The Renaissance of the Vocal Art
Produced by David Newman and PG Distributed Proofreaders
The Renaissance of the Vocal Art
A Practical Study of Vitality, Vitalized Energy, of the Physical, Mental
and Emotional Powers of the Singer, through Flexible, Elastic Bodily
BY EDMUND J. MYER
F.S. Sc. (London)
_Author of "Truths of Importance to Vocalists," "The Voice from a
Practical Stand-Point," "Voice-Training Exercises" (a study of the natural
movements of the voice), "Vocal Reinforcement," "Position and Action in
Singing," etc., etc._
"_When you see something new to you in art, or hear a proposition in
philosophy you never heard before, do not make haste to ridicule, deny or
refute. Possibly the trouble is with yourself--who knows?_"
To my readers once again through this little work, greetings. For the many
kind things said of my former works by my friends, my pupils, the critic
and the profession, thanks! To those who have understood and appreciated
the principles laid down in my last book, "Position and Action in Singing,"
I will say that this little work will be an additional help. To my readers
in general, who may not have fully understood or appreciated the principles
of vitality, of vitalized energy, aroused and developed through the
movements set forth in my last book, to such I will say that I hope this
little work will make clearer those principles. I hope that it may lead
them to a better understanding of the fundamental principles of the system,
principles which are founded upon natural laws and common sense. In this
work I have endeavored to logically formulate my system.
As it is not possible to fully study and develop any one fundamental
principle of singing without some understanding or mastery of all others,
so it is not possible to write a work like this without more or less
repetition. Certain subjects are so closely related, are so interdependent,
that repetition cannot be avoided. I am not offering an apology for this; I
am simply stating that a certain amount of repetition is necessary.
ARTICLE 1. THE OLD ITALIAN SCHOOL OF SINGING
" 2. THE DARK AGES OF THE VOCAL ART
" 3. THE TWO PREVAILING SYSTEMS
" 4. THE RENAISSANCE OF THE VOCAL ART
" 5. THE COMING SCHOOL OR SYSTEM
" 6. CONDITIONS
" 7. THE INFLUENCE OF RIGHT BODILY ACTION
ARTICLE 1. THE FIRST PRINCIPLE OF ARTISTIC TONE-PRODUCTION
" 2. THE SECOND PRINCIPLE OF ARTISTIC TONE-PRODUCTION
" 3. THE THIRD PRINCIPLE OF ARTISTIC TONE-PRODUCTION
ARTICLE 1. THE FOURTH PRINCIPLE OF ARTISTIC SINGING
" 2. THE FIFTH PRINCIPLE OF ARTISTIC SINGING
" 3. THE SIXTH PRINCIPLE OF ARTISTIC SINGING
" 4. THE SEVENTH PRINCIPLE OF ARTISTIC SINGING
Man, to see far and clearly, must rise above his surroundings. To win great
possessions, to master great truths, we must climb all the hills, all the
mountains, which confront us. Unfortunately the vocal profession dwells too
much upon the lowlands of tradition, or is buried too deep in the valleys
of prejudice. Better things, however, will come. They must come. The
current of the advanced thought, the higher thought, of this, the opening
year of the twentieth century, will slowly but surely increase in power and
influence, will slowly but surely broaden and deepen, until the light of
reason breaks upon the vocal world. We may confidently look, in the near
future, for the Renaissance of the Vocal Art.
THE OLD ITALIAN SCHOOL OF SINGING.
The Shibboleth, or trade cry, of the average modern vocal teacher is "The
Old Italian School of Singing." How much of value there is in this may be
surmised when we stop to consider that of the many who claim to teach the
true Old Italian method no two of them teach at all alike, unless they
happen to be pupils of the same master.
A system, a method, or a theory is not true simply because it is old. It
may be old and true; it may be old and false. It may be new and false; or,
what is more important, it may be new and yet true; age alone cannot stamp
it with the mark of truthfulness.
The truth is, we know but little of the Old Italian School of Singing. We
do know, however, that the old Italians were an emotional and impulsive
people. Their style of singing was the flexible, florid, coloratura style.
This demanded freedom of action and emotional expression, which more
largely than anything else accounts for their success.
The old Italians knew little or nothing of the science of voice as we know
it to-day. They did know, however, the great fundamental principles of
singing, which are freedom of form and action, spontaneity and naturalness.
They studied Nature, and learned of her. Their style of singing, it is
true, would be considered superficial at the present day, but it is
generally conceded that they did make a few great singers. If the
principles of the old school had not been changed or lost, if they had been
retained and developed up to the present day, what a wonderful legacy the
vocal profession might have inherited in this age, the beginning of the
twentieth century. Adversity, however, develops art as well as
individuality; hence the vocal art has much to expect in the future.
THE DARK AGE OF THE VOCAL ART.
Even in the palmiest days of the Old Italian School, there were forces at
work which were destined to influence the entire vocal world. The subtle
influence of these forces was felt so gradually, and yet so surely and
powerfully, that while the profession, as one might say, peacefully slept,
art was changed to artificiality. Thus arose that which may be called the
dark ages of the vocal art,--an age when error overshadowed truth and
reason; for while real scientists, after great study and research,
discovered much of the true science of voice, many who styled themselves
scientists discovered much that they imagined was the true science of
Upon the theories advanced by self-styled scientists, many systems of
singing were based, without definite proof as to their being true or false.
These systems were exploited for the benefit of those who formulated them.
This condition of things prevailed, not only through the latter part of the
eighteenth century and the first half of the nineteenth, but still
manifests itself at the present day, and no doubt will continue to do so
for many years to come.
The vocal world undoubtedly owes much to the study and research of the true
scientist. All true art is based upon science, and none more than the art
of voice and of singing.
Science is knowledge of facts co-ordinated, arranged, and systematized;
hence science is truth. The object of science is knowledge; the object of
art is works. In art, truth is the means to an end; in science, truth is
The science of voice is a knowledge of certain phenomena or movements which
are found under certain conditions to occur regularly. The object of the
true art of voice is to study the conditions which allow these phenomena to
The greatest mistake of the many systems of singing, formulated upon the
theories of the scientists, and of the so-called scientists, was not so
much in their being based upon theories which oftentimes were wrong, as in
the misunderstanding and misapplication of true theories. The general
mistake of these systems was and is that they attempt by direct local
effort, by direct manipulation of muscle, to compel the phenomena of voice,
instead of studying the conditions which allow them to occur. In this way
they attempt to do by direct control, that which Nature alone can do
While it is true that the vocal world owes much to science and the
scientists, yet "the highest science can never fully explain the true
phenomena of the voice, which are truly the phenomena of Nature." The
phenomena of the voice no doubt interest the scientists from an anatomical
standpoint, but these things are of little practical value to the singer.
As someone has said, "To examine into the anatomical construction of the
larynx, to watch it physiologically, and learn to understand the motions of
the vocal cords in their relation to vocal sounds, is not much more than
looking at the dial of a clock; the movements of the hands will give you no
idea of the construction of the intricate works hidden behind the face of
We should never lose sight of the fact that there is a true science of
voice, and that the art of song is based upon this science. The true art of
song, however, is not so much a direct study of the physical or mechanical
action of the parts, as it is a study of the spirituelle side; a study of
the forces which move the parts automatically, in accordance with the laws
of nature. In other words, voice, true voice, is more psychological than
physiological; is more an expression of mind and soul than a physical
expression or a physical force. It is true, the body is the medium through
which the soul, the real man, gives expression to thought and feeling; and
yet voice that is simply mechanical or physical is always common and
meaningless and as a rule unmusical. The normal condition of true artistic
voice is emotional and soulful.
THE TWO PREVAILING SYSTEMS.
The misunderstanding or the misapplication of any principle, theory or
device, always leads to error. This was eminently true of the
misunderstanding and misapplication on the part of many writers and
teachers who based their systems upon the theories of the scientists and
the self-styled scientists. The result is evident; it is that which is
known as the local-effort, muscular school of the nineteenth century; the
school which to this day so largely prevails; the school which makes of man
a mere vocal machine, instead of a living, emotional, thinking soul.
The local-effort school attempts, by direct control and manipulation of
muscle and of the vocal parts, to compel the phenomena of voice. In this
respect it is unique; in this respect it stands alone. The truth of this
statement becomes evident when we stop to consider that in nothing known
which requires muscular development, as does the art of singing, is this
development or training secured by direct manipulation and control of
muscle. There is nothing in the arts or sciences, nothing in the broad
field of athletics or physical culture, nothing in the wide world that
requires physical development, in which the attempt is made to develop by
direct effort as does the local-effort school. Hence we say the mistake
they make is in attempting to compel the phenomena of voice, instead of
studying the conditions which allow them to occur. It might be interesting,
it certainly would be very amusing, to enumerate and illustrate the many
things done under the name of science, to compel the phenomena of voice;
but space will not permit. Many of them are well known; many more are too
ridiculous to consider except that they should be exposed for the good of
The result of all this direct manipulation of muscle is
ugliness--everywhere hard, unmusical, unsympathetic voices. The public is
so used to hearing hard, muscular voices that the demand for beautiful tone
is not what it should be. In fact, it is not generally known that it is
possible to make almost any voice more or less beautiful that is at all
worth training. The hard, unmusical voice of the day is a hybrid, unnatural
and altogether unnecessary voice. Physical effort in singing develops
physical tone and physical effect. Common tone makes common singing. A
great artist must be great in tone as well as in interpretation.
The disciples of the local-effort school lose sight of the fact that when a
muscle is set and rigid, either in attempting to hold the breath or to
force the tone, it is virtually out of action; that instead of actually
helping the voice it is really preventing a free, natural production, and
that other parts are then compelled to do its work; this accounts for many
ruined voices. "To make a part rigid is equal to the extirpation of such
part. While it is in a state of rigidity it ceases to take part in any
action whatsoever: it is inert and the same as if it had ceased to exist."
The local-effort school is accountable for many errors of the day. The
incubus of this school is fastened upon the vocal profession with
octopus-like tentacles which reach out in every direction, and which strive
to strangle the truth in every possible way; but, while "life is short, art
is long;" the truth must prevail.
* * * * *
As an outgrowth of the local-effort school, and as an attempt to counteract
its evil tendencies, there is to-day in existence another school or system
known as the limp or relaxed school, or the system of complete relaxation.
The object of this relaxation is to overcome muscular tension and rigidity.
This is the other extreme. The followers of this school forget that there
can be no tonicity without tension. Flexible firmness without rigidity, the
result of flexible, vitalized position and action, is the only true
condition. The tone of the school of relaxation is nearly always depressed
and breathy; it always lacks vitality.
THE RENAISSANCE OF THE VOCAL ART.
We are in the habit of measuring time by days, weeks, months, years,
decades and centuries. The world at large measures time by epochs and eras.
While this is true in the physical world, it is equally true of the arts
and sciences, and it is especially true of the art of song. Thus we have
had the period known as "The Old Italian School of Singing." This was
followed by the modern school, or "The Local-Effort School" of the
nineteenth century, the period which may be called The Dark Ages of the
There is a constant evolution in all things progressive, and this evolution
is felt very perceptibly to-day in the vocal world. Great principles, great
truths, are of slow growth, slow development. Times change, however, and we
change with them. While the changes may be slow and almost imperceptible to
the observer, they are sure, and finally become evident by the accumulation
of event after event.
The prevailing systems of the nineteenth century tried to develop voice by
direct local muscular effort. These systems have proved themselves
failures. The vocal world is looking for and demanding something better. We
may say that we are now on the eve of great events in the vocal art. When
the morn comes, and the light breaks, we may confidently expect that
awakening or reawakening which may properly be called The Renaissance of
the Vocal Art.
This is the age of physical culture in all its forms. There is a tendency
from the artificial habits of life, back, or rather one should say forward,
to Nature and Nature's laws. "Athletes appreciate the value of physical
training: brain-workers appreciate the value of mental training, of
thinking before acting, and if you would become either you must follow the
methods of both."
Many of our foremost educators in all branches of development, physical,
mental and musical, are now making a bold stand for natural methods of
education. However, all vocal training and development in the past, we are
glad to say, has not been on the wrong side of the question.
There have been, at all ages and under all circumstances and conditions,
men who have been at the root or the bottom of things,--men who have
preserved the truth in spite of their surroundings. So in the vocal art,
there have been at every decade a few men who have known the truth, and who
have handed it down through the dark ages of the vocal art. The work of
these men has not been lost. Its influence has been felt, and is today more
powerful than ever. Hence the trend of the best thought of the profession
is away from the ideas of the local-effort school, away from rigidity and
artificiality, and more in the direction of naturalness and common sense. I
believe we are now, as a profession, slowly but surely awakening to truths
which will grow, and which will in time bring to pass that which must come
sooner or later, the new school of the twentieth century.
There is to-day that which is known as "The New Movement in the Vocal
Art"--a movement based upon natural laws and common sense and opposed to
the ideas of the local-effort school;--movement in the direction of freedom
of action, spontaneity and flexible strength as opposed to rigidity and
direct effort;--a movement which advocates vitalized energy instead of
muscular effort;--a movement which had its origin in the belief that no man
ever learned to sing because he locally fixed or puckered his lips; because
he held down his tongue with a spatulum or a spoon; because he locally
lowered or raised his soft palate; because he consciously moved or locally
fixed his larynx; because he consciously, rigidly set or firmly pulled in
one direction or another, his breathing muscles; because he carried an
unnaturally high chest at the sacrifice of form, position and strength in
every other way; because he sang with a stick or a pencil or a cork in his
mouth; or because he did a hundred other unnatural things too foolish to
mention. No man ever learned or ever will learn to sing because of these
things. It is true he may have learned to sing in spite of them, which
shows that Nature is kind; but as compared to the whole, he is one in a
"The New Movement" has come to stay. It will, of course, meet with bitter
opposition. Why not? The custom of many has been, and is, to condemn
without investigation; to condemn because it does not happen to be in the
line of their teaching and study. Someone has said, "He who condemns
without knowledge or investigation is dishonest."
