A Celebration of Women Writers

"Extracts From Vocal Art." by Dr. M. Augusta Brown (1836-).
Publication: Eagle, Mary Kavanaugh Oldham, ed. The Congress of Women: Held in the Woman's Building, World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago, U. S. A., 1893. Chicago, Ill: Monarch Book Company, 1894. pp. 477-483.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

[Page 477] 

EXTRACTS FROM VOCAL ART.

By M. AUGUSTA BROWN, M. D.

DR. M. AUGUSTA BROWN.
Vocal art, like all fine art, has its mechanical-practical as well as its ethical side. The sculptor may chisel away many a weary year before he can bring out the emotions that live in stone. The painter's hand must be practiced to the finest cunning before he can transmit to canvas the imageries that live in his brain. He who would transmit the soul through the singing voice must be painter, poet, orator and sculptor.

The voice may be very justly compared to the diamond in passing to a state of perfection, and as the brilliancy of the diamond may be impaired or ruined by one false stroke, so may the voice be impaired or ruined by imprudence, by false or mistaken method.

In practicing softly the voice is never in danger of being strained, and it is easy to add power after sweetness and brilliancy are acquired. There should be no more break in the voice, in passing from the lowest to the highest tone, than there is in passing on the key-board of the piano; and there is none, unless we make the tone with the effort of the throat muscles, instead of letting the air make the tone by playing upon the muscles. The break that occurs is always caused by holding the throat muscles more or less rigid (when they should be held perfectly loose, passive and free). If we hold the muscles at all rigid, we can go only so far when we must let go of them and take up the next higher. If we hold these we are obliged to change again for higher tones, and this change is the cause of the break, when, if we simply let the air play upon the muscles without effort, there will be no break from the lowest to the highest tone. Bernotzzie's theme was inflation of the lungs to their fullest capacity, a good practice in moderate degree, but disastrous if carried to excess.

Professor Bears of Paris, on the contrary, taught his pupils to use the smallest amount of breath for the greatest vocal feats, such as making a trill for thirty seconds with one breath, at the same time holding in the mouth a lighted match without causing the flame to flicker.

Signor Polini of Naples makes the study of vocal music a pleasure; so simple is his method, and having so little responsibility or anxiety, the pupil retains the repose so necessary at all times to the singer and especially to the beginner.

Signor Emanuel Potentini of Rome goes to the other extreme, exacting in every [Page 478]  particular. Professor Bernardi of Milan makes execution a study, especially the trill and shake; even bird tones he considers legitimate practice, as well as all vocal feats and movements used by the orator, reader or impersonator.

Madam Fabrie's principal theme was legato, a smooth, flowing style. Professor Morley agreed with Delsarte that every note should be sung at first staccato, making a clear, decisive touch. The attack of a note was his care, so that each tone should represent a distinct pearl example. You will ask why I went from one grand master to another. I was in search of information and I found that each master had something to impart that I had not gained from the other. There was Sangiovanni's masterly and beautiful phrasing, Lamperti's method of voice building and Bernardi's execution and trill. Each master has brought out fine voices through opposing methods, and many fine voices have developed in spite of method. But we hear little of the thousands of voices which have failed, even though endowed by nature with talent and early promise of a brilliant career. Many such failures have come from attempts to make the voice fit a certain method, instead of making a method applicable to each individual voice. Beautiful voices are mourned as lost when there is often only some simple obstruction to the operation of the natural law governing song which might be easily removed or restored.

