In order to obtain the right expression of the features, I always advocate the use of the mirror, and make my pupils sing in front of it. There is a great advantage in not making grimaces and ugly faces when one is singing. On the other hand, grimaces are often advantageous in so far as they teach people the art of showing some expression.
When I was producing "Orpheus," many of the chorus sang at first without a single trace of expression upon their faces. I used to put them before a mirror and make them see how they looked. Then I would show them how the face alters under certain emotions, like wonder, pity, sorrow, despair, and I would even put their eyebrows into the lines produced by such emotions. After a few days' training, the lines would appear of their own accord, and it was amazing how the vocal expression was improved.
When it comes to the choice of songs, one has a subject which is practically inexhaustible. I am, however, a great believer in, and advocate of, the old folk-songs - old
English, Irish, and Scotch songs, as well as the folk-songs of other countries. I would not by any means recommend the young singer to limit herself to the songs of her own language, but include foreign songs, for the training they afford in several valuable qualities.
Thus, German songs give more force than do the songs of any other language ; Italian, the bel canto and softness of expression ; French, lightness, the tone which is so admirable for the voice. If a singer sticks to one language, she is apt to get into a groove, and not to have the same flexibility and expression as if different languages are employed.
With regard to the singing of ballads, my strong opinion is that only the best must be chosen. Music is improving so much in this country of late years that there should be no lack of choice. I should strongly advise pupils to avoid the ultra-modern and chaotic style of music, and keep as much as possible to the old classical songs.
Finally, let me enter a plea for every woman learning to sing, not merely for the purpose of singing to other people, but solely for her own delight. To me, singing affords the greatest pleasure in the world. I could not exist without it. I simply adore it. So, I find, does everyone else who practises the art for her own pleasure. Besides, it is a wonderful means of health. This fact alone should be sufficient to commend it to the consideration of every thoughtful individual.
It is a matter of common observation that very few pianists can read at sight. This is not surprising, for music is usually too superficially taught to permit of this being possible.
To some there is given that intuitive musical knowledge which makes them born readers; others, more modestly endowed, can acquire this knowledge by a little application.
As sight-reading has its greatest value in accompanying, the directions which follow will bear principally on that useful accomplishment. "
The first point to consider is the panic which seizes the would-be reader when accidentals crowd into the score. To-day, the opportunities for this panic are many, for modern songs are "peppered" with sharps and flats.
In preventing such dismay much may be achieved by the hands taking up correct positions on the keyboard. By "correct," let it be understood that in all sharp keys they should be placed rather near the edge of the keyboard.
If a composition is in flats, however, the position of the hands should be higher up the keys. When this rule is observed the fingers fall naturally on to such accidentals as occur ; for, little as a player suspects it, these make their appearance for the most part in accord with musical rules. Hands well in position can deal with them, but fingers that are too high or too low amongst the keys can never alight on the right ones. A few experiments will quickly prove the worth of this suggestion.
Next to the art of keeping the hands calm, comes that of a judicious leaving out. The pianist who lacks the reading instinct always errs on the side of over-exactness ; makes far too much effort to put in what the born reader is content to omit. It is obviously better to give forth some notes firmly and correctly than to aim at including all, and end in a jumble. The first method will always hold the line, as it were - keep singer and player together- the second throws time to the winds.
The first of every bar is an essential beat to strike, whether it comes as a single note or a chord. This played, the eye should be alert for the next notes that offer important time values, such as crotchets and semi-breves. All such can be played with safety, for they do not fluster the reader, but give her time to look ahead. If they only occur for one hand, the other may wait for something correspondingly simple. This remark may cause surprise, since, of course, it means that from time to time only one hand is playing. There is no need to be disconcerted over this fact, however, for there is more support for the singer in one hand firmly and correctly played than could ever come from two hands struggling after notes, and losing time in the process.
In the early days of reading at sight, turns, shakes, and also little groups of semiquavers can be omitted, while syncopations may be treated thus : Whichever hand is called upon to play them should do so very quietly, while the other gives out monotonously and steadily one single note for each time-beat. In most instances this solitary note need not vary throughout any given bar. It is interesting, indeed, to observe how many treble changes one bass octave can support. For this reason, the left hand should, when reading at sight, avoid needless movements even more so than the right.
It has already been observed that all accidentals peculiar to a given key come easily to tranquil fingers, but the difficulties of sight-reading are not confined to dealing with sharps and flats. A little help must be given in regard to some of the other features that find their way into accompaniments. These may be runs, arpeggios, turns, and triplets. All such are invariably muddled, for the reason that any fingers are placed on any notes, quite irrespective of key. It is useful information to learn that flat keys require the third finger on B flat, and the second on E flat. So easy a rule seems too good to be true, but any fingered scale-book will confirm this simple statement. Turning to the sharps, the third finger's place is on the seventh of the scale, black and white keys included.
An exception is found in the key of F sharp, which follows the laws governing the flats, since it is the G flat key under another name. When playing in C major, the rule for sharps holds good.
It may be argued that in the actual process of sight-reading there is no time for thinking out such rules. If new music, however, is constantly tried over in private, and the directions at such trials observed, brain and fingers soon learn to work together instantaneously.
Modern songs, already referred to, are often a maze of accidentals, double sharps and flats being introduced, as it might seem, for very waywardness. These latter need not dismay the tyro, for a chord which literally bristles with them is only a familiar one in more pretentious guise. Any three compositions chosen at random would, for instance, show the common chord of A major, B major, or even C major so "dressed up" in these doubled accidentals as to deceive the most wary.
Let the experiment be made in leisure moments of analysing a few of them ; it will repay any pianist, for to know the truth about them robs reading at sight of more than half its terrors.