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The Great Scale
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The Vowel-sound _ah_





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 forever 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'y[=a], 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 demands. I prefer to teach it, because
its use makes all mistakes most clearly recognizable. 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 impossible. In the course of
time the tone becomes 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. Desiree 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, aueoah. 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 importance 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.





Next: Italian And German

Previous: The Lips



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