December 23, 2017

Open Throat

What is it exactly? The feeling one has in the pharynx? The exterior of the neck itself? The elevation of the soft palate, or the space above the tongue in the front of the mouth? Hello? What exactly is it?

The problem with these questions is that they all refer to anatomy and physiology, and that's not what the old Italian school meant by an open throat. So, what did the old Italian school mean?

They meant that which is not hard to describe on the page, though it can't be heard on the page. And that's my point here: An open throat is heard both by the singer as well as the listener. Sure, it may involve movements within the pharynx, neck, and soft palate, but if you reduce it to the movement of muscles you have missed the whole point entirely. 

This goes back to an earlier post, which offered the perspective that singing is not a mechanical proposition. 

Does the runner strive to move various muscles of his or her leg to run? I think not. But the mechanical view holds sway with many voice professionals now—and I say professionals if only because conductors, coaches, and acting teachers, etc., are all in the act. Everyone is teaching voice, and, I wager, a great majority of them from the modern view—which concerns itself with the movement of muscles. 

But what does this have to do the the training of the student's ear? Very little actually. 

There was a time—not that long ago—when students were taught to hear different qualities of tone—and one might even say the right quality of tone—and learned to find their way by inculcating the old concept referred to in this post; one that is evidenced in fullness and freedom; no hint of the throat or nose; and a vibrant buoyancy that hangs—spins if you will—in the air of a theatre and reaches its farthest corners with great ease and immediacy.  

Openness is open: not closed, muffled or squeezed; tight or emitted through the teeth. Yet it can be a hard quality to attain if only because American vowels have none of it. Italian does. But oh, we are singing in English! Why do we need to parrot those sounds?

Because Italian vowels contain the sounds of singing! Master these sounds—make the vowels pure—and the muscles will follow. 

Does this mean the American has to sing in Italian? No, is does not. But it does mean that the student has to study with a teacher who can demonstrate their meaning and practical application. 

The fact remains that muscles can only obey the ear; and the ear of most singers needs a great deal of training. Train the ear and you have a real thing. Train muscles without the ear, and you have achieved nothing more than a great waste of time. 

November 7, 2017

Remembering Margaret Harshaw

She died 20 years ago today, on the 7th of November, 1997. Remembered and mourned by countless students, colleagues, and the listening public, Harshaw was known for her full-throated, gleaming, silvery voice—the likes of which this listener has yet to hear again—and her strong influence on vocal pedagogy as the doyenne of voice teachers. Controversial, intelligent, quick-witted, authoritative, and possessing the best one-liner ever heard, she embodied the teaching of the Garcías through her studies with Anna Eugénie Schoen-René, who had been the student of both Pauline Viardot-García, and her famous brother, Manuel García—the first person to use the laryngoscope to view the vocal folds in action. Harshaw's strong influence ripples throughout the community of singers today; a bulwark against the boys with toys, teachers with credentials but no voice, voce-vista mad world we live in. A singer and teacher who lived and breathed bel canto, she was the pole star by which many found their way.

Photo Credit—Shigo Voice Studio, 1957 headshot. 

Drink, You Goose!

Though vocal music seems no longer to be the exact science it once was in Italy, though its methods have become unsettled, though its conservatories have declined in prosperity and discipline, though the enthusiastic reverence of the people for its interpreters has died down, perhaps for the scarcity of really great artists, though the masters who cherish the old traditions are fast passing away, the faith of the Italians in their own musical supremacy, their intolerance of other schools, their belief that vocal music can only live and breath through their language, that Italian composers and singers can alone worthily interpret the divine art, has not abated or declined on iota. Their latests, if not last, great composer, Ponchielli, has lately died here in Milan, and their greatest maestro has overpass man's allotted time. Judging fly his works, Francesco Lamperti, must be pronounced the master of masters. His career as a teacher is brilliant with stars. The list is too long to be given here. It runs from Campanani to Collini, from La Grange to Van Zandt, that poor, storm beaten little singing bird, now said to be dying at Cannes. Mohave had such unparalleled success, Lamperti must have possessed from the first, a sure, soft, consistent, thorough and philosophic method; and even now when they say that method has settled and stiffened into a hobby, I believe that a student who has the brains and will the will to master it, and not be mastered by it, the time and patience, and of course the voice to carry it out, cannot fail of becoming a good artist. But the process is long, and at first discouraging; for Lamperti has a peculiar, persistence idea that the voice must be kept back—subdued, and snubbed; gradually, very gradually, he lets it up and out, having an inexpressible horror of the senseless roaring and screaming of undisciplined singers. For a while, his pupils must walk by faith, almost forgetting the sound of their own voices. I was lately present at one of his lessons, and found it very interesting to watch the great master, white-haired, pallid, trial, seeming only alive, but all alive through music. No slightest error in time, tone, pronunciation or expression escapes his ear. He is a very plain-spoken old gentleman; and, his idea being that the voice can best be kept back and in the subjection by the action of the larynx used in swallowing, he frequently calls out to a young lady inclined to vocal forth-putting: "Bevete, oca!" which does not exactly mean "Drink, pretty creature, drink!" but "Drink, you goose!"

It struck me that this almost preternatural auricular alertness, this severe and often irascible exactitude and exaction must be very trying to nervous and sensitive pupils; but I am told that, with few exceptions, the earnest students take his discipline and drilling and even scolding serenely, bearing much from him because he is an old man, and more because he is "old Lamperti." Still, to go through and finish a good old-fashioned course with his exacting master, a singer must keep a stout heart and a "stiff upper lip," must turn a deaf ear to the dolorous "keeners" who are already holding a wake of Italian opera, must believe that he is at least gaining something which no musical mutations can take from him that splendid mastery and management of the breath, which is the foundation of singing, and which no master of our time has taught like Lamperti. In the relentless course of Nature, this doyen of masters must soon cease from his labors. It would seem that after fifty years of solfeggi, not unwelcome would be the thought of "the eternal silence." Who is to take his place? In Rome, Naples, Florence, Bologna, Venice, are teachers of note, while here in Milan, their name is legion. Some are able and all are willing, but not a few, I am sorry to say, have proved themselves—to the American pupils at least—to be the merest charlatans—pretentious, mercenary, false, and grossly dishonest. Of one professor who has but lately taken up teaching, after a long and splendid career as a singer, I have heard from some of my young countrymen very good and honorable reports. This is Signor Giroldoni, still at sixty years of age in full possession of a magnificent baritone voice, which speaks well for his method. By the way, for this singer, Verdi wrote his "Ballo in Maschera." Very quietly, without advertisement of any kind. Signor Giroldoni has, in conjunction with this wife, also a celebrity, open, in his own house, a school of singing and given himself, with all his genius and accomplishments, heartily to his new work.

—Extract from Grace Greenwood's "The Study of Italian Opera: Method and Masters," The Independent, October 14, 1886, page 38.

November 6, 2017

The Requirements of Bel Canto

Bel canto, beautiful singing! That has to do with tone quality: the voice must be trained for beautiful quality in all the details of forte, crescendo, decrescendo and mezzavoce (no fortissimo or pianissimo exists properly in singing, for that would take away from the true principle of execution), which we may classify as matters of technique. The student must first acquire the rudiments of perfect control, in order to be able to sing the plain cultivated style in Italian, German, and French; the plain style being the old Italian music where technical execution must be faultless. It is not easy, and requires complete control of the breath through diaphragmic support, tone production through vocalization, full even tone, and the flawless blending of registers, besides absolute knowledge of technique on the teacher's side—who must guide the pupil in the different stages of style. Then, after an absolute technique is acquired, whether for expression in music of the plain or florid type, sentiment must be expressed, without a trace of sentimentality, which is a passionate low expression of rubato. The pupil is then fitted to express even the true rubato, that is, the declamatory style in music.

We are hopeful today that the Garcías' intelligent production of the voice will continue to attract disciples to the tradition of bel canto, which has been acknowledge universally as the only technique for the singing of dramatic as well as lyric compositions.

—extract from Anna E. Schoen-René's America's Musical Inheritance: Memories and Reminiscences (1941), page 94-95.

One reads the words above and begins to understand why Madam Schoen-René was called the "Prussian General." For her, bel canto vocal technique was not a personal elective, but an absolute matter that required discipline, commitment, intense study, and application. Enter her studio, and you would be kept on scales and exercises for a least a year. The result? She was noted as having more students at the Metropolitan Opera than anyone else, except for Oscar Saenger, who also held his students to matters of technique for a protracted period. What has changed since these two teachers were on the scene? Everything! 

November 5, 2017

Practical vs Scientific Knowledge

The sound now proceeds either through the mouth or behind the uvula, through the passages of the head. Now it is just at this point, the division between the two, that the tone of the well-placed voice should seem to be—this is the sensation point, forward as possible—reflected if I may so speak, by the pharynx (which extends from the base of the skull to the little bone at the root of the tongue).

This will assure us that the head should not on any account be thrown back. Now, for the voce di petto, the open tone, the uvula and velum palate should be raised, that the voice should come freely and with resonance through the mouth—not drawn back, else a throaty tone would ensue. This open tone through the mouth is capable of great delicacy and should be so cultivated. It should not be confined to loud and robust tones. Great care, however, is needed to find out its true natural limits, beyond which it should never be forced. These limits once well assured, cultivation should be kept within them, otherwise ti would be at the sacrifice of the voice. How necessary then for a master to have real practical knowledge of how to treat a voice, if he have not scientific knowledge!

But for the upper register, the voce di testa, or head voice—not falsetto—instead of the sound coming through the mouth it comes through the cavities of the head. When the sound leaves the back of the throat, that is, the bag of the pharynx, it passes over or behind the uvula, and thus through the passages of the head.

