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Five Minutes In Her Studio

In conversation with a young and successful teacher, the other day, I put the question: “With whom have you studied?” Her answer would, perhaps, give as fair an index to her character as it would an explanation of her success. She replied, “Only with my pupils.” “Surely you have taken singing lessons, have you not ? ” “Of course, I have had lessons with A, B, and C, but they afforded me no material which I could not buy at the store that would aid me in teaching.” “Then you entertain no sincere respect for your teachers,” I added. “On the contrary, I hold them in the highest esteem, both as teachers and artists; but they knew I was studying with a view to teaching, and were perfectly agreed on one point, which was, that they could instruct me as to the use of my own voice, but the real and only ideas of any value whatsoever in teaching must be gained by experience with other voices.”

Determined, if possible, to still further examine this young disciple in the school of common sense, I urged her to give me some examples or experiences which she thought affected her, or particularly qualified her, in any special branch of her work.

“Well, for example,” she said, “there was Miss G., a timid, delicate young woman of nineteen, with a particularly charming and liquid quality to her voice. One of my teachers had taken me through that well-known old French book, Fetis’ “Solfeggios.” Being rugged and well seasoned, my teacher did perfectly right in allowing me to sing the exercises mezzo-forte in the original key, with the best possible results in my upper register. Naturally, I thought as long as Miss G.’s voice was wanting in the upper registers, these exercises would be precisely the thing for her; so, cautioning her against prolonged practice at a sitting, I led her half through the volume, when, to my consternation, the voice was gone. She had practiced with an open throat and fairly well-poised position, but her upper voice was for a time a wreck. To be sure, I didn’t tell Miss G. that I had committed an error, because I knew the loss of her upper register was only transient, but set myself diligently to work with her middle voice, awaiting carefully the effect of this treatment upon her overfatigued upper voice. I rejoice to say that after six months the resonance came back into the upper register, and the work from there on progressed satisfactorily. But do you suppose,” she added, “that I ever allowed myself to do any serious work in the upper register with young or unformed voices?”

“What rule have you used,” I inquired, “for the treatment of the lower or chest registers?” “Rule?” she replied with a look of impatience. “I abhor rules; all rules relative to voice development are made to be broken, with one exception, and that is the rule that there shall be no rules.” “How do you proceed when you wish to impress upon the pupil’s mind that a legitimate change may be expected as a pupil leaves the middle voice in descending?” “That depends upon the pupil,” she said. “When the chest register is carried too high, I ignore for a time that there is any chest register, carrying the pupil as low with the middle register as it is possible for her to go easily, waiting until there is sufficient strength there for her to be able to depend upon it, when I skip the intermediate notes and take the extreme low notes, and work from there upward until I arrive at the point where the middle voice was too weak to be available, and then instruct them how to blend the two octaves.” I said: “Your explanation is not only reasonable but very inspiring; I think you have struck the keynote of successful voice culture.”

My own experience has taught me not only that every voice is a law unto itself, but a law which, if the teacher fails to recognize its application and scope in the individual, he will find it resented by serious and particular limitations. It is hardly necessary to add that the showing of this young woman’s pupils bore out the wisdom and intelligence which she displayed in the brief review of her work. When young vocal teachers learn to discard the rules which their teachers have laid down for their voices, and abide by the underlying principles upon which all physical phenomena are based, viz., individuality, their faces are turned in the direction of success.


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You are reading Five Minutes In Her Studio from the July, 1898 issue of The Etude Magazine.

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