The musical illustrations also have been transcribed and collected in two pdf files, links to which can be found at the beginning and the end of the html version. The Exercises follow the Exercises as numbered in the book in chapter II (The Head Voice). The remainder of the musical fragments, which are unlabeled in the book, are noted as Figures A through Q (in the order in which they appear), and can be found in the Figures pdf.
THE HEAD VOICE AND OTHER PROBLEMS
Practical Talks on Singing
D. A. CLIPPINGER
Author of Systematic Voice Training The Elements of Voice Culture
Boston Oliver Ditson Company New York Chicago Chas. H. Ditson & Co. Lyon & Healy
Copyright MCMXVII By Oliver Ditson Company International Copyright Secured
To MY STUDENTS Past, Present and Future
The following chapters are the outgrowth of an enthusiasm for the work of voice training, together with a deep personal interest in a large number of conscientious young men and women who have gone out of my studio into the world to engage in the responsible work of voice teaching.
The desire to be of service to them has prompted me to put in permanent form the principles on which I labored, more or less patiently, to ground them during a course of three, four, or five years. The fact that after having stood the "grind" for that length of time they are still asking, not to say clamoring, for more, may, in a measure, justify the decision to issue this book. It is not an arraignment of vocal teachers, although there are occasional hints, public and private, which lead me to believe that we are not altogether without sin. But if this be true we take refuge in the belief that our iniquity is not inborn, but rather is it the result of the educational methods of those immediately preceding us. This at least shifts the responsibility.
Words are dangerous things, and are liable at any moment to start a verbal conflagration difficult to control. Nowhere is this more likely to occur than in a discussion of voice training.
From a rather wide acquaintance with what has been said on this subject in the past hundred years, I feel perfectly safe in submitting the proposition that the human mind can believe anything and be conscientious in it.
Things which have the approval of ages emit the odor of sanctity, and whoever scoffs does so at his peril. Charles Lamb was once criticised for speaking disrespectfully of the equator, and a noted divine was severely taken to task for making unkind remarks about hell. Humanity insists that these time honored institutions be treated with due respect. I have an equal respect for those who believe as I do and those who do not; therefore if anything in this book is not in accord with popular opinion it is a crack at the head of the idol rather than that of the worshipper.
There is no legislative enactment in this great and free country to prevent us from believing anything we like, but there should be some crumbs of comfort in the reflection that we cannot know anything but the truth. One may believe that eight and three are thirteen if it please him, but he cannot know it because it is not true. Everything that is true has for its basis certain facts, principles, laws, and these are eternal and unchangeable. The instant the law governing any particular thing becomes definitely known, that moment it becomes undebatable. All argument is eliminated; but while we are searching for these laws we are dealing largely in opinions, and here the offense enters, for as Mr. Epictetus once said, "Men become offended at their opinion of things, not at the things themselves." We can scarcely imagine any one taking offense at the multiplication table, neither is this interesting page from the arithmetic any longer considered a fit subject for debate in polite society, but so far as we know this is the only thing that is immune.
Our musical judgments, which are our opinions, are governed by our experience; and with the growth of experience they ripen into solid convictions. For many years I have had a conviction that voice training is much simpler and less involved than it is generally considered. I am convinced that far too much is made of the vocal mechanism, which under normal conditions always responds automatically. Beautiful tone should be the primary aim of all voice teaching, and more care should be given to forming the student's tone concept than to that of teaching him how to control his throat by direct effort. The controlling power of a right idea is still much underestimated. The scientific plan of controlling the voice by means of mechanical directions leaves untouched the one thing which prevents its normal, automatic action, namely tension.
But, someone inquires, "If the student is singing with rigid throat and tongue would you say nothing about it?" I would correct it, but not by telling him to hold his tongue down. A relaxed tongue is always in the right place, therefore all he needs to learn about the tongue is how to relax it.
It has been hinted that he who subscribes to Dr. Fillebrown's declaration that [A]"The process of singing is psychologic rather than physiologic" has nothing tangible to work with. Now tone concept and musical feeling are absolutely essential to singing, and they are definite entities to one who has them. All musical temperaments must be vitalized. Imaginations must be trained until they will burst into flame at the slightest poetic suggestion. Musical natures are not fixed quantities. They are all subject to the law of growth. Every vocal student is an example of the law of evolution. Few people find it easy in the beginning to assume instantly a state of intense emotion. These things are habits of mind which must be developed, and they furnish the teacher with definite problems.
[A] Resonance in Singing and Speaking, by Thomas Fillebrown.
To repeat, the tone is the thing, and how it sounds is what determines whether it is right or wrong. And so we come back again to the ear, which is the taste. Does it please the ear? If so, is the ear reliable? Not always. If all teachers were trying for the same tone quality there would be no need of further writing on the subject, but they are not. On the contrary no two of them are trying for exactly the same quality. Each one is trying to make the voice produce his idea of tone quality, and the astounding thing about the human voice is that for a time at least, it can approximate almost anything that is demanded of it. If a voice is ruined, the ear of the teacher is directly responsible. It is useless to try to place the blame elsewhere.
Truth is always simple. If it seems difficult it is due to our clumsy way of stating it. Thought, like melodies, should run on the line of the least resistance. In the following pages I have eschewed all mystifying polysyllabic verbiage, and as Mark Twain once said, have "confined myself to a categorical statement of facts unincumbered by an obscuring accumulation of metaphor and allegory."
It is hoped that this book will be useful. It is offered as a guide rather than as a reformer. It aims to point in the right direction, and "do its bit" in emphasizing those things which are fundamental in voice training. Whatever is true in it will reach and help those who need it. Nothing more could be asked or desired.
Kimball Hall, Chicago. May, 1917.
INTRODUCTION I. VOICE PLACING II. THE HEAD VOICE III. A GENERAL SURVEY OF THE SITUATION IV. HINTS ON TEACHING V. THE NATURE AND MEANING OF ART VI. SINGING AS AN ART VII. THE CONSTRUCTION OF A SONG VIII. HOW TO STUDY A SONG IX. SCIENTIFIC VOICE PRODUCTION BIBLIOGRAPHY
THE HEAD VOICE AND OTHER PROBLEMS.
"The path of the sound, being formed of elastic and movable parts, varies its dimensions and forms in endless ways, and every modification—even the slightest—has a corresponding and definite influence on the voice."
Garcia. Hints on Singing.
Vocal teachers are rated primarily on their ability as voice builders. When students look for a teacher the first thing they want to know is: "Can he build a voice?" His ability as an interpreter in most instances is taken for granted. Why this is so is easily understood. There is a moving appeal in the pure singing tone of the human voice that cannot even be approximated by any other instrument. We have all heard voices that were so beautiful that to hear one of them vocalize for half an hour would be a musical feast. Such a voice is so full of feeling, so vibrant with life and emotion that it moves one to the depths even if no words are used. It is only natural that all singers should be eager to possess such a voice, for it covers up a multitude of other musical misdemeanors. While it does not take the place altogether of the interpretative instinct, it does make the work of the singer much easier by putting his audience in sympathy with him from the beginning, thus to a considerable extent disarming criticism. The old Italians attached so much importance to beautiful tone that they were willing to work conscientiously for half a dozen years to obtain it. To the beautiful tone they added a faultless technic. Altogether it required from five to eight years to prepare and equip a singer for a career, but when he was thus prepared he could do astounding things in the way of trills, roulades, and cadenzas.
The stories of many of these singers have come down to us through the musical histories, and the singing world has come to believe that the teachers alone were responsible. Owing to her geographic location, her climate, language, and racial characteristics Italy at one time furnished most of the great singers of the world, and the world with its usual lack of judgment and discrimination gave Italian teachers all of the credit. That the best of the Italian teachers were as near right as it is humanly possible to be, I have no doubt whatever, but along with the few singers who became famous there were hundreds who worked equally hard but were never heard of. A great voice is a gift of the creator, and the greater the gift the less there is to be done by the teacher. But in addition to what nature has done there is always much to be done by the teacher, and the nature of the vocal instrument is such that its training is a problem unique and peculiar. The voice can do so many different things, produce so many different kinds of tone, in such a variety of ways that the ability to determine which is right and which is wrong becomes a matter of aesthetic judgment rather than scientific or mechanical.
