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Notes of Cases From the Records of a Voice Hospital.


A professor of singing who had led a busy life died. Among his papers were found memorandum-books inscribed “Records of a Vocal Hospital.” They were of no value to the heirs of deceased, and came into my hands through a friend of the family. I have made therefrom a selection of cases which it is hoped will prove interesting and possibly of value to the profession.

Case No. 1.—The patient was a lady about twenty-six years of age, intelligent and fairly well educated. Student of elocution. Desired to learn to sing in order to introduce songs in recitation work. Declared she had never sung, having been discouraged in childhood from attempting to sing. Said she had no ear for music, and could not “carry ” a tune. Was totally unable to sing correctly even so familiar a tune as “America.”

An examination proved the truth of the latter statement. On attempting to sound varied pitches the patient sang above and below the pitch intended, and only by accident gave the correct pitch.

Further examination, requiring the patient to listen to varied pitches, proved that she could recognize one tone as higher or lower than another.

Diagnosis.—Patient suffering from inability to sing definite pitches; cause, faculty of distinguishing varied pitches undeveloped, and lack of control of vocal organ through non-use in singing and faulty use in heavy, dramatic, elocutionary work.

Treatment.—A course of exercises in ear-training from the foundation. Concurrently a course of exercises to relieve the throat from the labor of controlling the outgoing breath, supplemented by exercises requiring the sounding, on rightly controlled breath, of the various musical intervals to one vowel, and, later on, to various vowels. Also, to aid in keeping the throat free from undue tension, exercises requiring the rapid repetition, on one pitch, lightly, smoothly, distinctly, with a constant flow of tone, of a series of short syllables, such as lah, beh, nee, po, too; and 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, etc. All singing done on middle pitches, with the normal weight of voice—that is to say, without any attempt to sing either a loud note or a soft note.

Later the usual primary vocal exercises were given, and, after about four months, two simple ballads of moderate range were taken up. In six months the patient sang one ballad having a range of an octave and one-half in perfect time, and with a fair quality of soprano voice. She then married and passed from our knowledge.

Memorandum.—When singing out of tune is not due to an utter lack of “ear,” it is to be attributed most often to undue tension or rigidity of the vocal instrument. The most potent and frequent cause of such a condition is lack of control of breath elsewhere than at the throat.

Sometimes there is such mental and bodily lassitude as results in failure to properly support the voice. A diseased throat or nose will make intonation uncertain. With some singers stage-fright induces such a condition of nervous tension that control of breath is lost, the vocal instrument made rigid, and, according to the idiosyncrasy of the individual, he or she sings flat or sharp. The singer is aware of his fault, but unable to relax sufficiently to remedy it.

Where there is lassitude the singer should be stirred up—the critics usually attend to that, for there is no vocal sin so great as singing out of tune. There is no specific for stage-fright. Frequent public appearances and the practice of taking a number of deep, slow breaths on first facing an audience bring good results. A singer with diseased nose or throat is sometimes a case for the physician and surgeon.

An occasional lapse from pitch does not warrant condemnation of a singer or his method. Where singing sharp or flat is the rule, however, the singer should strive for a better grip of his method; or, if he has reason, on careful self-examination, to believe the method at fault, he should seek another instructor.

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