"The New Movement" is simply a study of the conditions which allow the
phenomena of voice to occur naturally and automatically. The day will come,
when a right training of the voice will be recognized as a flexible,
artistic, physical training of the human body, and a consequent right use
of the voice, as a soulful expression of the emotional nature. Matter or
muscle will be taught to obey mind or will spontaneously. The thought
before the effort, or rather before the action, will be the controlling
influence, and vitalized emotional energy will be the true motor power of
the voice. The elocutionists and the physical culturists understand this
far better, as a rule, than the vocalists.
Abuse brings reform in art as well as in all other things. So the abuse of
Nature's laws and the lack of common sense in the training of the singing
voice has led, through a gradual evolution, to "The New Movement." This
movement is the outgrowth of the best or advanced thought of the profession
rebelling against unnatural methods.
In the fundamental principles of "The New Movement," there is nothing new
claimed by its advocates. All is founded upon the science of voice, as are
all true systems of teaching. The claims are made with regard to the
devices used to study natural laws, to develop the God-given powers of the
singer. Remember that Nature incarnates or reflects God's thoughts and
desires and not man's ideas or inventions. Someone has said that there was
nothing new, nor could there be anything new, in the art of singing. There
are many, alas! who talk and write as did this man. Is not this simply
proof of the fact that ignorance cheapens and belittles that which wisdom
views with awe and admiration? And this is true of nothing so much as it is
of the arts and sciences.
Is, then, ours in all the world, the only profession based upon science and
art that must stand still, that must accept blindly the traditions handed
down to us, without investigation? Are we to feel and believe that with us
progress is impossible, that we may not and cannot keep up with the spirit
of the age? God forbid. Is it not true that "each age refutes much which a
previous age believed, and all things human wax old and vanish away to make
room for new developments, new ideals, new possibilities"? Is it possible
this is true of all professions but ours? The signs of the times indicate
differently. Hence we may confidently expect the Renaissance of the Vocal
Art in this, the first half of the new century.
THE COMING SCHOOL, OR SYSTEM.
This is an age of progress; and, as we have said, many educators are making
a bold stand for natural, common-sense methods. The trend of the higher
thought of the vocal profession is away from artificiality, and in the
direction of naturalness.
The coming school, or system, of the twentieth century will undoubtedly
find its form, its power, its expressional and artistic force and value,
its home, its life, in America. The old country is too much in the toils,
too much in the ruts of tradition; hence natural forces are suppressed, and
artificiality reigns supreme in the training of the voice. While this is
not true in regard to the strictly aesthetic side of the question, it is
painfully true as far as the fundamental principles of voice development
are concerned. Of course we are glad to say there are bright and shining
exceptions to this rule in all lands, but to the new country we must
undoubtedly look for the new school.
So far the world has produced but two great teachers. The first of these is
Nature; the second is Common Sense. Nature lays down the fundamental
principles of voice; Common Sense formulates the devices for development
according to these principles. Therefore we say, Go to Nature and learn of
her, and use Common Sense in studying and developing her principles. The
nearer the approach to Nature, the higher the art; hence the new school
must be founded upon artistic laws which are Nature's laws, and not upon
The coming school must teach the idealized tone. The ideal in its
completeness means the truth,--all the truth,--and not, as many suppose, an
exaggerated form of expression. The truth in tone, or the idealized tone,
is beautiful and soulful, and demands for its production and use all the
forces that Nature has given to the singer,--physical, mental, and
emotional or spirituelle. Unmusical, muscular tone is not the true tone. It
contains much that it should not have on the physical side, and lacks much
that it should have on the spirituelle. As a rule, it means nothing; in
fact, it is often simply a noise. The idealized tone always represents a
thought, an idea, an emotion; it is the expression of the inner--the
higher--man; it is, in reality, self-expression.
"The human voice is the most delicately attuned musical instrument that God
has created. It is capable of a cultivation beyond the dreams of those who
have given it no thought. It maybe made to express every emotion in the
gamut of human sensation, from abject misery to boundless ecstasy. It marks
the man without his consent; it makes the man if he will but cultivate it."
The coming school must be founded upon freedom of form and action, upon
flexible bodily movements, the result of vitalized energy instead of
muscular effort. There must be no set, rigid, static condition of the
muscles. Artistic singing is a form of self-expression; and
self-expression, to be natural and beautiful, must be the result of correct
position and action.
The first principle of artistic singing is the removal of all restraint.
This is a fundamental law of Nature and cannot be changed. Under the
influence of direct local muscular effort, the removal of all restraint is
impossible. Hence the coming school must be based upon free flexible
action. In this respect it will be much like the old Italian school, except
that it will be as far in advance of the old school in the science of voice
as the twentieth century is in advance of the eighteenth. It must also be
far in advance of the old school in the devices used to develop the
fundamental principles of voice.
In this age of progress and knowledge of laws and facts, the new school,
under the influence of Nature's laws and common sense, with the aid of
flexible movements and vitalized energy, must do as much for the
development of the singing voice in three or four years as the old school
was able to do in eight or ten. This is necessary, both because the singing
world demands it, and Nature and common sense teach us that it does not
take years and years of hard study and practice simply to develop the
voice. From a strictly musical standpoint, however, it does take years to
ripen a great singer, to make a great artist. Many voices are ruined
musically by years of hard, muscular practice. Hence we say the new school
must give the voice freedom, and remove all muscular restraint by or
through natural, common-sense, vitalized movements.
Nature's laws are God's laws. All nature, the universe itself, is an
expression of God's thoughts or desires in accordance with His laws. This
one controlling force, this principle of law, is at the bottom of
everything in nature and art. Everything which man says or does under
normal, free conditions, is self-expression, an expression of his inner
nature; but this expression must be under the law. If not, the expression
is unnatural and therefore artificial. This principle, which holds true in
all of man's expression, in all art, is in nothing more evident than in the
use of the singing voice.
"Nature does nothing for man except what she enables him to do for
himself." Nature gives him much, but never compels him to use what she
gives. Man is a free agent. He can obey or violate the laws of Nature at
will; but he cannot violate Nature's laws, and not pay the penalty. This
thought or principle constantly stands out as a warning to the vocal world.
The student of the voice who violates Nature's laws must not expect to
escape the penalty, which is hard, harsh, unmusical tone or ruined voice.
Nature demands certain conditions in order to produce beautiful, artistic
tone. If the student of the voice desires to develop beautiful, artistic
tone he is compelled to study the conditions, the fundamental principles
under the law; and this can be done only by the use of common-sense
All artistic tone is the result of certain conditions, conditions demanded
by Nature and not man's ideas or fancies. These conditions are dependent
upon form and adjustment, or we might better say adjustment and form, as
form is the result of the adjustment of the parts. So far all writers on
the voice, and all teachers, agree; but here comes the parting of the ways.
One man attempts form and adjustment by locally influencing the parts,--the
tongue, the lips, the soft palate, the larynx, etc. This results in
muscular singing and artificiality. We have found that form and adjustment,
to be right, must be automatic. This condition cannot be secured by any
system of direct local effort, but must be the result of flexible,
vitalized bodily movements--movements which arouse and develop all the true
conditions of tone; movements which allow the voice to sing spontaneously.
The fundamental conditions of singing demanded by Nature we find are as
Natural or automatic adjustment of the organ of sound, and of all the
Approximation of the breath bands.
Inflation of all the cavities.
Non-interference above the organ of sound.
Freedom of form and action of all the parts above the larynx.
High placing and low resonance.
Mental and emotional vitality or energy.
Free, flexible, vitalized bodily position and action.
It is not my intention here to enlarge upon these conditions to any extent.
I have already done so in my last book, "Position and Action in Singing." I
know many writers on the voice, and many teachers, do not agree with me on
this subject of conditions; but facts are stubborn things, and "A physical
fact is as sacred as a moral principle." "The sources of all phenomena, the
sources of all life, intelligence and love, are to be sought in the
internal--the spiritual realm; not in the external or material." "A man is
considerably out of date who says he does not believe a thing, simply
because he cannot do that thing or does not understand how the thing is
done. There are three classes of people--the 'wills,' the 'won'ts,' and the
'can'ts': the first accomplish everything, the second oppose everything,
and the third fail in everything." These things [these conditions] can be
understood and fully appreciated by investigation only. There is no
absolute definite knowledge in this world except that gained from
The voice in correct use is always tuned like an instrument. This must be
in order to have resonance and freedom, and this is done only through
natural or automatic adjustment of all the parts. In singing there are
always two forces in action, pressure and resistance, or motor power and
control. In order to have automatic adjustment these two forces must
prevail. When the organ of sound is automatically adjusted, the breath
bands approximate: This gives the true resisting or controlling force. When
the breath bands approximate we have inflation of the ventricles of the
larynx, the most important of all the resonance cavities, for when this
condition prevails we have freedom of tone, and the inflation of all other
cavities. And not only this; it also enables us to remove all restraint or
interference from the parts above the larynx, and especially from the
intrinsic and extrinsic muscles of the throat. This automatic adjustment,
approximation of the breath bands and inflation of the ventricles, gives us
a yet more important condition, namely, automatic breath control; this is
beyond question the most important of all problems solved for the singer
through this system of flexible vitalized movements.
The removal of all interference or direct local control of the parts above
the larynx, gives absolute freedom of form and action; and when the form
and action are free, articulation becomes automatic and spontaneous. When
all restraint is thus removed, the air current comes to the front, and we
secure the important condition of high placing. Furthermore, under these
conditions, when the air current strikes the roof of the mouth freely, it
is reflected into the inflated cavities, and there is heard and felt,
through sympathetic vibration of the air in the cavities, added resonance
or the wonderful reinforcing power of inflation: in this way is secured not
only the added resonance of all other cavities, but especially the
resonance of the chest, the greatest of all resonance or reinforcing
When the voice is thus freed under true conditions, it is possible to
arouse easily and quickly the mental and emotional power and vitality of
the singer. In this way is aroused that which I have called the singer's
sensation, or, for want of a better name, the third power of the voice.
This power is not a mere fancy. It is not imagination; for it is absolutely
necessary to the complete mental and emotional expression of the singer, to
the development of all his powers. This life or vital force is to the
singer a definite, controllable power. "Various terms have been applied to
this mysterious force. Plato called it 'the soul of the world.' Others
called it the 'plastic spirit of the world,' while Descartes gave it the
afterward popular name of 'animal spirits.' The Stoics called it simply
'nature,' which is now generally changed to 'nervous principle.'" "The
far-reaching results of so quiet and yet so tremendous a force may be seen
in the lives of the men and women who have the mental acumen to understand
what is meant by it." The singer who has developed and controlled "the
third power" through the true conditions of voice, never doubts its
reality; and he, and he only, is able to fully appreciate it.
The development of all the above conditions depends upon one important
thing, the education of the body; upon a free, flexible, vitalized body.
THE INFLUENCE OF RIGHT BODILY ACTION.
In art, as in all things else, man must be under the law until he becomes a
law unto himself. In other words, he must study his technique, his method,
his art, until all becomes a part of himself, becomes, as it were, second
nature. There is a wide difference between art and artificiality. True art
is based upon Nature's laws. Artificiality, in almost every instance, is a
violation of Nature's laws, and at best is but a poor imitation.
The impression prevails that art is something far off, something that is
within the grasp of the favored few only. We say of a man, he is a genius,
and we bow down to him accordingly. The genius is an artist by the grace of
God and his own efforts. Nature has given some men the power to easily and
quickly grasp and understand things which pertain to art, but if such men
do not apply their understanding they never become great or useful artists.
Talent is the ability to study and apply, and is of a little lower order
than genius; but the genius of application, and the talent to apply that
which is learned, have made the great and useful men, the great artists of
the world. As someone has said, "Art is not a thing separate and apart; art
is only the best way of doing things;" and while this is true of all the
arts, it is eminently so of the art of voice and of song.
Artistic tone, as we have found, is the result of certain conditions
demanded by Nature. These conditions are dependent upon form and
adjustment; and form and adjustment, to be right, must be automatic. All
writers and teachers agree that correct tone is the result of form and
adjustment; but here, as we have said, comes the parting of the ways. One
man attempts, by directly controlling and adjusting the parts, to do that
which nature alone can do correctly; result--hard, muscular tone. Another
attempts, by relaxation, to secure the conditions of tone; result--vocal
depression, or depressed, relaxed tone.
If artistic tone be the result of conditions due to form and adjustment,
and if form and adjustment, to be right, must be automatic, if these things
are true, and they are as true as the fact that the world moves, then there
is only one way under heaven by which it is possible to secure these
conditions; that way is through a flexible, vitalized body, through
flexible bodily position and action.
The rigid, muscular school cannot secure these conditions, for they make
flexible freedom impossible. The limp, relaxed school cannot secure them,
for there is no tone without tonicity and vitality of muscle. Vitalized
energy _can_ secure these true conditions, but through flexible bodily
position and action only.
The rigid school is muscle-bound, and lacks life and vitality. The limp
school, of course, is depressed and lacks energy. The world is full of dead
singers,--dead so far as vitality and emotional energy are concerned.
Singing is a form of emotional or self-expression, and requires life and
vitality. Life is action. Life is vital force aroused. Life in singing is
emotional energy. Life is a God-given, eternal condition, and is a
fundamental principle of the true art of song.
It is wonderfully strange that this idea or principle of flexible,
vitalized bodily position and action is not better understood by the vocal
profession. That a right use or training of the body, automatically
influences form and adjustment, and secures right conditions of tone, has
been and is being demonstrated day by day. This is a revelation to many who
have tried to sing by the rigid or limp methods. There is really nothing
new claimed for it, for it is as old as the hills. Truth is eternal, and
yet a great truth may be lost to the world for a time. The only things new
which we claim, are the movements and the simple and effective devices used
to study and apply them. These movements have a wonderful influence on the
voice, for the simple reason that they are based upon Nature's laws and
common sense. These truths are destined to influence, sooner or later, the
entire vocal world.
