Whence originated this so called scientific voice teaching? That the old Italian knew nothing of it is well understood. They considered the process artistic rather than scientific. How does it sound, was their slogan. The thing uppermost in their minds was beautiful tone, and they were wise enough to know that when one has a definite concept of the pure singing tone he has a more valuable asset than all the mechanical knowledge he can acquire. They had but one end in view, namely, a finished artist, and everything they did was made to contribute to it. The artist always has in mind the finished product. The scientist tries to find out how it is done. The artist begins with the idea and works forward to its complete expression. The scientist begins with the physical mechanism and works backward toward the idea.
What is responsible for the change from the methods of the the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries? It is safe to say that it did not come through the voice teachers.
In the early part of the nineteenth century an interesting thing happened. How it happened or why it happened at that particular time is not known nor does it matter. The human mind became all at once aggressively inquisitive. The desire to get at the ultimate of everything took possession of humanity and still holds it. The result was an era of scientific analysis and invention, the aim of which was to control the forces of nature. Previous to that time methods of living, production, transportation, agriculture, etc. were little different from that of biblical times. People and nations lived much to themselves. They looked within for their inspiration and developed their own national characteristics. But with the invention of the steamship, railway, and telegraph a change came. These improved methods of transportation and communication brought all of the mentalities of the world together, and soon all habitable parts of the globe were in daily and hourly contact. The result was a mental fermentation which increased the complexity of civilization immeasurably and the present exaggerated and unnatural condition of society is the outgrowth.
Between 1809 and 1813 were born Mendelssohn, Chopin, Schumann, Liszt, and Wagner. These men are known as the founders of the modern romantic school of music. They grew up with the new civilization and could not do otherwise than reflect its complexity in their music. That the new civilization was responsible for the new art there is no doubt whatever. All old types have passed away. All branches of art have suffered radical changes in conforming to new ideals.
Since the wave of scientific investigation started around the world nothing has been able to escape it. The hand of the scientist has been upon everything, and to him rather than to the voice teachers must be given the credit for originating scientific voice teaching.
When the scientists began publishing the results of their investigations voice teachers at once became interested. The plan looked promising. It offered them a method shorn of uncertainties. A method that brought everything under the operation of physical laws; a method that dealt only with finalities, and would operate in spite of a lack of musical intelligence on the part of the student, and at the same time enable them to lay to their souls the flattering unction of science. True it ignored altogether the psychology of the matter. It said "do it this way and a beautiful tone will come whether you are thinking it or not, because scientific laws eternally operating in the same way eternally produce the same results."
The scientific method gave voice teachers an opportunity to work with something tangible, something they could see; whereas the development of tone concept, the artistic instinct, musical feeling, and musicianship had to do with things which to most of them were intangible and elusive. No one doubts the honesty of the teachers who became obsessed with the scientific idea. To them it meant increased efficiency and accuracy, quicker results with less effort, and so they broke with the old Italians, the basis of whose teaching was beautiful tone and beautiful singing. In spite of the honesty of purpose of all those who followed the new way, the results were calamitous. The art of singing received a serious setback. Voices without number were ruined. From the middle to the end of the nineteenth century the scientific idea was rampant, and during that period it is probable that the worst voice teaching in the history of the world was done. Large numbers of people with neither musicianship nor musical instincts acquired a smattering of anatomy and a few mechanical rules and advertised themselves as teachers of scientific voice production. The great body of vocal students, anxious to learn to sing in the shortest possible time, having no way of telling the genuine from the spurious except by trying it, fell an easy prey, and the amount of vocal damage and disaster visited upon singers in the name of science is beyond calculation.
Fortunately the reaction has begun. Slowly but surely we are returning to a saner condition of mind. Every year adds to the number of those who recognize singing as an art, whose vision is clear enough to see that the work of the scientific investigator should be confined to the laboratory and that it has no place in the studio. We are beginning to see that the basic principle of singing is freedom in the expression of the beautiful, and that the less there is of the mechanical in the process the better.
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