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The Meat and Drink of the Singer -- Vocal Department.


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The Meat and Drink of the Singer.

This is not a delicate subject. On the contrary, it is a practical, every-day consideration. A well-fed man— and by that I mean a scientifically well fed man—has resources which the unscientifically fed, or the unfed man is entirely destitute of. The singer must be better nourished than any other professional. The demands made upon him by his profession are greater on the score of brawn and muscle, brain and vitality, in combination, than can possibly be required in any other field of effort. The nearest approach to it, perhaps, is the advanced grades of military life, and they approximate it only at a most respectful distance; therefore, what the singer shall eat is important, and because of its importance has been much written about and much more talked about, and the result of this is, that a well fed, fully sustained and nourished physical condition has come to be looked upon as the inseparable companion of artistic success. Whoever heard of a lank, hungry-looking singer? I do not refer to those who desire to sing or who have made failures of singing, but to those who have made of singing a success. These two conditions are so synonymous, that one might almost argue that they have learned the art of good living, therefore they know how to sing. It is entirely true that until one has learned the art of good living he is not in a fit condition to reap substantial benefit from the art of singing; therefore let us look at the subject carefully, and if there are any subdivisions to be made let us be explicit.

The mental condition is first worthy of our consideration. Food for the mind,—metaphysical extremists are trying to argue that the mind is not functional, and bears but a very obscure relation to what the old school of thought considered as vital, not to say physical. The world has not yet arrived at sufficient culture to make it possible to carry out successfully that experiment which the poverty-striken farmer tried on his horse. You will remember that he had some green spectacles constructed for the animal, and then turned him out to grass in a heap of shavings, which the animal devoured and the farmer congratulated himself that he had solved the great problem of economy, but, as he expressed it, just as the horse became accustomed to living on shavings he died, so probably just as the metaphysical world gets the body into that ideal condition where it will not be necessary to feed it in order to have the mind well housed, it will perform in a similar fashion. These latter day mystics are too busy proving that the body is a nuisance anyhow; possibly it will not be such a great relief when they have to get along without it. It appears to me that this is pertinent to our subject to only this extent, that the vocal instrument is a very real and tangible thing, and it will be some time before we can make a good tone without nourishing it advisedly.

Since brain is of the first importance, we will look into the matter of brain food. In answer to the question, What is brain food? Holbrook, in his “Hygiene of the Brain,” says: “All food that nourishes the body and makes good blood is brain food. In general, the fruits and grains contain these substances which the brain requires, but our present mode of cookery is such that much of our food is robbed of its most nutritious properties, or rendered indigestible before it reaches the stomach. Brown bread made from the very best of wheat, or bread made of wheat from which the external coating has been removed, but not with it the second layer, is very desirable for brain-workers. Baker’s brown bread made of poor white flour and the worst of bad bran, however, is not fit to be eaten. Oatmeal is an excellent food to do brain-work on,—used once a day with fruit it is very nourishing. Lean meat is not a brain, but a muscle, food. Oysters are valuable brain food, if eaten raw after the day’s work is done. Fruits, especially apples and grapes, are excellent for brain-workers. Tea, coffee, wine, and tobacco are called brain foods by many. They only act by their stimulating properties and do not feed the brain. If relied on to any great extent, they exhaust the brain sometimes beyond recovery.”

We will now listen to Lenox Brown, who has devoted an entire volume to the testimony of various artists, on the effect of the use of stimulants upon the voice. He repudiates the example of many great singers who take a little wine or porter to lift them into just the right condition, to sort of touch up their imagination, as it were, and he advises as the most simple and, in his estimation, entirely satisfactory, aid, viz., sipping not too cold water, and because of the glutinous effect of sugar, in some cases go a step further and have a little water with sugar. The next step, a little barley water and lemon-juice, and a great concession and an entirely reasonable one is, that a raw egg swallowed whole, or a little beef-tea, is helpful. The egg is better if seasoned with a few grains of salt and a few drops of vinegar, swallowed whole about twenty minutes before the voice is to be used. He says that is the best stimulant he knows of.

On the question of the use of tobacco, he quotes from many authorities of practical vocalists who claim that the evil effects of tobacco are manifested in their own cases, and the effects of smoking are worse than snuffing or chewing, because the nicotine reaches the mucous membrane in a heated condition.

Emma Albani, speaking of “helps,” recommends “good, plain, nourishing food. Lead a regular life.”

