Singing - How To Sing 26-28

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Of special importance for the tone and the
word are the movements of the lips, which
are so widely different in the bright and in
the dark vowels. These movements cannot
be too much exaggerated in practising. The
same strength and elasticity to which we
have to train the muscles of the throat and
tongue must be imparted to the lips, which
must be as of iron. Upon their cooperation
much of the life of the tone depends, and
it can be used in many shadings, as soon as
one is able to exert their power consciously
and under the control of the will.

Every vowel, every word, every tone, can
be colored as by magic in all sorts of ways
by the well-controlled play of the lips; can,
as it were, be imbued with life, as the lips



open or close more or less in different posi-
tions. The lips are the final cup-shaped
resonators through which the tone has to
pass. They can retard it or let it escape,
can color it bright or dark, and exert a
ceaseless and ever varying influence upon it
long before it ceases and up to its very end.

No attempt should be made to use the
play of the lips until complete mastery of
the absolutely even, perfect tone, and of the
muscular powers, has been acquired. The
effect must be produced as a result of power
and practice; and should not be practised
as an effect per se.



There is much discussion as to whether
ah, oo, or some other vowel is the one best
adapted for general practice. In former
times practice was entirely on the vowel-
sound ah. The old Italians taught it; my
mother was trained so, and never allowed
her pupils to use any other vowel during the
first months of their instruction. Later, to be
sure, every letter, every word, was practised
and improved continually, till it was correct,
and had impressed itself upon the memory, as
well as the ear, of the pupil for all time.

I explain the matter thus: —

The singer's mouth should always make
an agreeable impression. Faces that are for-
ever grinning or showing fish mouths are
disgusting and wrong.



The pleasing expression of the mouth
requires the muscular contractions that form
the bright vowel ah.

Most people who are not accustomed to
using their vocal resonance pronounce the ah
quite flat, as if it were the vowel-sound lying
lowest. If it is pronounced with the position
of the mouth belonging to the bright vowels,
it has to seek its resonance, in speaking as
well as in singing, in the same place as the
dark vowels, on the high-arched palate. To
permit this, it must be mingled with oo.
The furrows in the tongue must also be
formed, just as with oo and o, only special
attention must be given that the back of
the tongue does not fall, but remains high,
as in pronouncing a. In this way ah comes
to lie between oo-o'ah'ya, and forms at the
same time the connection between the bright
and the dark vowels, and the reverse.

For this reason it was proper that ah
should be preferred as the practice vowel,
as soon as it was placed properly between


the two extremes, and had satisfied all de-
mands. I prefer to teach it, because its
use makes all mistakes most clearly recog-
nizable. It is the most difficult vowel. If
it is well pronounced, or sung, it produces
the necessary muscular contractions with a
pleasing expression of the mouth, and makes
certain a fine tone color by its connection
with oo and o. If the ah is equally well
formed in all ranges of the voice, a chief
difficulty is mastered.

Those who have been badly taught, or
have fallen into bad ways, should practise
the vocal exercise I have given above, with
ya-ye-yah, etc., slowly, listening to themselves
carefully. Good results cannot fail; it is
an infallible means of improvement.

Italians who sing well never speak or
sing the vowel sound ah otherwise than
mixed, and only the neglect of this mixture
could have brought about the decadence of
the Italian teaching of song. In Germany
no attention is paid to it. The ah, as sung


generally by most Italians of the present
day, quite flat, sounds commonplace, almost
like an affront. It can range itself, that is
connect itself, with no other vowel, makes
all vocal connection impossible, evolves very
ugly registers; and, lying low in the throat,
summons forth no palatal resonance. The
power of contraction of the muscles of speech
is insufficient, and this insufficiency misleads
the singer to constrict the throat muscles,
which are not trained to the endurance of
it; thereby further progress is made impos-
sible. In the course of time the tone be-
comes flat at the transitions. The fatal
tremolo is almost always the result of this
manner of singing.

Try to sing a scale upward on ah, placing
the tongue and muscles of speech at the
same time on a, and you will be surprised
at the agreeable effect. Even the thought
of it alone is often enough, because the
tongue involuntarily takes the position of its
own accord.


I remember very well how Mme. Desire'e
Artot-Padilla, who had a low mezzo-soprano
voice, used to toss off great coloratura pieces,
beginning on the vowel-sound ah, and then
going up and down on a, ee, auoah. At
the time I could not understand why she
did it; now I know perfectly, — because it
was easier for her. The breath is impelled
against the cavities of the head, the head
tones are set into action.

Behind the a position there must be as
much room provided as is needed for all the
vowels, with such modifications as each one
requires for itself. The matter of chief im-
portance is the position of the tongue in
the throat, that it shall not be in the way
of the larynx, which must be able to move
up and down, even though very slightly,
without hindrance.

All vowels must be able to flow into each
other; the singer must be able to pass from
one to another without perceptible alteration,
and back again.



How easy it is for the Italians, who have
by nature, through the characteristics of their
native language, all these things which others
must gain by long years of practice ! A
single syllable often unites three vowels;
for instance, " tuoi" (tuoye), "miei" (myeaye),
" nauoja," etc.

