A Celebration of Women Writers

"Voice Culture." by Mme. Louisa Kapp-Young Cappiani (1835-).
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. 500-502.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

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The correct emission is produced by bringing the vocal chords to phonation on the principle of the Æolian harp. This tone production, without using muscular power in the throat, preserves the voice through lifetime. First, it must be understood what an Æolian harp is. Nothing more than well-tuned strings, stretched in the middle of a frame (window) exposed to the air, where the friction of the wind develops the tone of those strings, in such a soft, elastic way, that heavenly sounds of wonderful effect are heard. What is the human voice? A living Æolian harp. The vocal chords are situated in the upper part of the windpipe (larynx), where the air of the lungs, called breath, passes through and brings to phonation the tones conceived in the brain. By this soft and elastic emission every voice is beautified, never strained or injured, and flexibility acquired without difficulty. Here I must quote my analysis of the voice of another essay of mine: "What is the voice? Reply: Tone colored breath." An Æolian harp.

The epiglottis stroke, on the contrary, hardens the voice, by forcibly closing the vocal chords and causing an explosive tone. This proceeding makes a clicking noise before the tone is heard. In violin playing a sudden stroke of the bow on the strings produces a similar harsh tone. Why are Paderewski and Joseffy so superior to other virtuosi? Because of their elastic touch. One can not hear the percussion of the hammer upon the piano strings, as too often happens in piano-forte playing. Why should vocalists hammer upon their poor vocal chords by this epiglottis stroke? The voice certainly can not improve, but must suffer by this explosive treatment, which is injurious to the whole vocal apparatus. A soft and elastic tone production of the Æolian harp, as above explained, beautifies the voice, renders it capable of flexibility, and of expressing every sentiment, besides extending its range and increasing its power. But, above all these advantages, "phonation of the human voice, upon the principle of the Æolian harp, preserves it in its prime through life."

Placing of the Voice.–The guidance of the elastic tone is the next capital attention. As you know, every instrument has a sounding-board. In the human voice this sounding-board is formed by the bony part of the face (flesh is not acoustic), the nasal bridge being the central arch or acoustic chamber connecting the frontal bone, all the [Page 501]  nasal bones and molar bones and by these with the teeth. When the tone conceived in the brain is correctly emitted from the throat and guided into the nasal bridge, it makes all these bones resound and gives to the original tone by its over and under tones forming a kind of accord, warmth, mellowness, fullness and strength. It must be well comprehended that I am speaking of the nasal bones and not of the nostrils. The tones coming through these would give them a horrible nasal sound, which under all circumstances must be avoided. Finally, to quote Noah Webster in regard to the turbinated bones under the nasal bridge, you will find in his dictionary that he calls "turbinated or scroll bones the expression bones of speech." With this you readily understand that they must be also the expression bones for singing, as singing is talking with harmonious tones. The clearness of pronunciation is most essential for a good singer, and the more distinct the syllables are heard, the better appears the voice.

For Breathing–I must warn singers not to take exaggerated breaths, as harm may be done and nothing gained by this spasmodic breathing. You can not hold an over-amount of air which by its own pressure will leave you with the first note you sing. The so-called abdominal breathing is an erroneous expression, as one can only breathe through the larynx. The sensation by lowering the diaphragm gave rise to this error. The function in breathing on natural principles is this: You expand by a muscular effort the lowest (floating) ribs, in consequence of which the chest-board (sternum) rises also–not the shoulders–at the same time you lower the diaphragm in the abdomen, giving to your lung cells ample space to inflate with the air, rushing through your larynx, thus, according to physical law, "every vacuum is filled with air." This air, or breath, will be retained the longest if you don't let sink in the chest board (sternum) but keep it up until your phrase is through. Specialist physicians call this singing with fixed sternum, which is the right way for good artistic breathing, because it keeps the floating ribs out when the diaphragm can go upward to give assistance to the lungs. When arriving from Europe about fourteen years ago the late Oliver Ditson asked me to write an article on breathing, which was published in the Boston Record–I remember having given as illustrations two extremes: A lion and a new-born baby. There in a menagerie I saw this big majestic animal sleeping; no motion whatever; one could have believed him dead, or sculptured, or stuffed, if his abdomen did not betray, moving slowly with every respiration, there is life. The same with the newborn baby. In his peaceful sleep it seemed a departed angel, and only the movement of its abdomen betrayed–it belonged still to us. So it came that I called this natural breathing abdominal breathing. It was concise, to the point, and I don't think I was wrong either. Though once a pupil–from some territory–came to me for lessons. After a while with an anxious face she asked me: "Madame, will you teach me the diaphragmatic or abdominal breathing?" "Yes, certainly!" "But–you will give me–chloroform?" "What for?" "When you are making that hole in my diaphragm for abdominal breathing." To avoid such misunderstanding I would like to propose to exchange the expression "abdominal breathing" to "breathing by the guidance of the abdomen." It is concise, to the point. With this phonation of the vocal chords on the principle of the Æolian harp, the correct placing of the voice, and breathing on natural principles as above explained, the question, "When should children begin to sing," is easily answered. At eight or ten years, or as soon as they can learn the notes. Parents and teachers should give their attention to time, rhythm, to the executive skill of singing (technic) runs, trills, sustained phrasing, articulation, pronunciation, etc.; and also of first sight singing, in childhood so easily acquired. After this they can join a chorus choir, in order to learn and appreciate good music, though not to make their voices heard above the other voices; let them sing softly, carefully.

