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When the peak of the softest part, of the
palate is placed forward toward the nose,
instead of being drawn up high behind the
nose, as in the head voice (see plate, head
voice and nasal tone), it forms a kind of
nasal production which, as I have already
said, cannot be studied enough, because it
produces very noble tonal effects and extraor-
dinary connections. It ought always to be
employed. By it is effected the connection
of tones with each other, from the front
teeth back to a point under the nose; from
the lower middle tones to the head tones.
In truth, all the benefit of tonal connection
depends upon this portion of the soft palate;
that is, upon its conscious employment.

This is all that singers mean when they



speak of "nasal singing"—really only sing-
ing toward the nose. The soft palate placed
toward the nose offers a resonating surface
for the tone.

The reason why teachers tell their pupils
so little of this is that many singers are
quite ignorant of what nasal singing means,
and are tormented by the idea of " singing
toward the nose," when by chance they hear
something about it. They generally regard
the voice as one complete organ acting by
itself, which is once for all what it is.
What can be made of it through knowledge
of the functions of all the cooperating organs
they know nothing of.

Blind voices are often caused by the exag-
gerated practice of closing off the throat too
tightly from the head cavities; that is,
drawing the pillars of the fauces too far
toward the wall of the throat. The large
resonating chamber thus formed yields tones
that are powerful close at hand, but they do
not carry, because they are poor in overtones.


The mistake consists in the practice of
stretching the pillars too widely in the
higher vocal ranges, also. In proportion s%
the pillars are extended, the breath spreads
over the entire palate, instead of being con-
centrated on only one point of it, and bring-
ing at the same time the resonanceof the head
cavities into play. The soft palate must first
be drawn up to, then behind, the nose, and
the attack of the higher tones be transferred
thither. The pillars of the fauces must nec-
essarily be relaxed by this action of the soft
palate. Thereby breath is introduced into
the cavities of the head to form the over-
tones, which contribute brilliancy and fresh-
ness to the voice.

Many singers persist in the bad habit here
described, as long as nature can endure it;
in the course of time, however, even witb
the most powerful physiques, they will begin
to sing noticeably flat; with less powerful,
the fatal tremolo will make its appearance,
which results in the ruin of so many singers.



How often have I heard young singers
say, " I no longer have the power to respond
to the demands made upon me," whereas the
trouble lies only in the insufficient use of the
resonance! of the head cavities. It should
never be forgotten that as the posture of the
voice changes, the position of the organs can-
not remain the same.



The head tone signifies, for all voices, from
the deepest bass to the highest soprano, —
excepting for the fact that it furnishes the
overtones for each single tone of the whole
vocal gamut, — youth. A voice without vi-
brancy is an old voice. The magic of youth,
freshness, is given by the overtones that
sound with every tone.

So to utilize the head voice (resonance of
the head cavities) that every tone shall be
able to " carry" and shall remain high
enough to reach higher tones easily, is a
difficult art, without which, however, the
singer cannot reckon upon the durability of
his voice. Often employed unconsciously,
it is lost through heedlessness, mistaken
method, or ignorance; and it can hardly



ever be regained, or, if at all, only through
the greatest sacrifice of time, trouble, and

The pure hcjd voice (the third register)
is, on account of the thinness that it has by
nature, the neglected step-child of almost all
singers, male and female; its step-parents,
in the worst significance of the word, are
most singing teachers, male and female. It
is produced by the complete lowering of the
pillars of the fauces, while the softest point
of the palate — behind the nose — is thrown
up very high, seemingly, almost into the
head; in the highest position, as it were,
above the head.

The rear of the tongue stands high, but
is formed into a furrow, in order that the
mass of the tongue may not be in the way,
either in the throat or in the mouth. In
the very highest falsetto and head tones the
furrow is pretty well filled out, and then
no more breath at all reaches the palatal


The larynx stands high — mine leans
over to one side. (See plates of larynx.)

The vocal cords, which we cannot feel,
now approach very near each other. The
pupil should not read about them until he
has learned to hear correctly. I do not in-
tend to write a physiological work, but
simply to attempt to examine certain infal-
lible vocal sensations of the singer; point
out ways to cure evils, and show how to
gain a correct understanding of that which
we lack.

Up to a certain pitch, with tenors as well
as with sopranos, the head tones should be
mixed with palatal resonance. With tenors
this will be a matter of course, though with
them the chest tones are much abused; with
sopranos, however, a judicious mixture may
be recommended because more expression is
required (since the influence of Wagner has
become paramount in interpreting the mean-
ing of a composition, especially of the words)
than in the brilliant fireworks of former



times. The head voice, too, must not be
regarded as a definite register of its own,
which is generally produced in the middle
range through too long a persistence in the
use of the palatal and nasal resonance. If
it is suddenly heard alone, after forcing tones
that have preceded it, which is not possible
under other circumstances, it is of course
noticeably thin, and stands out to its disad-
vantage— like every other sharply defined
register — from the middle tones. In the
formation of the voice no "register" should
exist or be created; the voice must be made
even throughout its entire range. I do not
mean by this that I should sing neither with
chest tones nor with head tones. On the
contrary, the practised artist should have at
his command all manner of different means
of expression, that he may be able to use his
single tones, according to the expression
required, with widely diverse qualities of
resonance. This, too, must be cared for in
his studies. But these studies, because they