A great truth cannot always be suppressed, and some day someone will
present these truths in a way that will compel their recognition. They are
never doubted now by those who understand them, and they are appreciated by
such to a degree of enthusiasm. I am well aware that when these movements
are spoken of in the presence of the followers of the prevailing rigid or
limp schools, they exclaim, "Why, we do the same thing. We use the body
too." Of course they use the body, but it is by no means the same. Their
use of the body is often abuse, and not only of the body, but of the voice
The influence on the singing voice of a rightly used or rightly trained
body is almost beyond the ability of man to put in words.
All singing should be rhythmical. These flexible bodily movements develop
All singing should be the result of vitalized energy and never of muscular
effort. These movements arouse energy and make direct effort unnecessary.
Singing should be restful, should be the result of power in repose or under
control. These movements, and these movements alone, make such conditions
All singing should be idealized, should be the result of self-expression,
of an expression of the emotions. This is impossible except through correct
bodily action. "By nature the expression of man is his voice, and the whole
body through the agency of that invisible force, sound, expresses the
nobility, dignity, and intellectual emotions, from the foot to the head,
when properly produced and balanced. Nothing short of the whole body can
express this force perfectly in man or woman."
These movements develop in a common-sense way the power of natural forces,
of all the forces which Nature has given to man for the production and use
of the voice. Rigid, set muscles, or relaxed, limp muscles dwarf and limit
in every way the powers of the singer, physical, mental, and emotional; the
physical action is wrong, the thought is wrong, and the expression is
wrong. A trained, developed muscle responds to thought, to right thought,
in a free, natural manner. A rigid or limp muscle is, in a certain sense,
for the time being, actually out of use.
An important point to consider in this connection is the fact that there is
no strength properly applied without movement; but when right movements are
not used, the voice is pushed and forced by local effort and by contraction
of the lung cells and of the throat. This of course means physical
restraint, and physical restraint prevents self-expression. Singing is more
psychological than physiological; hence the importance of free
self-expression. Direct physical effort produces physical effect;
relaxation produces depression.
All artistic tone is reinforced sound. There are two ways of reinforcing
tone. First, by direct muscular effort, the wrong way; second, by expansion
and inflation, the added resonance of air in the cavities, the right way.
This condition of expansion and inflation is the distinguishing feature of
many great voices, and is possible only through right bodily position and
action. These movements are used by many great artists, who develop them as
they themselves develop, through giving expression to thought, feeling, and
emotion, through using the impressive, persuasive tone, the fervent voice.
This brings into action the entire vocal mechanism, in fact all the powers
of the singer; hence these movements become a part of the great artist. He
may not be able to give a reason for them, but he knows their value. The
persuasive, fervent voice demands spontaneity and automatic form and
adjustment; these conditions are impossible without flexible, vitalized
movements. The great artist finds by experience that the throat was made to
sing and not to sing with; that he must sing from the body through the
throat. He finds that the tone must be allowed and not made to sing. Hence
in the most natural way he develops vitalized bodily energy.
Next in importance to absolute freedom of voice, which these movements
give, is the fact that through them absolute, automatic, perfect
breath-control is developed and mastered. These movements give the breath
without a thought of breathing, for they are all breathing movements. The
singer cannot lift and expand without filling the lungs naturally and
automatically, unless he purposely resists the breath. The conscious breath
unseats the voice, that is, disturbs or prevents correct adjustment, and
thus compels him to consciously hold it; but this very act makes it
impossible to give the voice freedom. Through these movements, through
correct position, we secure automatic adjustment, which means approximation
of the breath bands, the principle of the double valve in the throat, which
secures automatic breath-control. In other words, the singer whose position
and action are correct need never give his breathing a thought. This is
considered by many as the greatest problem--for the singer--solved in the
To study and master these movements and apply them practically, the singer
needs to know absolutely nothing of the mechanism of his vocal organs. He
need not consider at all the physiological side of the question. Of course
the study of these movements must at first be more or less mechanical,
until they respond automatically to thought or will. Then they are
controlled mentally, the thought before the action, as should be the case
in all singing; and finally the whole mechanism, or all movements, respond
naturally and freely to emotional or self-expression.
These flexible, vitalized movements are not generally understood or used,
because they have not been in the line of thought or study of the rigid
muscular school or the limp relaxed school; and yet they are destined to
influence sooner or later all systems of singing. They have been used more
or less in all ages by great artists. It is strange that they are not
better understood by the profession.
* * * * *
In this connection it might be well to speak of the importance of physical
culture for the singer. A series of simple but effective exercises should
be used, exercises that will develop and vitalize every muscle of the body.
There are also nerve calisthenics, nervo-muscular movements, which
strengthen and control the nervous system. These nerve calisthenics
generate electrical vitality and give life and confidence. "The body by
certain exercises and regime may be educated to draw a constantly
increasing amount of vitality from growing nature."
A singer to be successful must be healthy and strong. He should take plenty
of out-door exercise. Exercise, fresh air, and sunlight are the three great
physicians of the world. But beside this, all singers need physical
training and development, which tense and harden the muscles, and increase
the lung capacity; that training which expands all the resonance cavities,
especially the chest, and which directly develops and strengthens the vocal
muscles themselves, particularly the extrinsic and intrinsic muscles of the
throat. As we have learned, a trained muscle responds more spontaneously to
thought or will than an uneducated one; flexible spontaneity the singer
always needs. Beyond a doubt, the singer who takes a simple but effective
course of physical training in connection with vocal training will
accomplish twice as much in a given time, in regard to tone, power and
control, as he could possibly do with the vocal training alone. This is the
day of physical training, of physical culture in all things; and the
average vocal teacher will have to awake to the fact that his pupils need
it as much as, or more than, they need the constant practice of tone.
Of course it is not possible to give a system of physical training in a
small work like this. The student of the voice can get physical training
and physical culture from many teachers and many books. It may not be
training that will so directly and definitely develop and strengthen the
vocal muscles and the organ of sound itself, or training that will so
directly influence the voice as does our system, which is especially
arranged for the singer; but any good system of physical development, any
system that gives the student health and strength, is good for the singing
voice. "Activity is the source of growth, both physical and mental."
"Strength to be developed, must be used. Strength to be retained, must be
Since writing my last book, "Position and Action in Singing," and after
four or five years more of experience, I have been doubly impressed and
more than convinced of the power and influence of certain things necessary
to a right training and use of the voice. Herbert Spencer says, "Experience
is the sole origin of knowledge;" and my experience has convinced me, not
only that certain things are necessary in the training of the voice, but
that certain of the most important principles or conditions demanded by
Nature, are entirely wanting in most systems of singing.
Singers, as a rule, are artificial and unnatural. They do not use all the
powers with which Nature has endowed them. This has been most forcibly
impressed upon my mind by the general lack of vitality, or vital energy,
among singers; by a general lack of physical vitality, and, I venture to
say, largely of mental vitality, and undoubtedly of emotional vitality,
often, but mistakenly, called temperament. These things have been forced
upon me by the general condition of depression which prevails. Vitality,
however, or vitalized energy, is in fact the true means or device whereby
the singer is enabled to arouse his temperament, be it great or otherwise;
to arouse it, to use it, and to make it felt easily and naturally.
Out of every hundred voices tried I am safe in saying that at least ninety
are physically depressed, are physically below the standard of artistic
singing. Singing, it is true, is more mental than physical, and more
emotional than mental; but a right physical condition is absolutely
necessary, and the development of it depends upon the way the pupil is
taught to think. Singing is a form of self-expression, of an expression of
the emotions. This is impossible when there is physical depression. The
singer must put himself and keep himself upon a level with the tone and
upon a level with his song, the atmosphere of his song; upon a level with
the sentiment to be expressed, physically, mentally and emotionally. This
cannot be done, or these conditions cannot prevail, when there is
There is, to my mind, but one way to account for this condition of
depression among singers. That is, the way they think, or are taught to
think, in regard to the use of their bodies in singing. The way in which
they breathe and control the breath, the way in which they drive and
control the tone. It is the result of rigid muscular effort or relaxation,
and both depress not only the voice but the singer as well. The tonal
result is indisputable evidence of this.
Knowledge comes through experience; and my experience in studying both
sides of this question has convinced me that there is but one way to
develop physical, mental and emotional vitality in the singer, and that is
through some system of flexible, vitalized bodily movements. There must be
flexible firmness, firmness without rigidity. The movements as given in my
book, "Position and Action in Singing," and as here given, develop these
conditions. They give the singer physical vitality, freedom of voice,
spontaneity, absolute automatic breath control, and make self-expression,
emotional expression, and tone-color, not only possible but comparatively
easy. Singing is self-expression, an expression of thought and feeling.
There must be a medium, however, for the expression of feeling aroused
through thought; that medium is the body and the body alone. Therefore it
is easy to see the importance of so training the body that it will respond
automatically to the thought and will of the singer.
The opposite of depression, which local effort develops, is vitalized
energy, the singer's sensation, that which I have called the third power,
and which is a revelation to those who have studied both sides of the
question. These things, as I have said, have been given to the vocal world
in my book, "Position and Action in Singing." Many have understood them,
have used them, and are enthusiastic advocates of the idea. Others have not
fully understood them, as was and is to be expected. For that reason I have
written this little book in the hope that it might make things plainer to
all. I have endeavored to embody these practical, natural, necessary
movements in the formula of study given in this book.
The formula which follows is systematically and logically arranged for the
study and development of fundamental principles through or by the means of
these flexible vitalized movements. In this way I hope to make these ideas
plainer and more definite to pupil and teacher.
Every correct system of voice-training is based upon principle, theory, and
the devices used to develop the principles. There are certain fundamental
principles of voice, which are Nature's laws laid down to man, and which
cannot be violated. Upon these principles we formulate theories. The
theories may be right or wrong, as they are but the works of man. If they
are right, the devices used are more apt to be right. If they are wrong,
wrong effort is sure to follow, and the result is disastrous.
After all, the most important question for consideration is that of the
devices used to develop and train the voice. All depends upon whether the
writer, the teacher, and the pupil study Nature's laws through common-sense
methods or resort to artificiality. If the devices used are right, if they
develop vitality, emotional energy, if they avoid rigidity and depression,
then the singer need not know so much about principle and theory. But with
the teacher it is different. He must know what to think and how to think it
before he can intelligently impart the ideas to his pupils. Hence a system
based upon correct principle, theory, and device is absolutely necessary
for the teacher who hopes to succeed.
The following system, as formulated, is largely the outgrowth of my summer
work at Point Chautauqua, on Lake Chautauqua. There we have a school every
summer, not only for the professional singer and teacher, but for those who
desire to become such. Beside the private lessons we give a practical
normal course in class lessons. There the principles, the theory, and the
devices used are studied and worked out in a practical way by lecture, by
illustration, and by the study of all kinds of voices. Many who have taught
for years have there obtained for the first time an idea, the true idea, of
flexible vitalized movements, the devices demanded by nature for giving the
voice vitality, freedom, ease, etc. These teachers who are thus aroused
become the most enthusiastic supporters of, and believers in, our system of
flexible vitalized movements.
It is, therefore, through the Chautauqua work that I have been impressed
with the importance of placing this system in a plainer and more definite
way, if possible, before the vocal world.
THE FIRST PRINCIPLE OF ARTISTIC TONE--PRODUCTION.
The first principle of artistic tone-production is
_The Removal of All Restraint_.
The theory founded upon this principle is as follows: Correct tone is the
result of certain conditions demanded by Nature, not man's ideas. These
conditions are dependent upon form and adjustment; and form and adjustment,
to be right, must be automatic, and not the result of direct or local
The devices used for developing the above conditions are simple vocal
exercises which are favorable to correct form and adjustment, and are
studied and made to influence the voice through correct position and
A correct system for training and developing the voice must be based upon
principle, theory, and device; upon the principles of voice which are
Nature's laws, upon the theories based upon these principles, and upon the
devices for the study and development of such principles.
My purpose in this little work is to give just enough musical figures or
exercises to enable us to study and apply the movements, the practical part
of our system.
The first principle of artistic tone-production is the removal of all
restraint. This no one can deny without stultifying himself. The removal of
all restraint means absolute freedom, not only of form and action, but of
tone. It is evident, then, that any local hardening or contracting of
muscle, any tension or contraction which would prevent elasticity, would
make the removal of all restraint impossible. Hence we find that this first
principle is an impossibility with the rigid local-effort school. On the
other hand, relaxation, while it may remove restraint, makes artistic
control and tonicity impossible. Hence artistic tone, based upon this first
principle, is an impossible condition with the limp or relaxed school.
That tone is the result of certain conditions demanded by Nature, and that
these conditions are dependent upon form and adjustment, cannot be denied;
but unless form and adjustment give freedom to the voice, unless they
result in the removal of all restraint, then the manner or method in which
they are secured must surely be wrong. Local effort or contraction cannot
do this. Relaxation cannot secure the true conditions. There is and can be
but one principle which makes true form and adjustment possible: All form
and adjustment must be automatic, and not the result of direct or local
This brings us to a study of devices; and devices, to influence correctly
not only the voice but the individual, must be in accordance with natural
and not artificial conditions. The singer must put himself and keep himself
upon a level with the tone--upon a level with the tone physically, mentally
and emotionally. The device which we use, or the formula, is, _lift,
expand, and let go_.
With the singer who contracts the throat muscles during the act of singing,
that which may be called the center of gravity or of effort is at the
throat. With the singer who carries a consciously high chest and a drawn-in
or contracted diaphragm, the center of gravity is at the chest. With the
singer who takes a conscious full breath, and hardens and sets the
diaphragm to hold it, the center of gravity is at the diaphragm. In none of
these cases is it possible to remove all restraint; for they all result in
contraction, especially of the throat muscles, and make flexible
expansion--a condition necessary to absolute freedom--impossible.
