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The Vocal Art:
How To Sing
Accompanied Vocal Music
Correct Methods Of Vocal Study
How To Learn To Sing
On Teaching Singing And The Singer's Art
The Value Of Correct Breathing
The Care Of The Voice
Views On Vocal Instruction
The Modern Art Of Song

Personal Views On Vocal Instruction

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

There exists an actual necessity for the union of art with science in order to accomplish what has hitherto been attempted by the aid of empiric rules alone. My book "A Problem of Art" lays down in brief the following propositions, definitions, and deductions:

"I. All tone-production (phonation) depends upon the relations of three qualities of vocal sound: height (pitch), intensity, and timbre.

"II. Phonation is a physiological act, the agents of which are certain organs of the human body comprehended under the name of `vocal organs,' which produce a sonorous vibration called voice, or vocal sound. These three qualities of vocal sound are engendered in the human throat, but are not defined at the moment when the free edges of the two ribbons of muscle, usually called the vocal cords (inferior), between which opens the space called the glottis, enter into vibration.

"They do not become definite until they have suffered modifications in the passage which is made by the vocal sound across the inner cavities of the head, modifications which do not cease until the tone issues forth from the lips. These modifications of the three qualities of the vocal sound, like its initiation, are caused by the movements and changes of position of the vocal organs. Each quality arises from causes clearly distinct ; but as all three are produced simultaneously in the same organs, their relation to each other is most intimate, since every variation in the position of the organs, although intended to effect but one of the vocal qualities, necessarily involves a modification of the others also.

"The essential cause of pitch is the degree of tension and the closeness of proximity of the vocal cords.

"Intensity arises primarily from the breath expelled from the lungs. But it should be remembered that this air-column is only able to effect its progress through the interior vocal passages by being reflected, for the obvious reason that it is impossible to draw a straight line from the glottis to the lips. The causes which detract from the intensity of the vocal sound arise from the manner in which the air-column traverses the vocal passage, from the changes to which the cavities concerned submit, and also from such as can provoke the movement of certain mobile organs situated upon the vocal passage.

"Timbre depends primarily on the molecular constitution of the body which initiates the vibration of the vocal breath (vibrating air-column), viz., the vocalcords. It also depends largely on the positions taken by the organs and cavities situated upon the vocal passage."

According to human practice the results of phonation fall into two classes : modulated, pertaining to music; and significant, pertaining to language. The union of significant phonation (speech) with modulated phonation (solfège) produces song, which is both modulated and significant. Language, in turn, involves three requisites : accuracy, expressiveness, and perceptibility ; to which modulation adds two more : pitch and intensity.

Thus vocal music implies five qualities : its language must be accurate; it must express the mood and intention of the singer ; it must be audible to the listener ; it must be varied in pitch and in intensity. These five requisites, on close inspection, are too often found to involve an opposition grounded on physiological considerations. The organic conditions demanded by one forbid those demanded by another. Art, in fact, may be resolved into a series of compromises ; but inartistic or unnecessary compromise destroys art.

Whereas art, starting from an idea in its expression, ends with the scientific facts upon which its effects are based, science, starting with these effects, ends with the truth to be deduced from them—that is, with the idea. "Art, seconded by science, is the formula that we propose for the solution of the problem upon which depends the future of vocal art."

In the matter of teaching, as the three qualities of vocality—pitch, intensity, and timbre—are equally precious, they should be developed simultaneously. Since to do this it is necessary to begin with one, I select that which should be called "the great regulator of the three qualities of vocal sound"—namely, timbre.

Opposed to the present practice of vocal teaching, we should seek not all the pitches at which the voice can be emitted upon a given timbre—i.e., the pronunciation of a given vowel—but all the timbres—i.e., all the pronunciations of the vowels which can be emitted upon a given pitch. Take, for convenience, a medium pitch—that which serves for speech. Pursue the research at all the pitches which the voice will pro-duce. This will permit the observation of the gradual transformations of the timbres, and will thereby make evident the ensemble.

All of this, the initial step of the work of vocal culture, should be effected with the weakest possible intensity. Suppleness should be acquired before strength, as is physiologically correct, since all physical exercise should begin with motions to produce suppleness. Only when studies upon timbre and pitch have given satisfactory results should the question of intensity (not loudness) come in play. All possible variations of intensity should then be studied upon all the timbres of all variations of pitch.

The exercises preparatory to singing may be reduced to three types : scales, arpeggios, and grupetti (figures); to which may be added a fourth type, intensity, which varies upon a given height (fllage des sons). When one has produced all the varieties of pitch that it is possible to realize upon all varieties of intensity and of timbre; all the varieties of intensity upon all the varieties of timbre and of pitch; all the varieties of timbre on all the varieties of height and of intensity, he will have practised the ensemble of the three qualities of vocal sound from one end to the other of the field of natural means of artistic expression. He will know the compromises which these qualities necessitate in order not to injure each other; will know how to maintain them in a state of conciliation; in fine, will possess mastery of singing.

The art of vocal instruction must have a scientific basis. It is to that end, and to prove that necessity, that my essays have been written; but, alas! men of science continue to pursue their own road, while artists persist in following the path that they have chosen. Both are wrong: the first regard phonic production from a purely physical and anatomical point of view; the second rely entirely upon experiment or observa-tion. The former lack experience in art; the latter in scientific knowledge.

And vet, after all, what is phonetic production but a result of the mechanism and movements of certain organs? In order, then, to obtain a satisfactory result we must first have perfect mechanism, whence the necessity of studying the anatomy and physiology of the organs of sound. The product of this mechanism is vocality, not only when it becomes an auditory sensation, but in its initial state, while still in the throat—that is to say, when it is not yet a sound, but merely vibration, having neither intensity nor dimension nor tone, but being only a molecular movement.

The study of vibration belongs to physics, which brings us back again to our starting-point. that in this joining of forces there must be mutual gain; and with a thorough understanding of primary causes we can easily trace the means by which best results are to be obtained—from a technical standpoint, be it under-stood, for we are dealing with the question of technique only.

Thus we may infuse new blood into this drooping art, which seems about to perish for want of under-standing the evil from which it suffers. The remedy can be found only in a careful study of the laws of vibration of sound, and the manner in which it is formed and diffused in the vocal organs.

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