I need not trouble you with any scientific statements as to the power of the trachea to elongate itself, or to contract its dimensions, or to the fact that it falls considerably when the di petto di voce ceases, and rises again for the bright tones—the voce di testa. I will simply observe that the seat of sensation of these two productions should be nearly as possible the same. There should be a note attainable from both registers, and it should be in the power of the singer to go from one register to the other and back again while on that note. (In an ascending passage, for example, requiring a note usually taken when alone in the head register, the progression would be improved by that last note being in the same register as the preceding one. This would prevent a sort of anti-climax.) The blending of the two registers here is a point I would urge as an evidence of the right placing of the voice. When they do not blend the production is usually not forward enough. When it is remembered that only the lower jaw moves in opening the mouth, I am at a loss to find out how it is that some persons throw the head back in the endeavor to reach a high note, when the several organs are in front. The result of this action rather impedes the sound from proceeding through the channels of the head, besides straining the muscles generally, and almost leading to the conclusion that a person so acting though the voice passage are the food passage, the larynx and the oesophagus were one and the same.

The bending of these two registers by some artists is so well done that is is at times difficult to say which is being used, the open or the "bright," as Braham used to call the voce di testa.

The fact that this upper register voice comes through the head should will suggest that the head should incline rather forward than otherwise, the back part of the tongue slightly rising to diffract the sound behind the uvula and soft palate and through the activates of the head; but for the tone generally, the tongue should lie flat in the bed of the mouth, so that the sound should not be impeded.

Acting in this way with respect to the voce di petto and the voce di testa, the singer will be free from the two great defects of nasal and throaty tone, and, which is a great desideratum, free from fatigue after a good amount of singing.

If, as is the case, some of the greatest physiologists speak with becoming hesitation on this difficult subject, owing to the complexity of the structure and the many functions the several organs of the voice have to perform, your present reader, who speaks with extended experience and close observation, may content himself with giving opinion and judgement (with respect to the production and the placing of the voice) on the ground of sensation, supported by such scientific knowledge as he could master.

Permit me to repeat—that the voice is best placed whose excellence is dependent upon its sensational proximity to the uvula and soft palate. Whether the sounds go through the mouth, or through the posterior nostrils by means of the ponticello (the little bridge), the sensation to the singer should be as nearly as possible the same.

—Excerpted from Frederic Penna's "Some Thoughts on Singing." Proceedings of the Musical Association, 16th Sess. (1889-1890). Penna was a student of Sir George Smart, a noted British conductor, vocal pedagogue, and exponent of the old Italian school of singing.

How far off Penna's insistent words about voice placement can seem, until one picks up the the latest issue of the Journal of Singing (Nov/Dec 2017) and finds, buried in an article about tone color: 

"The Singers formant cluster is tuned by the epilarynx and various micro adjustments along the vocal tract, and is also perceived/felt to be higher, often in the area of the nasopharynx and in the bony structures of the front quarter of the skull (the so called mask area). —Kenneth Bozeman, "The Pedagogic Use of Absolute Spectral Tone Color Theory," JOS, page 180. 

Huh, I think to myself: So glad you could catch up to Penna, Lamperti, Vanuccini, Nava, Sangiovanni, García, Viardot-García, Schoen-René, Harshaw, and many others who knew this before you were born. Mind you, the teachers of the old Italian school—and most emphatically that of Lamperti—would not say "often in the area of the nasopharynx and in the bony structures of the front quarter of the skull." No, they would insist on it. How to bring this phenomena about? That's a whole other matter, one which—for starters—involves a canny use of vowels. 

October 8, 2017

What Isn't Taught Anymore

In two words? Voice Placement. But oh, if you read the multitude of writers as I have from a hundred years ago, you would find the term, concept and idea of voice placement to be ubiquitous.

Why don't you hear about it now? Well, to put matters succinctly, modern voice teachers have been trained to think of the vocal tract as the only resonator. The sinus cavities? They can't resonate. Ergo, you shouldn't think about them buzzing with sound. That's elective. Personal. Like money, sex and religion. Not to be talked about in polite company.

However, this line of thinking operates out of a false premise. It assumes that a cavity must be involved. It also assumes that old Italian school voice teachers were naive and misinformed.

But what if the whole matter isn't about resonating cavities? Has anyone given much thought to the matter? Not that I can tell. Sure, voice science goes on about forced resonance, but this line of thinking proceeds from the same old assumption, which is that everything that happens vocally comes from the actions of the larynx. Ok. I buy that. But that is only half of the equation.

What about the ear? If singing really is simply a matter of pushing air through the glottis, well, why aren't we all great singers?

We aren't all great singers because the role of the ear is even more hidden than that of the larynx, the knowledge of which Manuel García unleashed upon the world with his investigations. And the scientific community has remained there ever since, the role of the ear in singing being accorded second-class status. Sure, everyone pays lip-service to how the ear is involved in singing, but only one man—Alfred Tomatis—has given any real thought to the matter.

Tomatis is the guy who first observed that a child in the womb can hear the mother's voice. And people thought he was nuts for saying that. Turns out he was right. He was also the guy who proved that the larynx can only emit a sound that is first perceived by the ear. But who is studying the repercussions of his observation? Very few people. Everyone else is still looking down the rabbit hole. As a result, the teaching of singing has degenerated into manipulation upon manipulation.

Who needs ears when you can push the hell out of your voice? Or croon away like a musical theatre singer on the operatic stage?

Rather than deny what has been taught for centuries, it would be better for voice scientists to open their ears and ask why old Italian school vocal pedagogues taught this principle (read Vocal Wisdom for starters). Hello. Just because you don't understand something doesn't mean it doesn't exist.

Of course, many vocal pedagogues who consider themselves adherents to the teachings of the old Italian school of singing don't teach voice placement.

To this we've come.

October 6, 2017

Singing Is Not a Mechanical Proposition

You'd be forgiven if you thought otherwise, especially if you have been immersing yourself in reams of voice science information. What happens? Since most of this information is about "parts," one is fooled into thinking that manipulating the parts is the thing to do. Push on this or that muscle, or—and I love this one—"move" the air—and voila!—one obtains vocal nirvana. 

Your voice does not need you to "move" air, lip-trill, or press on your abdomen, or any such nonsense. That's like shooting a basketball into a hoop with your eyes closed. In auditory terms, we're talking about the ear being closed. 

What is one old-school approach? Calling with the clear desire to communicate. Calling to the friend across the street that you are surprised to see, haven't seen in 10 years, and can't wait to greet. Calling with quality, that is, with the intention to be heard clearly. (Need I mention that this isn't yelling?) Do this, and you will likely find that your ear will coordinate the parts without interference. Do this on a lower pitch and you will discover "singing position." Do this on an Italianate [a] — not easy if you speak in your nose or throat — and the throat will "open." 

To be sure, old-school voice teachers have their tricks of the trade which one might be seduced into thinking are mechanical aids, but they aren't that at all—which one learns with long experience. What does one observe instead? That these same methods can be understood as involving a global response of the auditory system—a system which organizes the parts unconsciously. 

September 20, 2017

Nothing but Technique for Months

Miss Gilberg is preparing for a song recital which she will give in the Grand Opera House some time in February, the proceeds from which will enable her to give her time entirely to the study of the voice preparatory for the stage. 

She is a pupil of Mrs Nellie Quinton Adams. Mrs Adams has had thirteen years of study under the best teachers and is thoroughly schooled in the old Italian method. She holds a teacher's certificate from John O'Neill, Nordica's teacher, to whom Nordica gave the credit of making her voice all that it was. O'Neill was a pupil of Manuel Garcia, the greatest of old Italian masters. Madam Marchesi was also a pupil of Garcia's, and every pupil of Garcia and his pupil's pupils, have his technique, which can only be gotten in this way, as it is not in print. So those who study with Mrs Adams get this same technique and training that has made the world's greatest singers. And her pupils have that assurance as the fact is established through the line of the world's greatest teachers. 

Mrs Adams says: "Our old Italian masters taught their pupils to sing naturally, but because they were Italians their manner of teaching is called "the old Italian method." Garcia, Lamperti, Marchesi, and all of the old masters gave their pupils nothing but technique for months, that the tones might be properly placed, the breath controlled, the registers evened, and for a certain amount of development and execution. Many things can only be acquired through technique. So those who attempt to sing songs before the proper technique is mastered meet with failure."

"It is an established fact that classical music is enjoyed by everyone when it is sung by one with pleasing voice, who sings correctly and with the soul of the master. The fault is not with the unschooled ear, or the masses, but with the singers. The voice with the abominable tremolo due to forcing of lack of support: The voice worn and broken from wrong singing; The voice that is always off key: The baritone who presumes to sing tenor: The Singer who resorts to contortions of the body to effect a climax: The singer who tightens and forces so that he is obliged to take quiting powders for his throat: The quartette composed of voices that never blend or harmonize and could not get past a critic on the first point raised: The playing of the church organist who plays the same voluntary many Sundays in succession because she has had but one organ lesson: The pianist who plays with no soul are the things that have prejudiced the masses against classical music because they do not know that it is the rendition of the music and not the composition that has displeased them. So it is the performer who needs to be educated, and not the masses. Narrow, self-centered, fakes and grafters, are responsible to a great degree for existing conditions. So that now genuine artists only can ever raise the standard of music."

Excerpts from "A Benefit for Miss Rose Gilberg, at the Grand Opera House in February," The Topeka Daily State Journal, January 9, 1916, p 8. 

September 19, 2017

When the Parent is the Problem

Did you know that Kiri te Kanawa was given a lifetime achievement award by Gramophone Magazine? Watching the presentation, I was struck by her words at the end. What did Te Kanawa say? She thanked her parents for the sacrifices they made. And where did my mind go? It contrasted her words with the recent experience of having a parent contact me about preparing a child for an audition at the Metropolitan Opera. 

Never mind that I hadn't worked with the kid for more than 6 months—and only sporadically before that. Never mind that the music for the audition displayed repeated high B flats and C. Never mind that I had never heard the kid sing those notes. Never mind that the audition was in three days. Never mind that the kid was being set up for failure. Never mind any of that. Never mind that I told all this to the parent. 

This is when the parent is the problem.  

Kids don't know jack. They only know what is presented to them. The hoops they need to jump through to sing at a high level are provided by a teacher who knows what they are doing.