Place the center of gravity, by thought and action, at the hips. Everything
above the hips must be free, flexible, elastic and vitalized when singing.
We say, _lift, expand, and let go_, which must be in the following
proportion: Lift a little, expand more than you lift, and let go entirely.
The lift is from the hips up, and must be done in a free, flexible manner,
with a constant study to make the body lighter and lighter, and the
movement more elastic and flexible. Do not lift as though lifting a weight,
but lift lightly as though in response to thought or suggestion.
Expand the entire body in a flexible, elastic manner. This will bring into
action every muscle of the body, and apply strength and support to the
voice; for, as we have found, there is no strength correctly applied except
through right movement. When we lift and expand properly, we expand the
body as a whole, and not the chest alone, nor the diaphragm, nor the sides.
These all come into action and expand with proper movement; but there must
be no conscious thought of, nor conscious local effort of, any particular
part of the body. When we lift and expand properly the chest becomes
active, the diaphragm goes into a singing position, and every muscle of the
body is on the alert and ready to respond to the thought or desire of the
singer. Not only this; when we lift and expand properly, we influence
directly the form and adjustment of all the vocal muscles, and especially
the organ of sound itself. In this way the voice is actually and
artistically tuned for the production of correct tone, as is the violin in
the hands of the master before playing.
_Lift, expand, and let go_. This brings us to a consideration of the
third part of this expression, _let go_. This is in some respects the
most important of the three; for unless the singer knows how to let go
properly, absolute freedom or the removal of all restraint is impossible,
and the true conditions of tone are lacking. The _let go_ does not
mean relaxation, for there must be flexible firmness without rigidity. With
the beginner the tendency is to lift, expand, and harden or contract all
the muscles. This, of course, means restraint. The correct idea of _let
go_ may be studied and better understood by the following experiment or
Stand with the right arm hanging limp by the side. Lift it to a horizontal
position, the back of the hand upward. While lifting, grip and contract
every muscle of the arm and hand out to the finger-tips. This is much like
the contraction placed upon the muscles of the body and of the throat by
the conscious-breathing, local-effort school. Lift the arm again from the
side, and in lifting have the thought or sensation of letting go all
contraction of the muscles. Make the arm light and flexible, and use just
enough strength to lift it, and hold it in a horizontal position. This
should be the condition of all the muscles of the body under the influence
of correct, _lift, expand, and let go_. Lift the arm the third time
without contraction or with the sensation of letting go, hold it in a
horizontal position, the back of the hand upward. Now will to devitalize
the entire hand from the wrist to the finger-tips. Let the hand drop or
droop, the arm remaining in a horizontal position. This condition of the
hand is the _let go_, or the condition of devitalization, which should
be upon the muscles of the face, the mouth, the tongue, the jaw, and the
extrinsic muscles of the throat during the act of singing.
Thus, when we say, _lift, expand, and let go_, we mean lift from the
hips, the center of gravity, in an easy, flexible manner; expand the body
with a free movement without conscious thought of any part of it; have the
sensation of letting go all contraction or rigidity, and absolutely release
the muscles of the throat and face. The _let go_ is in reality more a
negative than a positive condition, and virtually means, when you lift and
expand, do not locally grip, harden, or set any muscle of the body, throat,
The _lift, expand, and let go_ must be in proportion to the pitch and
power of the tone. This, if done properly, will result in automatic form
and adjustment, the removal of all restraint, and open, free throat and
voice. This is the only way in which it is possible to truly vitalize, to
arouse the physical, mental and emotional powers of the singer. This is the
only way in which it is possible to put yourself and keep yourself upon a
level with the tone--upon a level, physically, mentally and emotionally.
This is in truth and in fact the singer's true position and true condition;
this is in truth and in fact self-assertion; and this, and this only, makes
it possible to easily and naturally _arouse_ "the singer's sensation,"
the true sensation of artistic singing.
We will take for our first study a simple arpeggio, using the syllables Ya
[Illustration: FIRST STUDY. Ya, ha....]
We use Ya on the first tone, because when sung freely it helps to place the
tone well forward. Ya is pronounced as the German _Ja_. We use ha on
all other tones of this study for the reason that it is the natural
staccato of the voice. Think it and sing it "in glossic" or phonetically,
thus: hA, very little h but full, inflated, expanded A. A full explanation
for the use of Ya and ha may be found in "Position and Action in Singing,"
page 117. All the studies given in this little work for the illustration
and study of the movements of our system should be sung on all keys as high
and as low as they can be used without effort and without strain.
It has been said that "the production of the human voice is the effect of a
muscular effort born of a mental cause." Therefore it is important to know
what to think and how to think it.
We say, put yourself and keep yourself constantly upon a level with the
tone, mentally, physically and emotionally. For the present we have to do
with the mental and physical only.
Stand in an easy, natural manner, the hands and arms hanging loosely by the
sides. You desire to sing the above exercise. Turn the palms of the hands
up in a free, flexible manner, and lift the hands up and out a little, not
high, not above the waist line. When moving the hands up and out, move the
body from the hips up and out in exactly the same manner and proportion.
The hands and arms must not move faster than the body; the body must move
rhythmically with the arms. This rhythmical movement of body and arms is
highly important. In moving, the sensation is as though the body were
lifted lightly and freely upon the palms of the hands. The hands say to the
body, "Follow us." In this way, _lift, expand, and let go_. Do not
raise the shoulders locally. The movement is from the hips up. The entire
body expands easily and freely by letting go all contraction of muscle. Do
not first lift, and after lifting expand, and then finally try to let go,
as is the habit of many; but lift, and when lifting expand, and when
lifting and expanding let go as directed. Three thoughts in one
movement--three movements in one--lifting, expanding, and letting go
simultaneously as one movement, which in fact it must finally become. This
is the only way in which it is possible to secure all true conditions of
With this thought in mind, and having tried the movement without singing,
sing the above exercise. Start from repose, as described, and by using the
hands and body in a free, flexible manner, move to what you might think
should be the level of the first tone. Just when you reach the level of the
first tone let the voice sing. Move up with the arpeggio to the highest
note, using hands, body, and voice with free, flexible action; then move
body and hands with the voice down to the lowest note of the arpeggio; when
the last tone is sung go into a position of repose.
The movement from repose to the level of the first tone is highly
important, for the reason that it arouses the energies of the singer, and
secures all true conditions through automatic form and adjustment. Do not
hesitate, do not hurry. All movement must be rhythmical and spontaneous,
and never the result of effort. In singing the arpeggio the tones of the
voice must be strictly staccato; but the movement of the hands and body
must be very smooth, even, and continuous--no short, jerky movements.
The movement of the body is very slight, and at no time, in studying these
first exercises, should the hands be raised above the level of the hips or
of the waist line. Of course with beginners these movements may be more or
less exaggerated. When singing songs, however, they do not show, at least
not nearly as much as wrong breathing and wrong effort. They simply give
the singer the appearance of proper dignity, position, and self-assertion.
By all means use the hands in training the movements of the body. You can
train the body by the use of the hands in one-fourth of the time that it is
possible to do it without using them. Be careful, however, not to raise the
hands too high, as is the tendency; when lifted too high the energy is
often put into the hands and arms instead of the body; in this way the body
is not properly aroused and influenced, and of course true conditions are
"Practical rules must rest upon theory, and theory upon nature, and nature
is ascertained by observation and experience." Now, if you will practice
this arpeggio with a free, flexible movement of hands and body, getting
under the tone, as it were, and moving to a level of every tone, you will
soon find by practice and experience that these movements are perfectly
natural, that they arouse all the forces which nature gave us for the
production of tone, that they vitalize the singer and give freedom to the
voice. By moving properly to a level of the first tone you secure all true
conditions of tone; and if you have placed yourself properly upon a level
with the high tone, when that is reached you will have maintained those
true conditions--you will have freedom, inflation and vitality instead of
contraction and strain.
By moving with the voice in this flexible manner we bring every part of the
body into action, and apply strength as nature demands it, without effort
or strain. Remember, there is no strength properly applied in singing
without movement. In this way the voice is an outward manifestation of an
inward feeling or emotion. "The voice is your inner or higher self,
expressed not _at_ or _by_ but _through_ the vocal organs,
aided by the whole body as a sound-board."
Our next study will be a simple arpeggio sung with the _la_ sound,
[Illustration: SECOND STUDY. La....]
This movement, of course, must be sung with the same action of hands and
body, starting from repose to the level of the first tone, and keeping
constantly upon a level with the voice by ascending and descending. Sing
this exercise first semi staccato, afterwards legato.
The special object of this exercise is to relax the jaw, the face, and the
throat muscles. A stiff, set jaw always means throat contraction. In this
exercise, if sung in every other respect according to directions, a stiff
jaw would defeat the whole thing, and make impossible a correct production
of every high tone.
In singing the _la_ sound, the tip of the tongue touches the roof of
the mouth, just back of the upper front teeth. Think the tone forward at
this point, and let the jaw rise and fall with the tongue. Devitalize the
jaw and the muscles of the face, move up in a free, flexible manner to the
level of every tone, and you will be surprised at the freedom and ease with
which the high tones come. The moving up in the proper way applies
strength, and secures automatic form and adjustment; develops or
strengthens the resisting or controlling muscles of the voice; in fact,
gives the voice expansion, inflation, and tonicity.
Remember that one can act in singing; and by acting I mean the movements as
here described, lifting, expanding, etc., without influencing the voice or
the tone, without applying the movements to the voice; of course such
action is simply an imitation of the real thing. Herein, however, lies the
importance of correct thinking. The thought must precede the action. The
singer must have some idea of what he wants to sing and how he wants to
sing it. A simple chance, a simple hit or miss idea, will not do. Make your
tone mean something. Arouse the singer's sensation, and you can soon tell
whether the movement is influencing the tone or not. Of course these
movements are all more easily applied on the middle and low tones than on
the higher tones, but these are the great successful movements for the
study and development of the high tones.
As we have learned in our former publications, there are but three
movements in singing,--ascending, descending, and level movements. We have
so far studied ascending and descending movements or arpeggios. We will now
study level movements on a single tone, thus:
[Illustration: THIRD STUDY. Ah.]
Place yourself in a free, flexible manner upon a level with the tone by the
use of the movements as before described; lift, expand, and let go without
hurrying or without hesitation, and just when you reach that which you feel
to be the level of the tone let the voice sing. All must be done in a
moment, rhythmically and without local effort. Sing spontaneously, sing
with abandon, trust the movements. They will always serve you if you trust
them. If you doubt them, they are doubtful; for your very doubt brings
hesitation, and hesitation brings contraction. Sing from center to
circumference, with the thought of expansion and inflation, and not from
outside to center. The first gives freedom and fullness of form, the latter
results in local effort and contraction. The first sends the voice out full
and free, the latter restrains it. Expansion through flexible movement is
the important point to consider. When the tone is thus sung, it should
result in the removal of all restraint, especially from the face, jaw, and
throat. In this way the tone will come freely to the front, and will flow
or float as long as the level of the tone is maintained without effort.
Remember the most important point is the movement from repose to the level
of the tone. If this is done according to directions, all restraint will be
removed and all true conditions will prevail. Never influence form. Let
form and adjustment be automatic, the result of right thought, position,
and action. Study to constantly make these movements of the body easier and
more natural. Take off all effort. Do not work hard. It is not hard work.
It is play. It is a delight when properly done. Make no conscious, direct
effort of any part of the body. Never exaggerate the movement or action of
one part of the body at the sacrifice of the true position of another. The
tendency is to locally raise the chest so high that the abdomen is
unnaturally drawn in. This, of course, is the result of local effort, and
is not the intention of the movements. The center of gravity must be at the
hips; and all movement above that must be free, flexible, and uniform.
[Footnote 1: In this connection, see Supplementary Note, page 135.]
Do not give a thought to any wrong thing you may be in the habit of doing
in singing, but place your mind upon freeing the voice, upon the removal of
all restraint through these flexible vitalized movements: think the ideal
tone and sing. When the right begins to come through these movements the
wrong must go. Over and against every wrong there is a right. We remove the
wrong by developing the right. Sing in a free, flexible manner, the natural
power of the voice. Make no effort to suppress the tone or increase its
power. After the movements are understood and all restraint is removed,
then study the tone on all degrees of power, but remember when singing soft
and loud, and especially loud, that the first principle of artistic singing
is the removal of all restraint.
THE SECOND PRINCIPLE OF ARTISTIC TONE-PRODUCTION.
The second principle of artistic tone-production is
_Automatic Breathing and Automatic Breath-Control._
_Theory._--The singing breath should be as unconscious,--or, rather,
as sub-conscious,--as involuntary, as the vital or living breath. It should
be the result of flexible action, and never of local muscular effort. The
muscular breath compels muscular control; hence throat contraction. The
nervous breath, nervous control; hence relaxation and loss of breath.
_Devices._--_Expand to breathe. Do not breathe to expand._ Expand
by flexible, vitalized movements; control by position the level of the
tone, and thus balance the two forces, "pressure and resistance." In this
way is secured automatic adjustment and absolute automatic breath-control.
More has probably been written and said upon this important question of
breathing in singing than upon any other question in the broad field of the
vocal art; and yet the fact remains that it is less understood than any of
the really great principles of correct singing. This is due to the fact
that most writers, teachers, and singers believe that they must do
something--something out of the ordinary--to develop the breathing powers.
The result is, that most systems of breathing are artificial; therefore
unnatural. Most systems of breathing attempt to do by direct effort that
which Nature alone can do correctly. Most breathing in singing is the
result of direct conscious effort.
The conscious or artificial breath is a muscular breath, and compels
muscular control. The conscious breath--the breath that is taken locally
and deliberately (one might almost say maliciously) before singing--expands
the body unnaturally, and thus creates a desire to at once expel it. In
order to avoid this, the singer is compelled to harden and tighten every
muscle of the body; and not only of the body, but of the throat as well.
Under these conditions the first principle of artistic tone-production--the
removal of all restraint--is impossible.
As the breath is taken, so must it be used. Nature demands--aye,
compels--this. If we take (as we are so often told to do) "a good breath,
and get ready," it means entirely too much breath for comfort, to say
nothing of artistic singing. It means a hard, set diaphragm, an undue
tension of the abdominal muscles, and an unnatural position and condition
of the chest. This of course compels the hardening and contraction of the
throat muscles. This virtually means the unseating of the voice; for under
these conditions free, natural singing is impossible. The conscious, full,
muscular breath compels conscious, local muscular effort to hold it and
control it. Result: a stiff, set, condition of the face muscles, the jaw,
the tongue and the larynx. This makes automatic vowel form, placing, and
even freedom of expression, impossible. The conscious, artificial breath is
a handicap in every way. It compels the singer to directly and locally
control the parts. In this way it is not possible to easily and freely use
all the forces which Nature has given to man for the production of
Now note the contrast. The artistic breath must be as unconscious or as
involuntary as the vital or living breath. It must be the result of free,
flexible action, and never of conscious effort. The artistic, automatic
breath is the result of doing the thing which gives the breath and controls
the breath without thought of breath. The automatic breath is got through
the movements suggested when we say, _Lift, expand, and let go_.
When the singer lifts and expands in a free, flexible manner the body fills
with breath. One would have to consciously resist this to prevent the
filling of the lungs. The breath taken in this way means expansion,
inflation, ease, freedom. There is no desire to expel the breath got in
this way; it is controlled easily and naturally from position--the level of
the tone. When the breath is thus got through right position and action, we
secure automatic form and adjustment; and correct adjustment means
approximation of the breath bands, inflation of the cavities--in fact, all
true conditions of tone. Nature has placed within the organ of sound the
principle of a double valve,--one of the strongest forces known in
mechanics,--for the control of the breath during the act of singing. This
is what we mean by automatic breath-control--using the forces which Nature
has given us for that purpose, using them in the proper manner.
If the reader is familiar with my last two works, "Vocal Reinforcement" and
"Position and Action in Singing," he will have learned through them that we
have not direct, correct control of the form and adjustment of the parts
which secure the true conditions of tone and automatic breath-control.
These conditions, as we have learned, are secured through the flexible
movements which are the ground-work of our system. Therefore we say,
_Trust the movements_. If you have confidence in them, they will
always serve you. If you doubt them, they are doubtful; for the least doubt
on the part of the singer means more or less contraction and restraint;
hence they fail to produce the true conditions.
This automatic breathing, the result of the movements described, does not
show effort or action half so much as the old-fashioned, conscious muscular
breath. Breathing in this way means the use of all the forces which Nature
has given us. Breathing in this way is Nature's demand, and the reward is
The devices we use to develop automatic breathing and automatic
breath-control are the simplest possible exercises, studied and developed
through the movements, as before described. In this way through right
action we expand to breathe, or rather we breathe through flexible
expansion, and we control by position, by the true level of the tone. In
this way, as we have found, all true conditions are secured and maintained.
We will take for our first study a single tone about the middle of the
voice. Exercise three in Article One of this second part of the book will
suggest the idea.
Sing a tone about the middle of the voice with the syllable _ah_.
Lift, expand, and let go, by the use of the hands and the body, as before
suggested. The lifting and expanding in a free, flexible manner will give
you all the breath that is needed; and the position, the level of the tone,
will hold or control the breath if you have confidence. Remember that
automatic breathing depends upon first action, the movement from repose to
the level of the tone. If the action is as described, sufficient breath
will be the result. If the position, the level of the tone, is maintained
without contraction, absolute automatic breath-control will be the result
so sure as the sun shines.
The tendency with beginners and with those who have formed wrong habits of
breathing, is to take a voluntary breath before coming into action. This of
course defeats the whole thing. Again, the tendency of beginners or of
those who have formed wrong habits, is to sing before finding the level of
the tone through the movements, or to start the tone before the action.
This of course compels local effort and contraction, and makes success
impossible. The singer must have breath; and if he does not get it
automatically through the flexible movements herein described, or some such
movements, he is compelled to take it consciously and locally. The
conscious local breath in singing is always an artificial breath, and
compels local control. Under these conditions ease and perfect freedom are
As we have said, the important thing to consider in this study is the
movement from repose to the level of the first tone. Move in a free,
flexible manner as before described, and give no thought to breath-taking.
When you have found the level of the tone, all of which is done
rhythmically and in a moment, let the voice sing,--sing spontaneously. Make
no effort to hold or control the breath. Maintain correct position the
level of the tone, in a free, flexible manner, and sing with perfect
freedom, with abandon. As the movement or action gave you the breath, so
will the position hold it. The more you let go all contraction of body and
throat muscles, the more freedom you give the voice, the more will the
breath be controlled,--controlled through automatic form and adjustment.
This is a wonderful revelation to many who have tried it and mastered it.
Those who have constantly thought in the old way, and attempted to breathe
and control in the old way, cannot of course understand it. The tendency of
such is to condemn it,--to condemn it, we are sorry to say, without
Knowledge is gained through experience. The singer or pupil who tries this
system of breathing and succeeds, needs no argument to convince him that it
is true, natural and correct. The greatest drawback to the mastering of it
on the part of many singers and teachers, is the artificial habits acquired
by years of wrong thinking and wrong effort. With the beginner it is the
simplest, the easiest, and the most quickly acquired of all systems of
breathing; for automatic breathing is a fundamental, natural law of
For further illustration of this principle of breathing we will use the
[Illustration: FOURTH STUDY. Ah....]
Place yourself in a free, flexible manner on a level with the first tone.
If this is done properly, you will have secured automatically a singing
breath and all true conditions of tone. When singing this exercise move the
hands and body with the tone or voice, ascending and descending. In
ascending open freely and naturally by letting go. Do not influence the
form by attempting locally to open. Do not influence the form by locally
preventing freedom or expansion. Let go all parts of the face, mouth and
throat, and you will be surprised at the power of the tone, of the breath,
and of the breath-control on the upper tone. You will be surprised to find
that you will have secured or developed three or four times as much
sustaining breath power as you imagined you had. In descending, care must
be taken not to droop or depress, but to carry the voice by controlling the
movements of the body, and only after the last tone is finished should the
body go into a position of repose.
Sing this exercise in all degrees of power, soft, medium and loud,
maintaining the same true conditions on all. The tendency of most singers
is to relax and depress on soft tone, or to pinch and contract. Soft tone
should never be small in form, and it should always have the same vitality
and energy as the louder tone.
[Illustration: FIFTH STUDY. Ah....]
This exercise should be studied and practiced in every way suggested for
the study of the preceding exercises. Place yourself upon a level with the
first tone, in the manner before described, and thus secure the automatic
breath. Do not forget to use the hands to suggest the movement to the body.
The hands should be used until the body is thoroughly trained to flexible
action. It is always a question of "the thought before the action." Do not
allow a conscious or local breath before the movement.
Place yourself upon a level with the first tone, and allow or let the voice
start spontaneously and freely. Make no effort to hold the breath. Hold
from position. Sing down, moving with the voice, but do not let the body or
the tone droop or relax. Neither must there be stiffness or contraction. If
you find it impossible to control the voice in this way, or to prevent
depression of body and of tone, then try the following way.
Place yourself upon a level with the first tone in the proper manner, sing
down, but lift and expand with an ascending movement of the hands and body.
Open the mouth freely and naturally, and let the tone roll out. You will be
surprised to find not only great breath power and control, but a power in
the tone that most singers imagine can be got through physical force alone.
This power is the result of expansion and inflation, the true reinforcing
power. The increased vitalized energy of the tone is the result of the
upward and outward movement. This movement of expansion and inflation
through flexible action, is the true application of strength or of power.
It is that which we call the reverse movement. We sing down and move up. It
is the great movement for developing the low tones of all voices. This
reverse movement may be applied at will to all the studies given; it will
depend upon the effect we may desire to produce. If in descending, a quiet
effect is desired, the movement is with the voice. If we want power we
reverse the action. The body, when properly trained, becomes the servant of
the will, and responds instantly to thought and desire. Hence the
importance of correct thought.
In presenting these ideas to my readers, I realize how difficult it is to
put them in words, and how much they lose when they appear in cold print.
In working with a living, vitalized voice, the effect is so different. The
reader who may desire to experiment with these ideas should place himself
before a mirror, and make his image his pupil, his subject. In this way he
can better study the movements, the action, the position, the level of the
tone, and the breathing.
In private teaching, of course, we do not take up one subject or principle
and finish that, and then take up the next one; but one idea is constantly
built upon another to form the harmonious whole. The formula which we use
here, as we have said, is the one adopted for the normal class at the Point
Chautauqua summer school. This we do in order to have the system properly
arranged for lecture, illustrations, and for a practical study of the
devices, not only from the singer's, but from the teacher's standpoint as
The teacher or singer who studies and masters this course never questions
or doubts the truth and power of automatic breathing and automatic
breath-control; or the wonderful influence on the voice of these movements,
which we call true position and action in singing.
[Footnote 1: The few exercises or studies here given, as well as a number
of others, may be found fully carried out with accompaniment, in "Exercises
for the Training and Development of the Voice," by the author of this work.
Published by William A. Pond and Company.]
THE THIRD PRINCIPLE OF ARTISTIC TONE-PRODUCTION.
The third principle of artistic tone-production is
_High Placing and Low Resonance._
_Theory._--Tone, to be artistic, must be placed forward and high, and
must be reinforced by the low cavities and chest resonance; it must be
placed high, and reinforced or built down by added resonance through
expansion and inflation.
_Devices._--Place high by removing all restraint, all obstruction,
through flexible movements. The high, forward placing is the natural focus
of the voice. When the voice is thus placed and automatic control prevails,
reaction and reflection occur, and the sympathetic low resonance of the
inflated cavities is added to the tone. Also study the naturally high
placing of E and the naturally low color of oo; then equalize all the
vowels through their influence, and thus develop uniform color and quality
This third principle of artistic singing is a very important one, and means
much more than one might, at first thought, suppose. Many singers think of
placing simply as the point of contact or impact of the air current.
Placing, however, means more than this. It means not only the correct focus
of tone forward and high, but it also means reaction and reflection of the
air current; in short, sympathetic added vibration of air in the low
inflated cavities. This being true, we find that correct placing means even
much more. It means the true form and adjustment of all the parts--all true
conditions of tone.
The prevailing idea of placing is the thought of constantly pushing up the
tone. Result, the organ of sound is pushed out of place and all true
conditions disturbed. The pushed-up tone means local, muscular effort,
contraction, and a hard, unmusical voice. The voice thus placed may be loud
and brilliant, but never soulful or beautiful. The pushed-up tone means
singing from the larynx up. It means head-resonance only; and
head-resonance is but one side, and that the smallest side, of this great
Tone must be placed spontaneously, with reaction and reflection. This shows
at once the importance of the first two great principles of
voice-production,--freedom and automatic breath-control; for without these
true placing is impossible. Tone placed in this way means the ring of the
forward high placing and the added resonance of the inflated cavities and
especially of the chest.
In singing, as we have learned, there are two forces constantly in
action,--pressure and resistance, or motor power and control. These two
forces must prevail, and in order to produce the voice artistically, they
must be balanced. This is done, indirectly, through the movements we
advocate, through the position and action of the body. The motor power lies
in the diaphragm and in the abdominal and intercostal muscles. The
controlling force lies in the chest, in a properly adjusted larynx and the
approximated breath-bands. These two forces must be balanced during the act
of singing. Most singers are much stronger in the driving or motor power
than in reaction or the controlling force; and with many, the weakness in
control, reaction or adjustment, is an absolute bar to success. Hence the
importance of strengthening the chest, and the position of the organ of
sound, through physical culture.
When these two forces, motor power and control, are not equal, the balance
of force is placed upon the throat and throat muscles. This the singer can
no more avoid doing than he can avoid balancing himself to keep from
falling. When, in order to place, the voice is pushed up, deliberately and
maliciously pushed, both forces are exerted in the same direction. They are
then virtually but one force--a driving force. As there must be two forces
in singing, as Nature compels this, there is nothing left for the singer to
do but to use the throat and throat muscles as a controlling force. Under
these conditions, as before stated, the tone may be brilliant, but it will
always be unsympathetic and unmusical.
I hope no one will think for a moment, in considering the movements we
advocate, that we do not believe in strength and power. We do believe in
applied power, applied indirectly; not by local grip and contraction, but
indirectly through vitalized energy, expansion, and flexibility, through
the true position and action of the singer. There is no strength properly
applied in singing except through movement; through correct movement all
the forces which nature has given the singer are indirectly brought into
action; in this way there is constant physical and vocal development.
Every tone sung, as we have learned, is a reinforced sound. There are two
ways of reinforcing tone. First, by muscular tension, muscular contraction,
muscular effort--the wrong way. Second, by vitalized energy, by expansion,
and by added resonance of air in the inflated cavities--the right way. Of
course to produce expansion and inflation, true conditions of form and
adjustment must prevail, through the movements given.
Form has much to do with determining the quality and character of the tone.
Muscular effort, either in placing or reinforcing the tone, results in
muscular contraction, and in most cases in elliptical form of voice, thus:
[drawn horizontal oval] This means depressed soft palate, high larynx,
contraction of the fauces, closed throat, and spread open mouth.
Result--high placing impossible, no low color or reinforcement; in short,
hard muscular tone. The tone may be loud but it cannot be musical.