The Italians mingle all their vowels.
They rub them into and color them with each
other. This includes a great portion of the
art of song, which in every language, with
due regard to its peculiar characteristics,
must be learned by practice.

To give only a single example of the diffi-
culty of the German words, with the everlast-
ing consonant endings to. the syllables, take
the recitative at the entrance of Norma : —



" Wer lasst hier Aufruhrstimmen, Kriegs-
ruf ertonen, wollt Ihr die Gotter zwingen,
Eurem Wahnwitz zu frohnen ? Wer wagt
vermessern, gleich der Prophetm der Zukunft
Nacht zu lichten, wollt Ihr der Gotter Plan
vorschnell vernichten ? Nicht Menschenkraft
Konnen die Wirren dieses Landes schlichten."

Twelve endings on n!

" Sediziosi voci, voci di guerra, avoi chi
alzar si attenta presso all' ara del Dio! V'ha
chi presume dettar responsi alia vegente
Norma, e di Roma affrettar il fato arcano.
Ei non dipende, no, non dipende da potere
umano! "

From the Italians we can learn the connec-
tion of the vowels, from the French the use
of the nasal tone. The Germans surpass the
others in their power of expressiveness. But
he who would have the right to call himself
an artist must unite all these things; the hel
canto, that is, beautiful — I might say good —
singing, and all the means of expression
which we cultivated people need to interpret


master works of great minds, should afford
the public ennobling pleasure.

A tone full of life is to be produced only
by the skilful mixture of the vowels, that is,
the unceasing leaning of one upon the others,
without, however, affecting any of its charac-
teristics." This means, in reality, only the
complete use of the resonance of the breath,
since the mixture of the vowels can be ob-
tained only through the elastic conjunction
of the organs and the varying division of the
stream of breath toward the palatal reso-
nance, or that of the cavities of the head, or
the equalization of the two.

The larynx must rise and descend unim-
peded by the tongue, soft palate and pillars
of the fauces rise and sink, the soft palate
always able more or less to press close to the
hard. Strong and elastic contractions imply
very pliable and circumspect relaxation of the

I think that the feeling I have of the ex-
tension of my throat comes from the very


powerful yet very elastic contraction of my
muscles, which, though feeling always in a
state of relaxability, appear to me like flexi-
ble steel, of which I can demand everything,
— because never too much, — and which I ex-
ercise daily. Even in the entr'actes of grand
operas I go through with such exercises; for
they refresh instead of exhausting me.

The unconstrained cooperation of all the
organs, as well as their individual functions,
must go on elastically without any pressure
or cramped action. Their interplay must be
powerful yet supple, that the breath which
produces the tone may be diffused as it flows
from one to another of the manifold and com-
plicated organs (such as the ventricles of Mor-
gagni), supporting itself on others, being
caught in still others, and finding all in such
a state of readiness as is required in each
range for each tone. Everything must be
combined in the right way as a matter of

The voice is equalized by the proper rami-


fication of the breath and the proper connec-
tion of the different resonances.

The tone is colored by the proper mixture
of vowels; oo, o, and ah demanding more
palatal resonance and a lower position of the
larynx, a and e more resonance of the head
cavities and a higher position of the larynx.
With oo, o, u, and ah the palate is arched
higher (the tongue forming a furrow) than
with a, e, and u, where the tongue lies high
and flat.

There are singers who place the larynx too
low, and, arching the palate too high, sing too
much toward oo. Such voices sound very
dark, perhaps even hollow; they lack the
interposition of the a, — that is, the larynx
is placed too low.

On the other hand, there are others who
press it upward too high; their a position is
a permanent one. Such voices are marked by
a very bright, sharp quality of tone, often
like a goat's bleating.

Both are alike wrong and disagreeable.


The proper medium between them must be
gained by sensitive training of the ear, and a
taste formed by the teacher through examples
drawn from his own singing and that of others.

If we wish to give a noble expression to
the tone and the word, we muat mingle its
vocal sound, if it is not so, with o or oo.
If we wish to give the word merely an agree-
able expression, we mingle it with ah, a, and
e. That is, we must use all the qualities of
tonal resonance, and thus produce colors
which shall benefit the tone and thereby the
word and its expression.

Thus a single tone may be taken or sung
in many different ways. In every varying
connection, consequently, the singer must be
able to change it according to the expression
desired. But as soon as it is a question of
a musical phrase, in which several tones or
words, or tones alone, are connected, the law
of progression must remain in force; expres-
sion must be sacrificed, partly at least, to the
beauty of the musical passage.


If he is skilful enough, the singer can im-
part a certain expression of feeling to even the
most superficial phrases and coloratura pas-
sages. Thus, in the coloratura passages of
Mozart's arias, I have always sought to gain
expressiveness by crescendi, choice of signifi-
cant points for breathing, and breaking off of
phrases. I have been especially successful
with this in the Entfuhrung, introducing a
tone of lament into the first aria, a heroic
dignity into the second, through the colora-
tura passages. Without exaggerating petty
details, the artist must exploit all the
means of expression that he is justified in