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Art Of Singing:


 Classification Of The Voice

 General Conservation Of The Voice


 Breathing Exercises

 Development Of Voice

 Interpretation And Expression

 The Halls

 Defective Voices

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Interpretation And Expression

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

It is difficult to express a thought without first having it well pictured or "imagined." This relates as well to tone as to interpretation. Too many of the singers and pupils give to their audience the very clear sensation that they are thinking, not of what they are singing, but of their voice, their vocal cords, their breath, their support, their vocal apparatus and not of the object of their song. Instead of our ears understanding more or less clearly the spirit of "Oh, Heavenly Aida," our brain only comprehends "diaphragm, breath, timbre, voice in the mask, the high notes pointed, the focus between the eyes, the size of the mouth, etc.," things which do not captivate us.

The majority of singers neglect the arduous training which is necessary to develop the will to express. They think of everything but the thing they sing, and prevent us from thinking of it also. Many pupils do everything that their teachers have done, but do not feel it, they copy. They enunciate poorly because they do not conceive clearly. Often they do not conceive the very thing they intend to express. If they thought of that which they ought to give, if they felt it, they would awaken in themselves the desired means of expressing it, and so would rise to the demands of the author and the public.

Nothing will assist more the development of the power of expression than a careful study of mimicry and gesture.

Success in the business of entertaining others is sometimes said to be due to personal magnetism. And yet the secret of personal magnetism is the absolute effacement of self. In artistic lines the best work is always inspirational. The vocal expression or interpretation must be felt by the singer, who, for the time, completely for-gets himself and his lessons.

The art of expression is a special talent and one which can only be cultivated and developed with the aid of the imagination. To express well means to imagine well, imagination being the basis of creation. The powers of expression are aided by good habits of accentuation and pronunciation.

Accentuation.—There are three accents in the voice : the accent of intensity, the accent of height, the accent of timbre. In reality, the accent is only the making evident of one of the qualities of the sound. Generally the three qualities assert themselves together, but one of them may be more accented than the others. In one phrase it may be the force of the syllable which is important, in that the intonation expresses a significance in the melody; in another it is the vocal timbre, with tone color, etc. Here still it is the thought which gives the expression. Nothing is easier than to accentuate, but it is necessary not to allow ourselves to be absorbed by the machinery of the voice, but to modulate the voice upon the objective conception, upon the exterior realization of the sonorous forms ideally evoked at a distance, in a way to give to the song the employment of a vast, sonorous gesture, filling the hall and fixing the attention of its auditors upon its sonority.

Pronunciation.—Articulation is the distribution of the sonorous accents of pronunciation at a distance. There are two articulations, the articulation glottic, or vocalization; the articulation buccal, or verbalization. The latter is the word sung, the speaking in the song.

In vocalization, the vowel matters little. It is necessary to vocalize upon all.

The work upon "distance" is, here as every-where, the first condition of a good buccal articulation. It is necessary to pronounce largely in proportion as you intend to sing afar off. In no case is it necessary that the vocal form be carried away on the verbal form, that the note go beyond the syllable. Wherever the voice carries it ought to take a verbal form, and have besides a syllabic character.

For that result it is necessary that the syllable come out clearly articulated in the forward part of the mouth. If it must be formed in the rear, as when we pronounce the gutturals, the palatals and the vowels like "ei" or "ou," it ought to be held longer in the forward part of the mouth, and not allowed to go out except by an orifice vibrant. It carries then its syllabic timbre, which will not leave it until it arrives at its destination.

It is essential above all that the accentuation carry upon every syllable and not upon the vowel. The ear of the singer, which watches from afar the force, the intonation, the timbre, ought equally to watch the pronunciation, its verbal significance.

The term "pronunciation" admirably sums up the physiology of the act. Many singers practice retronunciation.

It goes almost without saying, so evident is it, that each pupil must learn to understand, to compare, to appreciate, to feel, the sentiment of the song, and to conform the tone thereto. Who-ever does not comprehend a beautiful sound will never be able to reproduce it. Nor can one give the proper reading to a poetic theme without in a measure feeling the emotion to be expressed. Natural talent and passion are gifts, impossible of manufacture when not possessed; but like diamonds in the rough, these essential attributes need refining. The pupil must learn to like what he is singing, thus adding interest to study which is in itself beautiful, and causing the student to forget the hard work involved.