This has been the object of my study–to know the causes of voice failure, its restoration, preservation and building, and it is astonishing how a small and seemingly insignificant thing may temporarily unbalance a voice. Let us look for some of the causes of impairment. "One of the most simple (common), is dryness of the throat and nasal cavities, caused by inaction or paresis of the glands. They fail to secrete enough moisture to lubricate the parts. This may be temporarily overcome by introducing into the nostrils, pharynx, and throat a very little glycerine just before using the voice. Glycerine and cream, equal parts, is still better. There may be an excessive secretion, from inordinate activity of the glands, producing weakness or catarrh, or there may be swollen tonsils." Elongated uvula, nasal polypus, inflamed, congested, relaxed or closed eustachian tubes, hoarseness, congestion of the vocal cords, or they may have become thickened from chronic congestion or covered with mucus, or partially paralyzed from over-taxation or weakness, or one may have lost the full vigorous action of the muscles or nerves. The diaphragmic muscle may have lost its tone from illness, weakness or over-exertion. The chest and all the organs of the viscera may have fallen somewhat out of their normal position from weakness, long continued indigestion, constipation, insomnia; other causes may be anxiety, mental strain, mental depression, sedentary habits, low state of the circulation of the blood and vital fluids, excitability of the nerves, anything that exhausts or depletes the vital forces, nerve prostration, debility or lack of nervous energy, may, in many instances, prevent the free, forcible use of the muscles upon which the voice depends. The power of the voice organs depends upon the tone and vigor of the whole system, and any mode of life that promotes health and strength is favorable to voice production; and upon the contrary, anything that fatigues or exhausts is detrimental to the voice. The decline of the beautiful voice of Gerster was caused by over-taxation, unbalanced nervous condition. Notwithstanding singers know the baneful effects of singing directly after eating, when nature's efforts are engaged in the digestion and assimilation of food and should not be distracted, how many go directly from the table to the piano and sing for hours? One should never sing when he is tired, or use stimulants to urge the voice to action.

From illness, weakness, or from imitating others, one may form habits entirely foreign, not only in childhood but in any stage of life, even after years of correct practice. If the organs become weakened or relaxed the same effort will not produce the same result; all pure tone depends upon certain conditions. If the conditions are changed we must change the effort. If the organs are relaxed we must reinforce by controlling and supporting the breath by the diaphragm and at the throne of the pharynx. If these two points have lost their firmness the support may be equally [Page 479]  divided between the lungs, which are in themselves expansive and contractile muscles, the trachea, the pharynx, the nasal cavities and strong muscles of the head. But remove all pressure from the throat, larynx and vocal cord. Many a naturally fine singer's career is blighted by this habit of pressure or rigidity of the throat muscles. The remedy is in studying appropriate exercises until the correct habit is formed, which is not difficult if given individual attention. It is like resetting a dislocated bone; the moment it finds its place nature recognizes its own. The greater part of the labor is done when you have found the right adjustment of the whole organism. If the weakness is caused by indigestion, insomnia, or from whatever cause, it must be removed. In many cases the restoration of health is the most necessary part in voice production, and with our teaching is the first branch to receive attention. It is often more difficult to induce the singer to practice health exercises than to overcome the trouble after the effort is made. We have so long depended so much more upon promiscuous practice than upon condition and adjustment, and yet it is astonishing how rapidly one may advance with little practice when rightly directed.

Singing, more than anything else, requires concentrated attention. If we would express thought, feeling and emotion, we must think and feel. If we have a definite idea of what we want to do and how we want to do it, if we know what position of the mouth, throat and vocal organs produces a certain effect, we have only to call them into action.

To produce a good voice the whole organism needs as much attention, and I may say practice, as do the vocal organs. The whole body is a part of the musical instrument, and must be considered. The ability and activity of the immediate vocal apparatus depends upon the general strength and condition of the body as a whole, as well as upon the proper adjustment of the vocal organs with reference to acoustic law.

The first and most important fact to fix in the mind of one who would rise to his highest possibilities as a singer is that there are two important, principal points of support for the voice which must never be lost sight of–the diaphragmic muscle and the throne of the pharynx.

The propelling power of the lungs is the diaphragmic muscle, which has its posterior attachment at the lumbar vertebræ. "It is a thin, muscular, fibrous septum, placed obliquely at the junction of the upper third of the trunk, forming the floor of the lungs and the roof of the abdomen."

If you acquire perfect control here, and at the same time at the throne of the pharynx, you will sing as free and as easy as a bird, in the way designed by a wise Creator.

In singing a good position is most essential. Stand upon the balls of the feet, hold the knees firm, abdomen and shouders back, the chest raised and prominent, the head bent slightly forward in a persuasive, tranquil manner, as repose, tranquillity of mind and body is absolutely necessary for the singer; make repose your first study.

