Meanwhile, however, there was growing up a British school of teaching - a school whose methods were based on the natural requirements of the English singer. I hold that a native of this couutry, or one qualified by long residence therein, is, obviously, better able to understand the physiological and temperamental condition of an English pupil than a foreigner.
The English throat is a peculiar instrument, which requires very careful treatment at the hands of a teacher who thoroughly understands it, and my contention is that the foreigner does not, nor can he be expected to do so.
Language, climate, temperament, national characteristics - there are so many things to be taken into account. So to all intending students I say : "Study your art thoroughly at home under a good and qualified teacher, of whom there are many. In fact, in London to-day, one may be instructed in the musical literature of all countries, and, -furthermore, the facilities for making yourselves linguists have increased wonderfully."
I know several public singers, genuine artists, who sing in other languages than their own, and yet who have never left these shores. But it must not be thought that I am opposed to studying abroad - after the voice has been thoroughly trained at home. On the contrary, I am a strong advocate of actual residence in the different musical capitals - when the time arrives. There is nothing like a first-hand acquaintance with a country or a people to give one an insight into their manners and customs, that no amount of reading or secondhand description can procure. But we in England have to-day a school of song of our own, and I state, without fear of contradiction, that the native singer can obtain at home a vocal training better suited to her needs and individuality than is offered her on the Continent.
I must not be accused of constant repetition if I again refer to the importance of a singer becoming a linguist - if it is her ultimate intention to sing in languages other than her own. There are to-day, I am sorry to say, many professionals, accepted as artists by a portion of the public, whose idea of foreign pronunciation is, to say the least, a very limited one.
To these my counsel is - stick to your own language, or defer attempting a foreign one until the time comes that you are fully qualified. There is a large choice for you in songs by your own countrymen, and you will be doing your art a far greater service by giving a thoughtful rendering of a song you understand, than by attempting something that, you have learned parrotwise, of the inner meaning of which you are in complete ignorance.
And let me ask again for further recognition of the really good English song. There are many examples to-day that are worthy the attention and study of the most fastidious artist.
I have given in this series of articles an outline of what I consider is the true and natural method of studying the vocal art, but there is much that the pupil must teach herself; imitation of the perfect model is not sufficient. She must cultivate her own imagination, and if she is gifted with that much-to-be-desired possession, personality, the vocal ability being there, she ought to go far in her profession. The range of expression in the music of to-day demands more elastic temperament than was formerly the case. There must not only be voice, there must be a strong mentality brought to bear on everything that is attempted. As I am never tired of preaching, it is the brain that directs the vocal mechanism, and though we sometimes come across a voice that wins acceptance by sheer beauty of tone, still, when all is said and done, it is the artistic singer of culture whose efforts give the greatest and most lasting pleasure to her audience.
To return for a moment to the subject of studying abroad. Endeavour to acquire the language before you go to the country; only those who have tried it can realise the difficulty of learning a language abroad before one has first thoroughly mastered the elements. Everybody you meet is bent on acquiring your tongue, instead of giving you an opportunity of practising theirs. I know a girl who went to Dresden a few years ago in the hope of learning German. She returned home in despair at the end of nine months ! All her fellow-students had determinedly practised their English on her, and if she persisted in trying to talk German with them, she found herself left severely in the cold. Her experience, unfortunately, is not unique.
The teacher abroad is not under the same responsibility as the master at home. He does not stand or fall by the success or failure of his pupils. If one of the latter fails, she returns to her own country, and the teacher is unaffected. The expense of going abroad and of a prolonged residence in a foreign town may be all wasted by the pupil falling into the clutches of a highly advertised professor, who is totally incapable of imparting knowledge, even if he possess it. For the teaching of singing is a free profession, and the unsuccessful business man of to-day may announce himself as a "teacher of voice production" to-morrow. Therefore, it behoves all intending students and those who have charge of them, not to be led astray by specious advertisements of any sort.
The Musical Profession not Overcrowded
Much has been said of late on the subject of the overcrowding of the musical profession. I hold the opinion very strongly that, for the fully qualified singer, at any rate, this is not the case. That there are disappointments to be faced is natural in all professions, but in this branch of art, as in others, there are splendid opportunities for the singer who, to employ a colloquialism, "knows her business."
There are, however, so many appearing before the public to-day who do not, that it is easy to see whence, comes the "overcrowded " belief. Of course all professions which offer good prospects to their followers are, in a sense, overcrowded, but the deserving ones rise to the top in the long run if they have all the qualifications.
I am now touching upon a delicate point for one who is himself a teacher. I refer to the idea parents have that for their daughters to learn singing is a luxury, and that consequently they are not justified in spending more than the smallest possible amount on their musical education. They are prepared to sacrifice large sums in order that their sons may fit themselves to become doctors, lawyers, and so forth, and yet they hesitate to take the musical career seriously.
A Career Open to Talent
Within the last few years, numbers of young friends of mine have passed from the studio to the public platform, and, as fully equipped singers, are earning comfortable and yearly increasing incomes. In many cases these incomes are considerably in excess of those of their brothers, upon whose preparation for a career far more money was willingly spent.
To become a professional singer, a very thorough training is necessary, and many things have to be learnt. However, I state here, and I think I may claim the right to speak with experience, that the financial reward is very much greater in proportion to that of many of the other professions, and the constantly repeated cry of " overcrowded " is not borne out by actual facts, always reserving to myself the right when I make this statement of its being understood that I am speaking of the fully-trained singer, and not the young person who, after twelve months' study, thinks she is quite ready to step upon the platform as a finished artist, a delusion for which, as a rule, she pays right dearly.
As I have said before, it is a matter of very great difficulty, almost of impossibility, to treat upon paper a subject comprising so many elements as that of singing, but I have tried to give you what I hope I may call the benefit of some forty years' experience in this country as a musician and teacher.
If, therefore, you find you have a leaning towards the profession of a singer, then devote your whole mind and energies towards accomplishing your desire. I close my last article with a quotation from Carlyle :
" There is at any given moment a best path for every man. To find this path, and walk in it, is the one thing needful for him."
What better advice could be given to any aspirant at the outset of her career ?