must fit each individual case, according to
the genius or talent of the individual, can be
imparted and directed only by a good teacher.
The head voice, when its value is properly
appreciated, is the most valuable possession
of all singers, male and female. It should
not be treated as a Cinderella, or as a last
resort, — as is often done too late, and so
"without results, because too much time is
needed to regain it, when once lost, — but
should be cherished and cultivated as a guar-
dian angel and guide, like no other. With-
out its aid all voices lack brilliancy and
carrying power; they are like a head without
a brain. Only by constantly summoning it
to the aid of all other registers is the singer
able to keep his voice fresh and youthful.
Only by a careful application of it do we
gain that power of endurance which enables
us to meet the most fatiguing demands. By
it alone can we effect a complete equaliza-
tion of the whole compass of all voices, and
extend that compass.


This is the great secret of those singers
who keep their voices young till they reach
an advanced age. Without it all voices of
which great exertions are demanded infallibly
meet disaster. Therefore, the motto must be
always, practice, and again, practice, to keep
one's powers uninjured; practice brings fresh-
ness to the voice, strengthens the muscles,
and is, for the singer, far more interesting
than any musical composition.

If in my explanations I frequently repeat
myself, it is done not unintentionally, but
deliberately, because of the difficulty of the
subject, as well as of the superficiality and
negligence of so many singers who, after once
hastily glancing through such a treatise, — if
they consider it worth their while at all to
inform themselves on the subject, — think
they have done enough with it.

One must read continually, study con-
stantly by one's self, to gain even a faint
idea of the difficulty of the art of singing, of
managing the voice, and even of one's own


organs and mistakes, which are one's second
self. The phenomenon of the voice is an
elaborate complication of manifold functions
which are united in an extremely limited
space, to produce a single tone; functions
which can only be heard, scarcely felt — in-
deed, should be felt as little as possible.
Thus, in spite of ourselves, we can only
come back again to the point from which
we started, as in an eddy, repeating the
explanations of the single functions, and re-
lating them to each other.

Since in singing we sense none of the
various activities of the cartilage, muscles,
ligaments, and tendons that belong to the
vocal apparatus, feel them only in their co-
operation, and can judge of the correctness
of their workings only through the ear, it
would be absurd to think of them while
singing. We are compelled, in spite of
scientific knowledge, to direct our attention
while practising, to the sensations of the
voice, which are the only ones we can become


aware of, — sensations which are confined to
the very palpable functions of the organs of
breathing, the position of the larynx, of the
tongue, and of the palate, and finally, to the
sensation of the resonance of the head cavi-
ties. The perfect tone results from the com-
bined operations of all these functions, the
sensations of which I undertake to explain,
and the control of which the ear alone can

This is the reason why it is so important
to learn to hear one's self, and to sing in
such a way that one can always so hear.

Even in the greatest stress of emotion the
power of self-control must never be lost; you
must never allow yourself to sing in a
slovenly, that is, in a heedless, way, or to
exceed your powers, or even to reach their
extreme limit. That would be synonymous
with roughness, which should be excluded
from every art, especially in the art of song.
The listener must gain a pleasing impres-
sion from every tone, every expression of


the singer; much more may be given if de-

Strength must not be confounded with
roughness; and the two must not go hand
in hand together. Phenomenal beings may
perhaps be permitted to go beyond the
strength of others; but to the others this
must remain forbidden. It cannot become
a regular practice, and is best limited to
the single phenomenon. We should other-
wise soon reach the point of crudest realism,
from which at best we are not far removed.
Roughness will never attain artistic justifica-
tion, not even in the case of the greatest
individual singers, because it is an offence.

The public should witness from interpreta-
tive art only what is good and noble on
which to form its taste; there should be
nothing crude or commonplace put before
it, which it might consider itself justified
in taking as an example.

Of the breath sensation I have already
spoken at length. I must add that it is


often very desirable in singing to breathe
through the nose with the mouth closed;
although when this is done, the raising of
the palate becomes less certain, as it happens
somewhat later than when the breath is
taken with the mouth open. It has, how-
ever, this disadvantage, that neither cold air
nor dust is drawn into the larynx and air
passages. I take pleasure in doing it very
often. At all events, the singer should often
avail himself of it.

We feel the larynx when the epiglottis
springs up (" stroke of the glottis," if the
tone is taken from below upward). We can
judge whether the epiglottis springs up quickly
enough if the breath comes out in a full
enough stream to give the tone the neces-
sary resonance. The low position of the
larynx can easily be secured by pronouncing
the vowel oo; the high, by pronouncing the
vowel et. Often merely thinking of one or
the other is enough to put the larynx, tongue,
and palate in the right relations to each


other. Whenever I sing in a high vocal
range, I can plainly feel the larynx rise and
take a diagonal position. (See plate.)

The movement is, of course, very slight.
Yet I have the feeling in my throat as if
everything in it was stretching. I feel the
pliability of my organs plainly as soon as I
sing higher.

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