If the scale, power, quality, and compass of the human voice were established as are those of the piano, the great problem in the training of a singer would be much simplified, possibly eliminated; but the singer must form the pitch, power, and quality of each tone as he uses it; therefore in the training of a singer we are constantly facing what has crystallized into the term Voice Placing.
This term has been used as a peg upon which to hang every whim, fancy, formula, and vocal vagary that has floated through the human mind in the last two centuries. It has furnished an excuse for inflicting upon vocal students every possible product of the imagination, normal and abnormal, disguised in the word Method, and the willingness with which students submit themselves as subjects for experiment is beyond belief. The more mysterious and abnormal the process the more faith they have in its efficacy.
The nature of the vocal instrument, its wide range of possibilities, and its intimate relation to the imagination make it a peculiarly fit subject for experiment. The scientist has tried to analyze it, the mechanic has tried to make it do a thousand things nature never intended it to do, the reformer has tried to reform both, and the psychologist, nearest right of all, has attempted to remove it from the realm of the material altogether. There seems to be no way to stop this theorizing, and it doubtless will continue until the general musical intelligence reaches such a point that it automatically becomes impossible.
We are constantly hearing such remarks as "Mr. S knows how to place the voice." "Mr. G does not." "Mr. B places the voice high." "Mr. R does not place the voice high enough." "Mr. X is great at bringing the tone forward," etc., etc. This goes on through a long list of fragments of English difficult to explain even by those who use them.
Now voice placing means just one thing, not half a dozen. It means learning to produce beautiful tone. When one can produce beautiful tone throughout his vocal compass his voice is placed, and it is not placed until he can. The injunction to place the voice invariably leaves in the mind of the student the idea that he must direct the tone to some particular point, in fact he is often urged to do so, whereas the truth is that when the tone is properly produced there is no thought of trying to put it anywhere. It seems to sing itself. There is a well established belief among students that the tone must be consciously directed to the point where it is supposed to focus. This belief is intimately associated with another equally erroneous, that the only way to tell whether a tone is good or bad, right or wrong, is by the way it feels. A tone is something to hear. It makes its appeal to the ear, and why one should rely on the sense of feeling to tell whether it sounds right or wrong is something difficult to understand.
Further, explicit directions are given for the action and control of everything involved in making tone except the mind of the student. The larynx seems to be particularly vulnerable and is subject to continuous attack. One says it should be held low throughout the compass. Another says it should rise as the pitch rises, and still another, that it should drop as the pitch rises. Instructions of this kind do not enlighten, they mystify.
If there be any one thing upon which voice teachers theoretically agree it is "free throat". Even those who argue for a fixed larynx agree to this, notwithstanding it is a physical impossibility to hold the larynx in a fixed position throughout the compass without a considerable amount of rigidity. It is like believing in Infinite Love and eternal punishment at the same time.
When the larynx is free it will not and should not be in the same position at all times. It will be a little lower for somber tones than for bright tones. It will be a little higher for the vowel e than for oo or o, but the adjustments will be automatic, never conscious. It cannot be too often reiterated that every part of the vocal mechanism must act automatically, and it is not properly controlled until it does.
The soft palate also comes in for its share of instruction. I was once taught to raise it until the uvula disappeared. Later I was taught to relax it. Both of these movements of the soft palate were expected to result in a beautiful tone. Now if two things which are directly opposed to each other are equal to the same thing, then there is no use in bothering our heads further with logic.
Such directions I believe to be of doubtful value, if not irrelevant. We must learn that an idea has definite form, and that when the mechanism is free, that is, plastic, the idea molds it into a corresponding form and the expression becomes a perfect picture of the idea. This is what is meant by indirect control, involuntary, automatic action.
One could write indefinitely on the peculiarities of voice training, the unique suggestions made, the mechanical instructions given, the unbelievable things students are made to do with lips, tongue and larynx as a necessary preparation to voice production. In this as in everything else there are extremists. Some have such an exquisite sense of detail that they never get beyond it. At the other extreme are those who trust everything to take care of itself. Both overlook the most important thing, namely, how the voice sounds.
It requires much time, study and experience to learn that voice training is simple. It is a fact that truth is naturally, inherently simple. Its mastery lies in removing those things which seem to make it difficult and complex. Training the voice, this so called "voice placing," is simple and easy when one has risen above that overwhelming amount of fiction, falsity, and fallacy that has accumulated around it, obscuring the truth and causing many well intentioned teachers to follow theories and vagaries that have no foundation in fact, and which lead both teacher and pupil astray. If there is any truth applicable to voice training it has an underlying principle, for truth is the operation of principle. If we start wrong we shall end wrong. If we start right and continue according to principle we shall reach the desired goal.
Voice training has its starting point, its basis, its foundation, in beautiful tone. This should be the aim of both teacher and pupil from the beginning. To produce something beautiful is the aim of all artistic activity. Beautiful tone, as Whistler said of all art, has its origin in absolute truth. That which is not beautiful cannot possibly be true, for real nature, which is the expression of Infinite Mind, is always perfect, and no perfect thing can be ugly, discordant, or inharmonious. The imperfection we see is the result of our own imperfect understanding of the real universe.
A tone is something to hear, and hearing is mental. An old French anatomist once said: "The eye sees what it is looking for, and it is looking only for what it has in mind." The same is true of the ear. We hear the tone mentally before we sing it, and we should hear it as distinctly as if it were sung by another. A tone first of all is a mental product, and its pitch, power, and quality are definite mental entities. When we wish to convey this tone to another we do it through the sound producing instrument which nature has provided for this purpose.
That everything exists first as idea has been the teaching of the philosophers for ages. That the idea is the controlling, governing force is equally well understood. Therefore, inasmuch as the aim of all voice building is to produce beautiful tone we must start with the right idea of tone. This is where the first and greatest difficulty appears. To most people a tone is intangible and difficult to define. One will rarely find a student that can formulate anything approaching a definition of a musical tone and I fancy many teachers would find it far from easy. Unless one has a grasp of the psychology of voice, and a great many have not, he will begin to work with what he can see. Here enters the long dreary mechanical grind that eventually ruins the temper of both teacher and student, and results in nothing but mechanical singing, instead of a joyous, inspiring musical performance.
In studying the pure singing tone we find the following: It is smooth, steady, firm, rich, resonant, sympathetic. We shall also find that all of its qualities and attributes are mental. It must contain the element of freedom (mental), firmness (mental), security (mental), sympathy (mental), enthusiasm, sentiment, joy, compassion, pity, love, sorrow (all mental). These are all qualities of the singing tone. They are not intangible. On the contrary, to the one who has them they are definite and are the things he works for from the beginning. They are basic and fundamental. All are combined in what I call tone concept, which is another word for musical ear, or musical taste. This tone concept is by far the most important thing in voice training. The student will not sing a tone better than the one he conceives mentally, therefore the mental concept of tone, or tone concept must be the basis of voice placing.
This tone concept, or mental picture of tone qualities controls the vocal instrument by indirection. True tone color does not come as the result of trying by some physical process to make the tone light or dark, but from the automatic response to musical concept or feeling.
In leaving this subject I wish to pay my respects to that company of cheerful sinners—the open throat propagandists. I was taught in my youth that the punishment for a sin committed ignorantly was none the less pungent and penetrating, and I trust that in administering justice to these offenders the powers will be prompt, punctilious and persevering. It is a worthy activity.
No mistake of greater magnitude was ever made since voice training began than that of holding the throat open by direct effort. It never resulted in a tone a real musician's ear could endure, nevertheless during the latter part of the nineteenth century and even the early part of the twentieth it was made such an integral part of voice culture that it seemed to be incorporated in the law of heredity, and vocal students, even before they were commanded, would try to make a large cavity in the back of the throat. I believe however, that there is much less of this than formerly. Vocal teachers are beginning to see that the one important thing is a free throat and that when this is gained the response of the mechanism to the mental demand is automatic and unerring.
THE HEAD VOICE
Let him take care, however, that the higher the notes, the more it is necessary to touch them with softness, to avoid screaming.
Tosi. (1647-1727) Observations on Florid Song.
That the development of the upper, or head voice, is the most difficult as well as the most important part of the training of the singing voice, will be readily admitted by every experienced singing teacher.
That the upper voice should be produced with as much comfort as the middle or lower, is scarcely debatable.
That a majority of singers produce their upper voice with more or less difficulty, need not be argued.