Mr. Sims Reeves, in conversation with an interviewer, said: “I have been a very careful man; a singer can not, if he wishes to retain his reputation, make ducks and drakes with his voice. Of all men, he has to be careful as to diet, clothing, conversation, and even enjoyment, and must keep a constant check upon himself.”

I seem to have covered the ground so far as authorities go, but I wish to say a few words in my own behalf. The meat in the chestnut is this—vigor and endurance are of the greatest importance after the brain has been considered. Endurance is best displayed in relation to the art of singing by its effect upon our vitality, vigor in its effect upon the mucous membrane, because many able scientists concede that while the vocal cords are supposedly the seat of a tone that the mucous membrane, under the influence of the nerves from which it derives its mobility and sensibility is capable of giving out sound. That, let the membrane be inflamed, or worn and relaxed, and the voice function is either lost or greatly disturbed. It is most important, then, that the body be fed with a view to securing and maintaining the greatest vigor. I suppose some one expects me to tell them exactly what they shall eat, but I can not speak better than my masters. I consider these men whom I have quoted as such; they have studied the questions in relation to sustenance with great exhaustiveness. They, however, have agreed and almost identically expressed the idea that only general rules can be made by which the individual must not only develop his brain by the use of judicious food, but use the brains so developed in such a way as to enable him to secure the greatest results in feeding his body so that he shall secure the highest results at the least demand upon his digestive organs. One of the most famous Parisian teachers feels the matter to be of such importance that he gives careful attention to the diet of his pupils, allowing them no vinegar, very little salt, no pepper, insists on much beefsteak, few vegetables, with the result that the health and vitality are marvelously improved. Under such care is laid the foundation for endurance, which is so important to the singer. There is no class of people that I respect more highly to-day in view of their influence upon the healthfulness and wholesomeness of the up-coming generations, than those much sneered at good women who are traveling about the country establishing and conducting cooking schools. And if any of my young lady readers intend to marry a tenor, by all means go to cooking school. If you intend to be a singer, go from the cooking school to your own kitchen, then to the parlor to practice. If you succeed in singing whether you will or no, when you get to be forty you will be “fair, fat, and forty,” because, as I observed, these two conditions seem to be inseparable.

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Don’t Hurry.

If the art of vocal music is not an exception to every other study worthy the attention of man, then it is not at a standstill. To discover a principle is one thing  to adapt it to the requirements of the time is an entirely different thing. That the true vocal principle was discovered and applied by the old Italian masters in the last century we have an abundance of proof. That it fails to meet the requirements of the modern school of compositions for the voice is shown by the lamentably rare examples of successful artists in the new school. The reason is found not in the method, but in the manner of acquiring it.

In the earlier days of voice culture, when the demands upon endurance and versatility of the voice were insignificant as compared with the present, they who looked for success in the then comparatively new field were content to devote long periods of time to the attainment of their object, while to day, with the requirements multiplied many fold, hasty and superficial preparation is the rule. A year devoted to simple and pure tone production is barely sufficient, and the all-important ability to cope with the intricacies of agility, the legato, portamento, and the various embellishments in their strictly technical aspect, requires at least another twelve months of hard and uninterrupted study. Even a slight acquaintance with the various song forms will consume another year. The demands they make on the control are so great that the pupil will deplore his poverty of resource in technic, color, and contrast, every step, meanwhile, being contested by the obduracy of wrong tendency and immature vocal organism.

Such are the facts that the ambitious student must face who feels that he is entitled to an election, by gift or inheritance, to the privilege of pursuing this most enslaving and demanding of the arts. Treating the three years as exclusively the preparatory period of study, we are to begin the not less severe work of applying our attainments to the establishment of a repertory, and this by no means with a hasty judgment.

If a high degree of intelligence has been displayed in fitting the voice for the demands to be made upon it in the various styles of composition and rendering, then, indeed, shall the highest intelligence be employed in this next step in the career of the young and prospective artist. Correct taste in selection is of paramount importance. Taste includes not only that which is worthy from the musical standpoint, but the added consideration of the fitness of the voice to the selection must contain at this point. We now not only execute and render appropriate selections, but we study the characteristics of the entire range of repertory belonging to our particular voice. And when these years of careful study have brought the reward of appreciation and applause, it is safe to assure the student that he has only taken his examination in the grammar school of the profession; he must yet attend the high school of experience and competition before he can qualify for the great university of art, where the markings are on a scale which permits no possibility of perfection, a scale so demanding that the more earnestly one strives to reach its climax the more remote it seems to be, and here it must be observed, the singer finds his success depends upon the care and wisdom with which he pursued his studies during the first three years; therefore, I say, “Don’t hurry.”

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