The Fatal Effects of False Voice-Training
—Apropos of the comments on the old Italian method of trainmg the voice, made by a member of the Club at the meetings in November and December, 1888, one of the principal music directors of Vienna, Joseph Hellmesberger, declared recently, in discussing the death by suicide of the once celebrated singer, Marie Witt, that in his opinion her insanity was caused by her false method of singing. She sang entirely from the chest, a practice extremely fatiguing to the whole system, and involving a dangerous excitement of the cerebellum. In the same way and for the same reason, the singers Standigl, Scaria, and Frau Stöcke lost their voices and their health, and died insane. Whether Director Hellmesberger’s conclusions are correct or not, this declaration shows his strong disapproval of the prevalent mode of voice-training, and deserves earnest consideration, inasmuch as he is a thorough musician, and a man of large experience in his observation of the career of singers.
But even when the so-called “ chest tones ” are used with moderation, and may never develop into so tragical a result as in the extreme cases above cited, the practice should be discouraged, because the tones thus produced are not agreeable. They suggest an entirely different quality of voice from that heard in the middle and upper range, and thus mar the unity of sound, wherein lies the greatest charm of artistic singing. Yet almost all pupils of the present generation are trained in this false and hurtful way. Of the large company belonging to the Munich stage, not one of the younger singers holds the voice aright in this particular ; while the older artists, with a few exceptions, show their correct training in the continued conservation of their admirably developed powers. Almost all the prominent artists who travel about as “ stars ” help to perpetuate this fundamental fault, from the very fact that their performance is otherwise excellent, and they have not sung long enough to show the break in their voices which is sooner or later inevitable. Marcella Sembrich and Alice Barbi, who are just now the favorites of the concert stage in Europe, injure the effect of their fine voices by a total change of register in the lower notes. Patti and Nikita among sopranos, Madame Joachim among contraltos, and Micrzwiuski among tenors, are almost alone in their adherence to the old and the only right way.
It is high time that teachers and pupils should stop talking about “ chest,” “ middle,” " falsetto,” and “head” tones, and give their attention to developing the voice in the natural manner, — that is, as one and the same voice throughout ; continued practice giving gradually the desired extension of compass and fullness of tone. Herein lies the secret of success, — long-continued practice by the right method. It is the only way to make the voice even, and evenness of tone is the highest achievement. It was the distinguishing characteristic of Jenny Lind’s surpassingly beautiful singing, and the principal cause of her unique and enduring fame.