Why is it that after two, three or more years of study so many upper voices are still thick, harsh and unsteady?
There is nothing in the tone world so beautiful as the male or female head voice when properly produced, and there is nothing so excruciatingly distressing as the same voice when badly produced.
The pure head voice is unique in its beauty. It is full of freedom, elasticity, spiritual exaltation. It seems to float, as it were, in the upper air without connection with a human throat. Its charm is irresistible. It is a joy alike to the singer and the listener. It is the most important part of any singer's equipment. Why is it so difficult and why do so few have it? Various reasons are at hand.
The spirit of American enterprise has found its way into voice teaching. It is in the blood of both teacher and pupil. The slogan is "Put it over." This calls for big tone and they do not see why they should not have it at once.
The ability to use the full power of the upper voice when occasion demands is necessary and right, but merely to be able to sing high and loud means nothing. All that is required for that is a strong physique and determination. Such voice building requires but little time and no musical sense whatever; but to be able to sing the upper register with full power, emotional intensity, musical quality and ease, is the result of long and careful work under the ear of a teacher whose sense of tone quality is so refined that it will detect instantly the slightest degree of resistance and not allow it to continue.
The ambitious young singer who has been told by the village oracle that she has a great voice and all she needs is a little "finishing," balks at the idea of devoting three or four years to the process, and so she looks for some one who will do it quickly and she always succeeds in finding him. To do this work correctly the old Italians insisted on from five to eight years with an hour lesson each day. To take such a course following the modern plan of one or two half hours a week, would have the student treading on the heels of Methuselah before it was completed.
It is not always easy to make students understand that the training of the voice means the development of the musical mentality and at best is never a short process. To most of them voice culture is a physical process and as they are physically fit, why wait?
Now the fact is that there is nothing physical in voice production save the instrument, and a strong physique has no more to do with good singing than it has with good piano playing. Voice production is a mental phenomenon. It is mentality of the singer impressing itself on the vocal instrument and expressing itself through it. The idea that the vocal instrument alone without mental guidance will produce beautiful tone is as fallacious as that a grand piano will produce good music whether the one at the keyboard knows how to play it or not.
Let it be understood once for all that it is the mentality of the individual, not his body, that is musical or unmusical. Both teacher and student must learn that there is much more to do mentally and much less to do physically than most people suspect. They must learn that a musical mentality is no less definite than a physical body, and is at least equally important; also that right thinking is as necessary to good voice production as it is to mathematics.
At this point there will doubtless be a strenuous objection from those who assert that tone cannot be produced without effort, and that a considerable amount of it is necessary, especially in the upper voice.
It will be readily admitted that the application of force is required to produce tone, but how much force? Certainly not that extreme physical effort that makes the singer red in the face and causes his upper tones to shriek rather than sing. Such a display of force discloses an erroneous idea of how to produce the upper voice. When there is the right relation existing between the breath and the vocal instrument, when there is the proper poise and balance of parts, no such effort is necessary. On the contrary the tone seems to flow and the effort required is only that of a light and pleasant physical exercise.
The pianist does not have to strike the upper tones any harder than the lower ones in order to bring out their full power. Why should the upper part of the voice require such prodigious effort?
Now all voices should have a head register. It is a part of nature's equipment, and this calls for a word on the classification of voices. It ought not to be difficult to determine whether a voice is soprano, alto, tenor, baritone or bass, but I find each year a considerable number that have been misled. Why? A number of things are responsible. One of the most common is that of mistaking a soprano who has a chest register for an alto. This singer finds the low register easier to sing than the upper, consequently she and her friends decide she is an alto. Thereafter she sings low songs and takes the alto part in the choir. The longer she follows this plan the less upper voice she will have, and when she goes to a teacher, unless he has a discriminating and analytical ear, he will allow her to remain in the alto class. There is always something in the fiber of a tone, even though it be badly produced, that will disclose to the trained ear what it will be when rightly produced.
Again, the human voice can produce such a variety of tone qualities that sometimes a soprano will cultivate a somber style of singing and a majority of people will call her alto. It requires a trained ear to detect what she is doing. The baritone also, because he often sings the bass part in a quartet, tries to make himself sound like a bass; this he does by singing with a somber, hollow quality which has little or no carrying power.
Another mistake is that of classifying a voice according to its compass. This is the least reliable method of all. The mere fact of having high tones does not necessarily make one a soprano, neither is a voice always to be classified as alto by reason of not being able to sing high. It is quality that decides what a voice is. Soprano is a quality. Alto is a quality. The terms tenor, baritone, bass, refer to a quality rather than a compass. These qualities are determined primarily by the construction of the organ.
But when voices are properly trained there is not so much difference in the compass as most people suppose. For example: the female head voice lies approximately within this compass and altos who learn to use the real head voice will have no difficulty in vocalizing that high.
At the lower end of the voice sopranos who have a chest register will often sing as low as most altos. But whether they sing high or low it is always the quality that determines the classification of the voice.
Many lyric sopranos have no chest register, and it would be a mistake to attempt to develop one. In such voices, which rarely have anything below middle C, the middle register must be strengthened and carried down and made to take the place of the chest voice.
It must not be understood that there is but one soprano quality, one alto quality, etc. The voice is so individual that it cannot be thus limited. There are many soprano qualities between the coloratura and the dramatic, and the same is true of alto, tenor, baritone and bass.
When the voice is rightly produced, its natural quality will invariably appear, and there it must be allowed to remain. An attempt to change it always means disaster.
It will be observed that the piano string diminishes in length and thickness as the pitch rises, and the voice must do something which corresponds to this. Otherwise it will be doing that which approximates stretching the middle C string, for example, until it will produce its octave.
In discussing the head voice it is the purpose to avoid as much as possible the mechanical construction of the instrument. This may be learned from the numerous books on the anatomy and physiology of the voice. It is an interesting subject, but beyond an elementary knowledge it is of little value to the teacher. A correct knowledge of how to train the voice must be gained in the studio, not in the laboratory. Its basis is the musical sense rather than the mechanical or scientific. All of the scientific or mechanical knowledge that the world has to offer is no preparation for voice training. A knowledge of the art of teaching begins when the teacher takes his first pupil, not before. Therefore the aim shall be to present the subject as it appears to the teacher.
We hear much of the value of vocal physiology as a guide to good voice production. It is also claimed that a knowledge of it will prevent the singer from misusing his voice and at the same time act as a panacea for vocal ills. These statements do not possess a single element of truth. The only way the singer can injure the vocal instrument is by forcing it. That is, by setting up a resistance in the vocal cords that prevents their normal action. If this is persevered in it soon becomes a habit which results in chronic congestion. Singing becomes increasingly difficult, especially in the upper voice, and in course of time the singer discovers that he has laryngitis. Will a knowledge of vocal physiology cure laryngitis? Never. Will it prevent any one from singing "throaty?" There is no instance of the kind on record. In a majority of cases laryngitis and other vocal ills are the direct results of bad voice production and disappear as the singer learns to produce his upper tones without resistance. These things are effects, not causes, and to destroy the effect we must remove the cause. This will be found to be a wrong habit and habits are mental, not physical. When a mental impulse and its consequent response become simultaneous and automatic the result is a habit, but it is the mental impulse that has become automatic.
The terms, tension, rigidity, interference, resistance, all mean essentially the same thing. They mean the various forms of contraction in the vocal instrument which prevents its involuntary action. If we follow these things back far enough we shall find that they all have their origin in some degree of fear. This fear, of which anxiety is a mild form, begins to show itself whenever the singer attempts tones above the compass of his speaking voice. Here is undeveloped territory. The tone lacks power, quality and freedom, and as power is what the untrained singer always seeks first, he begins to force it. In a short time he has a rigid throat, and the longer he sings the more rigid it becomes. By the time he decides to go to a teacher his voice is in such a condition that he must take his upper tones with a thick, throaty quality or with a light falsetto. Among female voices I have seen many that could sing nothing but a full tone in the upper register, and that only with an unsteady, unsympathetic quality.
Now a point upon which all voice teachers can agree is that the upper voice is not properly trained until it has a perfect messa di voce that is, until the singer can swell the tone from the lightest pianissimo to full voice and return, on any tone in his compass, without a break and without sacrificing the pure singing quality. How shall this be accomplished? If the singer is forcing the upper voice it is safe to say in the beginning that it never can be done by practicing with full voice. Such practice will only fasten the habit of resistance more firmly upon the singer. To argue in the affirmative is equivalent to saying that the continued practice of a bad tone will eventually produce a good tone.