The true musical form of the voice is elongation, thus: [drawn vertical
oval] This means high placing and low resonance; it means that the tone has
the ring of forward high placing and the reinforcement, color, and beauty
of added low resonance. Elongation is a distinguishing feature of all truly
For artistic tone, the soft palate must be high, the larynx must be low,
and the throat and mouth allowed to form, not made or compelled. The form
must be flexible and elastic. The larynx must be low in adjustment for the
production of beautiful tone, but it must never be locally adjusted. It
must always be influenced indirectly through the movements we advocate,
through the true position and action of singing. In this way are secured
open throat, freedom of voice, all true conditions. In this way the tone
may be placed by impulse, by flexible action, may be started high and
instantly reflected into the inflated cavities. This means perfect poise of
voice; it means the focus of the tone high and forward with the sympathetic
added vibration of the low cavities and especially of the chest. This is
the only true placing of voice,--the combination of head and chest
resonance through automatic form and adjustment. A tight throat through
local, muscular effort makes these conditions impossible.
The true resonance-chamber then, as we have found, is from head to chest;
sympathetically the resonance of the entire body must be added. The true
artist sings with the body, through the throat, and never with the throat.
In this way the entire singer is the instrument. Fill the body with sound.
The higher the tone the more elongated the form. Nature demands this. If
this does not occur contraction and depression are sure to follow. Also the
higher the tone the lower the added resonance, when the conditions are
right. In this way the form elongates and the compass expands without
effort or strain. These ideas studied through flexible movements are truly
wonderful, but natural means for expanding the compass of the voice.
Much has been written lately on the subject of open tones. Should the tones
be opened or closed, is the question. Tone should never be closed. It
should always be open, but never out. If it is out of the mouth it is not a
singing sound. Even the real covered tones of the voice should never be
closed. The truth is, the form of the covered tones of the voice, through
elongation, is larger than the form of those which we call the open tones,
in contradistinction to the covered.
In the clear timbre of the voice, the bright tone, the ring of high
placing, predominates. In somber timbre, the dark tone, low resonance, or
low color, predominates. In medium tone both are heard or felt more
equally. None of this coloring or reinforcing must be done by locally
influencing form or placing. The voice must be perfectly free; and the
result must be due to sentiment, feeling, emotion, to the effect it may be
desired to produce. If all restraint is removed, if true conditions
prevail, this can always be done through the singer's sensation, through
the use of the third power. It is marvelous how, under right conditions,
the voice will respond to thought, to sentiment, to feeling.
"The tone thus produced and thus delivered, with perfect breath-control,
will set the _whole body sympathizing_, from the sole of the foot to
the crown of the head. And it is _only_ tones like these--that it is
possible to so adorn, and decorate, and beautify, with the due amount of
emphasis, and accurate intensity of emotional feelings, and exquisitely
shaded and ever-varying tinges of color in expression--that can prove
capable of captivating the heart of the hearer, that can graphically
impress the listener with such sentiments as the vocalist desires to
We will take for our first study a single tone about the middle of the
voice. In studying placing and resonance, we must of course observe all the
rules laid down in regard to the action, position, etc. Do not take a
voluntary breath before acting--do not start the tone before the action,
two things which require constant watching on the part of the beginner.
Either of them will virtually cause defeat.
Remove all obstruction by seeking the level of the tone through flexible
action. Think the tone forward and high. Place by impulse, and never by
local effort. Have the sensation as though the tone started forward and
high, as though it impinged against the roof of the mouth, and instantly
reflected into the low cavities, and especially into the chest. In doing
this, relax the jaw, let go all face and throat contraction, expand the
body, and think and feel the chest vibrant and filled with tone. In this
way the tone may be started high and reinforced or built down by the added
resonance of all the inflated cavities.
Another way to do this, is to start the tone spontaneously by impulse
through correct action; in doing so, think and feel as though the tone
placed and reflected at the same instant, forward against the roof of the
mouth and on the chest,--as though the contact or impingement of the tone
were felt at both places simultaneously. Of course the high forward placing
in mouth and face is the true placing, and the sensation on the chest is
the action or reflection of the true placing. This can be done through
flexible vitalized action alone. With a tight throat or local muscular
effort it is impossible. This is perfect attack, and in this way all force
and push are avoided. In this way freedom and inflation are secured, that
condition which unites head and chest resonance.
Think of a rubber pouch filled with air. Imagine you grasp it in the middle
with the hand, and close the hand tight. The upper part of this pouch
represents the face and high forward placing. That below the hand, or the
lower part, the chest resonance. The hand holding the middle of the pouch
represents the throat. So long as the hand contracts tightly the middle of
the pouch, there is no connection between the air in the upper and lower
parts of the pouch. If the desire is to connect these two parts, relax the
hand a little, and allow an opening or a free passage between them. In
singing, the same relaxation or opening must occur at the throat, if the
desire is to connect the ring of high placing with the resonance of the low
cavities. If the desire is to reinforce, to build down, the extrinsic
muscles of the throat must relax, and the throat must expand.
In thus placing and reinforcing tone, the pupil is guided or assisted not
only by the sense of hearing but by the sense of feeling. There will be the
sensation of freedom, of ease, of power; a feeling as though the entire
body from the head down to the waist were open and filled with tone.
Remember, however, this important fact, that it is possible to lift and
expand, and even to let go, and yet not to influence the tone. We can act
well and yet sing with a common tone. The pupil must think and feel the
tone, must think and feel the effect desired. The thought must precede the
This point is worthy of all consideration,--right thought or right feeling
assists the tone in every way, has, in fact, a wonderful influence in
developing right action. The idealized tone brings into action more of the
true powers of the singer than it is possible to do in any other way.
[Illustration: SIXTH STUDY. Ya, ah.]
This study lends itself easily and naturally, not only to the development
of high placing, but to correct bodily action.
Sing the first tone staccato, placing the body upon a level with the tone
as described. Then from the level of this first tone, through flexible
vitalized action, carry the body spontaneously or by impulse to the level
of the upper tone; the air current or the tone should strike the roof of
the mouth well forward and instantly reflect into the low cavities. In this
way all true conditions are secured, and the voice is allowed to sing
instead of being made or compelled. There must be a very free lift,
expansion, and let go between the first and the upper tone. Do not let the
second tone start until its level is reached, or the effect will be
spoiled, or at least modified. All this must be done rhythmically, which
means without the least hesitation, or without the sensation of haste. To
hesitate compels local effort. To hurry disturbs all true conditions. This
is a very valuable exercise, if understood.
[Illustration: SEVENTH STUDY. Ah....]
This study is virtually the same as the sixth, except that the voice is not
suspended or arrested between the first and second tones. This exercise
must be studied with the same action and the same impulse as the sixth
study. Some singers can get placing and reaction better on this study than
on the sixth.
[Illustration: EIGHTH STUDY. Ah....]
Find the level of the first tone as suggested, using hands and body; move
down, hands and body going with the tone, while singing the first three
notes of this exercise; then, without stopping or hesitating, reverse the
action or the movement, by lifting hands and body, and opening wide by
dropping the lower jaw, while singing the last three notes. Of course the
voice must sing from the highest to the lowest note with a continuous
legato flow. The movement of the body down with the first three notes and
the reverse action, moving up and out on the last three, must be smooth and
continuous. If this is done properly the reverse action will give a
wonderful sensation of freedom, openness, and the power of low added
resonance. It demonstrates forcibly what is meant by placing up and
This is the great idea or the great movement for developing the low tones
in all voices. When the low tones are thus developed by expansion, but
without effort, the same idea of freedom and low resonance can be carried
into the high tones. This can be done especially well and easily on
exercises six and seven. The higher the tone the lower the resonance should
be if the object be a full beautiful, free tone.
[Illustration: NINTH STUDY. Ah....]
Place yourself upon a level with the first tone as suggested, and allow the
tone to start spontaneously, striking, as it were, the roof of the mouth
and the chest simultaneously. Move body and hands down with the voice to
the low tone, and then instantly but rhythmically, lift back to the level
of the upper tone. Feel as though you were under the tone with body and
hands in moving up, and let the tone strike by impulse, the roof of the
mouth, and instantly reflect into the chest. Practice this exercise until
it can be done with perfect freedom of form and action.
In starting the first tone in all these exercises, feel the vibration in
the face, on the forehead, and on the cheek-bones. If this is done without
pushing, but by flexible action, a sympathetic vibration can be felt
through the entire body.
A very effective and successful study of high placing and low resonance may
be got through a consideration of the natural placing and resonance of the
vowel sounds. As I have written so fully on the vowel sounds in my former
works, I shall simply touch upon that important question here.
E as in _reed_ is naturally the highest placed vowel in the English
language. U or oo as in _you_ or _do_ is naturally the lowest in
color. Sing E with the freedom of action as suggested, and think it high in
the face. Make no effort to influence the form. The form of E is naturally
very small. E will be found in this way to be free and bright, not hard and
wiry. Sing oo in the same way. The form of oo is also very small. Oo should
have a flute-like sound. It will be found that in E high resonance
predominates. In oo low color. In studying the vowels the aim should be to
equalize them by placing, reinforcing, and coloring them as nearly alike as
possible. In this way they are equalized instead of differentiated.
Place E as suggested, and color it by the thought and influence of the low
resonance of oo. Sing oo as suggested, and brighten it by the thought,
influence, and high placing of E. In this way study all other vowels,
influencing them by the high placing of E and the low resonance of oo. The
high ring and brightness of the reed sounds of the voice, must be modified
and influenced by the color and low resonance of the flute sounds. The
flute sounds of the voice must be made more brilliant and free by the
influence of the high placing and high resonance of the reed sounds. In
this way we equalize all the vowels until, in a certain sense, they all
have the same color and quality and sound, as though they belonged to one
and the same voice. For a further study of high placing, use the second
sound of O, or, as some writers classify the vowels, the second sound of
U,--the sound of uh as heard in up. This is the highest, narrowest, and
most elongated arch form in the English language; consequently it is, for
many voices, the most favorable sound for the study of high placing.
All vowel sounds, like all tones of the voice, are reinforced sounds. The
tendency of most singers is to sing the reed sounds too white and the flute
sounds too dark. By properly distributing brilliancy and color we influence
and modify all the vowels without losing their character or individuality.
THE FOURTH PRINCIPLE OF ARTISTIC SINGING.
The fourth principle of artistic singing is
_Emotional or Self-Expression._
_Theory_.--Vitalized emotional energy, the "Singer's Sensation," is
the true motor power of the voice.
_Devices_.--A study of tone-color and tone-character; the idealized
tone, applied and developed by the use of words and sentiment.
The student of the voice who has studied, understood, and, to a certain
extent, mastered the first three great principles of voice production--the
removal of all restraint, automatic breathing, high placing, and low
resonance--has certainly accomplished much. He has aroused and developed
the physical and mental vitality of the singer, the vitality and energy of
body and mind. This is the limit of progress or development with many, at
least so far as actual tone study is concerned.
There comes a time, however, in the experience of every student of the
voice, a stage of the study, when, if he expects to be an artist, he must
take a step in advance, a step higher; he must place himself upon a higher
plane or level; he must arouse his true inner nature, the singer's
sensation, that which we have called the third power. This is done by a
study of emotional, or self-expression. It is done through arousing and
vitalizing the emotional energy. Vitalized emotional energy, the singer's
sensation, is undoubtedly the true motor power of the artist.
At just what stage of development the consideration of this higher form of
study or expression should be placed before the mind of the pupil, is a
question. Singers are so different, physically, mentally, and emotionally.
With some I have found it best not to consider this side of the question
until they have developed a fair vocal technique. This should be the case
with emotional, nervous, excitable temperaments. With hard, cold, stiff,
mechanical pupils, this is often the only way in which it is possible to
arouse them, in order to give them a start, without wasting weeks or months
of precious time.
The development of this principle of vitalized, emotional energy, depends,
as a rule, upon freedom of voice and the true conditions of tone as before
described. Therefore, in order to study this great question, in order to
fully develop this higher form of expression, the singer must have mastered
the flexible, vitalized movements given in this work, must have acquired
through these movements absolute freedom of tone. Experience teaches us,
however, that there are those who, while they learn, in a certain way, to
do the movements comparatively well, yet do not entirely let go,--they do
not free the voice. With such the study of tone color, and especially the
study of soft color, not soft tone necessarily, but soft, emotional tone
color, is their only salvation. It releases and relaxes all the rigid local
There is a stage of study, as we have said, in the experience of all
students of the voice, when, in order to become artists, Nature demands of
them more than mere sound. There comes a time when every tone of the voice
must mean something, must express something, through the character of the
tone, the idealized tone. In this way the personal magnetism of the singer
is imparted, heard, and felt. This means the expression of thought and
feeling through the color and character of the tone, the highest known form
of expression. This principle is the greatest known agency for the
development of all the powers of the singer, not only the emotional and
mental powers, but the physical as well. The student of the voice who
studies or who is trained in this way, develops, not only in character and
beauty of tone, but in actual physical power and control. This study of
tone color and tone character develops new power in every way. "The
mechanical and mental alone are but half development, but this is full and
complete development of the entire being." In proof of this, sing a light,
bright, happy thought or tone, using the clear timbre, about the middle of
the voice. It will require but little strength. Then sing a more emotional
thought, sentence, or tone; express deeper feeling, and it will be found
that more strength is required. Again, give utterance to tone or words
which express sadness, sorrow, or intense pleading, using the somber timbre
of the voice, and much more strength will be required. This will be
especially noticeable in the action or energy of the diaphragm and
abdominal muscles. It will be found that the low muscles of the body exert
more strength on somber timbre than on clear tone. This, in order to induce
the deep, low setting of the voice at the organ of sound, necessary for the
production of somber or dark tone, and the expression of deep, emotional
feeling. It is easy to see that this means greater physical as well as
emotional development; physical development, not only of every muscle of
the body, but of the organ of sound itself; a development which can be
attained through the study of tone color and emotional expression only.
