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Timely Counsel From Great Singers.

“By necessity, by proclivity, and by delight we   quote.”—Emerson.

With each recurring season there come to our land many of the best artists of the day, and in listening to their oftentimes masterly performances there is afforded great opportunity to the sincere students of the divine art.

It is well said that from listening we can always learn, both what to do and what to avoid—this latter privilege being quite as beneficial as the former, in that we hear and see much that makes for real knowledge in the minds of the discriminating listener. In this article Ave desire to present some of the advice of the present-day artists, with the object of inspiring our young and studiously-inclined singers to “go and do likewise.”

No finer example of pure vocal art could be cited at this time, than that of Madam Marcella Sembrich, and from her frequent words of advice to young singers we have culled a few extracts as inspiring and helpful to all who are starting out on a voyage across the crowded vocal seas of our times.

Madam Sembrich says: “There are as many beautiful arias to-day as ever there were, but singers no longer take the trouble to prepare themselves. A few months of study is thought sufficient, and then they are ready to come before the public. They sing for a few years and then the voice begins to go, and drop out of view, not because there are no more teachers, nor on account of the decline in the quality of voices. It is merely because singers are no longer willing to study. Students from all countries are impatient now, and there is no promise of great singers in the future, because preparation is not long enough or serious enough.”

At another time the same great artist says: “I would warn a student to pay especial attention to the art of breathing, for the breath is to the singer like the water to the ship.” And again: “The study of languages is a great help, especially Italian, for its euphony lends an additional charm to the singer’s voice and brings forth its best tones. French and German should also be studied. To sing in German requires a knowledge of elocution, for the German language demands more expression than does any other, and this expression can be acquired only by having a thorough understanding of the fundamental rules of elocution. A singer should possess musical talent and knowledge, also the ability to play on some instrument. This should be acquired at an early age. They cannot be too learned, musically, and lack of intelligence in this respect is easily detected. The art of singing is corrupted,” continues Madam Sembrich. “The pure Italian school is dying out. The old accuracy—the old attention to detail—where are they? To-day singers are made in a year. Tell the young woman who would be a prima-donna to practice a short time at frequent intervals—to abjure social obligations, and to sing but little before she is sixteen, and not to imagine that a poor teacher will do at any age. In singing, above all other arts, the French adage—C’est le premier pas qui conte, holds good. Learn right and learn long is the advice I give the American student.”

It will be noted that Madam Sembrich thoroughly believes in fundamental vocal studies, and that she recommends the “slow and sure” theory, which we find so different to materialize in these days of quick results.

In another vein writes Adelina Patti, who says: “Harden yourself; build up your constitution; do not occupy overheated rooms at any time; live out-of-doors at least for two hours every day, and walk and drive. Do not be afraid to breathe plenty of good fresh air, even when the weather is cold. The people who go about with muffled throats and overburdened with wraps—men-singers who  turn up the collars of their coats at the slightest breath of air, and women-singers who hide themselves in a mass of carriage-rugs, and cover their faces with laces and woolens when driving, are the ones who first begin to cough. When out-of-doors always keep in your mouth a bit of candy, allowing it to dissolve slowly. This will insure moisture to the palate and throat.”

From this very practical, but none the less important, advice, we turn to present the suggestions of the great English tenor, Sims Reeves, who, while nearing the fourscore of years, when the vocal artist is usually resting upon past laurels, is still occasionally heard and listened to by that kindly race of music-lovers over the sea, who religiously believe “once an artist, always an artist,” never permitting any one of their deservingly great singers to pass from memory. Mr. Reeves says: “Increase and decrease of tone are produced by the breath alone. A man in a raging passion will swell the muscles of the throat and grow red in the face in attempting to give utterance to his anger; but he is, indeed, as the phrase goes, ‘choking himself with rage,’ because he is trying to make a terrific volume of voice by physical pressure on the throat, and the more he swells the veins, the less able is he to speak. Singers should, therefore, not attempt to get a crescendo by pressing the muscles of the throat. Command of breath is the only method.” At another time this artist declares that “the habits of correct voice-placing should begin with the middle octave of the voice,” meaning that one should learn to sing by first correctly placing the so-called middle register, and the position and breath- control should be preserved throughout the entire vocal range.

Many more valuable words of guidance could be quoted, but we will pause here with the reminder that “there is always room at the top,” and we can well afford to listen to and ponder well over the advice given us by those who have attained to greatest artistic heights via the paths they conjure us to pursue.— Mme. Henrietta Beebe.

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You are reading Timely Counsel From Great Singers. from the March, 1900 issue of The Etude Magazine.

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