There is but one way to the solution of the problem; the singer must get rid of resistance. When he has succeeded in doing that the problem of the head voice is solved. The bugaboo of voice placing permanently disappears. The difficulty so many have in placing the upper voice lies in this, that they try to do it without removing the one thing which prevents them from doing it. When the voice is free from resistance it places itself, that is, it produces without effort whatever quality the singer desires. The term "head voice," doubtless grew out of the sensation in the head which accompanies the upper tones, and this sensation is the result of the vibration of the air in the air head cavities. Many have taken this sensation as a guide to the production of the head voice, and in order to make sure of it they instruct the student to direct the tone into the head. This is not only an uncertain and unnecessary procedure, but is almost sure to develop a resistance which effectually prevents the tone from reaching the head cavities. When there is no interference the tone runs naturally into the proper channel. It is not necessary to use force to put it there.
Whether or not the head cavities act as resonators is one of the many mooted points in voice training. Those who believe they do are much in the majority, but those in the minority are equally confident they do not. What are the arguments? That there is a sensation in the head cavities when singing in the upper part of the compass no one can deny. Does it affect tone quality? The minority offers the argument that it cannot do so because the soft palate automatically rises in singing a high tone, thus closing the passage through the nose. On the other side it is argued, and rightly, that the soft palate can be trained to remain low in singing high tones. But whether the soft palate is high or low does not settle the matter. It is not at all necessary that breath should pass through the nasal cavities in order to make them act as resonators. In fact it is necessary that it should not. It is the air that is already in the cavities that vibrates. All who are acquainted with resonating tubes understand this. Neither is it necessary that the vibrations should be transmitted to the head cavities by way of the pharynx and over the soft palate. They may be transmitted through the bones of the head. John Howard proved this, to his satisfaction at least, many years ago.
I recall that in working with Emil Behnke he used an exercise to raise the soft palate and completely close the channel, yet no one can deny that his pupils had head resonance. There are certain facts in connection with this that are hard to side-step. Plunket Greene once told me that at one time he lost the resonance in the upper part of his voice, and on consulting a specialist he found a considerable growth on the septum. He had it removed and at once the resonance returned. Other equally strong arguments could be offered in support of the claim that the head cavities do act as resonators. At any rate the high or low palate is not the deciding factor.
Too much cannot be said on the subject of interference, or resistance. So long as there is any of it in evidence it has its effect on tone quality. It is the result of tension, and tension is a mental impulse of a certain kind. Its antidote is relaxation, which is a mental impulse of an opposite nature. It is necessary for most singers to work at this until long after they think they have it.
In preparing the head voice the student must begin with a tone that is entirely free from resistance and build from that. In a large majority of voices it means practicing with a light, soft tone. A voice that cannot sing softly is not rightly produced. While the student is working for the freedom which will give him a good half voice he is preparing the conditions for a good full voice. The conditions are not right for the practice of full voice until the last vestige of resistance has disappeared. The light voice is as necessary to artistic success as the full voice. The singer must have both, but he must never sacrifice quality for power.
In the female voice the readjustments of the mechanism known as changes of register usually occur at about .
In many lyric soprano voices I have found the same readjustment at the B and C above the staff .
I have also noted in many bass voices a similar change of adjustment at the E and F below the bass clef .
It would seem therefore, that in a majority of voices until an even scale has been developed, that these readjustments appear at about the E and F and B and C throughout the vocal compass. The exceptions to this rule are so numerous however, that it can scarcely be called a rule. Some voices will have but one noticeable readjustment, and it may be any one of the three.
In some voices the changes are all imperceptible. In others, due to wrong usage, they are abrupt breaks. In every instance the teacher must give the voice what it needs to perfect an even scale. There should be no more evidence of register changes in the vocal scale than in the piano scale.
Leaving the lower two changes for the moment, let us consider the one at the upper E and F. This one is so common among sopranos that there are few who have not one, two, or three weak tones at this point. To avoid these weak tones many are taught to carry the thicker tones of the middle register up as far as they can force them in order to get the "big tone" which seems to be the sole aim of much modern voice teaching. The victims of this manner of teaching never use the real head voice, and one thing happens to them all. As time goes on the upper voice grows more and more difficult, the high tones disappear one by one, and at the time when they should be doing their best singing they find themselves vocal wrecks. Some of them change from soprano to alto and end by that route.
Now these are not instances that appear at long intervals. They are in constant evidence and the number is surprisingly large. The cause is ignorance of how to treat the upper voice, together with an insane desire for a "big tone" and a lack of patience to await until it grows. The incredible thing is that there is a teacher living whose ear will tolerate such a thing.
Now there is a way to develop the head voice that gives the singer not only the full power of his upper voice, but makes it free, flexible and vibrant, a sympathetic quality, a perfect messa di voce, and enables him to sing indefinitely without tiring his voice. He must learn that it is possible to produce a full tone with a light mechanism. This is the natural way of producing the head voice. Further, the light mechanism must be carried far below the point where the so called change of register occurs.
Every voice should have a head register, and it may be developed in the following way. With altos and sopranos I start with this exercise
Altos should begin at A.
The student should neither feel nor hear the tone in the throat. Therefore he should begin with a soft oo. The throat should be free, lips relaxed but slightly forward. There should be no puckering of the lips for oo. The tone should seem to form itself around the lips, not in the throat. In the beginning the exercise must be practiced softly. No attempt must be made to increase the power, until the tone is well established in the light mechanism. When the oo can be sung softly and without resistance as high as E flat use the same exercise with o.
The next step is to blend this light mechanism with the heavier mechanism. It may be done in this way,
Sing this descending scale with a crescendo, always beginning it pp. It should be practiced very slowly at first, and with portamento. Carrying the head voice down over the middle and the middle down over the lower will in a short time blend all parts of the voice, and lay the foundation of an even scale. The exercise should be transposed upward by half steps as the voice becomes more free until it reaches F or F sharp.
The next step is the building process. Use the following:
Altos should begin at A. In practicing these swells great care must be taken. Tone quality is the first consideration, and the tone must be pressed no further than is possible while retaining the pure singing quality. Where voices have been forced and are accustomed to sing nothing but thick tones this building process is sometimes slow. The student finds an almost irresistible tendency to increase the resistance as he increases the power of the tone. Therefore the louder he sings the worse it sounds. This kind of practice will never solve the problem. When the student is able to swell the tone to full power without increasing the resistance the problem is solved.
The progress of the student in this, as in everything in voice training, depends upon the ear of the teacher. The untrained ear of the student is an unreliable guide. The sensitive ear of the teacher must at all times be his guide. The belief that every one knows a good tone when he hears it has no foundation in fact. If the student's concept of tone were perfect he would not need a teacher. He would have the teacher within himself. Every one knows what he likes, and what he likes is of necessity his standard at that particular time, but it is only the measure of his taste and may be different the next day.
All things in voice training find their court of last resort in the ear of the teacher. All other knowledge is secondary to this. He may believe any number of things that are untrue about the voice, but if he have a thoroughly refined ear it will prevent him from doing anything wrong. His ear is his taste, his musical sense, and it is his musical sense, his musical judgment, that does the teaching.
So in building the head voice the teacher must see to it that musical quality is never sacrificed for power. A full tone is worse than useless, unless the quality is musical and this can never be accomplished until the vocal instrument is free from resistance.
Exercise No. 3 should be transposed upward by half steps, but never beyond the point at which it can be practiced comfortably.
As tension shows most in the upper part of the voice the student should have, as a part of his daily practice, exercises which release the voice as it rises. Use the following:
Begin with medium power and diminish to pp as indicated. The upper tone must not only be sung softly, but the throat must be entirely free. There must be no sense of holding the tone.
Transpose to the top of the voice.
No. 5 is for the same purpose as No. 4 but in an extended form. Begin with rather full voice and diminish to pp ascending. Increase to full voice descending.
Continue the building of the upper voice using the complete scale.
Thus far in preparing the head voice we have used the vowels oo and o. We may proceed to the vowel ah in the following way. Using Ex. No. 6 first sing o with loose but somewhat rounded lips. When this tone is well established sing o with the same quality, the same focus, or placing without rounding the lips. It amounts to singing o with the ah position. When this can be done then use short u as in the word hum. This gives approximately the placing for ah in the upper voice. When these vowels can all be sung with perfect freedom transpose upward by half steps.
In No. 7 when the crescendo has been made on the upper tone carry the full voice to the bottom of the scale.
This is another way of blending the different parts of the voice. It should be sung portamento in both directions. When sung by a female voice it will be Middle, Head, Middle as indicated by the letters M, H, M. When sung by the male voice it will be Chest, Head, Chest as indicated by the letters C, H, C. Transpose upward by half steps.
When the foregoing exercises are well in hand the head voice may be approached from the middle and lower registers in scale form as in the following:
The fact that male voices are more often throaty in the upper register then female voices calls for special comment.
The following diagram showing the relationship of the two voices will help to elucidate the matter.
I have here used three octaves of the vocal compass as sufficient for the illustration. Remembering that the male voice is an octave lower than the female voice we shall see that the female voice is a continuation, as it were, of the male voice; the lower part of the female compass overlapping the upper part of the male compass, the two having approximately an octave G to G in common. Further it will be seen that both male and female voices do about the same thing at the same absolute pitches. At about E flat or E above middle C the alto or soprano passes from the chest to the middle register. It is at the same absolute pitches that the tenor passes from what is usually called open to covered tone, but which might better be called from chest to head voice. There is every reason to believe that the change in the mechanism is the same as that which occurs in the female voice at the same pitches. That there is oftentimes a noticeable readjustment of the mechanism in uncultivated voices at these pitches no observing teacher will deny, and these are the voices which are of special interest to the teacher, and the ones for which books are made. It will be observed that this change in the male voice takes place in the upper part of his compass instead of in the lower, as in the female voice. This change which is above the compass of the speaking voice of the tenor or baritone, adds greatly to its difficulty. For this reason the training of the male head voice requires more care and clearer judgment than anything else in voice training.
In treating this part of the female voice we have learned that if the heavy, or chest voice, is carried up to G or A above middle C it weakens the tones of the middle register until they finally become useless. Then the chest tones become more difficult and disappear one by one and the voice has no further value. Identically the same thing happens to the tenor who, by reason of sufficient physical strength forces his chest voice up to G, A, or B flat. He may be able to continue this for awhile, sometimes for a few years, but gradually his upper tones become more difficult and finally impossible and another vocal wreck is added to the list.
In restoring the female voice that has carried the chest voice too high it is necessary to carry the middle register down, sometimes as low as middle C until it has regained its power. The tenor or baritone must do essentially the same thing. He must carry the head voice, which is a lighter mechanism than the chest voice, down as low as this c using what is often called mixed voice. When the pitches are practiced with a sufficiently relaxed throat the tone runs naturally into the head resonator with a feeling almost the equivalent of that of a nasal tone, but this tone will be in no sense nasal. It will be head voice.
Does the falsetto have any part in the development of the head voice? This inoffensive thing is still the subject of a considerable amount of more of less inflammatory debate both as to what it is and what it does. Without delay let me assure every one that it is perfectly harmless. There is no other one thing involved in singing, immediate or remote, from which the element of harm is so completely eliminated. It is held by some that it is produced by the false vocal chords. This position is untenable for the reason that I have known many singers who could go from the falsetto to a full ringing tone and return with no perceptible break. Now since it will hardly be argued that a ringing, resonant tone could be produced by the false vocal cords, it is evident that the singer must change from the false to the true vocal cords somewhere in the process—a thing which is unthinkable.
It is held by others that the falsetto is a relic of the boy's voice, which has deteriorated from lack of use. This seems not unreasonable, and a considerable amount of evidence is offered in support of it. We may safely assume however that it is produced by the true vocal cords and the lightest register in the male voice. What is its use? Unless its quality can be changed it has little or no musical value. There are some teachers who claim that the falsetto mechanism is the correct one for the tenor voice and should be used throughout the entire compass. I am not prepared to subscribe to this. There are others who believe that the falsetto should be developed, resonated, so that it loses its flute quality, and blended with the head voice. This seems in the light of my experience to be reasonable. When this can be done it gives the singer the most perfect mechanism known. But it cannot always be done. The voice is individual, and the entire sum of individual experience leaves its impression on it. I have found many voices where the falsetto was so completely detached from the head voice that it would be a waste of time to attempt to blend them.
But there is one place in voice training where the practice of the falsetto has a distinct value. I have seen many tenors and baritones who forced the heavy chest voice up until they developed an automatic clutch, and could sing the upper tones only with extreme effort. To allow them to continue in that way would never solve their problem. In such a condition half voice is impossible. It must be one thing or the other, either the thick chest voice or falsetto. The falsetto they can produce without effort, and herein lies its value. They become accustomed to hearing their high tones without the association of effort, and after a time the real head voice appears. The thing which prevented the head voice from appearing in the beginning was extreme resistance, and as soon as the resistance disappeared the head voice made its appearance. This was accomplished by the practice of the very light register known as falsetto. When the head voice appears the use of the falsetto may be discontinued.
The thing expected of the teacher is results and he should not be afraid to use anything that will contribute to that end.
It is in the upper part of the voice that mistakes are most likely to be made and ninety nine per cent of the mistakes is forcing the voice, that is, singing with too much resistance. So long as the resistance continues a good full tone is impossible. The plan outlined above for eliminating resistance has been tested with many hundreds of voices and has never failed. The idea held by some that such practice can never produce a large tone shows a complete misunderstanding of the whole matter. That it produces the full power of the voice without sacrificing its musical quality is being proved constantly.
Every day we hear the story of voices ruined by forcing high tones. Who is responsible? Each one must answer for himself. With the hope of diminishing it in some degree, this outline is offered.
A GENERAL SURVEY OF THE SITUATION
"I will roar you as gently as any sucking dove: I will roar you an't were any nightingale."
Shakespeare. A Midsummer Night's Dream.
The singing world is confronted with a situation unique in its humor. On every side we hear the lachrymose lament that voice training is in a chaotic condition, that bel canto is a lost art, and that the golden age of song has vanished from the earth.
The unanimity of this dolorous admission would seem to be a sad commentary on the fraternity of voice teachers; but here enters the element of humor. There is not recorded a single instance of a voice teacher admitting that his own knowledge of the voice is chaotic. He will admit cheerfully and oftentimes with ill concealed enthusiasm that every other teacher's knowledge is in a chaotic condition, but his own is a model of order and intelligence.
If we accept what voice teachers think of themselves the future looks rosy. If we accept what they think of each other the future is ominous and the need for reform is dire and urgent.
But if a reform be ordered where shall it begin? Obviously among the teachers themselves. But judging from the estimate each one puts upon himself how shall we reform a thing which is already perfect? On the other hand, if we take the pessimistic attitude that all teachers are wrong will it not be a case of the blind leading the blind, in which instance their destination is definitely determined somewhere in the New Testament. Verily the situation is difficult. Nevertheless it is not altogether hopeless. The impulse to sing still remains. More people are studying singing, and more people sing well today than at any other time in the history of the world. The impulse to sing is as old as the human race. When the joy of life first welled up within man and demanded utterance the vocal instrument furnished by nature was ready to respond and the art of singing began, and if we may venture a prophecy it will never end in this world or the next. It cannot be destroyed even by the teachers themselves. It is this natural, inborn desire to sing that is directly responsible for the amazing perseverance of many vocal students. If after a year or two of study they find they are wrong they are not greatly disturbed, but select another teacher, firm in the faith that eventually they will find the right one and be safely led to the realization of their one great ambition—to be an artist. It is this that has kept the art alive through the centuries and will perpetuate it. This impulse to sing is something no amount of bad teaching can destroy.
Everything in the universe that has come under the scrutiny of mortal man has been subjected to a perpetual reformation. Nothing is too great or too small to engage the attention of the reformer. Religion, politics, medicine and race suicide are objects of his special solicitude, but nothing else has been forgotten. No phase of human activity has been allowed to remain at rest. So far as we know nothing but the multiplication table has escaped the reformer. There is a general feeling that nothing is exactly right. This may be the operation of the law of progress, doubtless it is, but it occasions a mighty unrest, and keeps the world wondering what will happen next. This law of progress is but another name for idealism to which the world owes everything. Idealism is that which sees a better condition than the one which now obtains. The process of realizing this better condition is in itself reformation.
