HOW TO SING
TRANSLATED FROM THE GERMAN
New York THE MACMILLAN COMPANY LONDON: MACMILLAN & CO., LTD. 1902
All rights reserved
COPYRIGHT, 1902, BY THE MACMILLAN COMPANY.
Set up and electrotyped November, 1902.
Norwood Press J.S. Cushing & Co.—Berwick & Smith Norwood Mass. U.S.A.
[Transcriber's Note: In this e-text, characters with macrons are preceded by an equal sign and enclosed in brackets, e.g., ā. Characters with breves are preceded by a right parenthesis and enclosed in brackets, e.g., ĕ. Superscripted characters are preceded by a carat, e.g., Gretel^e.]
MY PURPOSE 1
MY TITLE TO WRITE ON THE ART OF SONG 5
PRELIMINARY PRACTICE 11
OF THE BREATH 19
OF THE BREATH AND WHIRLING CURRENTS 27
THE SINGER'S PHYSIOLOGICAL STUDIES 35
EQUALIZING THE VOICE; BREATH; FORM 45
THE ATTACK 69
NASAL. NASAL SINGING 73
SINGING TOWARD THE NOSE. HEAD VOICE 78
THE HEAD VOICE 86
SENSATION AND POSITION OF THE TONGUE 99
THE SENSATIONS OF THE PALATE 102
THE SENSATION OF THE RESONANCE OF THE HEAD CAVITIES 108
SINGING COVERED 123
ON VOCAL REGISTERS 133
DEVELOPMENT AND EQUALIZATION 142
WHITE VOICES 154
THEODOR WACHTEL 158
THE HIGHEST HEAD TONES 162
EXTENSION OF THE COMPASS AND EQUALIZATION OF REGISTERS 169
THE TREMOLO 170
THE CURE 176
THE TONGUE 181
PREPARATION FOR SINGING 189
THE POSITION OF THE MOUTH (CONTRACTION OF THE MUSCLES OF SPEECH) 192
CONNECTION OF VOWELS 196
THE LIPS 212
THE VOWEL SOUND AH 214
ITALIAN AND GERMAN 219
AUXILIARY VOWELS 226
RESONANT CONSONANTS 229
PRACTICAL EXERCISES 232
THE GREAT SCALE 239
HOW TO HOLD ONE'S SELF WHEN PRACTISING 256
CONCERNING EXPRESSION 263
BEFORE THE PUBLIC 265
IN CONCLUSION 279
NOTE.—A GOOD REMEDY FOR CATARRH AND HOARSENESS 281
My purpose is to discuss simply, intelligibly, yet from a scientific point of view, the sensations known to us in singing, and exactly ascertained in my experience, by the expressions "singing open," "covered," "dark," "nasal," "in the head," or "in the neck," "forward," or "back." These expressions correspond to our sensations in singing; but they are unintelligible as long as the causes of those sensations are unknown, and everybody has a different idea of them. Many singers try their whole lives long to produce them and never succeed. This happens because science understands too little of singing, the singer too little of science. I mean that the physiological explanations of the highly complicated processes of singing are not plainly enough put for the singer, who has to concern himself chiefly with his sensations in singing and guide himself by them. Scientific men are not at all agreed as to the exact functions of the several organs; the humblest singer knows something about them. Every serious artist has a sincere desire to help others reach the goal—the goal toward which all singers are striving: to sing well and beautifully.
The true art of song has always been possessed and will always be possessed by such individuals as are dowered by nature with all that is needful for it—that is, healthy vocal organs, uninjured by vicious habits of speech; a good ear, a talent for singing, intelligence, industry, and energy.
In former times eight years were devoted to the study of singing—at the Prague Conservatory, for instance. Most of the mistakes and misunderstandings of the pupil could be discovered before he secured an engagement, and the teacher could spend so much time in correcting them that the pupil learned to pass judgment on himself properly.
But art to-day must be pursued like everything else, by steam. Artists are turned out in factories, that is, in so-called conservatories, or by teachers who give lessons ten or twelve hours a day. In two years they receive a certificate of competence, or at least the diploma of the factory. The latter, especially, I consider a crime, that the state should prohibit.
All the inflexibility and unskilfulness, mistakes and deficiencies, which were formerly disclosed during a long course of study, do not appear now, under the factory system, until the student's public career has begun. There can be no question of correcting them, for there is no time, no teacher, no critic; and the executant has learned nothing, absolutely nothing, whereby he could undertake to distinguish or correct them.
The incompetence and lack of talent whitewashed over by the factory concern lose only too soon their plausible brilliancy. A failure in life is generally the sad end of such a factory product; and to factory methods the whole art of song is more and more given over as a sacrifice.
I cannot stand by and see these things with indifference. My artistic conscience urges me to disclose all that I have learned and that has become clear to me in the course of my career, for the benefit of art; and to give up my "secrets," which seem to be secrets only because students so rarely pursue the path of proper study to its end. If artists, often such only in name, come to a realization of their deficiencies, they lack only too frequently the courage to acknowledge them to others. Not until we artists all reach the point when we can take counsel with each other about our mistakes and deficiencies, and discuss the means for overcoming them, putting our pride in our pockets, will bad singing and inartistic effort be checked, and our noble art of singing come into its rights again.
MY TITLE TO WRITE ON THE ART OF SONG
Rarely are so many desirable and necessary antecedents united as in my case.
The child of two singers, my mother being gifted musically quite out of the common, and active for many years not only as a dramatic singer, but also as a harp virtuoso, I, with my sister Marie, received a very careful musical education; and later a notable course of instruction in singing from her. From my fifth year on I listened daily to singing lessons; from my ninth year I played accompaniments on the pianoforte, sang all the missing parts, in French, Italian, German, and Bohemian; got thoroughly familiar with all the operas, and very soon knew how to tell good singing from bad. Our mother took care, too, that we should hear all the visiting notabilities of that time in opera as well as in concert; and there were many of them every year at the Deutsches Landestheater in Prague.
She herself had found a remarkable singing teacher in the Frankfort basso, Foeppel; and kept her voice noble, beautiful, young, and strong to the end of her life,—that is, till her seventy-seventh year,—notwithstanding enormous demands upon it and many a blow of fate. She could diagnose a voice infallibly; but required a probation of three to four months to test talent and power of making progress.
I have been on the stage since my eighteenth year; that is, for thirty-four years. In Prague I took part every day in operas, operettas, plays, and farces. Thereafter in Danzig I sang from eighteen to twenty times a month in coloratura and soubrette parts; also in Leipzig, and later, fifteen years in Berlin. In addition I sang in very many oratorios and concerts, and gave lessons now and then.
As long as my mother lived she was my severest critic, never satisfied. Finally I became such for myself. Now fifteen years more have passed, of which I spent eight very exacting ones as a dramatic singer in America, afterward fulfilling engagements as a star, in all languages, in Germany, Austria, Hungary, France, England, and Sweden. My study of singing, nevertheless, was not relaxed. I kept it up more and more zealously by myself, learned something from everybody, learned to hear myself and others.
For many years I have been devoting myself to the important questions relating to singing, and believe that I have finally found what I have been seeking. It has been my endeavor to set down as clearly as possible all that I have learned through zealous, conscientious study by myself and with others, and thereby to offer to my colleagues something that will bring order into the chaos of their methods of singing; something based on science as well as on sensations in singing; something that will bring expressions often misunderstood into clear relation with the exact functions of the vocal organs.
In what I have just said I wish to give a sketch of my career only to show what my voice has endured, and why, notwithstanding the enormous demands I have made upon it, it has lasted so well. One who has sung for a short time, and then has lost his voice, and for this reason becomes a singing teacher, has never sung consciously; it has simply been an accident, and this accident will be repeated, for good or for ill, in his pupils.
The talent in which all the requirements of an artist are united is very rare. Real talent will get along, even with an inferior teacher, in some way or another; while the best teacher cannot produce talent where there is none. Such a teacher, however, will not beguile people with promises that cannot be kept.
My chief attention I devote to artists, whom I can, perhaps, assist in their difficult, but glorious, profession. One is never done with learning; and that is especially true of singers. I earnestly hope that I may leave them something, in my researches, experiences, and studies, that will be of use. I regard it as my duty; and I confide it to all who are striving earnestly for improvement.
GRUeNEWALD, Oct. 31, 1900.
It is very important for all who wish to become artists to begin their work not with practical exercises in singing, but with serious practice in tone production, in breathing in and out, in the functions of the lungs and palate, in clear pronunciation of all letters, and with speech in general.
Then it would soon be easy to recognize talent or the lack of it. Many would open their eyes in wonder over the difficulties of learning to sing, and the proletariat of singers would gradually disappear. With them would go the singing conservatories and the bad teachers who, for a living, teach everybody that comes, and promise to make everybody a great artist.
Once when I was acting as substitute for a teacher in a conservatory, the best pupils of the institution were promised me,—those who needed only the finishing touches. But when, after my first lesson, I went to the director and complained of the ignorance of the pupils, my mouth was closed with these words, "For Heaven's sake, don't say such things, or we could never keep our conservatory going!"
I had enough, and went.
The best way is for pupils to learn preparatory books by heart, and make drawings. In this way they will get the best idea of the vocal organs, and learn their functions by sensation as soon as they begin to sing. The pupil should be subjected to strict examinations.
