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Some Suggestions Regarding Interpretation.

So much has been written upon the subject of voice-production that it would seem as if the interpretation of the music to be sung, is largely lost sight of by those who write upon the subject of singing. Many a student succeeds in developing a more or less good voice, and yet, when that is done, is very much in the same position as would be the non-musical owner of a piano or other musical instrument.

Many an amateur approaches a song in about the same mood as that of a little school-boy who reads his piece in a hard, unyielding, and blatant tone, just because he is making such a strenuous effort to read well. This makes the other little boys laugh. When we grow older and enter polite society and hear poor singing, we do not laugh—we just think a laugh.

Some time ago I had a candidate for a choir-position sing for me “The Holy City,” by Adams, which I presume has been sung at by more would-be singers than any other piece of a sacred nature. This particular candidate began in a stentorian tone of voice to tell me “Last night I lay a-sleeping,” etc. I did not let her get to the word “Jerusalem,” for I was really afraid that if she succeeded in making that a proper climax in proportion to what preceded it, something serious would happen to her vocal ligaments. I asked her a few questions regarding what she had been taught about singing this particular song, and I could not see that she had any conception of its real beauty. Perhaps to some readers of this article there may not seem to be any particular beauty to this song, just because they (as well as I) have heard it mangled by so many embryo singers.

As an illustration of the tendency of singers to exaggerate certain points, I will take the familiar song by Handel, “Angels, Ever Bright and Fair.” The second movement begins with the words: “Speed to your own courts my flight.” Here the composer has represented the soaring of the soul to celestial regions by an ascending scale from f to f. The accompaniment is marked “crescendo,” and perhaps for this reason the singer often attempts to see how much power she can produce on the word “flight.”

All music becomes much more intense as it rises, and while a certain degree of crescendo is permissible here, yet, if the ascending scale is sung smoothly and musically, letting the tone flow as freely as possible, the result will be much nearer the intention of the composer than that which is usually attained by the ordinary amateur.

Some years ago a soprano was singing for me at rehearsal “Fear Not Ye, O Israel,” by Dudley Buck. This begins in a large, declamatory style, and, if not overdone, is very effective. At the words “Shall cry aloud,” I stopped her and asked why she sang this as she did. She replied that she wished to emphasize the idea suggested by the word “cry.” Here the music rises a diminished fifth, which is very effective, but in addition to singing the music as the composer had written it, she uttered the upper note with what was almost a scream. I suggested to her that she should give the composer some credit for his attempt at representing the idea conveyed by the words, and if she had not sung the upper note with any more force than the lower one, she would have carried out his idea very creditably. After she had finished the introductory recitative, she immediately began the beautiful melody “Fear not ye” in a loud voice. I called her attention to the comforting thought in these words and to the fact that the composer had marked the passage “piano,” and also showed her that if she sang this in a subdued and tender style, the passage beginning with the words “Sing ye aloud” would by the contrast be made much more effective. She had no such conception of the song; she had merely tried to learn the notes and the music correctly, so as to sing it on the key and in time and pronounce the words so that her hearers might occasionally distinguish some of them, and then supposed that she had accomplished all there was to be done with this particular piece.

The last song which I wish to mention is Tennyson’s “Crossing the Bar,” to which Dudley Buck has set some music which accentuates the strength and beauty of the text. The general mood of the piece may be described as one of thoughtful resignation and trust in an unseen Power whom he describes by the words “My Pilot.” There is a great possibility here for variety of shading, both in quality of tone and power. The opening words, “Sunset and Evening Star,” must be sung quietly, and yet enunciated clearly and firmly, there being very little chance for any dramatic delivery, as any attempt of that kind makes the beginning altogether too forceful. I do not wish to analyze this song, but will merely make a few sugestions (sic) in a general way, based upon the thought that all shading and quality of tone must be the spontaneous result of the mental condition of the singer; the voice must take unto itself all the lights and shadows suggested by the words and music, just as the speaking voice will do, providing the singer really thinks and feels what he attempts to sing, but while all this should be attempted, no effort must be made at any conventional fullness of tone, which only results in robbing the tone of all spontaneity and life. This is a very hard matter to describe in words. It can be so much more easily illustrated by one who knows the difference between these two qualities of tone. This is the rock which wrecks many a singer’s success. The singing must be forceful, and yet an absolutely natural force- fulness. It must be intense, and yet not display any effort toward intensity. Then we shall have—

“Songs of that high art
Which, as winds do in the pine,
Find an answer in each heart.”

—Horace P. Dibble.


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