As far back as we have any knowledge of the art of singing the reformers have been at work, and down through the centuries their energies have been unflagging. We owe to them whatever advance has been made toward a perfect system of voice training, but they are also responsible for many things pernicious in their nature which have been incorporated in present day methods of teaching, for it must be admitted that there are false prophets among singing teachers no less than among the members of other professions. There is one interesting thing connected with the work of these vocal reformers. From the beginning they have insisted that the art of bel canto is lost. Tosi (1647-1727), Porpora (1686-1766), Mancini (1716-1800), three of the greatest teachers of the old Italian school, all lamented the decadence of the art of singing. Others before and since have done the same thing. It seems that in all times any one who could get the public ear has filled it with this sort of pessimistic wail. From this we draw some interesting conclusions: First, that the real art of singing was lost immediately after it was found. Second, that the only time it was perfect was when it began. Third, that ever since it began we have been searching for it without success. If any of this is true it means that all of the great singers of the past two hundred years have been fakers, because they never really learned how to sing. It is surprising that we did not see through these musical Jeremiahs long ago. In all ages there have been good teachers and bad ones, and it would not be surprising if the bad ones outnumbered the good ones; but the weak link in the chain of argument is in estimating the profession by its failures. This is a cheap and much overworked device and discloses the egotism of the one using it. There are teachers today who thoroughly understand the art of bel canto. They have not lost it, and the others never had it. This condition has obtained for centuries and will continue indefinitely. An art should be measured by its best exponents, not by its worst. To measure it by its failures is illogical and dishonest.
In recent years the process of reformation has been applied to all branches of music teaching with the hope of reducing these failures to a minimum. The profession has suddenly awakened to the fact that it must give a better reason for its existence than any heretofore offered. It has become clear to the professional mind that in order to retain and enlarge its self-respect music must be recognized as a part of the great human uplift. To this end it has been knocking at the doors of the institutions of learning asking to be admitted and recognized as a part of public education. The reply has been that music teaching must first develop coherence, system and standards. This has caused music teachers to look about and realize as never before that the profession as a whole has no organization and no fixed educational standards. Every teacher fixes his own standard and is a law unto himself. The standard is individual, and if the individual conscience is sufficiently elastic the standard gives him no serious concern. But as a result of this awakening there is a concerted action throughout the country to standardize, to define the general scope of learning necessary to become a music teacher. The trend of this is in the right direction, and good may be expected from it, although at best it can be but a very imperfect method of determining one's fitness to teach. The determining factors in teaching are things which cannot be discovered in any ten questions. In fact an examination must necessarily confine itself to general information, but in teaching, the real man reveals himself. His high sense of order, logic, patience, his love and appreciation of the beautiful, his personality, his moral sense, the mental atmosphere of his studio, these all enter into his teaching and they are things difficult to discover in an examination. Unconsciously the teacher gives out himself along with the music lesson, and it is equally important with his knowledge of music. Therefore it is as difficult to establish definite standards of teaching as it is of piano or violin making.
In attempting to establish standards of voice teaching the problem becomes positively bewildering. The voice is so completely and persistently individual, and in the very nature of things must always remain so, that an attempt to standardize it or those who train it is dangerous. Yet notwithstanding this, voice teachers are the most industrious of all in their efforts to organize and standardize. The insistence with which this aim is prosecuted is worthy of something better than is likely to be achieved.
That there is no standard among voice teachers save that of the individual will be admitted without argument; and until there is such a thing as a fixed standard of musical taste this condition will remain, for the musical taste of the teacher is by far the most potent factor in the teaching of tone production.
Of late there have been vigorous efforts to establish a standard tone for singers. This, according to the apostles of "Harmony in the ranks," is the one way of unifying the profession. As an argument this is nothing short of picturesque, and can be traced to those unique and professedly scientific mentalities that solve all vocal problems by a mathematical formula. As an example of the chimerical, impossible and altogether undesirable, it commands admiration. If it is impossible to establish a standard tone for pianos where the problem is mechanical, what may we expect to do with voice where the problem is psychological?
When we have succeeded in making all people look alike, act alike, think alike; when we have eliminated all racial characteristics and those resulting from environment; when people are all of the same size, weight, proportion, structure; when skulls are all of the same size, thickness and density; when all vocal organs and vocal cavities are of the same form and size; when we have succeeded in equalizing all temperaments; when there is but one climate, one language, one government, one religion; when there is no longer such a thing as individuality—then perhaps a standard tone may be considered. Until that time nothing could be more certain of failure. The great charm of voices is their individuality, which is the result not alone of training, but of ages of varied experience, for man is the sum of all that has preceded him. It is, to say the least, an extraordinary mentality that would destroy this most vital element in singing for the sake of working out a scientific theory.
But there is no immediate danger. Nature, whose chief joy is in variety and contrast, is not likely to sacrifice it suddenly to a mere whim.
When we speak of a standard tone we enter the domain of acoustics and must proceed according to the laws of physics. In this standard tone there must be a fundamental combined with certain overtones. But who shall say which overtones, and why the particular combination? The answer must be "because it sounds best." A tone being something to hear, this is a logical and legitimate answer. But if the listener knows when it sounds right he knows it entirely separate and apart from any knowledge he may have of its scientific construction; hence such knowledge is of no value whatever in determining what is good and what is bad in tone quality. A tone is not a thing to see and the teacher cannot use a camera and a manometric flame in teaching tone production. Any knowledge he may have gained from the use of such instruments in the laboratory is valueless in teaching.
If it were possible to adopt as a standard tone a certain combination of fundamental and overtones (which it is not), and if it were possible to make all singers use this particular tone (which, thank heaven it is not), then all voices would sound alike and individuality would at once disappear.
The advocates of this kind of standard tone cannot disengage themselves from the belief that all vocal organs are alike. The exact opposite is the truth. Vocal organs are no more alike than are eyes, noses, hands and dispositions. Each of these conforms only to a general type. The variation is infinite.
The mentality of the individual forms the organ through which it can express itself, and this mentality is the accumulation of all of the experience which has preceded it. Further, muscles and cartilages are not all of the same texture. Thyroid cartilages vary in size and shape. The vocal cavities, pharynx, mouth and nasal cavities are never exactly the same in any two people. The contours of the upper and lower jaw and teeth, and of the palatal arch are never found to be exactly alike. All of these variations are a part of the vocal instrument and determine its quality. Every vocal organ when properly directed will produce the best quality of which that particular instrument is capable. An attempt to make it produce something else must necessarily be a failure. The structure of the instrument determines whether the voice is bass, tenor, alto or soprano with all of the variations of these four classes. The individuality of the voice is fixed by nature no less definitely.
The effort to standardize tone quality discloses a misapprehension of what it means to train a voice. Its advocates look upon man as so much matter, and the voice as something which must be made to operate according to fixed mathematical rules and ignore completely its psychology.
But the rich humor of it all appears when the propagandists of standard tone meet to establish the standard. It is soon observed that there are as many standards as there are members present and the only result is a mental fermentation.
In recent years many attempts have been made by vocal teachers to "get together." As nearly as can be ascertained this getting together means that all shall teach in the same way, that all shall agree on the disputed points in voice training, or that certain articles of faith to which all can subscribe, shall be formulated; but when it comes to deciding whose way it shall be or whose faith shall be thus exalted, each one is a Gibraltar and the only perceptible result is an enlargement of the individual ego. And so it endeth.
WHY TEACHERS DISAGREE
Voice teachers are divided into two general classes—those who make a knowledge of vocal physiology the basis of teaching and those who do not. The members of the first class follow the teachings of some one of the scientific investigators. Each one will follow the scientist or physiologist whose ideas most nearly coincide with his own, or which seem most reasonable to him. In as much as the scientists have not yet approached anything resembling an agreement, it follows that their disciples are far from being of one mind.