In what does artistic singing differ from natural singing?
In a clear understanding of all the organs concerned in voice production, and their functions, singly and together; in the understanding of the sensations in singing, conscientiously studied and scientifically explained; in a gradually cultivated power of contracting and relaxing the muscles of the vocal organs, that power culminating in the ability to submit them to severe exertions and keep them under control. The prescribed tasks must be mastered so that they can be done without exertion, with the whole heart and soul, and with complete understanding.
How is this to be attained?
Through natural gifts, among which I reckon the possession of sound organs and a well-favored body; through study guided by an excellent teacher who can sing well himself,—study that must be kept up for at least six years, without counting the preliminary work.
Only singers formed on such a basis, after years of work, deserve the title of artist; only such have a right to look forward to a lasting future, and only those equipped with such a knowledge ought to teach.
Of what consists artistic singing?
Of a clear understanding, first and foremost, of breathing, in and out; of an understanding of the form through which the breath has to flow, prepared by a proper position of the larynx, the tongue, and the palate. Of a knowledge and understanding of the functions of the muscles of the abdomen and diaphragm, which regulate the breath pressure; then, of the chest-muscle tension, against which the breath is forced, and whence, under the control of the singer, after passing through the vocal cords, it beats against the resonating surfaces and vibrates in the cavities of the head. Of a highly cultivated skill and flexibility in adjusting all the vocal organs and in putting them into minutely graduated movements, without inducing changes through the pronunciation of words or the execution of musical figures that shall be injurious to the tonal beauty or the artistic expression of the song. Of an immense muscular power in the breathing apparatus and all the vocal organs, the strengthening of which to endure sustained exertion cannot be begun too long in advance; and the exercising of which, as long as one sings in public, must never be remitted for a single day.
As beauty and stability of tone do not depend upon excessive pressure of the breath, so the muscular power of the organs used in singing does not depend on convulsive rigidity, but in that snakelike power of contracting and loosening, which a singer must consciously have under perfect control.
[Footnote 1: In physiology when the muscles resume their normal state, they are said to be relaxed. But as I wish to avoid giving a false conception in our vocal sensations, I prefer to use the word "loosening."]
The study needed for this occupies an entire lifetime; not only because the singer must perfect himself more and more in the roles of his repertory—even after he has been performing them year in and year out,—but because he must continually strive for progress, setting himself tasks that require greater and greater mastery and strength, and thereby demand fresh study.
He who stands still, goes backward.
Nevertheless, there are fortunately gifted geniuses in whom are already united all the qualities needed to attain greatness and perfection, and whose circumstances in life are equally fortunate; who can reach the goal earlier, without devoting their whole lives to it. Thus, for instance, in Adelina Patti everything was united,—the splendid voice, paired with great talent for singing, and the long oversight of her studies by her distinguished teacher, Strakosch. She never sang roles that did not suit her voice; in her earlier years she sang only arias and duets or single solos, never taking part in ensembles. She never sang even her limited repertory when she was indisposed. She never attended rehearsals, but came to the theatre in the evening and sang triumphantly, without ever having seen the persons who sang and acted with her. She spared herself rehearsals which, on the day of the performance, or the day before, exhaust all singers, because of the excitement of all kinds attending them, and which contribute neither to the freshness of the voice nor to the joy of the profession.
Although she was a Spaniard by birth and an American by early adoption, she was, so to speak, the greatest Italian singer of my time. All was absolutely good, correct, and flawless, the voice like a bell that you seemed to hear long after its singing had ceased.
Yet she could give no explanation of her art, and answered all her colleagues' questions concerning it with an "Ah, je n'en sais rien!"
She possessed, unconsciously, as a gift of nature, a union of all those qualities that all other singers must attain and possess consciously. Her vocal organs stood in the most favorable relations to each other. Her talent, and her remarkably trained ear, maintained control over the beauty of her singing and of her voice. The fortunate circumstances of her life preserved her from all injury. The purity and flawlessness of her tone, the beautiful equalization of her whole voice, constituted the magic by which she held her listeners entranced. Moreover, she was beautiful and gracious in appearance.
The accent of great dramatic power she did not possess; yet I ascribe this more to her intellectual indolence than to her lack of ability.
OF THE BREATH
The breath becomes voice through the operation of the will, and the instrumentality of the vocal organs.
To regulate the breath, to prepare a passage of the proper form through which it shall flow, circulate, develop itself, and reach the necessary resonating chambers, must be our chief task.
Concerning the breath and much more besides there is so much that is excellent in Oscar Guttmann's "Gymnastik der Stimme" that I can do no better than to refer to it and recommend it strongly to the attention of all earnest students.
How do I breathe?
Very short of breath by nature, my mother had to keep me as a little child almost sitting upright in bed. After I had outgrown that and as a big girl could run around and play well enough, I still had much trouble with shortness of breath in the beginning of my singing lessons. For years I practised breathing exercises every day without singing, and still do so with especial pleasure, now that everything that relates to the breath and the voice has become clear to me. Soon I had got so far that I could hold a swelling and diminishing tone from fifteen to eighteen seconds.
I had learned this: to draw in the abdomen and diaphragm, raise the chest and hold the breath in it by the aid of the ribs; in letting out the breath gradually to relax the body and to let the chest fall slowly. To do everything thoroughly I doubtless exaggerated it all. But since for twenty-five years I have breathed in this way almost exclusively, with the utmost care, I have naturally attained great dexterity in it; and my abdominal and chest muscles and my diaphragm, have been strengthened to a remarkable degree. Yet I was not satisfied.
A horn player in Berlin with the power of holding a very long breath, once told me in answer to a question, that he drew in his abdomen and diaphragm very strongly, but immediately relaxed his abdomen again as soon as he began to play. I tried the same thing with the best results. Quite different, and very naive, was the answer I once got from three German orchestral horn players in America. They looked at me in entire bewilderment, and appeared not to understand in the least my questions as to how they breathed. Two of them declared that the best way was not to think about it at all. But when I asked if their teachers had never told them how they should breathe, the third answered, after some reflection, "Oh, yes!" and pointed in a general way to his stomach. The first two were right, in so far as too violent inhalation of breath is really undesirable, because thereby too much air is drawn in. But such ignorance of the subject is disheartening, and speaks ill for the conservatories in which the players were trained, whose performances naturally are likely to give art a black eye.
Undoubtedly I took in too much air in breathing, and thereby stiffened various organs, depriving my muscles of their elasticity. Yet, with all my care and preparation, I often, when I had not given special thought to it, had too little breath, rather than too much. I felt, too, after excessive inhalation, as if I must emit a certain amount of air before I began to sing. Finally I abandoned all superfluous drawing in of the abdomen and diaphragm, inhaled but little, and began to pay special attention to emitting the smallest possible amount of breath, which I found very serviceable.
How do I breathe now?
My diaphragm I scarcely draw in consciously, my abdomen never; I feel the breath fill my lungs, and my upper ribs expand. Without raising my chest especially high, I force the breath against it, and hold it fast there. At the same time I raise my palate high and prevent the escape of breath through the nose. The diaphragm beneath reacts against it, and furnishes pressure from the abdomen. Chest, diaphragm, the closed epiglottis, and the raised palate all form a supply chamber for the breath.
Only in this way is the breath under the control of the singer, through the pressure against the chest tension muscles. (This is very important.) From now on the breath must be emitted from the supply chamber very sparingly, but with unceasing uniformity and strength, without once being held back, to the vocal cords, which will further regulate it as far as possible. The more directly the breath pressure is exerted against the chest,—one has the feeling, in this, of singing the tone against the chest whence it must be pressed out,—the less breath flows through the vocal cords, and the less, consequently, are these overburdened.
In this way, under control, in the passage formed for it above the tongue by that organ, it reaches the resonance chambers prepared for it by the raising and lowering of the soft palate, and those in the cavities of the head. Here it forms whirling currents of tone; these now must circulate uninterrupted for as long as possible and fill all the accessible resonating surfaces, which must be maintained in an elastic state. This is necessary to bring the tone to its perfect purity. Not till these currents have been sufficiently used up and passed through the "bell," or cup-shaped resonating cavity, of the mouth and lips, may it be allowed to stream from the mouth unimpeded. Yet the sensation must be as if the breath were constantly escaping from the mouth.
To observe and keep under control these many functions, singly or in conjunction, forms the ceaseless delight of the never failing fountain of song study.
Thus, in shaping the passage for the breath, the larynx, tongue, and palate, which can be placed at will, are employed. The vocal cords, which can best be imagined as inner lips, we have under control neither as beginners nor as artists. We do not feel them. We first become conscious of them through the controlling apparatus of the breath, which teaches us to spare them, by emitting breath through them in the least possible quantity and of even pressure, whereby a steady tone can be produced. I even maintain that all is won, when—as Victor Maurel says—we regard them directly as the breath regulators, and relieve them of all overwork through the controlling apparatus of the chest-muscle tension.
Through the form prepared by the larynx, tongue, and palate, we can direct the breath, previously under control and regulation, toward the particular resonating surfaces on the palate, or in the cavities of the head, which are suitable to each tone. This rule remains the same for all voices.