The first organ involved in singing is the nose. Close the lips; take a breath through the nose. Where do you feel it first? At the bridge of the anterior and posterior nares. Back of the bridge, and back of and above the palate, is the throne of the pharynx, and this is another strong point for the singer; one of the two first important points to be considered (never to be lost sight of; never to be let go of). It is first, last and always (not only in making the head tones, but all the tones, from the highest to the lowest, must be supported here). Feel that this is the abiding place of tone. We will call it the throne of the singer, for as long as he has control here he has control of his voice, but when he has lost control of this point he has lost his kingdom as a singer. He may lose it by simply letting go of it and taking up the throat muscles instead, when they should always be left perfectly free and passive. Many a singer mourns his voice as lost, when he has merely let go of this point of support. It does not require any pressure or contraction, but simply the feeling that you direct, hold and support the tone from this point, the whole upper part of the pharynx to the very nostrils. [Page 480] 

The next step is to take a deep, full, slow, inspiration, filling the lungs from the very bottom. In escaping, the air passes through the top, so the top is always supplied. (We must form the habit of filling the bottom of the lungs at first effort.) This is called abdominal breathing, or, more appropriately, diaphragmatic breathing. As the bottom of the lungs is filled with air, there is a feeling of enlargement all over the abdominal region, caused by the pressure of the well-filled lung in all directions. The downward pressure of the lungs against the diaphragmic muscle distends slightly the abdominal cavity; hence, abdominal breathing, a very misleading name.

The diaphragm guards and follows the lungs like a guardian angel. To breathe a deep, natural breath is proper, but we must follow nature somewhat. When we make breathing altogether a voluntary action, we take the natural work from the involuntary muscles, which are thereby weakened by inaction.

For different modes of breathing, we have what is called "abdominal or diaphragmatic," lateral or costal, lumbar and the clavicular. A good diaphragmatic respiration includes them all except the clavicular, which is of no importance to us, only to be avoided and which we need not consider, taking only the diaphragmatic; that is filling, the bottom of the lungs at the first effort. Learn to accomplish vocal feats with the smallest amount of breath; that is, let no breath escape unutilized.

EXAMPLE.

The first and most important step in singing is to control the emission of the breath.

Practice breathing at first slowly, then quickly. Now, see how nearly you can approach the yawn without yawning. This position of the mouth and throat is favorable to good tone by opening the throat in all directions.

When we have acquired control of the breath, the next step is to open the back part of the mouth. Think of the singer's throne at the top of the pharynx and raise the soft palate and head muscles without effort, widen the whole pharynx. The very thought will do it. You will observe at once the change even in the speaking voice, always support the tone in the pharynx.

This exercise will not only make a musical singing, speaking and reading voice, but it will banish clergyman's sore throat and many other forms of throat trouble, which come from wrong placing. If we open the back part of the mouth, the front will take care of itself. Take the Italian la broad, or the word loud, and be sure that you open the throat, for you may say la without opening the throat.

Open the throat as much as possible without fatigue or strain, and you will be astonished at the volume of voice developed at once, without effort.

We are supposed now to be building or restoring a voice, but the best voices will be improved by correct practice. If nature has given you a fine voice, well placed, then the right practice will give it expansion, and bring possibilities before you of which, perhaps, you have never dreamed. If your voice is small and thin, you can comfort yourself with the knowledge that all things are brought about by condition and practice, and if you understand the laws of acoustics and the adjustment of the vocal apparatus, a small voice may be increased greatly in power and extent, and what it lacks in power it may make up in intensity, for the softest tones, when controlled rightly, may be heard as distinctly as the loudest, and with far more pleasing effect. Intensity comes through control at the throne of the pharynx.

EXAMPLE.

For a soft, intense tone, take the word He in the top of the pharynx–He-e-e-e.

The Bell tone is also a good exercise. For intensity make the last part soft, but distinct, as it dies away.

The immediate vocal instrument is made up of the nasal cavities, the pharynx, the larynx, the trachea and the lungs. But these depend upon the nervous and muscular system of the whole organism. [Page 481] 

In exercising the voice, each note should be given softly, with exactly the same quality and volume, unless otherwise marked. A few notes will require more practice and attention than all the rest combined. Take these refractory notes and master them before going another step, and you will be astonished at your rapid advancement.

This must include a proper healthful condition; proper vocal exercise is conducive to health.

Delsarte said: "Voices may be manufactured. Put your heart in the place of the larynx and there will always be enough voice for attentive listeners." The heart in the larynx and the tone in the pharynx.

THE SINGING LESSON.