The members of the second class hold that a knowledge of vocal anatomy and physiology beyond the elements has no value in teaching, and that the less the student thinks about mechanism the better. The scientific voice teachers usually believe in direct control of the vocal organs. The members of the opposite class believe in indirect control. This establishes a permanent disagreement between the two general classes, but the disagreement between those who believe in indirect control is scarcely less marked. Here it is not so much a matter of how the tone is produced, but rather the tone itself. This is due entirely to the difference in taste among teachers. The diversity of taste regarding tone quality is even greater than that regarding meat and drink. This fact seems to be very generally overlooked. It is this that so mystifies students. After studying with a teacher for one or more years they go to another to find that he at once tries to get a different tone quality from that of the first. When they go to the third teacher he tries for still another quality. If they go to a half dozen teachers each one will try to make them produce a tone differing in some degree from all of the others. The student doubtless thinks this is due to the difference in understanding of the voice among teachers, but this is not so. It is due entirely to their differing tastes in tone quality. The marvelous thing is that the voice will respond in a degree to all of these different demands made upon it; but it forces the student to the conclusion that voice training is an indefinite something without order, system, or principle.
So, in studying the conditions which obtain in voice teaching at the present time it must be admitted that the evidence of unity is slight; and the probability of increasing it by organization or legislative enactment is not such as to make one enthusiastic. What one believes is very real to himself. In fact it is the only thing that seems right to him, therefore he sees no valid reason why he should change his belief or why others should not believe as he does. This positive element in the human ego is advantageous at times, but it is also responsible for all conflicts from mild disagreements to war among nations.
But arguments and battles rarely ever result in anything more than an armed truce. Difference of opinion will continue indefinitely, but of this we may be sure, that the solution of the vocal problem will never come through a study of vocal mechanism however conscientious and thorough it may be, but through a purer musical thought, a deeper musical feeling, a clearer vision of what is cause and what is effect, a firmer conviction of the sanctity of music, an unerring knowledge of the relationship existing between the singer and his instrument.
HINTS ON TEACHING
"We live in a world of unseen realities, the world of thoughts and feelings. But 'thoughts are things,' and frequently they weigh more and obtain far more in the making of a man than do all the tangible realities which surround him. Thoughts and feelings are the stuff of which life is made. They are the language of the soul. By means of them we follow the development of character, the shaping of the soul which is the one great purpose of life."
Appreciation of Art. Loveridge.
Every year a large number of young men and women go in quest of a singing teacher. The impulse to sing, which is inborn, has become so insistent and irrepressible that it must be heeded; and the desire to do things well, which is a part of the mental equipment of every normal human being, makes outside assistance imperative. Wherever there is a real need the supply is forthcoming, so there is little difficulty in finding some one who is ready, willing, in fact rather anxious, to undertake the pleasant task of transforming these enthusiastic amateurs into full-fledged professionals.
The meeting of the teacher and student always takes place in the studio, and it is there that all vocal problems are solved. Let no one imagine that any vocal problem can be solved in a physics laboratory. Why? Because not one of the problems confronting the vocal student is physical. They are all mental. The writer has reached this conclusion not from ignoring the physical, but from making a comprehensive study of the vocal mechanism and its relation to the singer.
The anatomy and physiology of the vocal mechanism are absorbing to one who is interested in knowing how man, through untold centuries of growth has perfected an instrument through which he can express himself; but no matter how far we go in the study of anatomy and physiology all we really learn is what mind has done. If man has a more perfect and highly organized vocal instrument than the lower animals it is because his higher manifestation of mind has formed an instrument necessary to its needs.
When man's ideas and needs were few and simple his vocabulary was small, for language is the means by which members of the species communicate with each other. Whenever man evolved a new idea he necessarily invented some way of communicating it, and so language grew. A word is the symbol of an idea, but invariably the idea originates the word. The word does not originate the idea. The idea always arrives first. All we can ever learn from the study of matter is phenomena, the result of the activity of mind.
Thus we see that so called "scientific study" of the vocal mechanism is at best, but a study of phenomena. It creates nothing. It only discovers what is already taking place, and what has been going on indefinitely without conscious direction will, in all probability, continue.
The value attached by some to the study of vocal physiology is greatly overestimated. In fact its value is so little as to be practically negligible. It furnishes the teacher nothing he can use in giving a singing lesson, unless, perchance he should be so unwise as to begin the lesson with a talk on vocal mechanism, which, by the way, would much better come at the last lesson than the first. All we can learn from the study of vocal physiology is the construction of the vocal instrument, and this bears the same relation to singing that piano making bears to piano playing. The singer and his instrument are two different things, and a knowledge of the latter exerts very little beneficial influence on the former.
To reach a solution of the vocal problem we must understand the relation existing between the singer and his instrument.
The singer is a mentality, consequently everything he does is an activity of his mentality. Seeing, hearing, knowing, is this mentality in action. The two senses most intimately associated with artistic activity are seeing and hearing, and these are mental. In painting, sculpture, and architecture we perceive beauty through the eye. In music it reaches us through the ear; but the only thing that is cognizant is the mind. To man the universe consists of mental impressions, and that these impressions differ with each individual is so well understood that it need not be argued. Two people looking at the same picture will not see exactly the same things. Two people listening to a musical composition may hear quite different things and are affected in different ways, because it is the mind that hears, and as no two mentalities are precisely the same, it must be apparent that the impressions they receive will be different. The things these mentalities have in common they will see and hear in common, but wherein they differ they will see and hear differently. Each will see and hear to the limit of his experience, but no further.
To be a musician one must become conscious of that particular thing called music. He must learn to think music. The elements of music are rhythm, melody, harmony, and form, and their mastery is no less a mental process than is the study of pure mathematics.
The human mind is a composite. It is made up of a large number of faculties combined in different proportions. The germs of all knowledge exist in some form and degree in every mind. When one faculty predominates we say the individual has talent for that particular thing. If the faculty is abnormally developed we say he is a genius, but all things exist as possibilities in every mind. Nature puts no limitations on man. Whatever his limitations, they are self imposed, nature is not a party to the act.
Now this is what confronts the teacher whenever a student comes for a lesson. He has before him a mentality that has been influenced not only by its present environment, but by everything that has preceded it. "Man is," as an old philosopher said, "a bundle of habits," and habits are mental trends. His point of view is the product of his experience, and it will be different from that of every one else. The work of the teacher is training this mentality. Understanding this it will be seen how futile would be a fixed formula for all students, and how necessarily doomed to failure is any method of voice training which makes anatomy and physiology its basis. Further, there is much to be done in the studio beside giving the voice lesson. Whistler said that natural conditions are never right for a perfect picture. From the picture which nature presents the artist selects what suits his purpose and rejects the rest. It is much the same in the training of a singer. In order that the lesson be effective the conditions must be right. This only rarely obtains in the beginning. The student's attitude toward the subject must be right or the lesson will mean little to him. The lesson to be effective must be protected by honesty, industry and perseverance. If these are lacking in various degrees, as they often are, little progress will be made. If the student is studying merely for "society purposes," not much can be expected until that mental attitude is changed. Students always want to sing well, but they are not always willing to make the sacrifice of time and effort; consequently they lack concentration and slight their practice. Sometimes the thought uppermost in the student's mind is the exaltation of the ego, in other words, fame. Sometimes he measures his efforts by the amount of money he thinks he may ultimately earn, be it great or small. Sometimes he overestimates himself, or what is equally bad, underestimates himself. It is a very common thing to find him putting limitations on himself and telling of the few things he will be able to do and the large number he never will be able to do, thus effectually barring his progress. Then there is always the one who is habitually late. She feels sure that all of the forces of nature are leagued in a conspiracy to prevent her from ever being on time anywhere. She, therefore, is guiltless. There is another one who is a riot of excuses, apologies and reasons why she has not been able to practice. Her home and neighborhood seem to be the special object of providential displeasure, which is manifested in an unbroken series of calamitous visitations ranging from croup to bubonic plague, each one making vocal practice a physical and moral impossibility.
All of these things are habits of mind which must be corrected by the teacher before satisfactory growth may be expected. In fact he must devote no inconsiderable part of his time to setting students right on things which in themselves are no part of music, but which are elements of character without which permanent success is impossible.
A great musical gift is of no value unless it is protected by those elements of character which are in themselves fundamentally right. Innumerable instances could be cited of gifted men and women who have failed utterly because their gifts were not protected by honesty, industry and perseverance.
I have spoken at some length of the importance of the right mental attitude toward study and the necessity of correcting false conceptions. Continuing, it must be understood that the work of the teacher is all that of training the mind of his student. It is developing concepts and habits of mind which when exercised result in beautiful tone and artistic singing. It must also be understood that the teacher does not look at the voice, he listens to it. Here voice teachers automatically separate themselves from each other. No two things so diametrically opposite as physics and metaphysics can abide peaceably in the same tent.