As soon as the breath leaves the larynx, it is divided. (Previously, in inhalation, a similar thing happens; but this does not concern us immediately, and I prefer to direct the singer's chief attention to the second occurrence.) One part may press toward the palate, the other toward the cavities of the head. The division of the breath occurs regularly, from the deepest bass to the highest tenor or soprano, step for step, vibration for vibration, without regard to sex or individuality. Only the differing size or strength of the vocal organs through which the breath flows, the breathing apparatus, or the skill with which they are used, are different in different individuals. The seat of the breath, the law of its division, as well as the resonating surfaces, are always the same and are differentiated at most through difference of habit.
OF THE BREATH AND WHIRLING CURRENTS
The veriest beginner knows that in order to use the breath to the fullest advantage, it must remain very long diffused back in the mouth. A mistaken idea of "singing forward" misleads most to press it forward and thus allow it to be speedily dissipated.
The column of breath coming in an uninterrupted stream from the larynx, must, as soon as it flows into the form prepared for it according to the required tone, by the tongue and palate, fill this form, soaring through all its corners, with its vibrations. It makes whirling currents, which circulate in the elastic form surrounding it, and it must remain there till the tone is high enough, strong enough, and sustained enough to satisfy the judgment of the singer as well as the ear of the listener. Should there be lacking the least element of pitch, strength, or duration, the tone is imperfect and does not meet the requirement.
Learning and teaching to hear is the first task of both pupil and teacher. One is impossible without the other. It is the most difficult as well as the most grateful task, and it is the only way to reach perfection.
Even if the pupil unconsciously should produce a flawless tone, it is the teacher's duty to acquaint him clearly with the causes of it. It is not enough to sing well; one must also know how one does it. The teacher must tell the pupil constantly, making him describe clearly his sensations in singing, and understand fully the physiological factors that cooeperate to produce them.
The sensations in singing must coincide with mine as here described, if they are to be considered as correct; for mine are based logically on physiological causes and correspond precisely with the operation of these causes. Moreover, all my pupils tell me—often, to be sure, not till many months have passed—how exact my explanations are; how accurately, on the strength of them, they have learned to feel the physiological processes. They have learned, slowly, to be sure, to become conscious of their errors and false impressions; for it is very difficult to ascertain such mistakes and false adjustments of the organs. False sensations in singing and disregarded or false ideas of physiological processes cannot immediately be stamped out. A long time is needed for the mind to be able to form a clear image of those processes, and not till then can knowledge and improvement be expected. The teacher must repeatedly explain the physiological processes, the pupil repeatedly disclose every confusion and uncertainty he feels, until the perfect consciousness of his sensations in singing is irrevocably impressed upon his memory, that is, has become a habit.
Among a hundred singers hardly one can be found whose single tones meet every requirement. And among a thousand listeners, even among teachers, and among artists, hardly one hears it.
I admit that such perfect tones sometimes, generally quite unconsciously, are heard from young singers, and especially from beginners, and never fail to make an impression. The teacher hears that they are good, so does the public. Only a very few know why, even among singers, because only a very few know the laws governing perfect tone production. Their talent, their ear perchance, tell them the truth; but the causes they neither know nor look for.
On such "unconscious singing" directors, managers, and even conductors, build mistakenly their greatest hopes. No one hears what is lacking, or what will soon be lacking, and all are surprised when experienced singers protest against it.
They become enthusiastic, properly, over beautiful voices, but pursue quite the wrong path in training them for greater tasks. As soon as such persons are obtained, they are immediately bundled into all roles; they have hardly time to learn one role by heart, to say nothing of comprehending it and working it up artistically. The stars must shine immediately! But with what resources? With the fresh voice alone? Who is there to teach them to use their resources on the stage? Who to husband them for the future? The manager? the director? Not at all. When the day comes that they can no longer perform what, not they themselves, but the directors, expected of them, they are put to one side, and if they do not possess great energy and strength, often entirely succumb. They could not meet the demands made upon them, because they did not know how to use their resources.
I shall be told that tones well sung, even unconsciously, are enough. But that is not true. The least unfavorable circumstance, over-exertion, indisposition, an unaccustomed situation, anything can blow out the "unconscious" one's light, or at least make it flicker badly. Of any self-help, when there is ignorance of all the fundamentals, there can be no question. Any help is grasped at. Then appears the so-called (but false) "individuality," under whose mask so much that is bad presents itself to art and before the public.
This is not remarkable, in view of the complexity of the phenomena of song. Few teachers concern themselves with the fundamental studies; they often do not sing at all themselves, or they sing quite wrongly; and consequently can neither describe the vocal sensations nor test them in others. Theory alone is of no value whatever. With old singers the case is often quite the contrary—so both seize whatever help they can lay hold of. The breath, that vibrates against the soft palate, when it is raised, or behind it in the cavities of the head, produces whirling currents through its continuous streaming forth and its twofold division. These currents can circulate only in unbroken completeness of form. The longer their form remains unimpaired, and the more economically the continuous breath pressure is maintained, the less breath do these currents need, the less is emitted unused from the mouth.
If an elastic form is found in the mouth in which the currents can circulate untouched by any pressure or undue contraction or expansion of it, the breath becomes practically unlimited. That is the simple solution of the paradox that without deep breathing one may often have much breath, and, after elaborate preparations, often none at all; because the chief attention is generally directed to inhalation, instead of to the elastic forming of the organs for the breath, sound currents, and tone. The one thing needed is the knowledge of the causes, and the necessary skill in preparing the form, avoiding all pressure that could injure it, whether originating in the larynx, tongue, or palate, or in the organs that furnish the breath pressure.
The singer's endeavors, consequently, must be directed to keeping the breath as long as possible sounding and vibrating not only forward but back in the mouth, since the resonance of the tone is spread upon and above the entire palate, extends from the front teeth to the wall of the throat. He must concern himself with preparing for the vibrations, pliantly and with mobility, a powerful, elastic, almost floating envelope, which must be filled entirely, with the help of a continuous vocal mixture,—a mixture of which the components are indistinguishable.
THE SINGER'S PHYSIOLOGICAL STUDIES
Science has explained all the processes of the vocal organs in their chief functions, and many methods of singing have been based upon physiology, physics, and phonetics. To a certain extent scientific explanations are absolutely necessary for the singer—as long as they are confined to the sensations in singing, foster understanding of the phenomenon, and summon up an intelligible picture. This is what uninterpreted sensations in singing cannot do; of which fact the clearest demonstration is given by the expressions, "bright," "dark," "nasal," "singing forward," etc., that I began by mentioning and that are almost always falsely understood. They are quite meaningless without the practical teachings of the sensations of such singers as have directed their attention to them with a knowledge of the end in view, and are competent to correlate them with the facts of science.
The singer is usually worried by the word "physiology"; but only because he does not clearly understand the limits of its teachings. The singer need, will, and must, know a little of it. We learn so much that is useless in this life, why not learn that which is of the utmost service to us? What, in brief, does it mean? Perfect consciousness in moving the vocal organs, and through the aid of the ear, in placing them at will in certain relations with each other; the fact that the soft palate can be drawn up against the hard palate; that the tongue is able to take many different positions, and that the larynx, by the assistance of the vocal sound oo, takes a low position, and by that of the vowel ā a high one; that all muscles contract in activity and in normal inactivity are relaxed; that we must strengthen them by continued vocal gymnastics so that they may be able to sustain long-continued exertion; and must keep them elastic and use them so. It includes also the well-controlled activity of diaphragm, chest, neck, and face muscles. This is all that physiology means for the vocal organs. Since these things all operate together, one without the others can accomplish nothing; if the least is lacking, singing is quite impossible, or is entirely bad.
Physiology is concerned also with muscles, nerves, sinews, ligaments, and cartilage, all of which are used in singing, but all of which we cannot feel. We cannot even feel the vocal cords. Certainly much depends for the singer upon their proper condition; and whether as voice producers or breath regulators, we all have good reason always to spare them as much as possible, and never to overburden them.
Though we cannot feel the vocal cords, we can, nevertheless, hear, by observing whether the tone is even,—in the emission of the breath under control,—whether they are performing their functions properly. Overburdening them through pressure, or emitting of the breath without control, results in weakening them. The irritation of severe coughing, thoughtless talking or shouting immediately after singing may also set up serious congestion of the vocal cords, which can be remedied only through slow gymnastics of the tongue and laryngeal muscles, by the pronunciation of vowels in conjunction with consonants. Inactivity of the vocal organs will not cure it, or perhaps not till after the lapse of years.
A good singer can never lose his voice. Mental agitation or severe colds can for a time deprive the singer of the use of his vocal organs, or seriously impair them. Only those who have been singing without consciously correct use of their organs can become disheartened over it; those who know better will, with more or less difficulty, cure themselves, and by the use of vocal gymnastics bring their vocal organs into condition again.
For this reason, if for no other, singers should seek to acquire accurate knowledge of their own organs, as well as of their functions, that they may not let themselves be burnt, cut, and cauterized by unscrupulous physicians. Leave the larynx and all connected with it alone; strengthen the organs by daily vocal gymnastics and a healthy, sober mode of life; beware of catching cold after singing; do not sit and talk in restaurants.
Students of singing should use the early morning hours, and fill their days with the various branches of their study. Sing every day only so much, that on the next day you can practise again, feeling fresh and ready for work, as regular study requires. Better one hour every day than ten to-day and none tomorrow.