The power of vitalized emotional energy, I might say the power of the
emotional power, cannot be overestimated. The power of an emotional climax,
imparted through the soft color of the voice, is often greater than that of
the dramatic climax; it will often influence and affect an audience in the
most startling way. We find that thought and will control all physical
action in singing. If the thought is right, the action will be right; if
wrong, the action will surely be wrong. When right thought and action have
developed absolute freedom, then the emotional energy, the singer's
sensation, the true power of the voice, should dominate everything. The
mind or will controls the body through thought, but the thought must be
aroused through feeling or emotion; and the feeling or emotion is inspired
by the sentiment to be expressed. This means, of course, the higher form of
expression, means the power of tone color and tone character; but it
depends first upon all true conditions of tone, mental and physical, and
then upon the temperament, upon the heart, and soul of the singer.
Singing, as we have said, is more psychological than physiological. This
whole system of flexible, vitalized movements, is first aroused by right
thought, and finally applied and controlled through the mind or will, in
response to feeling or emotional impulse. In this way we are able to arouse
and use at will the persuasive, the impressive, the fervent voice; the
voice that is something more than mere sound; the voice that has character
Compare two voices that are equal in every way in regard to power of tone,
compass, and control. The one varies the color and character of the tone
continually with the change of thought and sentiment, and is enabled
thereby not only to avoid monotony, but to use the impressive, persuasive
voice, the tone the sentiment demands. In this way he has magnetic power
and influence over an audience. The other voice may be bright, free, and
clear, yet may use the same quality or color of tone constantly on all
styles of singing, and on all degrees of power, it matters not what the
thought or sentiment may be; and this style of voice is by no means
uncommon, even among many of our public singers. Now consider the
difference in the commercial value of these two voices, which should bear
at least some relation to their artistic value. No artist can be truly
great or fully developed without the power of vitalized, emotional energy,
and variety of tone color and character.
Sing a tone, about the middle of the voice, without other thought than that
of simply pure, free tone. It will be found that in the most beautiful
voice the tone will be common-place, meaningless; in many voices it will be
simply sound. Now place yourself in every way upon a higher, a more lofty
plane. Think of higher ideas and ideals. In other words, idealize the tone.
Remember, the ideal is the truth, and not exaggeration. Appeal to your
emotional energy, the singer's sensation, and give expression to thought
and feeling aroused in this way. Give expression to an actual life-throb,
whether it be of love or hate, of joy or sadness, of ecstasy or despair.
The result, the change of tone, character, and quality, will be
astonishing, will ofttimes be electrifying. In this way make the tone
actually mean something. Feel like a singer, assert yourself, express
thought, sentiment, feeling, emotion, and not simply sound.
Simple sound, as a rule, is meaningless and unnatural. Nature demands, for
the expression of beautiful, artistic tone, that all the powers she has
given the singer--the powers, physical, mental, and emotional--be brought
into action and put into the tone. Character and magnetism of tone must be
aroused in most voices. This cannot be done through the mechanical and
mental powers alone. It requires the study and development of the emotional
energies of the singer. In other words, the singer must put himself, not
only upon a physical and mental level, but upon the emotional level of the
tone as well.
All voices have two distinct color or character effects, the reed and the
flute. These effects are the result of vowel forms, and of the
predominating influence of high placing or of low resonance. When we desire
brilliancy, the reed effect should predominate. When we desire dark color
or more somber effects, the flute quality should prevail. In clear tone or
timbre there is more reed effect than flute. In medium tone or color the
effect of both is heard and felt. In the somber tone the flute
predominates. To express joy or happiness we use the clear timbre, and the
ring of high forward placing predominates. To express a deeper feeling, a
more serious but not a sad tone, that which we call the emotional form,
both the clear and the somber are heard in various proportions; the high
placing and the low resonance are about equally balanced. To express
sadness the somber color or low resonance predominates.
Apply these ideas on all the exercises given. Use sentences which contain
thought or sentiment that will enable you to arouse a definite feeling. For
example, to study the clear timbre, sing, "My _heart_ is glad." To
express the emotional tone, the tone which is not sad but serious, sing,
"My _heart_ is thine." To express a somber sound or sadness, sing, "My
_heart_ is sad." To express a ringing, dramatic tone, sing, "Thy
_heart_ is false." Thus we express four different effects on the one
This subject of emotional expression through tone color and tone character
is so great, so important, that it is impossible to do it justice in this
little work. I have written more fully on this and kindred subjects in my
other works, therefore I shall here touch but lightly upon the aesthetics
of the vocal art.
It should be remembered that the prime object for which this book was
written, was to place more clearly, if possible, before my readers, the
importance and wonderful influence of the flexible, vitalized movements of
These movements, we find, so directly influence the voice, the singer, and
the results in every way, that we feel justified in again calling attention
to them. Too much cannot be said of them, for the average student of the
voice is inclined to neglect them. If they have been, to a certain extent,
understood and mastered, then the study of this, the fourth principle of
artistic singing, becomes a comparatively easy matter. With the student who
does not understand them, emotional or self-expression is always a
difficult matter, and with many an impossibility; which largely accounts
for the great number of mechanical singers. At least twenty years' hard
work and study have been put upon these movements in order to reduce them
to the simplest and most effective form. They are based upon common sense
and Nature's laws. Of course no one can or should expect to understand or
fully appreciate them without more or less investigation.
THE FIFTH PRINCIPLE OF ARTISTIC SINGING.
The fifth principle of artistic singing is
_Theory_.--_Articulation must be spontaneous_, the result of
thought, and of the effect desired, never of direct or local effort. The
thought before the action, never the action before the thought.
_Devices_.--The development of the consonantal sounds through the
study of the three points or places of articulation, and the application by
the use of words, sentences, and sentiment, vitalized and intensified.
In our course of study or in the formula here given, it will be evident to
the reader that we lay much stress upon the principle of vitality or
vitalized energy. In the second part of this work we have considered the
principles and the devices that develop physical and mental vitality. In
the article which directly precedes this, special emphasis is placed upon
emotional vitality. Vitality or vitalized energy, it will be found, holds
good also in this, the fifth fundamental principle of artistic voice
Articulation, to be artistic, must be automatic and spontaneous; must be
the result of thought and effect desired, and never of direct or local
effort. This being true, we must recognize the importance of freedom of
form and action, of the removal of all restraint, in fact, the importance
of all true conditions of tone. This brings us back again to our original
position, as do all the fundamental principles of singing; namely,--the
importance of the free, flexible movements of our system, upon which
freedom of form and action, in fact, all true conditions of tone, depend.
Language, spoken language, has been considered by many a vocal weakness.
Scientists have contended that the consonantal sounds weaken the resonance
and power of the vowels. We have found the opposite to be true. We have
found that the consonantal sounds in many ways are a wonderful help in
developing the voice. This proves that which some one has so well said,
"The demonstrations of yesterday are the falsehoods of to-day."
A free, flexible articulation of the consonantal sounds helps to place the
voice, and gives it life and freedom. Articulation, under right conditions,
will not interfere with the legato flow of voice. It is not necessary, as
many suppose, to sacrifice distinct utterance in song for the sake of the
legato flow of voice, the most desired mode of singing. On the other hand,
the free legato flow of the vowels need not interfere at all with distinct
articulation. The voice is composed of two separate and distinct
instruments, the organ which produces sounds or vowels, and the
articulating organ which produces consonants. These two instruments, when
properly trained, strengthen, complement, and support each other, and
together they mold vowels and consonants into speech.
It is true that with many, articulation is a difficult matter, and this is
especially true on the high tones of the voice. No one who has heard the
majority of the average opera and concert singers of the day, would be
justified in holding that articulation is not a lost art. A free, distinct
articulation and use of words in song, is the exception and not the rule.
This is due largely to the following fact--with most singers there is
direct or local effort on face, jaw, tongue and throat, during the act of
singing; in other words, they grip the parts to hold the tone, and the
higher or louder they sing, the firmer the grip or contraction. This
virtually paralyzes action, and makes flexible articulation impossible.
Articulation knows no pitch. It should be as easy on a high tone as on a
middle or low tone. If there were no direct or local effort of the
articulating muscles to hold the tone, articulation on the high tone would
be as easy as on the middle or low tone. This is a fact which has been
demonstrated again and again. Of course it is more difficult to learn to
sustain the high tone without placing more or less effort upon the face,
jaw, and throat; but under right conditions, the result of right position
and action, this can be done, and has been done many times.
Articulation, to be artistic, must be spontaneous,--the thought before the
action. Think and feel the effect desired, and give no thought to the
action of articulation. The action, under right conditions, if there is no
restraint, will respond to thought and feeling; it will be automatic and
spontaneous. Just as the singer, after a certain stage of study, should
never produce a tone that does not mean something, that has not character,
so in the use of words, he should always sing them in a persuasive,
impressive manner, and with free, flexible action. As, under this system,
we never locally influence vowel form, so, after a certain stage of study
we never locally influence consonantal action. To be right, it must be
automatic and spontaneous.
Of course we recognize the fact that in all vocal study there must be a
beginning. The pupil must be taught to know and think correct physical or
mechanical action in singing. He must know what it is, what it means, and
how to think it. Then it must be trained to respond to thought and will.
This we call the first two stages of study, or the physical and mental. The
mental, as the student progresses, must dominate and control the physical;
and finally, as we have before stated, the true motor power is emotional
energy or the singer's sensation. This order of study and development holds
good in this fifth principle of artistic singing, as in all others.
The device to which we first resort for the understanding and development
of articulation, is a study of the three points or places of contact. On
page 183 of "Vocal Reinforcement" (by the author of this work) will be
found a full explanation of these three points.
A vowel sound is the result of an uninterrupted flow of the vibratory air
current. A consonantal sound, on the other hand, is the result of a
complete obstruction and explosion, of a partial obstruction and explosion,
or of a partial obstruction only. The place and manner of the obstruction
and explosion, or of the obstruction only, determine the character of the
sound. There are three points of obstruction or articulation:
1. The point of contact of the base or back of the tongue and of the soft
2. The contact of the tip of the tongue and of the hard palate, the roof of
3. The contact of the lips, or of the lower lip and the teeth.
Almost any first-class work on the elements of the English language will
give the divisions and the location of the consonantal sounds. For the
singing voice it is always best to simplify, hence we divide the
consonantal sounds into two general divisions: the aspirates, those which
are the result of complete obstruction and explosion, or of partial
obstruction only, breath and vowel sound; the sub-vocals, those which are
the result of partial obstruction and explosion, or of partial obstruction
only, sub-vocal and vowel sound. The sub-vocals, as ending or final
consonants, are the most difficult of all to give their proper value and
The student of the voice should study, understand, and practically train
the action of these three points or places of articulation; for at these
three points, with a few exceptions, all consonantal sounds are made. Take
all the consonants, and classify them in two columns, the aspirates or
breath sounds in one column, and the sub-vocals in another. We will give
one example of each kind, as made at each point or place of articulation.
By the aid of vowels we form syllables, and thus simplify the study, and
make it more definite. The study of consonantal sounds without the use of
vowel sounds is very indefinite and unsatisfactory.
We give the formula for the study of articulation, as found in "Exercises
for the Training and Development of the Voice" (by the author of this
work), on page 18.
Thus: 1st Point.
Exaggerate the consonantal sounds in every instance, and the points of
contact or places of articulation will be very evident. It will also be
evident that the point of contact or articulation is much more positive on
certain aspirates than on the sub-vocals; while on a few other aspirates
the action or obstruction is so slight that it is almost impossible to tell
where or how they are made. They are the exception to the general rule. To
such, however, very little attention or study need be given. Having studied
the formula as given, classify the consonants in three columns, under the
headings of 1st, 2d, and 3d points or places of articulation.
At a certain stage of study, when the student of the voice has acquired
freedom and control, when he is able to release the face, jaw, tongue, and
throat from all local effort or contraction,--at this stage of study it is
wonderful what can be done in the way of articulation in a few days, by
this system. I have known many singers who could produce beautiful tones,
but who could not make themselves understood at all in the singing of a
song; yet in a few lessons on these three points or places of articulation,
practically applied by the use of words and sentences, they could sing the
words of a song as distinctly as it was possible to speak them.
For the practical application of the above principles of articulation, form
groups of vowel sounds, and make syllables by adding consonants, and sing
them on single or level tones. First place the consonant before the vowel,
making the articulation the initial sound of the syllable. Then place the
consonant after the vowel, making the articulation the final sound of the
syllable. Also sing sentences on single tones or level movements. Analyze
all the consonantal elements of the sentence. Take for example the
following sentence, "We praise Thee, O God," and notice at which point or
place of articulation each and every consonant is made. Let all
articulation be free, flexible, and light in movement, not heavy or
labored. Never work with articulation; play with it, but let it be distinct
and definite. Make no effort of face, lips, or tongue; let all be free and
pliable. Show no effort or contraction of the face in sustaining voice or
pronouncing words. In other words, never sing on the outside of the face.
Mouth and face must be left free and pliable for the outline of form and
for expression. Use words and sentences in an impulsive, impressive manner
without local effort.
Articulation must be rhythmically in sympathy with the movement or the
rhythm of the song. Even though the voice may flow freely on the vowels,
the articulation must not be hurried, nervous or spasmodic. This style of
articulation often disturbs the legato flow and spoils the general effect.
While of course it is not possible to sing the consonantal sounds, a
beautiful effect is often the result of playing upon the consonant
rhythmically, with the movement of the song.
THE SIXTH PRINCIPLE OF ARTISTIC SINGING.
The sixth principle of artistic singing is
_The Elocution of Singing._
_Theory._--The words and their meaning, in modern song, are, as a
rule, more important than the music.