Let me emphasize the statement that the teacher does not look at the voice, he listens to it. The teacher who bases his teaching on what he can see, that is, on watching the singer and detecting his mistakes through the eye, is engaged in an activity that is mechanical, not musical. No one can tell from observation alone whether a tone is properly produced. A tone is something to hear, not something to see, and no amount of seeing will exert any beneficial influence on one's hearing.
The process of learning to read vocal music at sight is that of learning to think tones, to think in the key, and to think all manner of intervals and rhythmic forms. It is altogether mental, and it is no less absurd to hold that a knowledge of anatomy is necessary to this than it is essential to the solution of a mathematical problem. The formation of tone quality is no less a mental process than is thinking the pitch. If the student sings a wrong pitch it is because he has thought a wrong pitch, and this is true to a large extent at least, if his tone quality in not good. He may at least be sure of this, that he never will sing a better tone than the one he thinks.
A large part of the vocal teacher's training should be learning how to listen and what to listen for. This means training the ear, which is the mind, until it is in the highest degree sensitive to tone quality as well as to pitch. When there is a failure in voice training it may be counted upon that the teacher's listening faculty is defective. The gist of the whole thing is what the teacher's ear will stand for. If a tone does not offend his ear he will allow it to continue. If it does offend his ear he will take measures to stop it.
More is known of vocal mechanism today than at any other time in the world's history, and yet who dares to say that voice teaching has been improved by it? Is voice teaching any more accurate now than it was a hundred years ago? Did the invention of the laryngoscope add anything of value to the voice teacher's equipment? No. Even the inventor of it said that all it did was to confirm what he had always believed. An enlarged mechanical knowledge has availed nothing in the studio. The character of the teacher's work has improved to the degree in which he has recognized two facts—first, the necessity of developing his own artistic sense as well as that of his pupil, second, that the process of learning to sing is psychologic rather than physiologic.
When the student takes his first singing lesson what does the teacher hear? He hears the tone the student sings, but what is far more important, he hears in his own mind the tone the student ought to sing. He hears his own tone concept and this is the standard he sets for the student. He cannot demand of him anything beyond his own concept either in tone quality or interpretation.
Young teachers and some old ones watch the voice rather than listen to it. At the slightest deviation from their standard of what the tongue, larynx, and soft palate ought to do they pounce upon the student and insist that he make the offending organ assume the position and form which they think is necessary to produce a good tone. This results in trying to control the mechanism by direct effort which always induces tension and produces a hard, unsympathetic tone.
The blunder here is in mistaking effect for cause. The tongue which habitually rises and fills the cavity of the mouth does so in response to a wrong mental concept of cause. The only way to correct this condition is to change the cause. The rigid tongue we see is effect, and to tinker with the effect while the cause remains is unnecessarily stupid. An impulse of tension has been directed to the tongue so often that the impulse and response have become simultaneous and automatic. The correction lies in directing an impulse of relaxation to it. When it responds to this impulse it will be found to be lying in the bottom of the mouth, relaxed, and ready to respond to any demand that may be made upon it. To try to make the tongue lie in the bottom of the mouth by direct effort while it is filled with tension is like trying to sweep back the tide with a broom. The only way to keep the tide from flowing is to find out what causes it to flow and remove the cause. The only way to correct faulty action of any part of the vocal mechanism is to go back into mentality and remove the cause. It will always be found there.
DIRECT AND INDIRECT CONTROL
In view of the generally understood nature of involuntary action and the extent to which it obtains in all good singing it is difficult to understand why any teacher should work from the basis of direct control. It is a fact, however, that teachers who have not the psychological vision find it difficult to work with a thing they cannot see. To such, direct control seems to be the normal and scientific method of procedure.
Let me illustrate: A student comes for his first lesson. I "try his voice." His tone is harsh, white, throaty and unsympathetic. It is not the singing tone and I tell him it is "all wrong." He does not contradict me but places himself on the defensive and awaits developments. I question him to find out what he thinks of his own voice, how it impresses him, etc. I find it makes no impression on him because he has no standard. He says he doesn't know whether he ought to like his voice or not, but rather supposes he should not. As I watch him I discover many things that are wrong and I make a mental note of them. Suppose I say to him as a very celebrated European teacher once said to me: "Take a breath, and concentrate your mind on the nine little muscles in the throat that control the tone." This is asking a good deal when he does not know the name or the exact location of a single one of them, but he seems impressed, although a little perplexed, and to make it easier for him I say as another famous teacher once said to me: "Open your mouth, put two fingers and a thumb between your teeth, yawn, now sing ah." He makes a convulsive effort and the tone is a trifle worse than it was before. I say to him, "Your larynx is too high, and it jumps up at the beginning of each tone. You must keep it down. It is impossible to produce good tone with a high larynx. When the larynx rises, the throat closes and you must always have your throat open. Don't forget, your throat must be open and you can get it open only by keeping the larynx low." He tries again with the same result and awaits further instructions. I take another tack and say to him, "Your tongue rises every time you sing and impairs the form of the vocal cavity. Keep it down below the level of the teeth, otherwise your vowels will be imperfect. You should practice a half hour each day grooving your tongue." I say these things impressively and take the opportunity to tell him some interesting scientific facts about fundamental and upper partials, and how different combinations produce different vowels, also how these combinations are affected by different forms of the vocal cavities, leading up to the great scientific truth that he must hold the tongue down and the throat open in order that these great laws of acoustics may become operative. He seems very humble in the presence of such profound erudition and makes several unsuccessful attempts to do what I tell him, but his tone is no better. I tell him so, for I do not wish to mislead him. He is beginning to look helpless and discouraged but waits to see what I will do next. He vexes me not a little, because I feel that anything so simple and yet so scientific as the exercises I am giving him ought to be grasped and put into practice at once; but I still have resources, and I say to him, "Bring the tone forward, direct it against the hard palate just above the upper teeth, send it up through the head with a vigorous impulse of the diaphragm. You must always feels the tone in the nasal cavities. That is the way you can tell whether your tone is right or not." He tries to do these things, but of necessity fails.
This sort of thing goes on with mechanical instructions for raising the soft palate, making the diaphragm rigid, grooving the tongue, etc., etc., and at the end of the lesson I tell him to go home and practice an hour a day on what I have given him. If he obeys my instructions he will return in worse condition, for he will be strengthening the bad habits he already has and forming others equally pernicious.
This is a sample of teaching by direct control. It is not overdrawn. It is a chapter from real life, and I was the victim.
You will have observed that this lesson was devoted to teaching the student how to do certain things with the vocal mechanism. The real thing, the tone, the result at which all teaching should aim was placed in the background. It was equivalent to trying to teach him to do something but not letting him know what. It was training the body, not the mind, and the result was what invariably happens when this plan is followed.
In the lesson given above no attempt was made to give the student a correct mental picture of a tone, and yet this is the most important thing for him to learn, for he never will sing a pure tone until he has a definite mental picture of it. A tone is something to hear and the singer himself must hear it before he can sing it.
Not one of the suggestions made to this student could be of any possible benefit to him at the time. Not even the sensation of feeling the tone in the head can be relied upon, for physical sensations are altogether uncertain and unreliable. As I have observed in numberless instances, there may be a sensation in the head when there are disagreeable elements in the tone. If the ear of the teacher does not tell him when the tone is good and when it is bad he is hopeless. If his ear is reliable, why resort to a physical sensation as a means of deciding? In the properly produced voice there is a feeling of vibration in the head cavities, especially in the upper part of the voice, but that alone is not a guaranty of good tone.
This teaching from the standpoint of sensation and direct control will never produce a great singer so long as man inhabits a body. It is working from the wrong end of the proposition. Control of the mechanism is a very simple matter when the mental concept is formed. It is then only a question of learning how to relax, how to free the mechanism of tension, and the response becomes automatic.
Is there no way out of this maze of mechanical uncertainties? There is. Is voice culture a sort of catch-as-catch-can with the probabilities a hundred to one against success? It is not. Is singing a lost art? It is not. Let us get away from fad, fancy and formula and see the thing as it is. The problem is psychologic rather than physiologic. The fact that one may learn all that can be known about physiology and still know nothing whatever about voice training should awaken us to its uselessness.