The public singer should also do his practising early in the day, that he may have himself well in hand by evening. How often one feels indisposed in the morning! Any physical reason is sufficient to make singing difficult, or even impossible; it need not be connected necessarily with the vocal organs; in fact, I believe it very rarely is. For this reason, in two hours everything may have changed.
I remember a charming incident in New York. Albert Niemann, our heroic tenor, who was to sing Lohengrin in the evening, complained to me in the morning of severe hoarseness. To give up a role in America costs the singer, as well as the director, much money. My advice was to wait.
Niemann. What do you do, then, when you are hoarse?
I. Oh, I practise and see whether it still troubles me.
Niem. Indeed; and what do you practise?
I. Long, slow scales.
Niem. Even if you are hoarse?
I. Yes; if I want to sing, or have to, I try it.
Niem. Well, what are they? Show me.
The great scale, the infallible cure.
I showed them to him; he sang them, with words of abuse in the meantime; but gradually his hoarseness grew better. He did not send word of his inability to appear in the evening, but sang, and better than ever, with enormous success.
I myself had to sing Norma in Vienna some years ago, and got up in the morning quite hoarse. By nine o'clock I tried my infallible remedy, but could not sing above A flat, though in the evening I should have to reach high D flat and E flat. I was on the point of giving up, because the case seemed to me so desperate. Nevertheless, I practised till eleven o'clock, half an hour at a time, and noticed that I was gradually getting better. In the evening I had my D flat and E flat at my command and was in brilliant form. People said they had seldom heard me sing so well.
I could give numberless instances, all going to show that you never can tell early in the day how you are going to feel in the evening. I much prefer, for instance, not to feel so very well early in the day, because it may easily happen that the opposite may be the case later on, which is much less agreeable. If you wish to sing only when you are in good form, you must excuse yourself ninety-nine times out of a hundred. You must learn to know your own vocal organs thoroughly and be able to sing; must do everything that is calculated to keep you in good condition. This includes chiefly rest for the nerves, care of the body, and gymnastics of the voice, that you may be able to defy all possible chances.
Before all, never neglect to practise every morning, regularly, proper singing exercises through the whole compass of the voice. Do it with painful seriousness; and never think that vocal gymnastics weary the singer. On the contrary, they bring refreshment and power of endurance to him who will become master of his vocal organs.
EQUALIZING THE VOICE; BREATH; FORM
Through the lowering of the pillars of the fauces, which is the same as raising the soft palate, the outflowing breath is divided into two parts.
I have sketched the following representation of it:—
Division of the breath.
By raising the pillars of the fauces, which closes off the throat from the cavities of the head, the chest voice is produced; that is, the lowest range of all kinds of voices. This occurs when the main stream of breath, spreading over against the high-arched palate, completely utilizes all its resonating surfaces. This is the palatal resonance, in which there is the most power (Plate A).
When the soft palate is raised high behind the nose, the pillars of the fauces are lowered, and this frees the way for the main stream of breath to the head cavities. This now is poured out, filling the nose, forehead, and head cavities. This makes the head tone. Called head tone in women, falsetto in men, it is the highest range of all classes of voices, the resonance of the head cavities (Plate C).
Between these two extreme functions of the palate and breath, one stream of breath gives some of its force to the other; and when equally divided they form the medium range of all classes of voices (Plate B).
The singer must always have in his mind's eye a picture of this divided stream of breath.
As I have already said, in the lowest tones of all voices the main stream of breath is projected against the palate; the pillars of the fauces, being stretched to their fullest extent, and drawn back to the wall of the throat, allow almost no breath to reach the head cavities.
I say almost none, for, as a matter of fact, a branch stream of breath, however small, must be forced back, behind and above the pillars, first into the nose, later into the forehead and the cavities of the head. This forms the overtones (head tones) which must vibrate with all tones, even the lowest. These overtones lead over from the purest chest tones, slowly, with a constantly changing mixture of both kinds of resonance, first to the high tones of bass and baritone, the low tones of tenor, the middle tones of alto and soprano, finally, to the purest head tones, the highest tones of the tenor-falsetto or soprano. (See the plates.)
The extremely delicate gradation of the scale of increase of the resonance of the head cavities in ascending passages, and of increase of palatal resonance in descending, depends upon the skill to make the palate act elastically, and to let the breath, under control of the abdominal and chest pressure, flow uninterruptedly in a gentle stream into the resonating chambers. Through the previous preparation of the larynx and tongue, it must reach its resonating surfaces as though passing through a cylinder, and must circulate in the form previously prepared for it, proper for each tone and vowel sound. This form surrounds it gently but firmly. The supply of air remains continuously the same, rather increasing than diminishing, notwithstanding the fact that the quantity which the abdominal pressure has furnished the vocal cords from the supply chamber is a very small one. That it may not hinder further progression, the form must remain elastic and sensitive to the most delicate modification of the vowel sound. If the tone is to have life, it must always be able to conform to any vowel sound. The least displacement of the form or interruption of the breath breaks up the whirling currents and vibrations, and consequently affects the tone, its vibrancy, its strength, and its duration.
In singing a continuous passage upward, the form becomes higher and more pliant; the most pliable place on the palate is drawn upward. (See Plate A.)
When I sing a single tone I can give it much more power, much more palatal or nasal resonance, than I could give in a series of ascending tones. In a musical figure I must attack the lowest note in such a way that I can easily reach the highest. I must, therefore, give it much more head tone than the single tone requires. (Very important.) When advancing farther, I have the feeling on the palate, above and behind the nose, toward the cavities of the head, of a strong but very elastic rubber ball, which I fill like a balloon with my breath streaming up far back of it. And this filling keeps on in even measure. That is, the branch stream of the breath, which flows into the head cavities, must be free to flow very strongly without hindrance. (See Plate B.)
I can increase the size of this ball above, to a pear shape, as soon as I think of singing higher; and, indeed, I heighten the form before I go on from the tone just sung, making it, so to speak, higher in that way, and thus keep the form, that is, the "propagation form," ready for the next higher tone, which I can now reach easily, as long as no interruption in the stream of breath against the mucous membrane can take place. For this reason the breath must never be held back, but must always be emitted in a more and more powerful stream. The higher the tone, the more numerous are the vibrations, the more rapidly the whirling currents circulate, and the more unchangeable must the form be.
Catarrh often dries up the mucous membrane; then the tones are inclined to break off. At such times one must sing with peculiar circumspection, and with an especially powerful stream of breath behind the tone: it is better to take breath frequently. In a descending scale or figure I must, on the contrary, preserve very carefully the form taken for the highest tone. I must not go higher, nor yet, under any circumstances, lower, but must imagine that I remain at the same pitch, and must suggest to myself that I am striking the same tone again. The form may gradually be a little modified at the upper end: that is, the soft palate is lowered very carefully behind the nose: keeping almost always to the form employed for the highest tone, sing the figure to its end, toward the nose, with the help of the vowel oo. (This auxiliary vowel oo means nothing more than that the larynx is slowly lowered in position.)
When this happens, the resonance of the head cavities is diminished, that of the palate increased; for the soft palate sinks, and the pillars of the fauces are raised more and more. Yet the head tone must not be entirely free from palatal resonance. Both remain to the last breath united, mutually supporting each other in ascending and descending passages, and alternately but inaudibly increasing and diminishing.
These things go to make up the form:—
The raising and lowering of the soft palate, and the corresponding lowering and raising of the pillars of the fauces.
The proper position of the tongue: the tip rests on the lower front teeth—mine even as low as the roots of the teeth.
The back of the tongue must stand high and free from the throat, ready for any movement. A furrow must be formed in the tongue, which is least prominent in the lowest tones, and in direct head tones may even completely disappear. As soon as the tone demands the palatal resonance, the furrow must be made prominent and kept so. In my case it can always be seen. This is one of the most important matters, upon which too much emphasis can hardly be laid. As soon as the furrow in the tongue shows itself, the tone must sound right; for then the mass of the tongue is kept away from the throat, and, since its sides are raised, it is kept out of the way of the tone.
It lies flattest in the lowest tones because the larynx then is in a very low position, and thus is out of its way.
Furthermore, there is the unconstrained position of the larynx, which must be maintained without pressure of the throat muscles. From it the breath must stream forth evenly and uninterruptedly, to fill the form prepared for it by the tongue and palate and supported by the throat muscles.
This support must not, however, depend in the least upon pressure,—for the vibrating breath must float above,—but upon the greatest elasticity. One must play with the muscles, and be able to contract and relax them at pleasure, having thus perfect mastery over them. For this incessant practice is required, increasing control of the breath through the sense of hearing and the breath pressure.
At first a very strong will power is needed to hold the muscles tense without pressure; that is, to let the tone, as it were, soar through the throat, mouth, or cavities of the head.
The stronger the improper pressure in the production of the tone, the more difficult it is to get rid of. The result is simply, in other words, a strain. The contraction of the muscles must go only so far that they can be slowly relaxed; that is, can return to their normal position easily. Never must the neck be swelled up, or the veins in it stand out. Every convulsive or painful feeling is wrong.
