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As To "Coaching."

It is easy to see why the professional music-critic “coaches” singers. His critical labors are thus made so much more pleasant and satisfactory. The professional critic would always prefer to praise rather than to condemn, and the singer whom he has “coached” in the privacy of her teacher’s studio, will, of course, be “all right” at the concert.

The evolution of the “organist” or “pianist” from the state of mere “accompanists” to that of the fully- developed “coach” of the semi- or full professional vocalist is an interesting process. It is going on in all the large cities. Some people affect to be surprised by it. Yet why? If an organist is favorably situated—say, in a church where the quartet is changed every year, and where the process of “trying singers” is spread over a considerable period—he is bound to learn much concerning the human voice in many of its most peculiar and interesting conditions and stages of development. Playing for many different singers having different methods of voice-production and styles of delivery should certainly be an illuminating experience for any organist or pianist. If the player be also somewhat of a musician, knows where to insert the “breath-marks” so as to preserve the integrity of the musical phrase, and has ideas as to when notes should be sung softly and when loudly, is not that capital sufficient for a “coach” for vocalists? What if he knows nothing of the human voice and its proper use as an instrument; of its powers and limitations; of its weak spots; its “best notes”; its capabilities in the way of tone-coloring and variety of style in delivery? If an accompanist keeps his ears open while playing for different singers, may he not acquire enough of the “jargon” about “method” and “tone-production” to form a working capital for himself, first as a “coach” and possibly, later on, as a full-fledged “teacher of singing.” A good accompanist is a rarity, and so also is a good teacher of singing a rarity. Who shall say that the one may not, very properly, develop into the other—making a doubly-rare combination?

The would-be singer expects to make a serious study of the voice in order that he may sing rightly. But perhaps it is asking too much of the clever accompanist to require him to study the voice ere he begins to “coach” singers. And yet—There is not one instrumentalist in a thousand who has not studied voice-production who can “sense” the subtle change in quality which comes into the voice when the limits of “natural,” unforced tone-production are slightly transgressed. This is for the sensitive ear of the genuine voice-teacher, who knows that such a deterioration of quality is the sign of the entering of the “thin end of the wedge”: the beginning of worse things for the voice, unless attention is called to the fault and a remedy applied. The instrumentalist may have excellent ideas as to “interpretation,” and the singer whom he is “coaching” may comprehend them and still fail to bring out the points desired. Not understanding the voice, the “coach” may be asking for more of intensity, or of volume, or warmth of color than the particular voice can give; or the effect required may be impossible for the singer because of faulty production at a particular point in the vocal range, while the production is satisfactory on all other notes. The mere instrumentalist may know what is possible for the organ or piano, but, not understanding the voice, is at a disadvantage in coaching singers. Obviously the singer who needs “coaching” would do well to seek the assistance of one who is not only a trained musician and a good accompanist, but also a master of the voice.

The work of the genuine “vocal teacher” does not stop with the “posing” or “placing” of the voice. It goes on with instruction in matters of musicianship, the principles of “interpretation” and with the development of imagination and feeling. Thus the pupil comes to know for himself the underlying principles of “phrasing”; and can place his own “breath-marks,” and do his own “shading.” He learns to recognize the characteristic “style” of each of the many classes of vocal composition; to seek for the “emotional con tent” of words and music, and, having found it for himself, to give it proper expression so that others may feel it also. It is, indeed, somewhat of a reflection upon the work of a vocal teacher when an advanced or “graduated” pupil is obliged to run to him or to some “coach” for help in the preparation of each new work taken up. Vocal technic, musicianship, taste, and feeling ought to be cultivated concurrently in the pupil by the teacher, so that, when the singer has left the studio for public work, he is able, in a large degree, to help himself to a satisfactory interpretation of much of his material.

In these days there is a lot of humbug about “coaching.” First, on the part of some who “coach.” Facility in rushing over the keyboard, a strong feeling for rhythm, and an abundance of physical vigor and enthusiasm do not supply the place of the fine musician ship and cultivated taste which the “coach” should possess.

Next, on the part of some of those who go to be “coached.” Certain singers “coach” merely in order to get or to retain church positions; others with the view of obtaining a “pull” with choral-society conductors.

There is a place for the efficient “coach.” It is said that “two heads are better than one,” and certain it is that no singer can hear his own voice as others hear it. The young singer who is in professional work will therefore do well to “coach” occasionally with a vocal teacher who is also a fine musician. The “coach” will be able to correct any little errors of vocal tech nic which may have crept in, and to make suggestions as to further development of voice and style. Further, a finely-educated “coach” may point out beauties in a work which the singer has overlooked. The greatest of artists—even the best singers of the grand opera—find it to their advantage to “coach” with an experienced musician between seasons. Public work is apt to bring with it lapses from the best standards in vocal emission and the presentation of a “part” which, in the stress of active life, escapes the notice of the artists themselves. Hence the benefit of reviewing rôles with a qualified “coach” whose business it is to discover faults and deficiencies; to stimulate to renewed study and effort to reach a yet higher excellence. Then, too, it is sometimes helpful to “coach” with the composer. But experienced artists know their own limitations, and are not likely to come to any harm, vocally, by work with a “coach.”

After all, an artist must teach himself. He must use his powers of observation and reflection, and be his own most severe critic, relying far more upon himself than upon even the cleverest “coach.”—F. W. Wodell.

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