The parent's role is to fully support their child over the long haul that real tuition demands. But too few understand this, thinking that learning an art form is nothing more than entertainment, like pulling up Netflix and downloading a video game. Sure. Singing and playing the piano can be—and is—highly enjoyable. But true enjoyment comes from self-sacifice, which leads to self-mastery—and involves both parent and child.

What was the parent sacrificing? Nothing that I could see. What was she teaching her kid? That you can shoot for the moon without any real preparation whatsoever. 

Yeah. She took her kid to the audition having—presumably—found someone else to work with him. I know this because she posted photos of him standing outside the stage-door. (Don't you just love social media?) Her words? "It was a great experience."

So, that's what it's all about, I thought. Chasing fame and likes.

The Muse is not amused. 

August 21, 2017

From García's Drawing-Room

SIR,—Twice a week for three years I sat in Manuel Garcías drawing-room at Cricklewood from 10:30 a. m. till the time of my own lesson, 1.30, and listened to his teaching. May I be considered qualified to reply to your correspondence 'J. M. L.,' on one or two trifling points? 

He says 'the mouth was only opened sufficiently to admit the tip of one finger between the teeth.' Señor García insisted on the width of two fingers for the proper opening for Ah (all the exercises were sung on Ah). For words, of course, one had to adjust the aperture, but he never told us to make it as narrow as possible. One of his favorite cures for a stiff jaw was to make the student hold a little piece of wood between the teeth while singing exercises (on Ah). 'While you are biting upwards,' he would say, 'you cannot push the jaw downwards.' He would cut a little post for this purpose, with an old knife from a stick of firewood, and it was always quite one and a half inches high. The 'tip' of nobody's finger is that width. 

To forestall misapprehension I add that he never intended this application to be used much. It was merely to convince students that they could sing without a rigid jaw. They were then expected to reproduce the sensation in their own practice. 

Again, 'J. M. L." says 'the lips (were) allowed to retire slightly at the corners when the vowels permitted it.' I never heard the maestro advocate this. On the contrary, I have heard him say: "The quack-quack of the duck is the ugliest sound in nature. A sideways movement of the mouth is a grimace, and brings the tone nearer to the quack-quack. Think of the bull with the deep bass voice. Corners of the mouth forward, lips loose, and the carrying power is doubled.' This I have demonstrated in my own teaching many times. Drawn-back corners of the mouth produce the scrannel-pipe tone so common to-day. 

As for 'J. M. L.'s' rider 'When the vowels permit.' I would answer, 'The vowels never permit.' Every vowel can and should be sung with forward-pushing, loose lips, and no closing of the teeth. Anyone can try this, and will get a uniformly rich sound, emotional tone instead of a different tone of each vowel which many singers seem unable to avoid. 

García said very little to us about breathing, beyond 'Chi sa respirare sa cantare,' and never used voiceless breathing exercises. But he considered it of the utmost importance. We were made to practise sustained notes (were we not!) and he kept one at 'Porgi amor' (my first song with him) for six or seven weeks. After that he seemed to think my breathing was all right, though we still had ot begin every lesson with sustained notes. 

About anatomy, he used to say, 'The singer does not need to know. The birds, what do they know? They sing. That is all.' I am sure he was right. I have had pupils who would have been ruined at once as singers had I talked anatomy to them. But if one would teach, one must study anatomy. I had to go elsewhere for it. 

Señor García was fond of telling the Porpora-Caffarelli story, but I always thought he did so with his tongue in his cheek. He had a very sly humour, and no one knew better than he how ill-equipped a singer would be to 'conquer the world' who could sing only exercises. 'J. M. L's' ingenious explanation is probably correct and at any rate makes the story credible.—Yours, &c., JEAN HUNTER REES-PEDLAR, Gouroch, Renfrewshire. 

—The Musical Times, "A pupil of García's on his teaching," April 1937: 358. 

August 17, 2017

How to Fill the Lungs

In practicising to fill the lungs, the singer should stand upright, close the mouth, and inhale very slowly through the nose, whilst at the same time inducing a gradual upward expansion, as though the air descended first to the region of the abdomen and then mounted by degrees to the upper cavities of the chest. The body throughout, although firmly supported, must be in a state of muscular relaxation.  

During the act of inflation, the stomach must be slightly drawn in, the ribs raised to their full extent, and the front wall of the chest allowed to rise—all without any perceptible elevating movement of the shoulders or collarbone, which are not permitted to move from their normal position or take any active part in the process of expansion.

A noted pedagogue once told me: "You can't learn to sing from a book!" And while this is widely considered to be true, I didn't let that stop me. And if I had let it stop me, I never would have found Klein's book, a passage of which is included above. 

What does it take to learn from a book? I believe it involves a high degree of proprioception—that is, the person reading must already have a feeling for singing. The book itself must be written from a procedural point of view. It must give clear, concise instruction in what to do and how to do it. Theory isn't enough. Knowledge about the vocal mechanism is not enough. There must be a doing to do.

Klein offers the reader a wonderful bit of doing two paragraphs after the two you see above when he tells the reader to hold the breath for three counts and then writes out—"to be actually counted."

If you go through the steps Klein has delineated and then hold your breath for three counts, well, by golly, you will feel something, a something that wants to be repeated. I can tell you what this is in one simple word: Lift. Acquiring it whether the mouth is closed or open is the next order of business.

August 11, 2017

You Are Enough: Barbara Cook

"When asked what her advice usually was to aspiring singers, she told the Associated Press that it boiled down to three words she learned early on and that were her guide. 'You are enough. You are always enough. You don't have to pretend to be anything other than what you are. All you have to do is deeply embrace who you are and you'll be fine. In life, aren't you drawn to the more authentic people? Of course. You're not drawn to phonies.' " LATimes, August 2017.

I only heard Barbara Cook live twice, both times at her 80th birthday concerts with the New York Philharmonic. A friend gave us his tickets, and then I bought my own. Glorious music making, I knew I was hearing the kind of singing one hears only too rarely today—where the singer risks everything, goes deep and sings from soul to soul. And at the end of the concert, she put the mike down, stepped to the very front of the stage and sang Bernstein's "Some Other Time" from On the Town. I cried tears of joy and applauded till my hands were sore.

My advice? Find her on Youtube—the interviews, concerts, everything. Get good and lost for a couple of hours. You will be richly rewarded.

July 10, 2017

Vincenzo Cirillo

Vincenzo Cirillo, the bass of the Church of the Unity, in Boston, is a teacher who represents the old, sincere, laborious Italian school. He came to Boston in 1873, under an engagement to teach singing at the National College of Music, and after the collapse of that institution, continued in the city, engaged in instructing his numerous pupils till the year 1880-81, which he spent abroad in the inspection of the best schools of singing in the Old World, and in the study of the latest phases of teaching as practiced in Italy. Signor Cirillo is a graduate of the Royal Conservatory of Naples, and a member of the St. Cecelia Academy of Rome, as well as the holder of eight diplomas from various societies in Italy. His first teacher was Alessandro Busti. During his master's sickness, Cirillo taught his special pupils, and after his death, continued at the Conservatory for five years, till the increase of his private pupils compelled him to resign his position. He also studied under Alfonso Guercia and Domenico Scafati, who shares with Lamperti and Vannuccini the honor of heading the list of modern Italian teachers. In 1879, Cirillo was appointed director of the choir of the Church of the Immaculate Conception of Boston, where he produced several of his own compositions, the chief being a brilliant and original "Stabat Mater" for six solo voices. He has published a lecture on the Neapolitan School, a method of vocalization in three divisions, and a large number of secular compositions. He is now at work on an opera founded on a Grecian story. 

Music and Drama,  November 11, 1882: 13. 

You can find Cirillo's excellent lecture on the download page in the right hand column. His teaching on the "compound vowel" has been addressed on these pages multiple times, which you can access using his label below.  

July 8, 2017

10 Things I Keep in Mind in the Studio

  1. No one owes me a damn thing. 
  2. Be kind.
  3. Focus on the teaching. 
  4. Make it simple: Keep it simple.
  5. One thing at a time: Then connect the dots. 
  6. Problems are solved by basics. 
  7. Take nothing for granted.
  8. Sound can open Pandora's Box.
  9. Listen with your eyes and look with your ears. 
  10.  Singing is grounded in joy. 

July 7, 2017

10 Things to Keep in Mind During Your Fabulous Singing Career

  1. No one cares about your vocal technique. What matters to the listener is the product. What you do in the practice room is your concern. 
  2. No one is handing out awards for practice. Get used to enjoying it. You'll be spending a lot of time alone in a room learning music. 
  3. Success comes and goes. Learn to ride the wave. 
  4. Be humble. There are things that only you can do, and plenty of things that others do better. The art is to know the difference and your limits. 
  5. Talent doesn't always win. Life is not fair. Yet really beautiful voices have a way of finding their place in the sun. 
  6. Histrionics are no substitute for real technique, which should enable you to move your listener. Being able to do this standing still, using your voice and not moving a muscle, is the real art. 
  7. Learn to say no and mean it. 
  8. You will have trouble with managers. Real success means knowing how to manage yourself. 
  9. You can only really sing when you have to sing. The Muse isn't interested in hobbyists. 
  10. If you are going to teach, keep in mind that no one is going to listen to you until you reach 40. Make sure you actually know something. 

July 4, 2017

10 Books for the Vocal Pedagogy Geek

Here are 10 books you may find to be worth your time while you while away your summer weeks at the shore or by the lake.

  1. So You Want to Sing Sacred Music: A Guide for Performers, Edited by Matthew Hoch, (Rowman & Littlefield, 2017). 
  2. Loralee Songer, Songs of the Second Viennese School: A Performers Guide to Selected Vocal Works, (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016).
  3. Valerie Mindel, So You Want to Sing Folk Music, (Rowman & Littlefield, 2017). 
  4. Matthew Hoch, Linda Lister, Voice Secrets: 100 Performance Strategies for the Advanced Singer, (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016). 
  5. Anna Hershey, Scandinavian Song: A Guide to Swedish, Norwegian and Danish Repertoire and Diction, (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016). 
  6. Joan Melton, Singing in Musical Theatre: The Training of Singers and Actors, (Allworth Press, 2007). 
  7. Joan Melton, Kenneth Tom, One Voice: Integrating Singing Technique and Theatre Voice Training, (Waveland Press, 2013). 
  8. Joan Melton, Dancing with Voice: A Collaborative Journey across Disciplines, (Voice Theatre Solutions, 2015). 
  9. Matthew Hoch, A Dictionary for the Modern Singer, (Rowman & Littlefield, 2014). 
  10. Joan Frey Boytim, The Private Voice Studio Handbook: A Practical Guide to All Aspects of Teaching, (Hal Leonard, 20013). 
My favorite cover from the selection above? Melton's Singing in Musical Theatre: The Training of Singers and Actors (Allworth Press, 2007). Very elegant, just like Joan herself. 