To attack a tone, the breath must be directed to a focal point on the palate, which lies under the critical point for each different tone; this must be done with a certain decisiveness. There must, however, be no pressure on this place; for the overtones must be able to soar above, and sound with, the tone. The palate has to furnish, besides, the top cover against which the breath strikes, also an extremely elastic floor for the breath sounding above it against the hard palate or in the nose.
This breath, by forming the overtones, makes certain the connection with the resonance of the head cavities.
In order to bring out the color of the tone the whirling currents must vivify all the vowel sounds that enter into it, and draw them into their circles with an ever-increasing, soaring tide of sound.
The duration of the tone must be assured by the gentle but uninterrupted outpouring of the breath behind it. Its strength must be gained by the breath pressure and the focal point on the palate, by the complete utilization of the palatal resonance; without, however, injuring the resonance of the head cavities. (See plate, representing the attack.)
NASAL. NASAL SINGING
By raising the back of the tongue toward the soft palate and lowering the soft palate toward the tongue, we produce nasal sound, such as is heard in the pronunciation of the word "hanger," for instance. The air is then expelled chiefly through the nose. The nasal sound can be much exaggerated—something that very rarely happens; it can be much neglected—something that very often happens. Certain it is that it is not nearly enough availed of. That is my own everyday experience.
We Germans have only small opportunity to make the acquaintance of the nasal sound; we know it in only a few words: "Engel," "lange," "mangel," etc.,—always where ng occurs before or after a vowel.
The French, on the contrary, always sing and speak nasally, with the pillar of the fauces raised high, and not seldom exaggerate it. On account of the rounding up of the whole soft palate, which, through the power of habit, is cultivated especially by the French to an extraordinary degree, and which affords the breath an enormous space as a resonating surface to act upon, their voices often sound tremendous. The tenor Silva is a good example of this. Such voices have only the one drawback of easily becoming monotonous. At first the power of the organ astonishes us; the next time we are disappointed—the tone color remains always the same. The tone often even degenerates into a hollow quality.
On the other hand, voices that are not sufficiently nasal sound clear and expressionless. Madame Melba, for instance, whose voice is cultivated to favor the head tones, and sounds equally well in all its ranges, apparently lowers the pillars of the fauces too much, and has her chief resonance in the head cavities; she cannot draw upon the palatal resonance for single accents of expression. Consequently she loses in vocal color. This procedure, as soon as it becomes a habit, results in monotony.
In the first case somewhat less, in the second somewhat more, nasal resonance would help to a greater variety of effect.
There are singers, too, who pursue the middle path with consummate art. Thus Madame Sembrich, in recent years, appears to have devoted very special study to nasal tones, whereby her voice, especially in the middle register, has gained greatly in warmth.
To fix the pupil's attention on the nasal tone and the elasticity of the palate, he should often be given exercises with French words.
SINGING TOWARD THE NOSE. HEAD VOICE
When the peak of the softest part of the palate is placed forward toward the nose, instead of being drawn up high behind the nose, as in the head voice (see plate, head voice and nasal tone), it forms a kind of nasal production which, as I have already said, cannot be studied enough, because it produces very noble tonal effects and extraordinary connections. It ought always to be employed. By it is effected the connection of tones with each other, from the front teeth back to a point under the nose; from the lower middle tones to the head tones. In truth, all the benefit of tonal connection depends upon this portion of the soft palate; that is, upon its conscious employment.
This is all that singers mean when they speak of "nasal singing"—really only singing toward the nose. The soft palate placed toward the nose offers a resonating surface for the tone.
The reason why teachers tell their pupils so little of this is that many singers are quite ignorant of what nasal singing means, and are tormented by the idea of "singing toward the nose," when by chance they hear something about it. They generally regard the voice as one complete organ acting by itself, which is once for all what it is. What can be made of it through knowledge of the functions of all the cooeperating organs they know nothing of.
Blind voices are often caused by the exaggerated practice of closing off the throat too tightly from the head cavities; that is, drawing the pillars of the fauces too far toward the wall of the throat. The large resonating chamber thus formed yields tones that are powerful close at hand, but they do not carry, because they are poor in overtones. The mistake consists in the practice of stretching the pillars too widely in the higher vocal ranges, also. In proportion as the pillars are extended, the breath spreads over the entire palate, instead of being concentrated on only one point of it, and bringing at the same time the resonance of the head cavities into play. The soft palate must first be drawn up to, then behind, the nose, and the attack of the higher tones be transferred thither. The pillars of the fauces must necessarily be relaxed by this action of the soft palate. Thereby breath is introduced into the cavities of the head to form the overtones, which contribute brilliancy and freshness to the voice.
Many singers persist in the bad habit here described, as long as nature can endure it; in the course of time, however, even with the most powerful physiques, they will begin to sing noticeably flat; with less powerful, the fatal tremolo will make its appearance, which results in the ruin of so many singers.
THE HEAD VOICE
The head tone signifies, for all voices, from the deepest bass to the highest soprano,—excepting for the fact that it furnishes the overtones for each single tone of the whole vocal gamut,—youth. A voice without vibrancy is an old voice. The magic of youth, freshness, is given by the overtones that sound with every tone.
So to utilize the head voice (resonance of the head cavities) that every tone shall be able to "carry" and shall remain high enough to reach higher tones easily, is a difficult art, without which, however, the singer cannot reckon upon the durability of his voice. Often employed unconsciously, it is lost through heedlessness, mistaken method, or ignorance; and it can hardly ever be regained, or, if at all, only through the greatest sacrifice of time, trouble, and patience.
The pure head voice (the third register) is, on account of the thinness that it has by nature, the neglected step-child of almost all singers, male and female; its step-parents, in the worst significance of the word, are most singing teachers, male and female. It is produced by the complete lowering of the pillars of the fauces, while the softest point of the palate—behind the nose—is thrown up very high, seemingly, almost into the head; in the highest position, as it were, above the head.
The rear of the tongue stands high, but is formed into a furrow, in order that the mass of the tongue may not be in the way, either in the throat or in the mouth. In the very highest falsetto and head tones the furrow is pretty well filled out, and then no more breath at all reaches the palatal resonance.
The larynx stands high—mine leans over to one side. (See plates of larynx.)
The vocal cords, which we cannot feel, now approach very near each other. The pupil should not read about them until he has learned to hear correctly. I do not intend to write a physiological work, but simply to attempt to examine certain infallible vocal sensations of the singer; point out ways to cure evils, and show how to gain a correct understanding of that which we lack.
Up to a certain pitch, with tenors as well as with sopranos, the head tones should be mixed with palatal resonance. With tenors this will be a matter of course, though with them the chest tones are much abused; with sopranos, however, a judicious mixture may be recommended because more expression is required (since the influence of Wagner has become paramount in interpreting the meaning of a composition, especially of the words) than in the brilliant fireworks of former times. The head voice, too, must not be regarded as a definite register of its own, which is generally produced in the middle range through too long a persistence in the use of the palatal and nasal resonance. If it is suddenly heard alone, after forcing tones that have preceded it, which is not possible under other circumstances, it is of course noticeably thin, and stands out to its disadvantage—like every other sharply defined register—from the middle tones. In the formation of the voice no "register" should exist or be created; the voice must be made even throughout its entire range. I do not mean by this that I should sing neither with chest tones nor with head tones. On the contrary, the practised artist should have at his command all manner of different means of expression, that he may be able to use his single tones, according to the expression required, with widely diverse qualities of resonance. This, too, must be cared for in his studies. But these studies, because they must fit each individual case, according to the genius or talent of the individual, can be imparted and directed only by a good teacher.
The head voice, when its value is properly appreciated, is the most valuable possession of all singers, male and female. It should not be treated as a Cinderella, or as a last resort,—as is often done too late, and so without results, because too much time is needed to regain it, when once lost,—but should be cherished and cultivated as a guardian angel and guide, like no other. Without its aid all voices lack brilliancy and carrying power; they are like a head without a brain. Only by constantly summoning it to the aid of all other registers is the singer able to keep his voice fresh and youthful. Only by a careful application of it do we gain that power of endurance which enables us to meet the most fatiguing demands. By it alone can we effect a complete equalization of the whole compass of all voices, and extend that compass.
This is the great secret of those singers who keep their voices young till they reach an advanced age. Without it all voices of which great exertions are demanded infallibly meet disaster. Therefore, the motto must be always, practice, and again, practice, to keep one's powers uninjured; practice brings freshness to the voice, strengthens the muscles, and is, for the singer, far more interesting than any musical composition.
If in my explanations I frequently repeat myself, it is done not unintentionally, but deliberately, because of the difficulty of the subject, as well as of the superficiality and negligence of so many singers who, after once hastily glancing through such a treatise,—if they consider it worth their while at all to inform themselves on the subject,—think they have done enough with it.
One must read continually, study constantly by one's self, to gain even a faint idea of the difficulty of the art of singing, of managing the voice, and even of one's own organs and mistakes, which are one's second self. The phenomenon of the voice is an elaborate complication of manifold functions which are united in an extremely limited space, to produce a single tone; functions which can only be heard, scarcely felt—indeed, should be felt as little as possible. Thus, in spite of ourselves, we can only come back again to the point from which we started, as in an eddy, repeating the explanations of the single functions, and relating them to each other.