The idea that a powerful voice is not capable of flexibility is also an error. The biggest voice can acquire it, and is, by this elastic tone-production, growing in beauty and power. When entering puberty the boy has to stop singing entirely; the girl may stop too, but this is not always necessary when strong and healthy, though care must be taken not to sing too loud so as not to strain the vocal chords and injure the voice. [Page 502]  Singing should be treated like a course of medical studies, where the student is not allowed to practice until he has his diploma. So with singers. They should not be allowed to sing in public before they have acquired a diploma, certifying that they have overcome all the difficulties in the art of singing and pronunciation. This ability makes them self-reliant, banishing stage fright, and all the music they sing will then be rendered artistically. In this way a young woman at the age of eighteen or twenty years becomes a first-class artist, and as a singer or teacher she has won her independence. She carries her capital in her head and throat, to draw upon with singing or teaching wherever she goes, and nobody can steal it from her. In case she would wish to be an opera singer, thus prepared she would require only two years repertoire study, with acting to become a brilliant star in art, and at the same time remain a model of a virtuous woman, as her career is based upon earnest learnings and not held up by momentary favors.

This is the right independence of woman.

Music in General:–"Music is not an invention," says Ritter in his history of music; "its seed lay dormant in the breast of primeval man. Music is in many respects a reliable guide of progress and development, and no art is more closely connected with the inner life of men than music, where its magic power steps in at precisely the point where the positive expression of language fails, and participates in man's struggles, triumphs, reverses, and in all his feelings. Music, the deeper expressions of man's joys and emotions, will find always a fructifying field to take root in, because it reveals to man's senses the great mystery, the beautiful. Music is the language of the soul, its influence upon men's minds is thus ennobling, strengthening, elevating."

Further on Ritter quotes Martin Luther, and it is not out of place to repeat it here. The great reformer calls music one of the greatest gifts of the Creator, and assigns it the first place next to Divinity; for "like this," he says, "it sets the soul at rest and places it in the most happy mood, a clear proof that the demon who creates such sad sorrows and ceaseless torments retires as fast before music and its sounds as before Divinity. There is no doubt the seed of many virtues exists in the minds of those who love music, but those who are not moved by it resemble sticks and stones." As a means of education Martin Luther attached great importance to the influence of music. "It is beneficial" he says, "to keep youth in continual practice in this art, for it renders people intellectual; therefore it is necessary to introduce the practice of music in the schools; and the schoolmaster must know how to sing, otherwise I do not respect him."

Before closing this brief essay I will touch on social position. There can be no doubt in your minds, as there is none in mine, how much higher social position comes to man when, besides his business or profession, he is educated in music. Everybody looks at him as superior to others; why should not a woman in private life strive for this great accomplishment which adorns her with inexpressible charm, thus remaining the attraction for husband and friends? Such homes, in which women dedicate their leisure hours to music, and especially to good artistic singing, become temples of a higher sphere, and the influence of this gentle art will be felt in the refined inclinations of their children, as intelligent mothers make intelligent nations. In this way music becomes hereditary, and its difficulties are easily overcome by the love for it. I have above explained the advantages of music for women as a profession; "primadonna," church and concert singer, "and teacher." The musically well-educated woman in private life though becomes an anchor of hope and safety in case the husband is overtaken by sickness or other reverses. In such cases–and only in such–the wife will be the bread-winner, and the children will imitate the mother's noble example. Welfare and independence will then soon re-enter the threatened household; and all this by the acquired charm of music

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Mme. Louisa Cappiani (Kapp-Young) is a native of Austria. She was born in 1835; educated in Vienna, Austria. Her maiden name was Young. Her father was a dramatic tenor and her mother a gifted German, with both literary and musical culture. At the age of six Madame Cappiani was a musical prodigy. She was given thorough musical training. At the age of seventeen she married Mr. Kapp, an Austrian counselor. He lived but three years, leaving her with two children. She began a musical career to provide for her family, under the combined name of Kapp-Young. Later, to satisfy popular prejudices, she fused her name into Cappiani. She is now known all over the country, as well as in Europe, as the great voice builder and teacher of perfect singing, she is so successful with her principle of the Æolian harp emission of tone, which excludes all effort in the throat and preserves the voice. She has many pupils. Her postoffice address is The Mystic, No. 123 West Thirty-ninth Street, New York

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* The address was delivered under the title of "Voice Culture as a Means of Independence to Women."


Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

This chapter has been put on-line as part of the BUILD-A-BOOK Initiative at the
Celebration of Women Writers.
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Mary Mark Ockerbloom.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom