Preliminary Practice

It is very important for all who wish to become artists to begin their

work not with practical exercises in singing, but with serious

practice in tone production, in breathing in and out, in the functions

of the lungs and palate, in clear pronunciation of all letters, and

with speech in general.

Then it would soon be easy to recognize talent or the lack of it. Many

would open their eyes in wonder over the
difficulties of learning to

sing, and the proletariat of singers would gradually disappear. With

them would go the singing conservatories and the bad teachers who, for

a living, teach everybody that comes, and promise to make everybody a

great artist.

Once when I was acting as substitute for a teacher in a conservatory,

the best pupils of the institution were promised me,--those who needed

only the finishing touches. But when, after my first lesson, I went to

the director and complained of the ignorance of the pupils, my mouth

was closed with these words, For Heaven's sake, don't say such

things, or we could never keep our conservatory going!

I had enough, and went.

The best way is for pupils to learn preparatory books by heart, and

make drawings. In this way they will get the best idea of the vocal

organs, and learn their functions by sensation as soon as they begin

to sing. The pupil should be subjected to strict examinations.

In what does artistic singing differ from natural singing?

In a clear understanding of all the organs concerned in voice

production, and their functions, singly and together; in the

understanding of the sensations in singing, conscientiously studied

and scientifically explained; in a gradually cultivated power of

contracting and relaxing the muscles of the vocal organs, that power

culminating in the ability to submit them to severe exertions and keep

them under control. The prescribed tasks must be mastered so that they

can be done without exertion, with the whole heart and soul, and with

complete understanding.

How is this to be attained?

Through natural gifts, among which I reckon the possession of sound

organs and a well-favored body; through study guided by an excellent

teacher who can sing well himself,--study that must be kept up for

at least six years, without counting the preliminary work.

Only singers formed on such a basis, after years of work, deserve the

title of artist; only such have a right to look forward to a lasting

future, and only those equipped with such a knowledge ought to teach.

Of what consists artistic singing?

Of a clear understanding, first and foremost, of breathing, in and

out; of an understanding of the form through which the breath has to

flow, prepared by a proper position of the larynx, the tongue, and the

palate. Of a knowledge and understanding of the functions of the

muscles of the abdomen and diaphragm, which regulate the breath

pressure; then, of the chest-muscle tension, against which the breath

is forced, and whence, under the control of the singer, after passing

through the vocal cords, it beats against the resonating surfaces and

vibrates in the cavities of the head. Of a highly cultivated skill and

flexibility in adjusting all the vocal organs and in putting them into

minutely graduated movements, without inducing changes through the

pronunciation of words or the execution of musical figures that shall

be injurious to the tonal beauty or the artistic expression of the

song. Of an immense muscular power in the breathing apparatus and all

the vocal organs, the strengthening of which to endure sustained

exertion cannot be begun too long in advance; and the exercising of

which, as long as one sings in public, must never be remitted for a

single day.

As beauty and stability of tone do not depend upon excessive

pressure of the breath, so the muscular power of the organs used in

singing does not depend on convulsive rigidity, but in that snakelike

power of contracting and loosening,[1] which a singer must consciously

have under perfect control.

[Footnote 1: In physiology when the muscles resume their normal state,

they are said to be relaxed. But as I wish to avoid giving a false

conception in our vocal sensations, I prefer to use the word


The study needed for this occupies an entire lifetime; not only

because the singer must perfect himself more and more in the roles of

his repertory--even after he has been performing them year in and year

out,--but because he must continually strive for progress, setting

himself tasks that require greater and greater mastery and strength,

and thereby demand fresh study.

He who stands still, goes backward.

Nevertheless, there are fortunately gifted geniuses in whom are

already united all the qualities needed to attain greatness and

perfection, and whose circumstances in life are equally fortunate; who

can reach the goal earlier, without devoting their whole lives to it.

Thus, for instance, in Adelina Patti everything was united,--the

splendid voice, paired with great talent for singing, and the long

oversight of her studies by her distinguished teacher, Strakosch. She

never sang roles that did not suit her voice; in her earlier years she

sang only arias and duets or single solos, never taking part in

ensembles. She never sang even her limited repertory when she was

indisposed. She never attended rehearsals, but came to the theatre in

the evening and sang triumphantly, without ever having seen the

persons who sang and acted with her. She spared herself rehearsals

which, on the day of the performance, or the day before, exhaust all

singers, because of the excitement of all kinds attending them, and

which contribute neither to the freshness of the voice nor to the joy

of the profession.

Although she was a Spaniard by birth and an American by early

adoption, she was, so to speak, the greatest Italian singer of my

time. All was absolutely good, correct, and flawless, the voice like a

bell that you seemed to hear long after its singing had ceased.

Yet she could give no explanation of her art, and answered all her

colleagues' questions concerning it with an Ah, je n'en sais rien!

She possessed, unconsciously, as a gift of nature, a union of all

those qualities that all other singers must attain and possess

consciously. Her vocal organs stood in the most favorable relations

to each other. Her talent, and her remarkably trained ear, maintained

control over the beauty of her singing and of her voice. The fortunate

circumstances of her life preserved her from all injury. The purity

and flawlessness of her tone, the beautiful equalization of her whole

voice, constituted the magic by which she held her listeners

entranced. Moreover, she was beautiful and gracious in appearance.

The accent of great dramatic power she did not possess; yet I ascribe

this more to her intellectual indolence than to her lack of ability.