Since in singing we sense none of the various activities of the cartilage, muscles, ligaments, and tendons that belong to the vocal apparatus, feel them only in their cooeperation, and can judge of the correctness of their workings only through the ear, it would be absurd to think of them while singing. We are compelled, in spite of scientific knowledge, to direct our attention while practising, to the sensations of the voice, which are the only ones we can become aware of,—sensations which are confined to the very palpable functions of the organs of breathing, the position of the larynx, of the tongue, and of the palate, and finally, to the sensation of the resonance of the head cavities. The perfect tone results from the combined operations of all these functions, the sensations of which I undertake to explain, and the control of which the ear alone can undertake.
This is the reason why it is so important to learn to hear one's self, and to sing in such a way that one can always so hear.
Even in the greatest stress of emotion the power of self-control must never be lost; you must never allow yourself to sing in a slovenly, that is, in a heedless, way, or to exceed your powers, or even to reach their extreme limit. That would be synonymous with roughness, which should be excluded from every art, especially in the art of song. The listener must gain a pleasing impression from every tone, every expression of the singer; much more may be given if desired.
Strength must not be confounded with roughness; and the two must not go hand in hand together. Phenomenal beings may perhaps be permitted to go beyond the strength of others; but to the others this must remain forbidden. It cannot become a regular practice, and is best limited to the single phenomenon. We should otherwise soon reach the point of crudest realism, from which at best we are not far removed. Roughness will never attain artistic justification, not even in the case of the greatest individual singers, because it is an offence.
The public should witness from interpretative art only what is good and noble on which to form its taste; there should be nothing crude or commonplace put before it, which it might consider itself justified in taking as an example.
Of the breath sensation I have already spoken at length. I must add that it is often very desirable in singing to breathe through the nose with the mouth closed; although when this is done, the raising of the palate becomes less certain, as it happens somewhat later than when the breath is taken with the mouth open. It has, however, this disadvantage, that neither cold air nor dust is drawn into the larynx and air passages. I take pleasure in doing it very often. At all events, the singer should often avail himself of it.
We feel the larynx when the epiglottis springs up ("stroke of the glottis," if the tone is taken from below upward). We can judge whether the epiglottis springs up quickly enough if the breath comes out in a full enough stream to give the tone the necessary resonance. The low position of the larynx can easily be secured by pronouncing the vowel oo; the high, by pronouncing the vowel ā. Often merely thinking of one or the other is enough to put the larynx, tongue, and palate in the right relations to each other. Whenever I sing in a high vocal range, I can plainly feel the larynx rise and take a diagonal position. (See plate.)
The movement is, of course, very slight. Yet I have the feeling in my throat as if everything in it was stretching. I feel the pliability of my organs plainly as soon as I sing higher.
SENSATION AND POSITION OF THE TONGUE
We feel the placing of its tip against or beneath the front teeth; and place the tip very low, so that it really curves over in front. (See plate.)
Its hinder part must be drawn back toward the palate, in the pronunciation of every letter.
Furthermore, by looking in the mirror we can see that the sides of the tongue are raised as soon as we wish to form a furrow in it; that is, as we must do to produce the palatal resonance. (Only in the head tone—that is, the use of the resonance of the head cavities without the added palatal resonance—has the tongue no furrow; it must, however, lie very high, since otherwise its mass, when it lies flat, presses against the larynx and produces pinched or otherwise disagreeable tones.)
The best way is to get the mass of the tongue out of the way by forming the furrow in it. In high notes, when the larynx must stand as high as possible, the back of the tongue also must stand very high; but since there is a limit to this, we are often compelled to make the larynx take a lower position.
The correct position of the tongue, preparatory to singing, is gained by saying the vowel sound aou, as if about to yawn.
The tongue must not scrape around upward with its tip. As soon as the tip has been employed in the pronunciation of the consonants l, n, s, t, and z, in which its service is very short and sharp, it must return to its former position, and keep to it.
It is best to watch the movements of the tongue in the mirror until we have formed the correct habit permanently. The more elastic the tongue is in preparing the form for the breath to pass through, the stiller will it appear, the stiller will it feel to us. It is well, however, for a considerable time to watch in a mirror all functions of the organs that can be seen; the expression of the face, the position of the mouth, and the movement of the lips.
THE SENSATIONS OF THE PALATE
The sensations of the palate are best made clear to us by raising the softest part behind the nose. This part is situated very far back. Try touching it carefully with the finger. This little part is of immeasurable importance to the singer. By raising it the entire resonance of the head cavities is brought into play—consequently the head tones are produced. When it is raised, the pillars of the fauces are lowered. In its normal position it allows the pillars to be distended and to close the head cavities off from the throat, in order to produce the chest tones; that is, to permit the breath to make fullest use of the palatal resonance. As soon as the soft palate is lowered under the nose, it makes a point of resonance for the middle range of voice, by permitting the overtones to resound at the same time in the nose. (See plate, middle range.)
Thus the palate performs the whole work so far as concerns the different resonances, which can be united and separated by it, but must always work together in close relation, always bound together in all tones, in all kinds of voices.
The lowest chest tones of the bass, the highest head tones of the soprano, are thus the two poles between which the entire gamut of all voices can be formed. From this it can be perceived that with a certain degree of skill and willingness to work, every voice will be capable of great extension.
THE SENSATION OF THE RESONANCE OF THE HEAD CAVITIES
The sensation of the resonance of the head cavities is perceived chiefly by those who are unaccustomed to using the head tones. The resonance against the occipital walls of the head cavities when the head tones are employed, at first causes a very marked irritation of the nerves of the head and ear. But this disappears as soon as the singer gets accustomed to it. The head tones can be used and directed by the breath only with a clear head. The least depression such as comes with headaches, megrim, or moodiness may have the worst effect, or even make their use quite impossible. This feeling of oppression is lost after regular, conscious practice, by which all unnecessary and disturbing pressure is avoided. In singing very high head tones I have a feeling as if they lay high above the head, as if I were setting them off into the air. (See plate.)
Here, too, is the explanation of singing in the neck. The breath, in all high tones which are much mixed with head tones or use them entirely, passes very far back, directly from the throat into the cavities of the head, and thereby, and through the oblique position of the larynx, gives rise to the sensations just described. A singer who inhales and exhales carefully, that is, with knowledge of the physiological processes, will always have a certain feeling of pleasure, an attenuation in the throat as if it were stretching itself upward. The bulging out of veins in the neck, that can so often be seen in singers, is as wrong as the swelling up of the neck, looks very ugly, and is not without danger from congestion.
With rapid scales and trills one has the feeling of great firmness of the throat muscles, as well as of a certain stiffness of the larynx. (See "Trills.") An unsteady movement of the latter, this way and that, would be disadvantageous to the trill, to rapid scales, as well as to the cantilena. For this reason, because the changing movements of the organs must go on quite imperceptibly and inaudibly, it must be more like a shifting than a movement. In rapid scales the lowest tone must be "placed" with a view to the production of the highest, and in descending, the greatest care must be exercised that the tone shall not tumble over each other single, but shall produce the sensation of closely connected sounds, through being bound to the high tone position and pressed toward the nose.
In this all the participating vocal organs must be able to keep up a muscular contraction, often very rigid: a thing that is to be achieved only gradually through long years of careful and regular study. Excessive practice is of no use in this—only regular and intelligent practice; and success comes only in course of time.
Never should the muscular contractions become convulsive and produce pressure which the muscles cannot endure for a long time. They must respond to all necessary demands upon their strength, yet remain elastic in order that, easily relaxing or again contracting, they may promptly adapt themselves to every nuance in tone and accent desired by the singer.
A singer can become and continue to be master of his voice and means of expression only as long as he practises daily correct vocal gymnastics. In this way alone can he obtain unconditional mastery over his muscles, and, through them, of the finest controlling apparatus, of the beauty of his voice, as well as of the art of song as a whole.
Training the muscles of the vocal organs so that their power to contract and relax to all desired degrees of strength, throughout the entire gamut of the voice, is always at command, makes the master singer.
As I have already said, the idea of "singing forward" leads very many singers to force the breath from the mouth without permitting it to make full use of the resonating surfaces that it needs, yet it streams forth from the larynx really very far back in the throat, and the straighter it rises in a column behind the tongue, the better it is for the tone. The tongue must furnish the surrounding form for this, for which reason it must not lie flat in the mouth. (See plate, the tongue.)
The whirling currents of tone circling around their focal point (the attack) find a cup-shaped resonating cavity when they reach the front of the mouth and the lips, which, through their extremely potent auxiliary movements, infuse life and color into the tone and the word. Of equal importance are the unimpeded activity of the whirling currents of sound and their complete filling of the resonating spaces in the back of the throat, the pillars of the fauces, and the head cavities in which the vocalized breath must be kept soaring above the larynx and soaring undisturbed.
In the lowest range of the voice the entire palate from the front teeth to the rear wall of the throat must be thus filled. (See plate.)
With higher tones the palate is lowered, the nostrils are inflated, and above the hard palate a passage is formed for the overtones. (See plate.)
This air which soars above must, however, not be in the least compressed; the higher the tone, the less pressure should there be; for here, too, whirling currents are formed, which must be neither interrupted nor destroyed. The breath must be carried along on the wall of the throat without compression, in order to accomplish its work. (See plate, high tones.)
Singing forward, then, does not mean pressing the whole of the breath or the tone forward, but only part of it; that is, in the middle register, finding a resonating focus in front, caused by the lowering of the front of the palate. This permits a free course only to that part of the breath which is used up by the whirling currents in the resonant throat form, and serves to propagate the outer waves, and carry them farther through space.
We sing covered as soon as the soft palate is lowered toward the nose (that is, in the middle register), and the resonance and attack are transferred thither so that the breath can flow over the soft palate through the nose.
This special function of the palate, too, should be carefully prepared for in the tones that precede it, and mingled with them, in order not to be heard so markedly as it often is. In men's voices this is much more plainly audible than in women's; but both turn it to account equally on different tones. This often produces a new register that should not be produced. This belongs to the chapter on registers.
The tone is concentrated on the front of the palate instead of being spread over all of it—but this must not be done too suddenly. [See illustrations on pages 127, 129, 131, 133.]
ON VOCAL REGISTERS
What is a vocal register?
A series of tones sung in a certain way, which are produced by a certain position of the vocal organs—larynx, tongue, and palate. Every voice includes three registers—chest, middle, and head. But all are not employed in every class of voice.
Two of them are often found connected to a certain extent in beginners; the third is usually much weaker, or does not exist at all. Only very rarely is a voice found naturally equalized over its whole compass.
Do registers exist by nature? No. It may be said that they are created through long years of speaking in the vocal range that is easiest to the person, or in one adopted by imitation, which then becomes a fixed habit. If this is coupled with a natural and proper working of the muscles of the vocal organs, it may become the accustomed range, strong in comparison with others, and form a register by itself. This fact would naturally be appreciated only by singers.
If, on the other hand, the muscles are wrongly employed in speaking, not only the range of voice generally used, but the whole voice as well, may be made to sound badly. So, in every voice, one or another range may be stronger or weaker; and this is, in fact, almost always the case, since mankind speaks and sings in the pitch easiest or most accustomed, without giving thought to the proper position of the organs in relation to each other; and people are rarely made to pay attention as children to speaking clearly and in an agreeable voice. In the most fortunate instances the range thus practised reaches limits on both sides, not so much those of the person's power, as those set by his lack of skill, or practice. Limitations are put on the voice through taking account only of the easiest and most accustomed thing, without inquiring into the potentialities of the organs or the demands of art.
Now, suppose such a peculiarity which includes, let us say, three or four tones, is extended to six or eight, then, in the course of time, in the worst cases, a break is produced at the outside limits. In the most favorable cases the tones lying next beyond these limits are conspicuously weak and without power compared with those previously forced. This one way of singing can be used no farther; another must be taken up, only, perhaps, to repeat farther the incorrect procedure.
Three such limits or ways of singing can be found and used. Chest, middle, and head voice, all three form registers when exaggerated; but they should be shaded off and melt into each other. The organs, through the skilful training of the teacher, as well as by the exercise of the pupil's talent and industry, must be accustomed to taking such positions that one register leads into another imperceptibly. In this way beauty, equality, and increased compass of the voice will be made to enhance its usefulness.
When the three ways of singing are too widely different and too sharply contrasted, they become separate registers. These are everywhere accepted as a matter of course, and for years have been a terror in the teaching of singing, that has done more than anything else to create a dreadful bewilderment among singers and teachers. To eradicate it is probably hopeless. Yet, these registers are nothing more than three disconnected manners of using the vocal and resonating apparatus.
With all the bad habits of singers, with all the complete ignorance of cause and effect, that prevail, it is not surprising that some pretend to tell us that there are two, three, four, or five registers, although as a matter of fact there can be at most three in any voice. It will be much more correct to call every tone of every voice by the name of a new additional register, for in the end, every tone will and must be taken in a different relation, with a different position of the organs, although the difference may be imperceptible, if it is to have its proper place in the whole. People cling to the appellations of chest, middle, and head register, confounding voice with register, and making a hopeless confusion, from which only united and very powerful forces can succeed in extricating them.
As long as the word "register" is kept in use, the registers will not disappear. And yet, the register question must be swept away, to give place to another class of ideas, sounder views on the part of teachers, and a truer conception on the part of singers and pupils.
DEVELOPMENT AND EQUALIZATION
Naturally, a singer can devote more strength to the development of one or two connected ranges of his voice than to a voice perfectly equalized in all its accessible ranges. For this are required many years of the most patient study and observation, often a long-continued or entire sacrifice of one or the other limit of a range for the benefit of the next-lying weaker one; of the head voice especially, which, if unmixed, sounds uneven and thin in comparison with the middle range, until by means of practised elasticity of the organs and endurance of the throat muscles a positive equalization can take place.
Voices which contain only one or two registers are called short voices, for their availability is as limited as they are themselves.
Yet it must be remembered that all voices alike, whether short or long, even those of the most skilful singers, when age comes on, are apt to lose their highest ranges, if they are not continually practised throughout their entire compass with the subtlest use of the head tones. Thence it is to be concluded that a singer ought always to extend the compass of his voice as far as possible, in order to be certain of possessing the compass that he needs.
On the formation of the organs depends much of the character of the voice. There are strong, weak, deep, and high voices by nature; but every voice, by means of proper study, can attain a certain degree of strength, flexibility, and compass.
Unfortunately, stubbornness enters largely into this question, and often works in opposition to the teacher. Many, for instance, wish to be altos, either because they are afraid of ruining their voices by working for a higher compass, or because it is easier for them, even if their voices are not altos at all.
Nowadays operas are no longer composed for particular singers and the special characteristics of their voices. Composers and librettists express what they feel without regard to an alto singer who has no high C or a soprano who has no low A flat or G. But the artist will always find what he needs.
Registers exist in the voices of almost all singers, but they ought not to be heard, ought not, indeed, to exist. Everything should be sung with a mixed voice in such a way that no tone is forced at the expense of any other. To avoid monotony the singer should have at his disposal a wealth of means of expression in all ranges of his voice. (See the Varieties of Attack and Dynamic Power.) Before all else he should have knowledge of the advantages in the resonance of certain tones, and of their connection with each other. The soul must provide the color; skill and knowledge as to cause and effect, management of the breath, and perfection of the throat formation must give the power to produce every dynamic gradation and detail of expression. Registers are, accordingly, produced when the singer forces a series of tones, generally ascending, upon one and the same resonating point, instead of remembering that in a progression of tones no one tone can be exactly like another, because the position of the organs must be different for each. The palate must remain elastic from the front teeth to its hindmost part, mobile and susceptible, though imperceptibly, to all changes. Very much depends on the continuous harmony of action of the soft and hard palate, which must always be in full evidence, the raising and extension of the former producing changes in the tone. If, as often happens when the registers are sharply defined, tones fall into a cul de sac, escape into another register is impossible, without a jump, which may lead to disaster. With every tone that the singer has to sing, he must always have the feeling that he can go higher, and that the attack for different tones must not be forced upon one and the same point.
The larynx must not be suddenly pressed down nor jerked up, except when this is desired as a special effect. That is, when one wishes to make a transition, legato, from a chest tone to a tone in the middle or head register, as the old Italians used to do, and as I, too, learned to do, thus:—
In this case the chest tone is attacked very nasal, in order that the connection may remain to the upper note, and the larynx is suddenly jerked up to the high tone. This was called breaking the tone; it was very much used, and gave fine effects when it was well done. I use it to-day, especially in Italian music, where it belongs. It is an exception to the rule for imperceptible or inaudible change of position of the organs,—that it should not be made suddenly.
The scale proceeds from one semitone to another; each is different; each, as you go on, requires greater height, wherefore the position of the organs cannot remain the same for several different tones. But, as there should never be an abrupt change audible in the way of singing, so should there never be an abrupt change felt in the sensations of the singer's throat. Every tone must be imperceptibly prepared in an elastic channel and must produce an easy feeling in the singer, as well as an agreeable impression upon the listener.
The small peak indicated in the illustration is enormously extensible and can be shifted into infinite varieties of position. However unimportant its raising and lowering may appear, they are nevertheless of great importance for the tone and the singer. The focal point of the breath, that forms simultaneously the attack and the body of the tone, by the operation of the abdominal breath pressure against the chest, is always firmly placed on, beneath, or behind the nose. Without body even the finest pianissimo has no significance. The very highest unmixed head tones are an exception, and they can express nothing. There can be no body expected in them. Their soaring quality of sound endures no pressure, and consequently gives no expression, which is possible only through an admixture of palatal resonance. Their only significance is gained through their pure euphony.
All vowels, too, must keep their point of resonance uninterruptedly on the palate. All beauty in the art of song, in cantilena as well as in all technique, consists chiefly in uninterrupted connection between the tone and the word, in the flexible connection of the soft palate with the hard, in the continually elastic adjustment of the former to the latter. This means simply the elastic form, which the breath must fill in every corner of resonating surface without interruption, as long as the tone lasts.
If the singer will control his tone,—and in practising he must always do so,—he needs only to test it to see whether he can easily make it softer without perceptible change in the position of the organs, and carry it higher toward the nose and the cavities of the forehead; that is, prepare a form for its continuation upward.
In this way he can learn how much height a tone needs without being too high, and how much it often lacks in height and duration to sound high enough.