June 29, 2017

New Cover for Hidden in Plain Sight

My little 104-page book is receiving an elegant new cover courtesy of Jeff Macauley—a graphic designer and cabaret artist here in New York City. To say I am happy is an understatement: I'm thrilled! 

While covers are one thing, content is another—and in this case, the reader will find my introduction to Klein's succinct and timeless instruction: instruction that is founded in the teachings of the father of voice science. And therein lies the most interesting thing: Klein is unique in presenting the great master's teaching, especially as voice placement is concerned since García did not address the matter in his own writings. 

I should mention that this cover has a particular meaning for me—a private one—which I am not adverse to divulge. 

You see, Pauline Viardot-García, who appears in the text, was wont to wear black and purple/lavender silk dresses when she taught. Her brother considered  Viardot-García the genius of the family, and it is through her student Anna Schoen-René, who in turn taught Margaret Harshaw, that this book was found in the first place. Without the Viardot-García purple/lavender connection, you wouldn't be reading this post and blog. 

I hope you will take as much pleasure in reading Klein's text as I did in bring it to you. It's the real deal.

May 15, 2017

New Fangled Deep Breathing

The Courier says; "If all the aspirants of future vocal honors could have heard David Bispham at Steinway hall no doubt some of them would today direct their attention to other fields. Mr Bispham did not sing. This was one of the occasions when he talked. The baritone appeared under the auspices of the National Association of Teachers of Singing. Herman Klein, Chairman of the executive board presided. 

David Bispham
"Mr Bispham was announced to speak on the subject of 'General Principles in the Art of Singing.' His essay, a lengthy paper, was filled with wisdom, eloquence, humor and advice. To those about to take up careers as singers he quoted the laconic advice of Punch to those about to be married, namely, 'Don't.'"

Here are a few extracts from Mr Bispham's essay: 

"There seems to have been during the last few years more than a revival of interest in the art of singing. The interest has increased until it has positively become a craze, and who can tell what it may lead to? A renaissance of that branch of prevails; there seems to be signs of a general artistic revival in this country, for, besides an awakening among the other arts, such as painting, literature and architecture, even the drama shows signs of a revivifying, while people are actually 'opera mad,' and a very good things, too, if it leads to the formation of what we most need, national opera in our own language, founded upon the best of modern foreign models. But to the end that we may have opera without being obliged to import singers, we must encourage and train the voices we have at hand and form models of our own for future generations to look up to—examples for them to emulate. Indeed, they are not a few already, of whom we have great cause to be proud—women and men of American birth, and at least partly of American training, who, after study and work abroad, have returned to our own stage where we have been proud to welcome them with the greatest of foreign singers of our generation. 

"I fear, however, that the average young woman, who, with a healthy voice and a good ear, thinks to make a success upon the stage, the literary aspect of her art. If so it may be called, counts but for little. 

"Musical journals are full of advertisements of singers who have made a certain amount of success as far as it goes, and from these ranks we are constantly hearing or recruits to the stage, principally in light opera, as in the recent case of young Edward Johnson, who is making such success in New York at this moment 

"The one thing about our would-be artists that is more striking than almost any other besides the natural cleverness of our own countryman is the lack of seriousness that many of them make so plain that he who runs may read. The 'get rich quick' person must understand that if he is every going to get rich by singing it will be through no process of celerity. 

"In Italy we are accustomed to thinking of singing as a natural gift. In England we are accustomed as considering it as rather a pedantic acquirement. In Germany, more than anywhere else in Europe, singing has taken on an intellectual touch; while in France, the artistry of all that is done upon the stage is fully apparent. Here in America, if anywhere in the world, we should be able, as we see compounded of all the other nations, to combine the good points of them all. Nowhere better than in New York have the singers before our public been able to acquire a knowledge of the methods of their brother and sister artists from other countries, for have we no upon the stages or our two opera houses the representative vocalist of Europe, and are not our own, who are working there with them, holding their ground without a shadow of a doubt? Fortunately, the stage in this country is no bar to respectability or social standing; therefore to use is open the highest that the theater has to confer, and it is open to gilded ones, from whatever stratum of society—from the lowest to the highest. The aristocracy of art in this country is assured and is respected. The only really bad thing about the stage is the bad work that may be heard or seen upon it. The only really bad thing about a singer's career is bad singing. 

"Now, how to ensure good singing: Of course, there is only one way to sing, and that is the right way. There is only one kind of person that can sing, and that is a real singer. You may talk and write about singers and their work from now until doomsday, and it will not carry one iota of weight as against a simple song, beautifully sung; and yet it is necessary to talk in order in inculcate ideas and instill into the minds of beginners certain doctrines—the A, B, C or their art. The teacher finds that some who try are not singers, and never will be or can be. Others have the power, only it needs to be brought out. Others have voices and nothing besides—'Vox et practer nihil.' 

"Many, indeed most singers, think they are called, but few find they are chosen. Of course, voice is necessary. We all remember Rossini's three essentials for singers: 'First, voice; second, voice, and third, voice.' That was doubtless true then, but more is required in this day, and in this city, than every before in any other part of the world, with the single exception of Covent Garden, London, where the conditions are practically the same. 

"Breathing seems to be the especial stumbling block for both master and pupil alike. However, it is to the singer that the bow arm is to the violinist—absolutely essential where any real work is excepted. 

"Jenny Lind, whom I personally new when she was an aged lady, had no patience with the new fangled deep breathing. She said the chest was made for that purpose, and acted accordingly, and wonderful in her prime was her breath control. There was never a doubt of that; but the public of fifty or sixty years ago thought little of those matters. The voice was all with them, and we have only to take a rapid glance at the condition prevailing then to recognize how enormously our own field of operation has broadened. We must act accordingly. Singers were Jenny Linds or Pattis—or they were not, just as now they are Melbas and Tetrazzini's, or they are not; but that was for the one kind of singing that generally prevailed at that time. Now there are so many other kinds, and the requirements of the stage are so vast that while a Sembrich will cover a wide space, a Lilli Lehmann will overlap a large part of that and cover new ground in other directions. Yet they all must, and do, sing after one fashion or another, to the great satisfaction of the public, which admires this or that school of music in which they prefer to hear their favorites. 

"It would be interesting to know the vocal process of the vocal education of a Caruso. Maybe he just sang, as so many or his countrymen do. We never heard Caruso during his years or work at home, or in St. Petersburg, or in South America. Yet the same voice was there, and the illuminating grace of experience has in these latter days made for him a name by which he will be remembered for generations. Even in this case, however, let no pupil think that it has been all play—all beer and skittles. 

"Tamagno was another type of great voice which came to his own by its own methods. No master could teach him much of voice culture. Vannuccini said he 'bleated like a goat' and told him so. His musical educations, notwithstanding his enormous vogue in 'Otello' and other Italian operas, where volume of voice was the principle requisite, was so limited that, to my knowledge, when he was engaged to sing a performance of Rossini's 'Stabat Mater,' in Florence, he not only did not know the music, but had never even heard of it before! He sang it, however, with the greatest success, no such effect having been created by any singer in my experience of oratorio as in his rendering of the 'Cujus Animan.' 

"Jean de Reszke was the stuff of that I would like to see more tenors and all other singers made of. His career was the outcome of sheer intelligence. 

"The first of the general principles I take to be the breath, which  I hold to be the alpha and omega of song, the middle and both ends of the art. By 'art; I mean not only that of singing but of speaking whether from the platform or the pulpit, at the bar or upon the stage. 

"Were we all made alike we would all sing alike. As a matter of fact, we are all make alike only up to a certain point, and on general principles. Through ages nature has formed Italians so that it is plain to the eye that a man or a woman is an Italian, and upon hearing and Italian sing without seeing him you would say: 'Oh, that's an Italians' voice.' The same is applicable to Germans, French and English. 

"I am at a loss to know how more particularly, within the time at our disposal this evening, to enter into the subject of the general principles of the art of singing than to insist upon the utmost clarity of explanation to the pupil of the various points touched upon, for can be more puzzling to the beginner than to be told by one whom he considers as authority, and who has explained himself—if the expression may be used—by means of strange gestures, that the song must come from the pit of the stomach, or the back of the head, or that is must float, or that it must emerge from his larynx as if it were strips of paper being drawn from the mouth of the prestidigitator? I beg of those who may have found some benefit in using any of these mysterious movements to do so as sparingly as possible if they would avoid mystifying the pupils still further over an already sufficiently complicated attainment, and I would beg them of general principles to settle down with good common sense to find out, not what they can hammer into the comprehension of their pupils, but how clearly to elucidate the subject so that what is in the pupil may be brought out. This is the true meaning of education. The word training presupposes the existence of something capable of being trained; if that is not there all is in vain." 

Johnstone-Bishop, Genevra. "The Musical World," Los Angeles Herald, Tuesday, April 7, 1908: page 3.

May 1, 2017

Tomatis Talks

For nearly forty years, Dr. Alfred Tomatis has been travelling in the meanders of our auditory appendages. For him, it is in the hollow of the ear that man must seek the source of his equilibrium.  During this interview, we lent him our ears most attentively...

Psychologies: You have written about pregnancy and autism, dizziness and music, dyslexia and foreign language the center of all your work, the ear.  Is that so important?

