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.