In this way remarkable faults become evident! The reason why a tone sounds too low—the so-called transition tones from the lower to the middle range and from this to the higher, come up for consideration chiefly—is that the pillars of the fauces are raised too high toward the back, preventing the head tones from sounding at the same time; or the soft palate is lowered too far under the nose, which results in pressing the tone too long and too far toward the teeth. This fault is met with in very many singers, in all kinds of voices, and in almost the same places. It comes only from an unyielding retention of the same resonating point for several tones and a failure to bring in the resonance of the head cavities. The "propagation form," or continuing form, must always be prepared consciously, for without it artistic singing is not to be thought of.
[Footnote 2: "Fortpflanzungsform": the preparation made in the vocal organs for taking the next tone before leaving the one under production, so that the succeeding tones shall all be of like character and quality.]
The neglect of this most important principle usually results in overstraining the vocal cords and throat muscles. This is followed first by singing flat, and later by the appearance of the hideous tremolo (see Tremolo) to which so many singers fall victims. The cause of a tone's being too sharp is the dwelling too long on the resonance of the head cavities, where the tone should already have been mixed with palatal resonance. With very young voices this can easily happen, and can also result from weariness, when the bodily strength is not developed sufficiently to endure the fatigue of practising. A very circumspect course must then be followed.
There are also singers, male and female, who use too much head tone through their entire compass; such voices are called "white." Their use of the palatal resonance being insufficient, they are not able to make a deeper impression, because their power of expression is practically nothing. Frau Wedekind and Madame Melba are instances of this. In such cases it would be advisable to raise the pillars of the fauces a little higher, and place the larynx somewhat lower, and to mingle judiciously with all the other vowels, the vowel sound oo, that requires a lower position of the larynx. The voices would become warmer and would sound more expressive. As soon as the singer is able to create easily and inaudibly on every tone the correct propagation form for the next tone, all questions as to register must disappear. He must not, however, be drilled on registers; several tones must not be forced on one and the same point. Every tone should be put naturally into its own place; should receive the pitch, duration, and strength it needs for its perfection. And one master rules it all,—the ear!
The goal is, unfortunately, so seldom reached because it can be reached only through the moderation that comes from mastery; and, alas! only true masters practise it.
It may be accepted as true that the lower ranges of the voice have the greatest strength, the middle ranges the greatest power of expression, the higher the greatest carrying power.
The best mixture—all three together—may be developed to the highest art by the skill of the individual, often, indeed, only by a good ear for it. Whenever expression of the word's significance, beauty of the vocal material, and perfection of phrasing are found united in the highest degree, it is due either to knowledge or to a natural skill in the innumerable ways of fitting the sung word to the particular resonance—connections that are suitable to realize its significance, and hence its spirit. They are brought out by a stronger inclination toward one or the other of the resonance surfaces, without, however, injuring the connection or the beauty of the musical phrase. Here aesthetic feeling plays the chief part, for whatever may be its power and its truthfulness, the result must always be beautiful,—that is, restrained within proper limits.
This law, too, remains the same for all voices. It is a question of the entire compass of a voice trained for artistic singing, one that is intrusted with the greatest of tasks, to interpret works of art that are no popular songs, but, for the most part, human tragedies. Most male singers—tenors especially—consider it beneath them, generally, indeed, unnatural or ridiculous, to use the falsetto, which is a part of all male voices, as the head tones are a part of all female voices. They do not understand how to make use of its assistance, because they often have no idea of its existence, or know it only in its unmixed purity—that is, its thinnest quality. Of its proper application they have not the remotest conception. Their singing is generally in accordance with their ignorance.
The mixture is present by nature in all kinds of voices, but singers must possess the skill and knowledge to employ it, else the natural advantage goes for nothing.
The most perfect singer that I remember in my Berlin experience was Theodor Wachtel in this respect, that with his voice of rare splendor, he united all that vocal art which, as it seems, is destined quite to disappear from among us. How beautiful were his coloratura, his trills,—simply flawless! Phrasing, force, fulness of tone, and beauty were perfect, musically without a blemish. If he did not go outside the range of Arnold, G. Brown, Stradella, Vasco, the Postillion and Lionel, it was probably because he felt that he was not equal to interpreting the Wagnerian spirit. In this he was very wise. As one of the first of vocal artists, whose voice was superbly trained and was preserved to the end of his life, I have had to pay to Wachtel the tribute of the most complete admiration and recognition, in contrast to many others who thought themselves greater than he, and yet were not worthy to unloose the latchet of his shoes.
Recently the little Italian tenor Bonci has won my hearty admiration for his splendidly equalized voice, his perfect art, and his knowledge of his resources; and notwithstanding the almost ludicrous figure that he cut in serious parts, he elicited hearty applause. Cannot German tenors, too, learn to sing well, even if they do interpret Wagner? Will they not learn, for the sake of this very master, that it is their duty not to use their voices recklessly?
Is it not disrespectful toward our greatest masters that they always have to play hide and seek with the bel canto, the trill, and coloratura? Not till one has fully realized the difficulties of the art of song, does it really become of value and significance. Not till then are one's eyes opened to the duty owed not only to one's self but to the public.
The appreciation of a difficulty makes study doubly attractive; the laborious ascent of a summit which no one can contest, is the attainment of a goal.
Voices in which the palatal resonance—and so, power—is the predominating factor, are the hardest to manage and to preserve. They are generally called chest voices. Uncommon power and fulness of tone in the middle ranges are extremely seductive. Only rarely are people found with sense enough to renounce such an excess of fulness in favor of the head tones,—that is, the least risky range to exploit and preserve,—even if this has to be done only temporarily.
Copious vocal resources may with impunity be brought before the public and thereby submitted to strain, only after long and regular study.
The pure head tone, without admixture of palatal resonance, is feeble close at hand, but penetrating and of a carrying power equalled by no other. Palatal resonance without admixture of the resonance of the head cavities (head tones) makes the tone very powerful when heard near by, but without vibrancy for a large auditorium. This is the proof of how greatly every tone needs the proper admixture.
THE HIGHEST HEAD TONES
As we have already seen, there is almost no limit to the height that can be reached by the pure head tone without admixture of palatal resonance. Very young voices, especially, can reach such heights, for without any strain they possess the necessary adaptability and skill in the adjustment to each other of the larynx, tongue, and pillars of the fauces. A skill that rests on ignorance of the true nature of the phenomenon must be called pure chance, and thus its disappearance is as puzzling to teacher and listener as its appearance had been in the first place. How often is it paired with a total lack of ability to produce anything but the highest head tones! As a general rule such voices have a very short lease of life, because their possessors are exploited as wonders, before they have any conception of the way to use them, of tone, right singing, and of cause and effect in general. An erroneous pressure of the muscles, a wrong movement of the tongue (raising the tip, for instance, ), an attempt to increase the strength of the tone,—all these things extinguish quickly and for all time the wonder-singer's little light.
We Lehmann children in our youth could sing to the very highest pitch. It was nothing for my sister Marie to strike the 4-line e a hundred times in succession, and trill on it for a long time. She could have sung in public at the age of seven. But since our voices, through the circumstances of our life and surroundings, were forced to early exertions, they lost their remarkable high notes; yet enough was left to sing the Queen of Night (in Mozart's opera "Die Zauberfloete"), with the high f.
After I had been compelled to use my lower and middle ranges much more, in the study of dramatic parts, I omitted the highest notes from my practice, but could not then always have relied on them. Now that I know on what it all depends, it is very easy for me to strike high f, not only in passing, but to combine it with any tone through three octaves. But upon the least pressure by any organ, the head resonance loses its brilliancy; that is, the breath no longer streams into the places where it should, and can create no more whirling currents of sound to fill the spaces.
But one should not suppose that the head tones have no power. When they are properly used, their vibrancy is a substitute for any amount of power.
As soon as the head tones come into consideration, one should never attempt to sing an open ah, because on ah the tongue lies flattest. One should think of an ā, and in the highest range even an ē; should mix the ā and ē with the ah, and thereby produce a position of the tongue and soft palate that makes the path clear for the introduction of the breath into the cavities of the head.
Singers who, on the other hand, pronounce ā and ē too sharply, need only introduce an admixture of oo; they thereby lower the position of the larynx, and thus give the vowel and tone a darker color.
Since the stream of breath in the highest tones produces currents whirling with great rapidity, the more rapidly the higher the tone is, the slightest pressure that may injure the form in which they circulate may ruin the evenness of the tone, its pitch, perhaps the tone itself. Each high tone must soar gently, like the overtones.
The upper limits of a bass and baritone voice are
where, consequently, the tones must be mixed. Pure head tones, that is, falsetto, are never demanded higher than this. I regard it, however, as absolutely necessary for the artist to give consideration to his falsetto, that he may include it among his known resources. Neither a bass nor a baritone should neglect to give it the proper attention, and both should learn to use it as one of their most important auxiliary forces.
With what mastery did Betz make use of it; how noble and beautiful his voice sounded in all its ranges; of what even strength it was, and how infallibly fresh! And let no one believe that Nature gave it to him thus. As a beginner in Berlin he was quite unsatisfactory. He had the alternative given him either to study with great industry or to seek another engagement, for his successor had already been selected. Betz chose to devote himself zealously to study; he began also to play the 'cello; he learned to hear, and finally raised himself to be one of our first singers, in many roles never to be forgotten. Betz knew, like myself, many things that to-day are neither taught nor learned.