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SECTION IV

THE SINGER'S PHYSIOLOGICAL STUDIES

Science has explained all the processes of
the vocal organs in their chief functions, and
many methods of singing have been based
upon physiology, physics, and phonetics. To
a certain extent scientific explanations are
absolutely necessary for the singer — as long
as they are confined to the sensations in sing-
ing, foster understanding of the phenomenon,
and summon up an intelligible picture. This
is what uninterpreted sensations in singing
cannot do; of which fact the clearest demon-
stration is given by the expressions, " bright,"
"dark," "nasal," "singing forward," etc., that
I began by mentioning and that are almost
always falsely understood. They are quite
meaningless without the practical teachings
of the sensations of such singers as have di-

35

36 HOW TO SING

rected their attention to them with a knowl-
edge of the end in view, and are competent to
correlate them with the facts of science.

The singer is usually worried by the word
" physiology " ; but only because he does not
clearly understand the limits of its teachings.
The singer need, will, and must, know a little
of it. We learn so much that is useless in
this life, why not learn that which is of the
utmost service to us ? What, in brief, does it
mean ? Perfect consciousness in moving the
vocal organs, and through the aid of the ear,
in placing them at will in certain relations
with each other; the fact that the soft palate
can be drawn up against the hard palate;
that the tongue is able to take many differ-
ent positions, and that the larynx, by the
assistance of the vocal sound oo, takes a low
position, and by that of the vowel a a high
one; that all muscles contract in activity and
in normal inactivity are relaxed; that we
must strengthen them by continued vocal
gymnastics so that they may be able to sus-


 


THE SINGER'S PHYSIOLOGICAL STUDIES 39

tain long-continued exertion; and must keep
them elastic and use them so. It includes
also the well-controlled activity of diaphragm,
chest, neck, and face muscles. This is all
that physiology means for the vocal organs.
Since these things all operate together, one
without the others can accomplish nothing;
if the least is lacking, singing is quite im-
possible, or is entirely bad.

Physiology is concerned also with muscles,
nerves, sinews, ligaments, and cartilage, all
of which are used in singing, but all of which
we cannot feel. We cannot even feel the
vocal cords. Certainly much depends for
the singer upon their proper condition; and
whether as voice producers or breath regu-
lators, we all have good reason always to
spare them as much as possible, and never
to overburden them.

Though we cannot feel the vocal cords, we
can, nevertheless, hear, by observing whether
the tone is even, — in the emission of the
breath under control, — whether they are per-


40 HOW TO SING

forming their functions properly. Overburden-
ing them through pressure, or emitting of
the bre.ath without control, results in weaken-
ing them. The irritation of severe coughing,
thoughtless talking or shouting immediately
after singing may also set up serious conges-
tion of the vocal cords, which can be reme-
died only through slow gymnastics of the
tongue and laryngeal muscles, by the pro-
nunciation of vowels in conjunction with
consonants. Inactivity of the vocal organs
will not cure it, or perhaps not till after the
lapse of years.

A good singer can never lose his voice.
Mental agitation or severe colds can for a
time deprive the singer of the use of his vocal
organs, or seriously impair them. Only those
who have been singing without consciously
correct use of their organs can become dis-
heartened over it; those who know better
will, with more or less difficulty, cure them-
selves, and by the use of vocal gymnastics
bring their vocal organs into condition again.

THE SINGER'S PHYSIOLOGICAL STUDIES 41

For this reason, if for no other, singers
should seek to acquire accurate knowledge
of their own organs, as well as of their func-
tions, that they may not let themselves be
burnt, cut, and cauterized by unscrupulous
physicians. Leave the larynx and all con-
nected with it alone; strengthen the organs
by daily vocal gymnastics and a healthy,
sober mode of life; beware of catching cold
after singing; do not sit and talk in restau-
rants.

Students of singing should use the early
morning hours, and fill their days with the
various branches of their study. Sing every
day only so much, that on the next day you
can practise again, feeling fresh and ready for
work, as regular study requires. Better one
hour every day than ten to-day and none to-
morrow.

The public singer should also do his prac-
tising early in the day, that he may have
himself well in hand by evening. How often
one feels indisposed in the morning! Any


42 HOW TO SING

physical reason is sufficient to make singing
difficult, or even impossible; it need not be
connected necessarily with the vocal organs;
in fact, I believe it very rarely is. For this
reason, in two hours everything may have
changed.

I remember a charming incident in New
York. Albert Niemann, our heroic tenor,
who was to sing Lohengrin in the evening,
complained to me in the morning of severe
hoarseness. To give up a role in America
costs the singer, as well as the director, much
money. My advice was to wait.

Niemann. What do you do, then, when you
are hoarse ?

I. Oh, I practise and see whether it still
troubles me.

Niem. Indeed; and what do you practise ?

/. Long, slow scales.

Niem. Even if you are hoarse ?

/. Yes; if I want to sing, or have to, I
try it.

Niem. Well, what are they? Show me.


THE SINGER'S PHYSIOLOGICAL STUDIES 43

The great scale, the infallible cure.

I showed them to him; he sang them,
with words of abuse in the meantime; but
gradually his hoarseness grew better. He did
not send word of his inability to appear in
the evening, but sang, and better than ever,
with enormous success.

I myself had to sing Norma in Vienna
some years ago, and got up in the morning
quite hoarse. By nine o'clock I tried my
infallible remedy, but could not sing above
A flat, though in the evening I should have
to reach high D flat and E flat. I was on
the point of giving up, because the case
seemed to me so desperate. Nevertheless, I
practised till eleven o'clock, half an hour at
a time, and noticed that I was gradually
getting better. In the evening I had my
D flat and E flat at my command and was
in brilliant form. People said they had sel-
dom heard me sing so well.

I could give numberless instances, all go-
ing to show that you never can tell early


44 HOW TO SING

in the day how you are going to feel in the
evening. I much prefer, for instance, not to
feel so very well early in the day, because it
may easily happen that the opposite may be
the case later on, which is much less agree-
able. If you wish to sing only when you
are in good form, you must excuse yourself
ninety-nine times out of a hundred. You
must learn to know your own vocal organs
thoroughly and be able to sing; must do
everything that is calculated to keep you in
good condition. This includes chiefly rest for
the nerves, care of the body, and gymnastics
of the voice, that you may be able to defy
all possible chances.

Before all, never neglect to practise every
morning, regularly, proper singing exercises
through the whole compass of the voice. Do
it with painful seriousness; and never think
that vocal gymnastics weary the singer. On
the contrary, they bring refreshment and
power of endurance to him who will become
master of his vocal organs.









E-Book - An Annotated Compendium of Old Time American Songs by James Alverson III