January 26, 2017

García's Tricks

In my personal association with Manuel García, I had to admire profoundly his sincerity and honesty. He impressed upon me the idea that the greatest part of a teacher's success depends not so much on his ability to develop singers of perfect execution as on his possessing the strength of character to refuse to encourage mediocre talent. Because most teachers during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were of this integrity, the opera and concert stage presented truly great artists. There were few inferior singers then, for they had been discouraged from the outset from attempting anything but singing for their own pleasure. Even singers of first quality always had to keep themselves at their best, to hold their place amid severe competition. Teachers were fewer in number, but of a superior kind; in many cases, highly cultured in all branches of literature, history, and languages. Their pupils followed their advice with confidence, and in return were devoted to them. Teacher and pupil, possessing culture and intelligence, co-operatied for successful achievement. 

For that reason, Manuel García was deemed a wizard because of his success in developing great singers. He was able to diagnose perfectly the voices of those who came to him, and to obtain immediate results. Often, in humorous mood, he related to me incidents pertaining to his pupils, some of whom came to him to learn his "tricks," as they called his technique. They had learned, for example, that under him, Stockhausen—the first and incomparable German "Lieder" singer, also opera and oratorio—learned the trill in one lesson. The term "tricks" he naturally resented, and he also disliked hearing his teaching technique called "a method." As he said to me, "Any shoemaker or butcher can have a method of making shoes or cutting meat; we have a science of vocal production which has proved itself a true science by the results it has obtained." 

As a teacher, Manuel García was very patient in his explanations; he was exact and thorough. He was also completely modest, courteous and full of humor. His knowledge of the history of music and the art of singing of different epochs was without equal. Always kind and fair in his criticisms, he sometimes appeared to be severe, but that severity was only the honesty from which any true artist profits. 

In 1847, he published his book, Traité Complet de L'Art de Chant. It was immediately acclaimed and is still recognized as possibly the best treatise ever written on scientific voice culture. This publication was followed by a condensed treatment of the subject, called Hints on Singing. I must confess, however, that I feel it is impossible, and might even be injurious, to try to gain information only through books. Personal contact with the teacher is absolutely essential, for otherwise the student will receive theoretical impressions without the supervised test of practical experience.

Anna E. Schoen-René, America's Musical Inheritance: Memories and Reminiscences (1941}: 97-99. 

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