_Devices._--A study to combine elastic vowel form and flexible
articulation, applied by the emphasis and accent of important words and
phrases; also applied through the color and character of tone, and the
impressive, persuasive, fervent voice. In short, a study of pure diction.
Every singer and teacher of singing should, in a certain sense, be an
elocutionist as well. Not an elocutionist from the standpoint of many who
are called elocutionists, who are stagey, full of mannerisms, and who
exaggerate everything pertaining to elocution. Of course the better class
of elocutionists are not guilty of these things; but they do idealize
everything, whether they read, recite, or declaim, and this in their
profession is a mark of true art. So must the teacher and singer learn to
idealize not only the tone or the voice, but everything pertaining to the
singing of a song. This must be done through the manner in which the
sentiment, the thought, the central idea is brought out and presented to
the hearer; through the impressive way in which the story is told.
The elocution of singing depends upon a knowledge and control of all the
principles considered up to this point of study,--a knowledge and control
of physical, mental, and emotional power, of freedom of form and action, of
artistic vowel form and automatic articulation, of the removal of all
restraint, in fact, of all true conditions of tone. To interpret well, the
singer must have mastered the elocution of singing, must be able to bring
out every vowel and consonantal element of the words, must know how to use
and apply tone color and tone character, the impressive, persuasive,
fervent voice. The singer must idealize not only the tone, but the words of
the song; "just as the painter idealizes the landscape, so the musical
artist must use his powers of idealization in interpreting the work of the
composer." To be able to do this, his diction must be as pure, his language
as polished, as that of the most accomplished orator.
The power of word vitality in the singing of a modern song, is one of the
great elements of success, if not the greatest. Not an exaggerated form of
pronunciation, but an intense, earnest, impressive way of bringing out the
thought. It would be interesting to know what per cent of teachers and
singers can read properly the words of a song; to know how many of them, or
rather how few of them, have ever given this phase of the study, thought or
attention. Most of them act as though they were really ashamed to try, when
you ask them to read the words of a song, and when they read them, they
apparently have no thought of expressing, or no idea of how to express the
elevated thought or feeling, necessary to bring out the author's ideas. It
is almost impossible to make them idealize the words through the elocution
of singing; and yet in the artistic rendition of a song, a ballad, or a
dramatic aria, the words are often of more importance than the music. The
singer should study the story of a song by reading it aloud upon the
highest plane or level of emotional or dramatic expression. To do this, he
must know and apply the elocution of singing. Then he should endeavor to
bring out the same lofty ideals when applying the words to the music.
"Why do not singers read or talk as they sing?" was a question once asked
by a prominent elocutionist. "Why do not elocutionists sing as they talk or
read?" I replied. This, of course, at once suggests an interesting subject
for discussion. To give the reason in a general way, is simply to state
that singers, as a rule, do not apply the principles of their art to the
talking voice. Hence they often read and talk badly. The same is true, as a
rule, of elocutionists. They do not apply the principles of their art when
they attempt to sing.
The devices we use are a study of elastic vowel form and flexible
articulation, applied by the emphasis and accent of important words in
phrases and sentences. Then a study of the character and tone color
necessary to express the meaning of the words. Then a use of the earnest,
impressive, persuasive voice, as the text may demand. By using these forces
or principles, as suggested by the thought and sentiment of the words, we
arouse the emotional power, the magnetism of the voice, and thus influence
the hearer. Through the elocution of singing we place our emotional, our
personal expression upon a high and lofty plane. We thus express the
central thought, the high ideals of the composer, and through the earnest,
impressive voice impart them to the hearer.
THE SEVENTH PRINCIPLE OF ARTISTIC SINGING.
The seventh principle of artistic singing is
_Theory_.--Singing means infinitely more than the use of words and
music; it means the expression of the author's idea as a whole.
_Devices_.--The application of all true principles by drawing, as it
were, a mental and emotional tone-picture, as suggested by words and music.
The following article upon this subject was kindly written, especially for
this book, by my friend and pupil, the well known teacher, Mr. John
Interpretation in song is the faithful reproduction of the intention of
both poet and composer. This reproduction includes the revelation of the
characteristics of the poem itself, whether lyric, dramatic, or in other
ways distinctive. It also reveals the musical significance of the
composition to which the words are set. The melodic, rhythmic, and even
harmonic values must be made clear to the hearer. But interpretation
includes more than this reproduction, essential though it may be. If the
expression of the intention of poet and composer fulfilled the sum total of
interpretation, one performance would differ little from another. A
clear-cut, automatic precision would be the result, perhaps as perfect as
the repetition given out by a music-box and certainly no more interesting.
Another element enters into interpretation. The meaning of the poem and its
accompanying music must be displayed through the medium of a temperament
capable of self-expression. A personal subjective quality must enter into
the performance. The singer must reveal not only the significance of words
and music, but his own intellectual and emotional comment upon them. Upon
this acceptance of the inner meaning of words and music, and upon his
ability to weave around them some strands of his individuality, depend the
character and originality of the singer's interpretation as a whole. Let us
see how this comprehension of the meaning of songs may be acquired; upon
what foundations rests the ability to make the meaning clear; and if we can
do so, let us discover the springs of that elusive quality commonly called
"temperament" which gives the personal note to one rendition as distinct
from another, and without which the clearest exposition of vocal meanings
becomes tame and colorless.
The singer is a specialist, but all successful specialization rests upon
the broad foundations of general culture. The reason why there are so many
singers and so few artists who thrill us with the revelation of the
intimate beauties of the songs of Franz, Grieg, and MacDowell, to take only
a few names from the rich list of song writers, is because people sing
without acquiring the range of vision which makes such interpretation
possible. How can one sing, let us say, a German song, imbued with German
romanticism and melancholy, unless he knows something of the German art,
the German spirit, the German language, the German national
characteristics? A knowledge of literature, art in general, and the
"Humanities," to use an old-fashioned word, is absolutely necessary to
interpretation of a high order. Too often, alas, the singer imagines that
the study of tone production, or acquaintance with musical literature, or a
polished diction, will make him sing with the combination of qualities
called style. Not so! Upon the broad foundations of general culture, which
distinguishes the man of refinement from his less fortunate brother, rests
also the specific ability to sing with distinction. Moreover, the singer
must have definite musical ability, natural and developed by study. He must
thoroughly comprehend rhythm, melody, and harmony in order that his
attention may not be distracted from interpretative values to ignoble
necessities of time and tune. It is not possible to sing Mozart, not to say
Beethoven and Wagner, without acquaintance with the vocabulary and grammar
of the wonderful language in which they wrote. Familiarity with the
traditions of different schools of composition and performance is necessary
also in order not to sing the songs of Bach and Handel like those of
Schubert and Schumann, or Brahms like the modern French composers; in order
not to interpret with like effects indiscriminately songs of the oratorio
and opera, of Italian, German, French, English and modern Russian schools.
Unquestionably the singer must have control of the physiological and
technical possibilities of his voice. No one can make words and music mean
anything while he is wondering what his voice may do next. Developed
intelligence, emotional richness and refinement, musical knowledge, a
properly placed voice capable of flexibility and color, distinct
articulation, polished diction, these are some of the preliminaries to
successful interpretation in song.
Let us see what special qualifications assist in the actual performance of
song, in the attempt to give pleasure or artistic gratification by singing
songs for others to hear. In the first place let us consider the
limitations as well as the advantages of the human voice. I must ask you to
remember that considered as an instrument it is smaller in power than some
instruments, shorter in range than many others, often less beautiful than
the tones of the violin. But in one respect it transcends all others. It is
capable of revealing the mind and soul of the one who plays upon it. The
speaking voice, as well as the voice in song, reveals thought and feeling
to the hearer; those subtler shades of meaning which distinguish man, made
in the image of God, from his humble companions, are made clear to those
about him by this instrument--this wonderful, persuasive, cajoling,
beseeching, enthralling, exciting, thrilling, terrifying instrument! Have
you not been moved by the tones of the speaking voice? How can we train the
voice in song to express these varying shades of meaning, and can we learn
to use them systematically instead of accidentally or when we are impelled
by strong emotion? I know that there is a popular impression that some
singers possess a mysterious quality known as "temperament," and that
others do not. Having this uncertain quality, one singer stirs an audience;
having it not, the hearer remains unmoved. If by temperament, intelligence
and emotional richness of nature are meant, I do not believe that anyone
who is not to some extent possessed of these faculties can stir the
feelings of his hearers to any considerable degree. But surely many, almost
all people capable of conquering the physiological, psychological,
technical, and musical difficulties to be overcome before learning to sing
at all well, possess these qualities. And even if modern songs of the best
type abound in subtle, emotional expression and varying shades of
intellectual significance, it is, I believe, possible for most singers to
gain in interpretative facility by learning to connect the thought and
feeling underlying the song with the spoken words which are their natural
outlet and expression.
I say spoken words; for speech is the more spontaneous expression of
thought and feeling, through which individuality attains its simplest and
most complete expression. Speech is the normal method through which we make
clear our ordinary thoughts, feelings, desires, repulsions, and attractions
to those about us. Song is the finer flower of artistic expression, one of
the means through which imagination and the creative and interpretative
faculties find an adequate medium and outlet. But the words of the poem,
whether spoken or sung, must first be thoroughly understood before the
reader or singer attempts to make anyone else comprehend or feel them. Too
often an apparent lack of "temperament" is only the failure to have a
definite understanding of the meaning of the words the singer is vainly
endeavoring to impress upon his audience. Let the singer recite or read
aloud the words of his songs. This is a natural form of expression, and
requires a less complex process of thought than singing, which demands
several automatic reflexes in securing tone production; let him read aloud,
trying to give out every shade of thought and feeling the poem contains, in
a tone which is persuasive and appealing. Later, when he can do this with
appropriate emphasis in speech, let him try to express the same meanings in
his singing voice. In all probability he will find that he is much assisted
by the music, if his tone production is reasonably correct and
authoritative, and he be enough of a musician to grasp readily tonal
values. The sense of the words, the emotion and thought underlying the
words, will suggest the color and character of voice appropriate to the
expression and interpretation of the song as a whole. Of course, if he
tries to impress upon his hearer that he thinks it rather weak and foolish
to give up completely to the full significance of the words, and to
impersonate their narrative or dramatic significance, there is no help for
him. I am inclined to think that the fear of seeming exuberant or foolish,
the unwillingness to give one's inner self to others, or a
self-consciousness which prevents it, is at the root of much apparent lack
of "temperament." The singer must be both the narrator of the story of the
poem and the impersonator of the principal characters in that story. Upon
the completeness of his understanding of the meaning of the poem, and his
revelation of its meanings, as well as upon the absence of stiffness or
self-consciousness in suggesting the moods or characteristics displayed,
will depend the impression of temperamental force upon his audience.
The following suggestions may be of some value as devices in making songs
mean something; and this, after all, is the object of all attempts at
Suppose you take a new song--one you have never seen before. Do not sit at
the pianoforte, and play at it and sing at it until, after a fashion, you
know it. This way of learning leads to the kind of statement recently heard
after a peculiarly bad performance, "Why, I never think of the words at all
when I sing!" Instead of doing this, if you have been taught to do so, read
the song through, observing its general character. If thinking music
without playing or singing be impossible for you, play it over, carefully
noting _tempo_ and other general characteristics, until you have an
understanding of the melody, rhythm, and musical content. Observe how the
words fit the music, still without singing. Then read the poem silently and
carefully, and decide whether it is narrative, lyric, dramatic, churchly,
or in other ways distinctive. Next read the poem aloud, giving the voice
character appropriate to its sentiment, phrasing it intelligibly, observing
the emotional portent, and coloring it accordingly. If the poem be
narrative, tell the story with life and vitality; if it be dramatic,
attempt to impersonate the characters concerned; if it be devotional,
recite with dignity and devotional quality. Finally, when both words and
music are well in the mind, if possible with an accompaniment, but
certainly standing, sing the song. Sing, making a compromise between the
strict rhythmical value of the notes and the demands of the sense of the
words. Keep the general outlines of the music so far as phrasing and rhythm
are concerned; but whenever a sacrifice must be made, sacrifice the musical
value and emphasize the emotion, the meaning, the poetry, the dramatic or
narrative significance of the words. Phrase with this end in view;
sacrifice anything except tone-production to this end. Do not distort the
rhythm, but bend it sufficiently to emphasize important words and
syllables, by holding them a little, at the expense of unimportant words or
syllables. Finally, remember that misguided enthusiasm is not
No real interpretation is possible without a full comprehension of the
meaning of both words and music. Study the voice. Study its possibilities
and its limitations. Study music until the musical element of difficulty is
reduced to a minimum, and until the character, style, and traditions of the
various song forms are well within your grasp. No matter how beautiful may
be the voice, or how well placed, no amount of enthusiasm or temperament
can atone for a meaningless or unintelligent treatment of the intellectual,
emotional, and musical characteristics of the song as a whole.
The tendency of many is to raise the hands and arms too high; the hands
should not be raised above the waist-line. If raised too high, the energy
is often put in the action of the arms instead of the body; or the upper
part of the body only is moved, and thus the most important effect or
influence for power and control is wanting. The action must be from the
hips up, and not only from the hips, but the hips must act and expand with
the body. Remember the center of gravity must be at the hips. If it is
found that the tendency is to raise the hands too high, then try or study
the action as follows:
Place the hands upon the hips, and when coming into action, when seeking
the level of the tone, or during the act of singing, see that the hips
expand freely and evenly with the body. This should be tried and practiced
frequently by all in order that the movement may be from the hips up and
not above the hips only. When the hips are thus brought into action, the
abdominal muscles and the diaphragm are strengthened, and their position
and action are correct. When the upper part of the body only is brought
into action the position of the diaphragm and abdominal muscles is often
weakened. Remember that the basic law or foundation principle of our whole
system of movements is movement from the hips up, including the action or
expansion of the hips in connection with the movements of the entire body.
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