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Train the Ear

The aim of every singer is by will to control vibrations. Unfortunately, he is too often busied about controlling the muscles of his larynx, which is a very different matter. Now there is nothing more certain than this, that reliance upon muscular feeling in the conduct of control is a most doubtful trust. How is it that so many singers sing false, sing out of tune, out of balance, and get shamed? Because their muscular sense has deceived them. They should trust to ear, from the first initiation of the tone; afterwards it is too late. Muscles are subservient to nerves. Rely upon your ear, and it will transmit its orders through the nerves with far more sureness of direction and obedience than any attempt at rein pulling on your part is likely to effect. Worst of all is divided allegiance; yet some of our foremost singers get into that dilemma. If the throat is out of condition, neither muscle nor nerve will avail: rest is the only remedy.

A very little serious consideration will show that in the nature of things, muscular feeling of degree of constraint or laxity in the organ cannot be a true guide to the degree of breath force requisite for a given note; since the exact tension of today is not the same as that of yesterday, and will differ tomorrow. If at any time a record could be taken from a large body of singers of the amount of breath force each singer used in sustaining a given note, it would probably be found that not a half-dozen agreed, and very likely not two even showed record absolutely alike. As individual differs from individual, so also he differs from himself according to time and place. No doubt to some temperaments the ordeal of the platform is ever a trying one, however familiar.

The modern complaint of the listener is not of the nervousness of the singer, but rather is it of the too evident self-consciousness of the vocalist; and we credit it, however truly I know not, to the modern methods of what is called voice production. The singer is there, thinking about his voice, and how he is producing or going to produce it. All through his song he seems to be preparing it—you feel like one awaiting in a chemist’s shop whilst the prescription is being made up! The formalism of the whole affair irritates, and we begin calculating the commercial value of the singer. Ah! what complainers we are. The singers of the platform fail to satisfy because nothing seems spontaneous in the voice; there is no rapture in the song. Many can say with Hawthorne: “I have heard many singers, but few songs;” and his comment about conduct in life can well be applied to the singer’s method in his art: “We go all wrong by a too strenuous resolution to go all right!” I fancy it is the heartiness of a good choir or a large chorus that stirs us to enjoyment and makes us believe in the moving power of music; the heartiness is contagious, we catch the spirit of the singers and the pulsating glow of the song.—Musical Opinion.


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