Again it is ruinous to adopt for all students a uniform program of study, akin to the inflexibility of a mechanical system. There must be room for all the elasticity that may be necessary for adaptation to all circumstances, to all types, to all characters ; to adjust itself to the physical strength of every pupil, to the limits of his voice or breathing ability, to the special aptitudes and to the different faults, natural, or acquired by practice or totally erroneous study.

The Mouth.—The most important factor is the proper opening of the mouth. The slightest deviation from its correct position will lead to more or less dangerous contraction of the muscles. Any stiffening of the muscles of one part of the vocal machinery is automatically imparted to and shared by other parts, thus throwing out of gear the entire vocal apparatus.

In the old Italian school of singing, much attention was paid to the position of the mouth. In a work about the voice, published in the second part of the nineteenth century, the author, whose name I do not now recall, quotes Tosi, Bernacchi, Gervasoni, Florimo, and other great vocal teachers of the same period, on the position of the mouth when singing. All those celebrities agreed that one of the greatest difficulties confronting a vocal teacher is to obtain from their pupils a natural, or, as they call it, "right" opening of the mouth; and Bernacchi even went so far as to state emphatically (in which he was indorsed by a group of wonderful singers, his pupils) that it is impossible to produce a correct tone without assuring correct positions of the tongue and mouth.

Undoubtedly the failure of many singers is due to a stiff, forced constrained action of the articulating organs. There is no sound in the human voice (except a grunt) that can be made independently of the mouth. The mouth regulates pitch, quality, intensity. The unruly tongue, hard lips, smiling cheek, stiff lower jaw draw upon the muscles of the throat, which in turn press upon the larynx, thus interfering with the right action of the voice, and preventing free, natural, beautiful tone.

Seeking to improve the vocal tone without regarding as most important the natural articulation and correct pronunciation will inevitably result in the malformation of the mouth, and consequently of the voice.

A tone that comes from a constricted mouth is not a really human tone, but partakes rather of the instrumental. Correct speaking will lead to correct singing, as speaking and singing are modulations of the same function.

The Phonograph.—Just as conceit hinders progress, so any kind of fair criticism tends to assist in the development of artistic work. The phonograph, while not in any sense a substitute for a vocal teacher, is still of great value to the singer. It reveals at once his defects as well as his strong points. I cheerfully grant that the quality of a voice is lost in its phonographic re-production, but everything else remains, and faulty breathing and errors of diction, interpretation, tone-placing, etc., are distinctly revealed. It is often claimed by singers who have been unsuccessful in obtaining engagements as phonographic artists, that not every good voice is suitable for recording purposes. As a general proposition, the singers who make such claims are badly mistaken, for the phonograph, when properly handled, gives back very nearly what it receives. It is a fact known to phonograph experts, how-ever, that many records are poor through no fault of the singer, such as failure to use proper recorders (of just the right sensitiveness) for the voice in question, so as to correspond with the voice quality, also improper size of horn used, —either of which factors, if overlooked, will ruin the record of the greatest artist in the world. It is possible, therefore, that a failure may be due, not to vocal inadaptabilities for recording, but simply to a poor selection of instruments for that particular voice. But as a general thing the phonograph is a fairly accurate mirror of the human voice, and the singer with many faults in his production who claims his poor record is the fault of the instrument and not his own has a very difficult claim to substantiate.

It is my personal belief, after a great deal of experience with phonograph singing and singers, as well as the recording instruments themselves, that phono-recording is an almost invaluable aid to the student in his endeavor to succeed.

Speaking about phonographs, I will describe in a few words the process of manufacturing records.

The singer, surrounded by the orchestra, sings into the horn of a recording machine. The width and length of horn have a great deal to do with the success or failure of the venture, as has also the proper selection of the recording instrument. The latter consists of special castings, in general form similar to the ordinary phonograph reproducer, on which is set a round glass plate, with a diamond needle attached for the purpose of cutting the groove on the wax blank. The thickness of the glass and the manner of setting the needle upon it have much to do with the sensitiveness of the completed recorder.

As I have said, the selection of suitable horn and recorder for each singer is a problem upon which all depends. After the sound vibrations are recorded upon the wax blank, the blank is taken to the galvano-plastics bath, where from the copper solution a negative form of the original wax blank is made. This process is repeated several times until the copper stamper, as it is called, is completed.

The stamper, after being nickeled and backed, is then placed with the record stock, under a hydraulic pressure of thousands of pounds, which converts it into a finished record.

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