Alfred Tomatis 
Dr. Tomatis: The ear deserves more attention than is currently given. This is not an organ made simply to cause otitis! Behind this little appendage there is nothing less than the brain. The ear appears even before the nervous system. As the evolution progressed, it progressed by leaps and brain followed the movement. The ear has two functions. First, it gives energy to the brain. It's a dynamo. And it works for all living beings, from fish to man. Then, it allows us to situate ourselves in space. Thanks to it, we can stand, climb, descend, walk ... The more mobility increases, the better the ear.

Is this parallel evolution of the ear and the brain always verified?

Nearly. There are animals like the snake, endowed with an important brain, but almost deaf. Conversely, bats have very fine hearing despite their very small brain. But these are exceptions. By perfecting, the ear is joined by additional organs: the vestibule, the saccule, the cochlea, ... They are the ones who assure man his verticality. But the most important thing is that the ear allows us to listen. Animals hear. Mammals have occasional moments of listening. To be able to listen, man needed his brain to grow in a fabulous way. I believe that man is made to listen. 

What is the difference between listening and hearing? 

Hearing is a passive phenomenon. We are inundated with sounds. But to take control of oneself in order to listen is a voluntary act which immediately determines verticality and engages communication. The traditional ascetics constantly repeat it: "Listen!" Probably because people do not listen. Traditions often say, "Listen and you will see." This formula is difficult for us to understand because we live in a world of vision starting with the Greeks and the Latins. We care for many autistic children who have phenomenal ears, but who see nothing since they do not listen.

Where does the importance of the ear come from?

This organ is more extensive than we think. The vestibule, which is the most archaic part, innervates absolutely all the muscles of the body. All our gestures leave the vestibule. In the course of its evolution, the ear has provided itself with an organ, the organ of Corti. It contains cells with an eyelash, such as protozoa. When these cells atrophy, the eyelashes that grow on them become more important, and this gives rise to the hair. The hair is a cutaneous destiny of the ear. Conversely, when Corti's cell loses its eyelash to develop its body, it is organized to give birth to all the sensitive organs of the skin. One can almost say that man is an ear in totality! One communicates not only with the ear, one communicates with one's body. To talk to the other is to play with one's body and the other's body. He who is not afraid of his body can make him vibrate when he speaks, and feel it inside. It is both a way of getting to know each other better and communicating better. In the same way, you can learn to make your body vibrate from within to avoid being afraid.

One immediately thinks of the sacred songs: the Gregorian chants, the "Om" of the Tibetans ... The elders knew this well! They sang to recharge the brain and to have control of this body that is underneath. Alas! The number of listeners is still extremely small. But I believe that man is on his way to becoming a listener.

For you, is this the next step in evolution?

It is an inevitable progression. The great listeners are those who hear the other. It's not nothing! We would have fewer social problems if everyone knew how to listen to the other. We live the world of the evil-listener, the dialogue of the deaf. But that's not all. The great listeners also know how to listen to their bodies. The tympanum is innervated by the parasympathetic nerves. If we knew how to listen to them from the inside, we would know how our heart, our breathing, our digestion ... All the somatizations are made along these two nerves. The psycho-somatic pathology is there! Knowing how to listen to your body, it would avoid quite a lot of pathologies.

But when one speaks of listening to one's body, one does not imagine that the ear participates in it. Rather, one is contemplating becoming aware of one's body.

Speaking of awareness, you touch the last level of listening. For he who knows how to listen to the fact beyond all that we have spoken of listens to the Universe. Listening becomes a very high level faculty. It is contact with consciousness.

What do you mean by consciousness?

Our ego is such that we would like to have awareness. No! It is the consciousness that takes us, which floods us. We are enveloped by it, and we spend our time refusing it. If one has the ear fully open, one can enter into a dialogue with the Universe. It is he alone who speaks. We are only transcribing, through a transistor called the brain, what the Universe wanted to express. We are very poor transducers! 

How do we learn to listen? 

One must first wake up the ear. For this we use filtered sounds and the electronic ear. The filtered sounds are sounds without memory, sounds that can not be associated with memories. This is why they are filtered so that the subject hears as he did in utero. With the children, the voice of the mother is used whenever possible. In other cases, it is mostly Mozart. But it is also necessary that the sounds really penetrate to the brain. We then use the electronic ear. It is a device that receives the sound exactly as a human ear should work perfectly. It is known today that 90% of the fibers of the auditory nerve are efferent: they leave the brain to go outside. When you receive a sound, it tickles the inner ear then the external ear. It is as if you were in a fortress: when a visitor comes in, you are looking for who he is, then you open the inner door before lowering the drawbridge. We listen to what we want to listen to! By forcing the doors to open, the tympanum is helped to stretch, the muscle of the stirrup to work, the ear to be formed.

Is it a re-education of the ear, as a limb is re-formed after being in a cast?

Exactly! The ear is re-educated in its listening function. For the brain to work, it needs four and a half hours of stimulation per day, at a rate of 3.5 billion stimuli per second. He can thus perceive all that surrounds him. There are no people with big ideas! Ideas are given to them. Intuition is that. Einstein said: "Genius is a spark once in life, and fifteen hours of work a day." Mozart was a great listener rather than a genius. But he received perfectly all that surrounded him.

Let's go to Mozart. In your opinion, his music is an instrument of personal development, even of therapy?

Music is an extraordinary instrument, which has been forsaken. We tried all sorts of music and we always go back to Mozart. When you listen to Mozart with the electronic ear, in filtered sounds, you have the pulse which immediately climbs to 120 pulses per minute. Like him! Mozart kept all his life a rapid pulse, a pulse of a child, it is probably why it was worn out very quickly and disappeared very young. But, to enjoy music, you have to have a good ear. Someone who hears Mozart with a distorted ear only perceives noise! Music therapy, for example, never takes into account the subject's ability to integrate. It is not enough to receive sounds, but they must be properly distributed throughout the brain. We have a primitive brain, the thalamus, which ensures the distribution of information. Unfortunately, this relay is also the receptor of our affective life. If it is overloaded, the distribution can no longer be carried out. The ear is at the crossroads of a multitude of universes. It has made me penetrate into many fields, from that of total non-listening, which belongs to psychiatry, to that of foreign languages.

This is the theme of the second book you just published.

I realized that all ears are the same at birth, in all corners of the world. It is the sound environment that changes. The variations are related to the atmosphere, climatic conditions, air quality ... The ear forms itself to receive the sounds corresponding to its native tongue. If he is allowed to hear differently, the subject can learn any language. We all have the ability to integrate all languages, provided we hear them.

Can you use your method as a simple tool for wellness and balance?

Yes! We are getting more and more people who do not have any particular problems, but who simply want to get to know each other better, to evolve. One does not need to have a serious problem to learn how to listen!

Interview with Dr Alfred Tomatis (Psychologies - Décembre 1991)

This post is a Google Translation of an April 17, 2017 post made by Olivier De Wulf—a Tomatis Practitioner based in San Francisco, California—and can be found here in the original French.

April 28, 2017

Master Words

A singer can transmit his emotions by feeling strongly himself. Sympathy is the sole transmitter of emotion, and the feelings of an audience are excited by our own, as the vibrations of one instrument are awakened by the vibrations of another.

—Manuel Garcia, The Musician, January 1897, page 20. 

Frank Herbert Tubbs was an associate editor for The Musician and wrote a column called The Voice in which the quote above appears without comment or attribution. 

Tubbs also wrote a very interesting article in Werner's Magazine about a lesson he had with Manuel García which you can find using his label below. 

April 27, 2017

A Good Teacher

It does not follow because one is highly educated, that he is what may be termed a good teacher. The good teacher is the educated person who is versatile and broad-minded in dealing with different pupils. The mental calibre and physical organization of pupils are vastly varied, and to be a good teacher one must appreciate these peculiarities, and adapt himself according.

Many pupils, especially female pupils, are exceedingly timid and nervous, and any exhibition of impatience or impetuosity on the part of the teacher disconcerts them. Yet there are teachers who fail to discriminate differences, or ignore them, and bluntly, sometimes even coarsely, attempt to correct their faults. Such teachers cannot be too strongly censured. The pupil, while endeavoring to do her utmost to correct her faults, feels this rude treatment keenly, and frequently through agitation and nervousness, makes matters worse, and the lesson is a failure.

The teacher who brings about such results, no matter how highly educated he may be, cannot properly be termed a good teacher. The good teacher, while correcting every fault, would do so calmly, and with quiet earnestness and dignity, making the lesson profitable and pleasant.

Some pupils need encouragement, the good teacher will judicially give it. A pupil of this kind will advance far more rapidly by this mode of instruction, than by being constantly found fault with, without one uplifting word of hope and commendation. Then there is the impatient, impetuous pupil. To get angry with such a pupil would only “add fuel to the flames.” The good teacher would never do this. A calm, straight-forward demeanor, would be a far more rational and successful mode of dealing with such an absurd peculiarity. Again, there is the conceited, egotistical, self-opinionated pupil. Every teacher is aware that a pupil of this nature can never succeed until this absurd trait has been eliminated. Such pupils generally desire to sing compositions far beyond their ability. The good teacher, by a little diplomacy, can easily cure such a pupil of this ridiculous individuality. From time to time it might be well to give him with proper criticism an aria such as he desires. The pupil would soon find that his musical aspirations were far beyond his knowledge and comprehension and thus cure himself. Such a pupil should be made to realize that person is more unpopular among musicians than one full of conceit. There are students who attempt to select their own repertoires. The good teacher will never permit this in an amateur pupil, knowing full well that the pupil can be no judge of his musical needs.

If one cannot deal diplomatically with his pupils, if he cannot be polite and patient, he had better not attempt to teach. It is easy to say pupils should not give way to these idiosyncrasies, but such natures exist, and always will until the millennium, and they must be met. The good teacher will meet these individualities patiently. He will deal with them skilfully, teach earnestly, having constantly in mind to do and say that which will be of most value for that particular pupil.

The well-poised teacher is always judicious, courteous, earnest, faithful and conscientious. One possessing these qualifications, with a sound musical education, may deservedly be considered—“a good teacher.”

Harry J. Wheeler, "Some Characteristics of a Good Vocal Teacher," The Etude, April 1910, page 270.