Before beginning to exercise the voice, one should always go through some preliminary movements to circulate the blood and animate the nerves, and bring the whole body into a state of vibration. It is well to have a little system of exercise, beginning with the feet: posing on the toes, moving from side to side, bending the knees, the waist, raising the arms, raising and broadening the chest. A very excellent and exhilarating exercise is the Spanish waltz with its various movements.

If from any cause you find it an effort to sing, do not try to sing, but exercise the body until you are comfortably tired; study the music with the mind. Then rest–take a nap. There is nothing like sleep to give freshness and vigor to the voice, and it is a mistake to give more attention to the immediate vocal organs than the whole system, for the latter has much to do with the production of tone, especially in the color, quality, sweetness, freshness and fullness, which is also influenced by the action of the pharynx, nasal cavities, mouth, hard and soft palate, teeth, and the strong muscles of the head.

The slightest change in either of these affects the quality of tone. No two persons are formed or organized exactly alike. The formation of the mouth differs in each individual, and a difference of a hair's breadth changes the quality of the tone. The slightest change in thought, feeling, change of the muscles of the head, face, throat or chest, wrinkling the brow, holding the eyes fixed, lifting the arms, tight shoes, corsets, a corn on the toe, in fact, any change in position, feeling or condition, changes the tone. Now, as the formation of the mouth, throat, pharynx and nasal cavities differs in each individual, we must study the acoustic properties of each, and adopt the position accordingly. If one has a wide mouth, a low, flat roof, he must drop the chin and raise the muscles of the face and head toward the throne of the pharynx, and choose a vowel sound adapted to his case. With a narrow mouth and high roof, he must open his mouth and throat laterally in a smiling position, say the word la broad, distending the cheeks, and keeping in his mind the word width.

One with a well-shaped but small mouth needs both breadth and height. He must practice the broad la, or the word loud, with the back part of the mouth open as much as possible without strain. If one is the possessor of a large mouth and throat he should be content.

For this reason it is well to take the syllable la broad, which is favorable to good tone by opening the throat. Then make all the other vowel sounds as near like it as possible, without changing the position of the mouth, and when you are able to make the same quality of tone on each vowel sound without changing the position, and without any stiffness or contraction of the muscles, you will have accomplished a great and difficult feat, and you will be able to sing in any language with as much ease as Italian. Forget that you have a throat, larynx, or vocal cords; think of them as a passage for breath only. Remember that the two important points are the posterior attachment of the diaphragm and the throne of the pharynx. These should be held in mind without effort. To broaden the pharynx at the top, take the syllable ga, and widen all the upper space, even the nostrils without effort. Now, learn to attack a note at once perfectly, without reaching for it–accomplish this before taking another [Page 482]  step. It is one thing to know how to do a thing and another thing to do it. There is nothing more distressing than to hear one strike a note below the pitch and then push the tone up to it. To overcome this habit and to avoid rasping the throat, give a syllable to each note with a short, quick modulating staccato touch (Example: do do do do do do do do do), without changing the position of the mouth or chest, but be careful not to mistake the glottis stroke for the staccato touch. Example: There is no movement more fatiguing than the glottis stroke, and it is ruinous to the head tones, while a moderately staccato touch is favorable to the tones of both the head and the chest.

The next step is to place the tone well forward in the mouth; locate the tone at the throne of the pharynx, and practice lightly the scale on the syllable do-po-no. To find the tone of the pharynx, say the word "on" with the lips open, or "om" with with the lips closed.

For a smooth, legato, flowing style, make the tone like that of the violin. Glide from one tone to another in one continuous wave on the word law.

It is not a question of how much you practice, but how correctly. If you practice wrong you have harmed the voice without gaining any benefit, when, if you know just what to do and how to do it, you may advance with every practice.

To give agility and flexibility to the vocal organs, speak rapidly the elementary and vowel sounds
1234 12 12 123   
aaaa ee ii ooo ipitic.
Open tone is made by supporting the tone at the back part of the throat, while the closed tone is supported at the throne of the pharynx.

EXAMPLE.

We must hold in the mind an ideal musical tone and express it.

To give volume to the voice I have found no better word than the word loud. It opens the throat in all directions.

For softness, sweetness and tenderness of tone, take a sentence that expresses such sentiments. Think of appropriate expressions and words as soft, sweet, mellow, brilliant, liquid, joyous, simple, childish, compassion, love, disdain. A soft, sweet, tone differs from a brilliant tone. Familiarity with words and expressions, and their natural application in singing, will aid in making you master of song and speech.

Write on every page of your book: self-confidence, determination, perseverance and practice.

It is necessary to have the tongue, lips and lower jaw under perfect control.

For flexibility of the lower jaw, take the word ya (rapidly) ya-ya-ya-ya-ya-ya.

For the lips take po-po-po-po.

For the tip of the tongue take no-no-ne-ta-ta-ta-la-la-la.

Many singers find it hard to keep the back part of the tongue in its place, but to practice properly the broad la on the back part of the tongue will soon subdue that unruly member, as also will the practice of the pleasing, rippling laugh of a child, ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha.

This exercise is also a specific for indigestion. There is real healing power in a good, hearty laugh. If two or three dyspeptics should meet daily and laugh and laugh, their indigestion would soon disappear. If any of you are troubled in this way, you can experiment.

For continuity of tone, chant very distinctly a sentence on each note of the scale.

Never trouble trouble until trouble troubles you. If you never trouble trouble, it will never trouble you.

One short exercise intelligently practiced and mastered is better than a book full half learned.

To gain purity and distinctness in every tone, chant the alphabet on every note of the scale, speaking distinctly every letter–a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z and ah, aa, e. Also all the elementary sounds. These elementary exercises [Page 483]  are not in themselves interesting except to the intelligent student, but with right use will develop a beautiful singing and speaking voice, saving years of time and practice.

EXAMPLE.

do de ra re fa fe sol sel la le si do.

It has always been considered that the crowning glory of the voice is a perfect trill. To make a perfect trill in the shortest space of time, make the upper note as a grace note until you have the movement fixed, then locate it at the throne of the pharynx on the letter m, close to the lips; hold the whole throat perfectly loose, and by oscillation of the soft palate make it without effort.

The trill is made of two notes, but the shake is a tremulo or a tremor of the soft palate. We sometimes hear singers with good voices make the shake instead of the trill, because they think they can not make the trill. But the trill is much the easier and far less fatiguing and wearing to the voice; excessive practice of the shake or tremulo will soon destroy a beautiful voice. Anyone who can make a shake can make a trill as soon as he gets movement and location. The nightingale makes the trill. The canary bird makes the shake, introducing a few notes of the trill. The bird-tones which are so much admired just at the present time are made mostly with shake movement on the different vowel sounds.

We have been taught to believe that the trill is a gift of nature to a favored few, but we know from long experience that anyone with a little perseverance, who can sing four tones correctly, can make a beautiful trill with a little persevering practice. Formerly the student was taught that the trill was made with the oscillation of the vocal cords. As I failed to make it in that way after long practice, I concluded nature had not favored me. But in listening to Madam Diormis' delightful trill I felt that she made it with the oscillation of the soft palate, instead of the vocal cords, and I caught the movement at once, and when I went to Italy the first thing the master said was, you have a "natural trill." Nature gives us all the elements, but we must adjust them appropriately. If we would master all our vocal possibilities we might have a prima-donna in many a home that we little dream of.


[Page 477] 

Dr. M. Augusta Brown is a native of Albany, N. Y. She was born March 14, 1836. Her parents were William Gage, Jr., and Martha Carey Gage. She was educated at the Albany Female Academy and at the Salem Academy of Music, Connecticut. She studied in Italy with Lamperti and Sangiovanni, of the Royal Academy of Music of Milan. In Paris she studied with Charlotte Patti, Karl Formes, Caughman, Bears and others. She has traveled extensively in Europe and in America. She married, in 1867, Augustus L. Brown, a native of Georgia. Her special work has been in the interest of health education of woman. Her principal literary works are: "The Benefit of Horticulture," "Contagious Diseases: Their Cause and Cure," "Cholera a Preventable Disease," and "Voice Production from a Physiological Standpoint." Her profession is that of physician and surgeon. She has worked out a method which quickly demonstrates that "vocal music" is an exact science. Its laws are as fixed as the laws of mathematics, and these laws involve the whole organism. Dr. Brown is an Episcopalian. Her postoffice address is No. 4225 Michigan Avenue, Chicago, Ill.

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