Hygiene Of The Voice
( Originally Published 1922 )
This chapter on singing would therefore not be complete if we neglected to speak a little about vocal hygiene.
First, we will borrow from a special work some lines, the first of which corroborate certain ideas expressed at the opening of this study : " The education of the voice should not be abbreviated. Prolonged studies assure a long career, and if we see an early end to voices which seemed to have the promise of a long future, it is often because the period of preparatory study has been shortened, in the haste to utilize an organ full of promise as soon as possible. It is because it has not been sufficiently trained. Let us recall the good examples : Caffarelli, a pupil of Porpora, and Rubini, working six or seven years before appearing in public." Many other names might be cited; in fact, almost all the great artists who have had a long career, and among our contemporaries, Mme. Miolan Carvalho, Mme. Viardot, Mme. Malibran, Duprez, Faure, etc. " The voice should be trained from infancy, long before the change. It does not differ in that from other gymnastics. An artist who goes late into the career may sometimes grace it well, but almost always for a short period. Let a child give free play to the various notes of his singing voice, and as soon as his change is completed, he will find it to be well exercised in the new key-board that has fallen to his lot."
All rational physical exercises of a nature to conserve the general health are good for the singer during the period of study, as also later, especially those the effect of which is to develop the muscles of the chest: horsemanship, fencing, dumb-bells, swimming (if the reaction is good), and canoeing are very favourable sports, provided they are used prudently, and there is no exposure to catching cold. One should abstain from exercise completely, however, when one has to sing either at the theatre or at a concert ; on that day, relative repose is necessary. Faure even recommends " avoiding long walks,, or drives, in carriage, or railroad car," on account of the trepidation, and then he proceeds to advise the singer to select his rooms in proximity to the theatre.
The principal precautions to be taken, apart from violent and inopportune exercises, are : to abstain totally from singing, either in public or even for exercise while a cold lasts, or a sore throat, or even a simple hoarseness, if the larynx is susceptible, and at the slightest indisposition with women ; not to abuse and founder the voice, either by singing uselessly or by forcing it to produce tones beyond its normal range, especially high ones ; to avoid violent laughter, too loud talk and long speeches, as also vociferation and fatiguing cries; not to play the piano just before singing; so far as concerns dressing, never to compress either the neck, or the body, or the feet; for an alimentary regimen, a simple and strengthening menu, "- little or no alcohol, nor anything that is irritating to the throat (mustard, cayenne pepper, etc.). Butchers' meat, red or white, fish, eggs, milk dishes, mollusks, oysters, mussels and snails, rice, tapioca, potatoes, fruits in general (except nuts and almonds), and unfermented cheese should form the basis of the repast; many singers attribute a special virtue to the raw egg ; it can do no harm to anybody and may be espe cially good for some throats. Avoid singing during digestion, or at least for long; on the day of performance, it is prudent to dine at least three hours before the curtain rises. Nearly all singers smoke, but almost all physicians are of opinion that it would be better if they did not ; in any case, what appears certain is that the bad habit that some smokers of cigarettes have of inhaling the smoke has the effect of favouring the production of phlegm. Many male and female singers during the entr'actes or before each entry on the stage feel the need of clearing the voice by the ab-sorption of some liquid or other : so long as it is only a question of cold bouillon, lemonade, sirups, coffee, even Bordeaux, Malaga, or beer, it will not hurt them, but Champagne must be distrusted, also alcoholic liqueurs and all that contains alcohol, such as grog and punch, which, after producing an effect of excitation might have a totally contrary effect by reaction, not to speak of other inconveniences by which they risk offending or scandalizing the audience. On returning into the wings, or green-room, one generally finds oneself passing suddenly from an overheated atmosphere into one that is sensibly colder ; moreover, the larynx and bronchial tubes, ` congested by the action,' are in a condition of extreme sensitiveness, and more than ever susceptible to the influence of every morbid cause. It is then advisable immediately to cover the neck and shoulders (especially decolletée women, of course), to breathe exclusively through the nose, so that the air may be warmed by passing through the nasal cavities, and consequently to avoid all conversation."
The singer who is careful over the good working of his larynx, without being forced to live as an anchorite, ought systematically to forbid himself any departure from his régime and all excesses of whatsoever nature. If he desires his voice to obey him, he must make himself its slave and set it a good example. " Freshness, spontaneity and strength are the most precious qualities of the voice, but they are also, of course, the most fragile. The voice that once loses never regains them, its timbre remains cracked with-out recovery. We call a voice broken when it is reduced to this exhaustion. A similar prostration of powers sometimes manifests itself from the period of study, when we may attribute it to the bad management of the pupil's studies. The error would be equally deplorable whether the nature of the organ had been misunderstood, or whether anyone had attempted by obstinate labour to convert the voice from low to high. The inevitable result of the latter attempt would be the destruction of the voice. The studies should tend to develop the natural gifts of an organ, and not to transform them nor to stretch them beyond measure." Thus far, his advice deals with management of study quite as much as hygiene properly so-called ; what follows applies more particularly to the latter : "Singers, who are so strongly interested in the preservation of their instrument, the most delicate and fragile of them all, will understand the necessity of the minute care to be taken to prevent its total loss or even any change in it. First of all, they should avoid excesses of any kind in regimen, habits and con-duct. There is no excess that does not immediately exercise a deleterious action on the voice." The enumeration of excesses follows. " All these excesses fatigue the organ and render it hoarse for the time being; and if often renewed cannot fail to destroy it."
Let us add finally that an excellent practice from a hygienic point of view, as well as a process of study, consists in effecting every morning before breakfast a complete cleansing of the vocal apparatus by means of gargles and nasal douches with warm borated water, and immediately afterward practicing a few vocalization exercises. This is what Faure designates by the suggestive term of " toilette of the voice."