April 20, 2017


It's what we hear inside our heads when we sing, or better yet: it's what we had better hear inside our heads when we sing. 

Yes, I am quite aware of those who intone that the singer should not listen to herself. To them I respond: Do you shut your eyes when you drive? Because that's what—auditorially-speaking—you are asking your student to do when she sings. What this statement betrays is the teacher's lack of knowledge. 

The basics? 

Human beings with normal hearing process sound in two ways. 

  1. Bone Conduction
  2. Air Conduction

We hear bone conduction in our heads and air conduction outside our heads since it travels from our mouths back to our ears. 

Which route is faster? 

Bone conduction. It's what we hear and feel first. It's also what must be developed in nine out of ten singers. 

It is discovered in closed vowels like [e] and [i]. 

Margaret Harshaw introduced this concept to me during my first lesson with her in 1985. She called it "the buzzy business that never turns off." She also told me that it felt "hard" and would take a long time to get used too. She was right. Her words were underlined when I underwent Tomatis' listening training in Toronto in 1999. There, I listened to Mozart filtered at a high frequency and beamed into my head via bone conduction. The tickle of buzz I heard and felt informed everything I had been taught. To put matters succinctly? 

It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that buzz. 

That said, we also need the awareness of air conduction. They are inseparable, bone and air. In fact, you can't have one without the other. The old Italian school had a perfect visual metaphor for their relationship. 

The bow and arrow. 

April 18, 2017


What a title. One that needs a bit of explanation, right?

You are singing in a choir, and the person standing next to you has a big voice. What happens? You are sucked into thinking that you have to keep up, sound bigger than you are (if you don't) and end up pushing the hell out of your instrument. 

Or this. 

You spend a lot of time listening to singers, copying what they do. The problem is that you really don't know what you are doing yet. It doesn't feel right. Your fear? You'll always be a wanna-be. 

Or this. 

You know you have a voice, have been taking lessons and like your teacher, but leave every lesson sounding hoarse. 

In each of these cases, the singer has lost himself. Is this smart? Of course not. But we all do this until the pain of going over the edge makes us stop, take stock, and figure things out. 

In the first case, the singer who over-sings has to learn to stay in his auditory sandbox. In the second, the wanna-be finds a really good voice teacher. In the third case, the singer figures out if there is something wrong biologically, or if the technique being taught—or the person teaching it—isn't up to snuff.   

In each case, stepping back before moving forward again requires the willingness to accept and learn from failure. The problem is that it's all too easy to let someone do your thinking for you. Stepping back also involves a degree of self-awareness that acknowledges that actions can be taken which will lead to a better result. This goes back to the old adage which observes that if you are doing something and not getting the result you want, you had better look at what you are doing. This is different, of course, from crippling self-doubt which prohibits one from taking action in the first place.

Seduction is very strong in singing circles. Instead of finding out what the voice is and what it can (and can't) do on its own terms, the singer gets lost in fantasy land. This is a huge mistake. If persisted in, a lot of neurotic behaviors can and do result. Grandiose ideas are common. Life becomes black and white, and the other guy is always black. He or she can't understand me. No one appreciates my talents, and so on and so forth. All this results from a false sense of Self—of trying to be what one is not. 

Here's one thing I've learned as a singer and teacher. 

No one has your voice. And you can't have anyone else's voice either. Sure, your voice may sound "like" someone else's voice. But it can and never will be that other person's voice. Better to find out what your voice can (and can't) do instead of trying to do and be something you are not. 

What else have I learned? 

We feel and hear ourselves first before the listener does. That is our job as singers. 

When you know what to listen for and how this listening feels, singing becomes a very pleasurable experience. This involves the audition of bone conduction—the awareness of buzz—which can be experienced via an open-throated [e] vowel. This is simple stuff, if you know what I am talking about. If you don't, you need to find a teacher who does. 

April 9, 2017

The Sacred Fire of Real Feeling

The old Italian traditional Porpora method or manner of voice-production and art of singing is founded on science. Porpora was a great composer, musician, and teacher of the singing-voice; the immortal Haydn was one of his pupils. Porpora was born in Naples, 1686, and after living in various cities of the world, died in his native city 1767. The late Dr. Bronson, who was a singer as well as an elocutionist, wrote a treatise on mental and vocal philosophy that has made all these traditional principles clear to the earnest student. This system unfolds the true philosophy of mind and voice, in accordance with the nature of man and the structure of language, which we may call tune,—the body the instrument, and the mind the performer. The principles and practice of the true vocal exercises, tend to develop and perfect both mind and body agreeably to the laws that should govern them.

Clara Brinkerhoff c. 1865
In forming pure tone, or voice, for the art of singing, the first requisite is secure a perfectly healthy distribution of the vital fluids throughout the body and a free and powerful activity of the mind. The point I claim is that without the mind as performer the voice is left too much to the physical utterance of sound, in automatic singing, whereas the singing-voice is above all the voice of the soul, and should communicate with other minds through its own perfect language. If this assertion is incomprehensible to any of my hearers it would not be so if they had heard Jenny Lind. The soulful predominated over and through the physical in her, till she could communicate with all hearers and delight them. This fervent, soulful voice can be obtained only by a full and synchronous action on the brain. the lungs, and the viscera. The soul operates naturally on the dorsal and abdominal muscles, thus setting in motion the whole body. A practical knowledge of these important principles, and specific use of these muscles for healthy breathing. and exercises of the vocal organs, should be the foundation of the art of singing, it being the only mode that trains the voice and gives expression to the passions and kindly sentiments.

To study this method is to convince the mind and demolish all previous theories, wherein the muscles of the throat and breast are taught to do work which will produce bronchitis and other evils rather than voice. This wonderful instrument, the human voice, I repeat, becomes at once performer and instrument. The nervous centre, semi-lunar ganglion, and solar plexus, the great centre of organic life situated under the diaphragm and partly behind the Stomach, and the great sympathetic nerves of vegetable life, have intimate connection with the smaller nervous centres. There are three orders of these nerves: one going to the blood-vessels and other parts of the vascular system; one to the contractile tissue or muscles of involuntary motion; and one to the nerves of organic sensation, conveying the impressions made on the organs. The spinal accessory nerve plays an important part in the Porpora method, it being used in controlling and moving the sternum or chest-bone in respiration, which, when properly arched, acts as a resonator. One of its fellow-roots goes to the root of the tongue and plays an important part in controlling the epiglottis. This little organ is also much used in the Porpora method in damping the sound in singing, and becomes a very important factor, aided by the superior cords in controlling the breath in the lungs till it glows, and then in this elastic condition is sent forth in soul-tinted, mellow tones, vitalized by the inward glow.

The epiglottis stands like a sentinel and does the bidding of the nerves of the spinal cerebral system. The pneumo-gastric nerve sends a branch to the oesophagus, larynx and trachea, commonly called wind-pipe, also to the cardiac or heart plexus, and just here we find the true meaning of music. It is the result of the harmony of our very selves, and is the sense of harmony. The entrance of any emotion, such as fear, renders it almost impossible to sing or pitch tone truly: when we are out of tune in our emotional life. Or unstring our nerves by late hours, loss of sleep or its causes, we are powerless to sing well.

But not to digress further. We find the pneumo-gastric nerve, a recurrent branch, goes to the larynx, and others to the face to exhibit the feelings. This inter-weaving brings the vocal organs into play, with the heart and lungs, with feelings and thoughts, while the main body goes to the stomach and unites with the great centre of organic life or solar plexus, under the diaphragm and partly behind the stomach; but the roots of these nerves are in the cerebellum, the seat of emotion, a receptacle of life. Intensity of thought, anxiety and care, therefore, impede respiration for want of the proper cooperation with the nerves of organic life; hence dyspepsia. The constituents of mind are will and understanding; the upper back part of the head holds the first brain, being understanding and will.

The light, brilliant voice is easily supported by lateral breathing and upper lung action, as it requires but little breath. This kind of breathing is used greatly by the French, who use very little tone-power. This breathing is universal in such singers as Patti, who prefer automatic brilliancy in their art to expression and feeling, that being a secondary condition in the mind of the singer. They make but small demand on those muscles and nerves that reach out to the seat of feeling. In fact, they lack vital contact from the cerebellum to the grand ganglion or solar plexus; without this contact in grand and serious music, all singing appears mechanical and artificial, or merely as galvanized bodies performing. The life is not in them. They may please us as do fireworks, but they cannot thrill us. How then, you may ask, can we be able to bring these varied activities into combined results of fervent voice and controlled breath for song? The answer is simply this: By teaching the pure utterance of vowel sounds consecutively, several times in one continuous breath; this support of the voice is called in Italian appoggiare la voce. The earlier the pupil begins, the better. All little children should learn to sing as a means of health, the pupil learning the exact position of the mouth, lips and throat-opening, for each vowel, which also represents distinct timbre or color of tone. Articulation follows later when the perceptive powers are quickened to watch vigilantly the slightest undirected motions of the organs employed,—jaws, tongue and lips.

There are no perils to the human voice equal to that of abnormal pitch of accompanying pianoforte or orchestra. By vocalization, or nature's own handiwork, as I believe, the vocal ligaments acquire a definite tension which produces a normal pitch for it. To force this voice-pitch higher than true vocal tension, is to attenuate the tones and badly inflame the surrounding parts of the glottis, where all sounds are generated and controlled. It was my misfortune, years ago, to sing a grand aria at a concert, with a piano tuned much higher than normal pitch. It took, to remove the hoarseness and inflammation from my throat, caused from singing with the piano, four months' time, as well as deep study on my part, of “ Hygiene de Chanteur," by Dr. Segond, of Paris. known better as Salviani in operatic circles, to restore my voice, by scientific knowledge, to its natural condition of purity and strength and compass. The doctors thought I had a cold; the professors thought I had simply lost my voice, and there was no help. From Dr. Segond I learned that I had strained the vocal cords. Beware of the high-pitched piano as you would an adder!

