How To Hold One's Self When Practising
In practising the singer should always stand, if possible, before a
large mirror, in order to be able to watch himself closely. He should
stand upright, quietly but not stiffly, and avoid everything that
looks like restlessness. The hands should hang quietly, or rest
lightly on something, without taking part in the interpretation of the
expression. The first thing needed is to bring the body under control,
that is, to
emain quiet, so that later, in singing, the singer can do
The pupil must always stand in such a way that the teacher can watch
his face, as well as his whole body. Continual movements of the
fingers, hands, or feet are not permissible.
The body must serve the singer's purposes freely and must acquire no
bad habits. The singer's self-possession is reflected in a feeling of
satisfaction on the part of the listener. The quieter the singer or
artist, the more significant is every expression he gives; the fewer
motions he makes, the more importance they have. So he can scarcely be
quiet enough. Only there must be a certain accent of expression in
this quietude, which cannot be represented by indifference. The
quietude of the artist is a reassurance for the public, for it can
come only from the certainty of power and the full command of his task
through study and preparation and perfect knowledge of the work to be
presented. An artist whose art is based on power cannot appear other
than self-possessed and certain of himself. An evident uneasiness is
always inartistic, and hence does not belong where art is to be
embodied. All dependence upon tricks of habit creates nervousness and
lack of flexibility.
Therefore the singer must accustom himself to quietude in practising,
and make his will master of his whole body, that later he may have
free command of all his movements and means of expression.
The constant playing of single tones or chords on the piano by the
teacher during the lesson is wrong, and every pupil should request its
discontinuance. The teacher can hear the pupil, but the latter cannot
hear himself, when this is done; and yet it is of the utmost
importance that he should learn to hear himself. I am almost driven
distracted when teachers bring me their pupils, and drum on the piano
as if possessed while they sing. Pupils have the same effect on me
when they sit and play a dozen chords to one long note.
Do they sit in the evening when they sing in a concert?
Do they hear themselves, when they do this? Unfortunately, I cannot
It is enough for a musical person to strike a single note on the piano
when he practises alone, or perhaps a common chord, after which the
body and hands should return to their quiet natural position. Only in
a standing posture can a free deep breath be drawn, and mind and body
be properly prepared for the exercise or the song to follow.
It is also well for pupils to form sentences with the proper number of
syllables upon which to sing their exercises, so that even such
exercises shall gradually gain a certain amount of expressiveness.
Thus the exercises will form pictures which must be connected with the
play of the features, as well as with an inner feeling, and thus will
not become desultory and soulless and given over to indifference. Of
course not till the mere tone itself is brought under complete
control, and uncertainty is no longer possible, can the horizon of the
pupil be thus widened without danger.
Only when a scene requires that a vocal passage be sung kneeling or
sitting must the singer practise it in his room long before the
performance and at all rehearsals, in accordance with dramatic
requirements of the situation. Otherwise the singer should always
STAND. We must also look out for unaccustomed garments that may be
required on the stage, and rehearse in them; for instance, hat,
helmet, hood, cloak, etc. Without becoming accustomed to them by
practice, the singer may easily make himself ridiculous on the stage.
Hence comes the absurdity of a Lohengrin who cannot sing with a
helmet, another who cannot with a shield, a third who cannot with
gauntlets; a Wanderer who cannot with the big hat, another who cannot
with the spear, a Jose who cannot with the helmet, etc. All these
things must be practised before a mirror until the requirements of a
part or its costume become a habit. To attain this, the singer must be
completely master of his body and all his movements.
It must be precisely the same with the voice. The singer must be quite
independent of bad habits in order consciously to exact from it what
the proper interpretation of the work to be performed requires.
He should practise only so long as can be done without weariness.
After every exercise he should take a rest, to be fresh for the next
one. After the great scale he should rest at least ten minutes; and
these resting times must be observed as long as one sings.
Long-continued exertion should not be exacted of the voice at first;
even if the effects of it are not immediately felt, a damage is done
in some way. In this matter pupils themselves are chiefly at fault,
because they cannot get enough, as long as they take pleasure in it.
For this reason it is insane folly to try to sing important roles on
the stage after one or two years of study; it may perhaps be endured
for one or two years without evil results, but it can never be
carried on indefinitely.
Agents and managers commit a crime when they demand enormous exertions
of such young singers. The rehearsals, which are held in abominably
bad air, the late hours, the irregular life that is occasioned by
rehearsals, the strain of standing around for five or six hours in a
theatre,--all this is not for untrained young persons. No woman of
less than twenty-four years should sing soubrette parts, none of less
than twenty-eight years second parts, and none of less than
thirty-five years dramatic parts; that is early enough. By that time
proper preparation can be made, and in voice and person something can
be offered worth while. And our fraternity must realize this sooner or
later. In that way, too, they will learn more and be able to do more,
and fewer sins will be committed against the art of song by the