my back to up into my head, feels achy too. Stretched from the inside out, its the oddest thing. Not painful at all, I feel like I've had a strong workout at the gym—my head is being pulled up and back, accompanied by an ache that hurts so good. I feel this way towards the end of every two hour session, and not only anticipate the feeling, but welcome it—the three muscles surrounding the auricle especially tender. At times, the ache is accompanied by the strong urge to close my eyes and meditate, while at other times, I feel the urge to create—which I do by making collages from magazine cuttings. Oh, they tell a story alright, for those with eyes to see.

What's happening? The muscles of my ear are responding to being stimulated with high frequency tone.

November 5, 2015

The Lamperti School: George L. Osgood

George L. Osgood (1844-1922) 
I must thank Justin Petersen of Boston for reminding me of a fascinating book by George L. Osgood—a tenor student of Francesco Lamperi—that is now available for download at 

I'd read Osgood's Art in Singing: Based on the Reliable Traditions of the Italian School of Vocalization and Practical Developments of Modern Science at the New York Public Library a decade ago when the research division was relocated downtown and the library at the Lincoln Center campus was being renovated. Back then, the NYPL database wasn't as sophisticated as it is now, and it behooved one to conduct a search through the music library's large black books. (In fact, I still use them from time to time since it's always good to double-check everything). Be that as it may, I didn't do much research on the book since Osgood did not mention Lamperti in his manual (not an unusual thing actually), though he did mention that he followed "the traditions of Bernacchi of Bolgona" which is Lamperti's school—which I somehow overlooked (hand-to-forehead), and had not yet full-developed and adhered to a research checklist. (Learning curve anyone? Give me a name or title now, and I will go to town.) So when Petersen floated Osgood's book before my eyes, I did what I should have done years ago, and found Osgood studied with Lamperti in Milan for three years after first studying with another important old school voice teacher in Berlin—Ferdinand Sieber! Moral of the story? Keep impeccable records, and keep digging until you find your gold—the bright torch of teachings passing from teacher to student being an important matter. 

Word was received in Boston last evening of the death yesterday in England of George L. Osgood, for many years prominent in musical circles in this city. He retired some time ago and had lived in England for the last 13 years. 
Born in Chelsea 78 years ago, the son of John H. and Adeline Stevens Osgood, he graduated from Harvard in 1866. He was director of the Harvard Glee Club and after graduation he went to Berlin and studied with Haupt and Sieber. After three years in Germany he went to Italy and studied there with Lamperti for three years. Later he gave a series of concerts throughout Europe. 
His first wife was Jennette Calot Farley, daughter of the late James T. Farley, well known stock broker. His eldest son George L. Osgood, Jr., who at present lives in Newton Centre, was born in Italy. In 1872 he returned to America and toured with Theodore Thomas's orchestra at that time the leading musical organization in America.
Later he came to Boston and became director and solo tenor of Emmanuel Church, Back Bay, where remained for 12 years. He also led several singing organizations, including the Boylston Club and the the Boston Singers Society. 
Besides George L. Osgood, Jr., he had two other children by his first wife; Farley Osgood, vice-president of the Public service Electric Company of New Jersey, and Mrs. Frank Oydelotte, wife of the president of Swarthmore Collge.
His second wife was June Bright, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Horace Bright of Cambridge. By her he had two sons, Lowell and Hamilton, who live with their mother in England.
—The Boston Herald, Wednesday, December 13, 1922: 2.  

George L. Osgood, who's middle name was Laurie, also wrote quite a few songs, some of which you can find here. And yes, Osgood not only sang at Emmanuel Church in Boston, but also directed the choir. Dig through historical newspapers, and you will find that Osgood was a first-rate musician and teacher whose students also became voice teachers. Lastly, for those who know their way around the pedagogical block, Osgood's book has all the tell-tale signs of being a product of the Lamperti School—which you can find yourself when you plumb its depths (the voice being based on chest voice is a huge matter—which is what Lamperti meant when he said that [a] had to be taken at the very bottom of the throat). Great stuff, I was thrilled to learn more about it. You see? Research is a never-ending proposition. You just have to exercise your curiosity.

It is frequently the case that an author is not the best interpreter of his own works. Geo. L. Osgood the well-known tenor of Boston, some years ago, went to Robert Franz with the view of studying some of his songs with him. While singing one of them, Mr. Osgood inquired as to the proper breathing-place in one of the phrases. "Breath," says the somewhat irritated Herr Franz, "breath, of course, when your wind gives out—what else would you?" 
The Voice, June 1885: 92. 

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November 3, 2015

The Ear and the Voice: Workshop

Yes, it's finally happening! I am presenting a workshop on December 5th in New York City on the ear and the voice, the work of Alfred A. Tomatis, and its resonance with the old Italian school of singing. 

The fruit of direct experience with Tomatis' methodology, copious research in historical vocal pedagogy, and observation and application in the voice studio, I am very excited to be sharing this information with others! It is transformative. 

This will be a practical and experiential workshop, designed for actors, singers and voice teachers, who will delve into the material presented with their own voices, thoughts and perceptions. It was also be fun. Find out more here.

November 1, 2015

A Great Deal of Ugliness

Sim Reeves (1821-1900)
A great deal of ugliness can be removed by careful and skillful treatment. The best way to begin with a pupil who is in this category is by experiment with the various vowel sounds. You will soon find the one that gives the best result in the way of beauty of tone, and having found it you must work very patiently on that vowel on the lines I have laid down, and very gradually take the other vowels from it, being careful to make them all match in tone colour. There will surely be some personal characteristics in every case of this kind, and you must take care that you do not eliminate these. After a time you will find that the pupil will become possessed of a new kind of voice, and it should not sound an artificial or made one. I know many instances of the latter kind, but there is always something unsatisfactory an unsatisfying in them, however much it may be hidden (and it often is) by the art and personality of the singer. 

One of the best pupils I ever had came to me originally with a voice quite the reverse of beautiful. So you must not despair for the ugly voice, but you will have to take even more pains with it than with the beautiful ones, and you will soon find that the training of the one can be made quite as interesting as that of the other. 

Harry Gregory Hast, The Singer's Art: Letters from a Singing Master (1925). 20-21. 


This is a really wonderful old book which, unfortunately, cannot be found in a database. To mine its gold, you'll have to go to a library, or snap up a copy at, which is where I found my own. Full of sound advice and excellent instruction, its writer—Harry Gregory Hast, was trained in the principles of the Old School as a student of Charles Santley and Sim Reeves, too titans of singing in England during the latter part of the 19th century.