I do not believe than any written work on the voice can do more than lead the thought toward vocal development and act as inspiration to study. The vitalized voice of the artist-instructor alone can teach vital contact and artistic control to the pupil, so that he may comprehend at one bound the difference between a physical and a soulful sound, which has true fervor. The singer or writer who can inspire others to learn singing does a good work, but not what he could do if he had the person alongside of him, eye to eye. In learning singing more is done by absorption from the mind of the teacher than by absolute study. That is to say, the mental awakening or apprehension is often instantaneous in the pupil. because singing is, in a large degree, of the spirit. The imagination is often lacking. even with singers of long study and good physical voice; but by a few sharp glances from the inspired teacher, or a biting ejaculation, the mental fog is cleared up, and a beautiful scene is depicted on the mental mirror. It may be a sunset exquisite in color, with brilliant foliage, singing birds. and varied enhancement of nature, which reacts on the tone-quality of the educated voice, giving such timbre as would best paint the summer. Singing is painting with the voice instead of the brush or pencil. To sing without spirit or eloquence is not to sing at all. Mere utterance in similar tones is not painting. because one tone-color could not depict anything. The mere saying of words in one quality of tone would be painting it all blue or all black, or Stating that you did so. It conveys nothing to the mind of nature's truth in expression. This, then, is the great work of the teacher of singing, to draw out the voice in all its beauty and give it to its owner in perfect control.

Every voice locked up, as it is, in the human form, is solo and, sui generis. It rests within its master or mistress, as the case may be, till the brain makes it known. The whole man or woman, and even the little child is the human instrument created with us from the beginning. “The harp of a thousand strings” best expresses it. What a stupendous thought, that we have always had this wonderful gift of song within us, dormant though it be. Having always sung, it never ceases to seem strange to me how people live without singing. To sing: Why that is to live and enjoy life, to be an entity—a very world within yourself, aye! a very universe—to know all that a soul can feel, all that a mind can think, all that a body in all its perfection and beauty can show to prove a divine origin and plan. It is the grand comprehension of all that is heavenly, all that nature brings to us of her grandeur, all that is human in the intellect and soul summed up in sound and song. Yes, the human song-voice holds all the soul’s need of expression within itself. The instrument is a trinity—body, soul and intellect combined. Let us see to it, then, that none be deprived, however poor or wretched, of this great mercy God has given us for our happiness and His glory.

The tiniest child can be taught to sing easier than most grown people, because it is natural to sing. People who cannot sing have not availed themselves of the gift, and therefore are unnatural till they do so. Repression is the assassinator of the human voice in song, the most noble of all that appertains to man; and the greatest power it is possible to wield lies in this much-neglected spiritual resource, the inspired breath in song. All other instruments are imitators of its wondrous. never-ending qualities. in its divine incipiency.

As we each dwell alone in this world. without other companionship in our temples than our individual soul or spirit, with which we hold communion or fail to do so, we can reach out to others only by means of this spirit or soul within us. The better we are acquainted with our spiritual self. the easier we can commune with the spirit of others. The eye tells much, so does gesture, and, at times, so does speech; but all these are less potent to reach out from the individual to others than the voice in song. How-it sweeps at once over thousands in space, where no speech could be heard or understood! But as we one and all. I repeat, dwell alone in our temple and communicate only just so much as we can understand. one to the other, let us try to get at this oneness of comprehension that exists through the one element that can reach out to all humanity, hand to hand, heart to heart, spirit to spirit; then whatever there is of omniscience within us shall grow, so we need not always stand in the dark one toward the other. We must look for the key to this understanding through the element that is given us—vocal music.

First, let us agree that consonants are forms and vocal gestures, while the vowels, although differing a little in different languages, serve the same purpose for all human beings, that is, to convey the feelings of the speaker, reader or singer. The formation of the larynx is suflimently similar in persons of all nations, to give us the right to say they are all alike. There is but little doubt that if the German babe were placed in Italy at the age of two months, it would acquire the same smooth, pure utterance of Italian vowels as a native, provided it did not hear any German utterance at all. The climate would be an aid to this end. Reverse this order, and have an Italian of the same age placed wholly with Germans; it certainly would speak as a German, not as an Italian. Each child’s spirit and individuality might retain by heredity the characteristics of his nationality, but the Italian would have to be taught how to sing and utter through the larynx sounds suitable for song, and to articulate with delicacy every muscular motion so as not to mar pure sound; while the Italian surroundings would obtain such an influence over the German child in Italy that very little more would have to be done for it than for any native. But the Italian child in Germany would not have the same likelihood of becoming a fine singer without much more study of an analytical nature than the other, because his tongue and throat would be full of obstacles to pure tone, and his ear misguided from the cradle. Therefore, we who understand what work it takes to make a great singer out of a German throat and tongue, hearing him sing with the smoothness of voice and delicately-articulated language that we have lately heard, should not refrain from naming such a shining example as Herr Schott, who, for vocal color and pure method, leaves one no point to cavil at, without one descends to malice.

English, although pleasanter and less guttural, is nearly as difficult as German. The English vowels vary by position, depending very much on the preceding and the following consonant. We say there are four sounds of a. The a name-sound has a vanish e, second sound. Ah has none, and is made in that part of the scale or set of tones that favors medium color, not gay, not sad ; therefore, continual training on this vowel in vocal exercises to the exclusion of the others, does not build up a voice for emotion and expression, but simply a voice for the ordinary, quiet thought in life. The quality of tone may be excellent, but without gaiety, sadness, or breadth for grand thought and uplifted soul, it cannot give varied expression in song. The e, long and short, has a tendency to what is light and brilliant. 0 is dark; therefore the o, in order not to be too doleful, must be formed by intent near the teeth for brilliant music, where the E is naturally, with tongue and teeth lightly touching. But to go back to the a in hall, which opens the throat at its widest, and taking the deepest color in it, the voice can give more warmth than a or u (oo). I has a vanish, partaking of ah-e. All these vowels resound at separate points or foci in the mouth, or rather at the hard-palate, easily taught to the pupil by touching the angle or point the sound glances to with ease and vibratory quality. That this is as true as mathematics can make it, is easily proved. The fourth a, as in at, is at the back part of the hard-palate; never changes, is always there.

The mouth must open conformably to obtaining that particular point of resonance, which also indicates the timbre, which will be gay and brilliant and nothing else. It has no contact with nerves or muscles that are called upon for deep feeling, which the will can obtain when needed. The tone personifies pleasantness, and almost mirth and joyousness. To use this quality in church music would belittle the subject.

The purest delivery of tone is the grand desideratum. This occurs only after the skilful automatic articulation has been thoroughly learned, so as not to become in the slightest degree an obstacle to the elastic column of air, which unwinds itself as if from a spool, giving itself out in lengths and breadths suitable to the phrases of the music. These measurements are made by the damping of the voice, done by the epiglottis; not that one has any sensation or feeling, but the pupil does what he or she is told; the result is perfect control of the breath in voice and artistic phrasing, full of grace and expression. This could never be done with a person who has been badly taught to work the larynx and make a shackly effort wrongly called stroke of the glottis, until the habit was broken. All articulation must be made in the mouth; none in the throat, for good singing. The larynx is not in the mouth, but articulation is, for singing. One of our sweet singers who, I believe, never took lessons of a lady, or, if she did, not in English, consequently had, when I heard her last, defects in singing that tongue not noticeable when she sang in Italian. On one occasion, she was singing at a concert in St. George’s Church, from the organ-loft. There is much echo in the church at times; it was so at this time. A lady in front of me asked me to explain to her what the strange noise was that she heard when Miss Kellogg sang.

Her voice was as clear as a bell, but her articulation was so crude that she articulated in the throat audibly. The echo exaggerated the defect, but it was there. I admire the lady very much, and thank her for many delightful hours in the Italian opera, and feel very proud of her for her courage and perseverance. But had she had teachers who knew the difficulties of the English tongue and corrected the automatic bad articulation she used in speech, that hampered every effort no matter how hard she studied to do well, she would stand higher to-day in the world of song. The very fact that the chin, which is the controlling will-power of the voice, supported by the diaphragm and abdominal muscles in proper breathing, was continually moved up and down while she sang, laid her open to criticism from those who knew that her method was bad.

It has been the fashion to overlook the teachers located here, and go abroad. The people of to-day are beginning to look at things for themselves. Spiritual thought is displacing materialism; so we may look for singing of a higher order, and voices trained on truer principles, right here.

The tremolo, so common, is caused by the forcing of the larynx, causing oscillation. This is sometimes supposed to be an ornament, but it is not. It is an excrescence. Those who press the larynx produce it and cannot help it. It is very different from the sacred fire of real feeling, which passes into the tone of a spiritual singer, causing a tremor of electric force to reach out to the entire audience, as if the singer were inspired, for in that the pitch remains true. But a tremolo is always false coming from a disordered larynx, is offensive to persons of good taste and is unmusical to the last degree. It is a mark of crudity and base art. Let it be frowned down.

I have been particularly requested to give an opinion on the work and influence of the conservatory on vocal art. If I say anything at all I must say what I believe, no matter whom it hurts; for if my speaking on the subject were not for the purpose of advancing art and vocal music, why should I say anything about an institution which has come to this country to stay,—because it makes money. What can be said in favor of an institution that universally neglects the primary theory of music and the two cardinal points on which it is based—difference of sound, and difference of value—in its vocal department, and leaves it to chance as to how the pupil obtains it!

A conservatory, as generally understood, is a public place of instruction, designed to preserve and perfect the knowledge of some branch of fine art, as a conservatory of music; and is a word derived from the French in this sense. The Conservatoire of Paris is devoted to the drama and music in all branches. Its scholars are mostly French from various parts of France. To those who reside far from art-centres the conservatory should be a boon. Whether it is or not, is partly what I wish to discuss.

As one of the multitude of those who give a portion of their time while in the full control of their own artistic powers, for concert room, oratorio, or, as in some cases, even opera, to teaching their art, I will take our side of the question: Where should the individual go who desires to learn the art of singing and naturally music? I will say go to the private teacher, by all means, maestra or maestro, of any nationality who loves the art of teaching, who has creative power, who has knowledge grammatical and rhetorical of English, who is well read, who, if not a poet, must at least be acquainted with the poets in several languages, and have sufficient knowledge of physiology to be able to explain and answer simple questions, such as will be asked by most of the intelligent pupils of to-day, who read musical literature, and all should read it. The teacher should have a fine feeling for accent rhythmic, grammatical and rhetorical, or, as I would rather call it aesthetical, which cannot be taught by rules, but depends on taste and feeling. When the words for vocal music are lacking in any aesthetical sense and accent, the teacher should be able to change them or supply a better sentence. In English music, this is an every-day necessity, even in works of very good composers, because they have not studied singing. For this reason, teachers who can only speak broken English should not be allowed to teach American or English opera, oratorio, or songs. They know nothing of the requirements of the language when set to music. The Latin languages are more facile and adaptible for music.

The greatest of all needs is the fine feeling for tone per se; to know tone~quality; to be able to class a voice correctly, keeping it within its natural limits. Articulation alone can designate these limits.

What can give this fine sense? Only great cultivation, either by cumulative heredity or by means of hearing and comparing voices, and aknowledge of the structure of all that appertains to voice-production; knowledge not obtained by books in a theoretical way, but from possession of voice; a voice used in every way possible. A man or woman who could not recite finely a short poem, in order to cultivate the mind of his pupil, and lead on by such means to expression, as well as sing it, had better learn to do so, or be relegated to teaching the tonic sol-fa system to the masses where it may not be required of him.

There are undoubtedly teachers in the city of New York and in all the principal cities of the Union, who can be classed as thoroughly able to fill all that I have said the private teacher of vocal music should have, and many other qualifications not mentioned which really belong to the art of singing; but this 15 all taught by the same person; even to giving them the elementary knowledge of Italian;—a very necessary study, as it aids in forming pure tone, and cultivating the ear of the pupil for the niceties of timbre or tone-color, unimpeded by too many consonants, while the automatic art of intonation is being taught.

The great truth in this art is there is a place for everything, and everything should be in its place. The slightest motion of jaw, tongue or larynx, may be an intrusion, and out of place.

I think the curriculum I have given, if one may so call it, will show what the private teacher should do, if able, as our best teachers are, to obtain from $4 to $5 a lesson. But it must be remembered that all comes from one teacher. Now, how is it at the conservatories?

Who can tell us? I will begin with the Conservatoire of Paris, in which I had the honor to go through all the vocal classes, as auditeur, by permit of Auber, who gave the privilege, never before accorded, because I was an American. Alter passing through several classes and noting the manner of teaching, I felt greatly discouraged as to the possibilities of adding to my store of knowledge as a teacher of the vocal art. At last I reached the class of declamation, taught by a thorough musician who had been a great Italian tenor singer, and was every way a model teacher; but his great faculties were handicapped. I wish I knew a better word to express my meaning than that, but so it was; harsh voices, unimproved minds, and ambitious individuals, came to this judicial teacher, who was to decide their fate for the future. To the Lyric, to the Provinces, or to teach—he was the one to say, and from him there was no appeal. I criticised his class. He said, excitedly: “It is not my fault, it is the system; the voices are trained by several teachers, so that by the time they reach me they are half worn out.”

The Academy in London brings out singers—or at least tries to; how many succeed? But when we think that these pupils are suffering all the time with one throat trouble or another; some taking iron—or size, as they call it,—Others having uvula or tonsils cut; all goes to show that there is something wrong in the system.

Now we come to New York and Boston. I know of my own knowledge of voices receiving very great injury, and in other cases neglect. The cause of this in many cases is money. A pupil goes to a conservatory to learn piano or take singing-lessons, thinking it will cost less. The question is put to the visitor: “Well, Sir, or Miss, which teacher do you want; how many in your class? The terms are so and so for Mr. this or Madame that. If and three~quarters of the hour you can sit and listen to the others do the same as you do.” “Oh,” will say the young lady, “I think you charge very high for so little time devoted to me."

“I cannot help that; we have to give $5,000 a year to that teacher for his name, so we consider that the terms, $30 a quarter, for his class are cheap for only four in the class.”

At the present time I know two pupils who spent considerable money and time in a Boston conservatory, taking private lessons there. One, a gentleman, was taught to deliver the voice throatily and nasally; was not taught time, or to count; did not know the syllables of do, re, mi, fa, etc.; did not learn the keys; never sung scales to other accompaniment than the notes be sung being played by the teacher on the piano. He pursued this course for two years.

In this time two songs had been given him, but the words were neglected and the phrasing was without form or meaning. He was dissatisfied and complained to the manager, who offered to take charge of him himself; but the task was too great, even if he knew how to do it, to place the voice, which was nasal and guttural by education. Still he tried to encourage the young man, and urged some of the other pupils to tell him he was doing well. But the pupil was dissatisfied with his voice, and no wonder. The sweetness had all gone. It is too bad, with all the light we have, that a voice should be treated as if all were still in darkness.

A young lady I know went to a conservatory in Boston, and sung her fifteen minutes with three others in the class; but finding no improvement in scales, on the contrary, singing worse at every lesson, she withdrew. Her voice was extremely nasal and totally unformed; she had no idea of breathing except to draw in the abdomen and squeeze the throat. I doubt whether any good could be done in the presence of three other girls, giggling and sneering, if a teacher should attempt correction of the difficulty. When she got tired of singing la, la, she went away. The conservatory people were very kind to her (she was a boarder), and asked her to choose some other teacher; but as she did not like the singing of a lady teacher that they referred her to, she gave up the conservatory. Whose fault was it? When I questioned these two pupils—in no wise related or acquainted with each other,—why they had not done this or that work, such as I required from my own pupils in the first three months, the reply was that they could not afford to go into so many classes, as it would take at least eight to obtain the information obtained from one instructor in private teaching, who taught the old Italian system of voice production and singing. Every pupil in singing using ordinary notation should be taught the key-board of the piano, that he or she may have the occular demonstration of the scale as it changes in position, in different keys.

The greatest fallacy of the age is the idea that a great length of time is required to learn singing. Singing well is a brain-art, and not a throat-gymnastic exercise of skill. When the rational brain understands, the will controls breath and voice-production. I leave it to you to say why a pupil should be kept singing exercises without words, when the principal difliculty in the art of singing lies in the articulation. No scales of consecutive notes should be allowed till the tone produced is good, and firmly fixed in the mind of the pupil.

To sing exercises of several notes before the breath-control is understood, is to foster a bad method and keep the pupil from progressing.

I do not believe this breath-control is or can be taught in any conservatory, as at present managed; because it requires the most assiduous attention of eye and ear on the part of the teacher, as well as an entire sympathy with the desire of the pupil to obtain as soon as possible all that comprises the art of singing in a delightful manner, and suitably represents the noble spirit of song, as given expression by the best composers of music and poetry, through the human voice.

We hear it said by critics (who unfortunately are rarely singers) that one of the pets of the day, whose influence is great in the concert-room here and in London, has a miserable voice but is a good singer. This is an impossibility. His voice is harsh and disagreeable.

George Henschel is not a good singer; his voice is not properly formed; pure tone has not been developed. He is a good musician, but does not understand the instrument voice. He may be a good conductor; but nothing but ignorance of vocal art, or a life unworthy of a singer, could produce execrable tones. Bad, throaty method can so disfigure the voice as to dishonor the singer; wretched quality of voice does not belong to the good man or woman who is healthy enough to sing at all. The teacher, then, should take the pupil to task and exact proper conditions of life from him. Could one use such influence for good in class-teaching? I doubt it. Each voice and the mind of its owner must be wrestled with alone. The amount of mental battling done to bring a pupil up to a proper standard is unknown, and would be incomprehensible to the large number of half-taught teachers, or self-taught pupils. But as conservatories are to be preservers of art, or should be, they should come to some open decision; whether the pupil entering for vocal instruction is to be retained in the entire charge of one teacher till graduated, or be promoted from class to class, as is done in Paris. In any case, the pupil should be told distinctly what method of singing is taught in that conservatory. No conservatory has a right to the name of art-school which has not decided on the method that will be taught there, and until every vocal teacher has proved equal to the work required of him.

Then the public can choose either the clavicular breath-singing, shoulders touching ears; or the Garcia drawing in the abdomen method, an error picked up by him in 1824, in France, which makes the throat do the work, and destroys the beauty of voice by pinching the tones; or by the old Italian deep breathing, which leaves the throat free from all pressure, such as Garcia taught his daughter Malibran, previous to 1824.

The teacher who taught the last named (and only true method of voice-development) would not be willing to teach those who preferred to sing throatily or nasally. Students ought to go to the conservatories which have adopted this manner of teaching pupils to sing; then no dissatisfaction could arise. Let it be printed on every circular. Instead of being able to begin with a pupil in a rational manner, the teacher has a battle to fight against the automatic errors forced upon the pupil by faulty instruction for years. By this time the pupil begins to be disgusted with his or her own voice, and the results of the tuition. It does not make it any better to say that there are just as many errors committed by private teachers everywhere. They are not conservatories of art, but people scrambling to get bread, in many cases. It is a pupil’s own fault if he is taken in, you may say; but it seems to me that an endowed conservatory, such as we have in New York, should be far from anything like charlatanism, which is not the case when they take pupils at certain rates for fifteen minutes' time per lesson. As the other pupils in the class do the same work, it is only fifteen minutes of information to the pupil; therefore it is a matter that should be reformed at once by public opinion. Conservatories for instrumental music I believe to be advantageous; but never for the voice. The conservatory vocal teachers advise the pupils to take private lessons of them, because they know it is the proper way to learn singing as an art, whether for private or public uses. The National Conservatory has been unfortunate in its business affairs, so one of the principal teachers has hypothecated seven of the best pupils, and holds them for unpaid salary. The Conservatory has, therefore, a peripatetic adjunct not intended in its formation.  —Clara Brinkerhoff 

Lecture Delivered before the Polytechnique Section of the American Institute, by Special Invitation, October 20, 1887. Published in "The Voice" in three installments, December/January/February 1887-8. Brinkhoff's mother was a student of Domenico Corri, himself a student of Nicola Porpora.