The following article has been specially contributed to "Every Woman's Encyclopaedia " by Madame Marie Brema, the world-famous vocalist, one of the few English-speaking interpreters of Wagner and mother of that well-known elocutionist Miss Tita Brand. In her own inimitable style, the great singer and teacher expounds, with admirable clarity, the secret of her success with her pupils. In reading these words of one who has a mastery of her art, the novice will assurediv derive both encouragement and instruction
Still, it is possible to give some practical hints on the subject which will be of use, not merely to the beginner, but to those who have made some progress in the art.
The first practical point is the time which should be devoted to practice. Beginners are always enthusiastic. This results in their being inclined to overdo matters. It is inevitable. I constantly get new pupils who come to me with their voices forced and tired, simply because they have been made to practise exercises and songs before they have been taught how to place the tongue, how to open their mouth, and how to breathe. These people had not the vaguest notion what the instrument on which they have to play should be like. And, it must be remembered, the vocal organs are merely an instrument.
The reason why these pupils come to me is because they have not got on. The wonder is how they can expect to do so, for their condition is exactly like that of an instrumentalist who is playing on an instrument which is not complete.
It is essential, therefore, not to tire the voice. At first, the time of practice should be limited, and limited very strictly. No one should practise, to begin with, for more than ten minutes at a time. Mark, I do not say ten minutes a day, but ten minutes at a time, for when that short period alone is given, it may be repeated three or four times a day. Ten minutes four times a day certainly should not tire anyone.
Ten Minutes at a Time Quite Enough
But even ten minutes may be excessive. This is exemplified by a young man who is a pupil of mine. He is nineteen years of age, and has a beautiful bass voice. When he first came to me, it was impossible for him to sing exercises for more than two minutes at a time without becoming tired and pale. So anxious was I with regard to his condition that I sent him to a doctor to be examined. The doctor reported that he was perfectly healthy, so that I was able to go on with his lessons. Now he has a colossal voice and enormous breathing capacity, so that he could, if necessary, go on singing for a very long time indeed. I do not, however, believe in long lessons, and he never sings with me for more than half an hour. Even that time is long, and at first, at all events, I prefer my pupils to have lessons lasting for from only ten to twenty minutes at a time, but I give them daily lessons if necessary.
It has always seemed to me to be best for lessons to be short and frequent, for it is impossible for pupils to remember, from one week to the next, everything that is told in a long lesson, and they may therefore practise in the wrong way in the interval. As they advance, a longer time may elapse between the lessons, and they may gradually practise at home for from fifteen to twenty minutes at a time. Half an hour's work is, however, the most that should ever be done at one practice away from the teacher.
It is not necessary to be practising at the piano in order to train the voice. A great deal Of work can be done with the brain and by means of elocution, in order to help the development of the tone. Thus, the vowels a, e, i, o, u, pronounced in the Italian manner, ah, a, e, o, oo, may be repeated frequently and carefully when one is not occupied with other things. Also the placing of the tongue in the right position may be practised thus :
The tongue should be quite loose, slightly spoon-shaped, the edge of the tip of the tongue lightly touching the base of the lower front teeth, and after forming the consonants, such as r, 1, d, and so on, should at once resume this position, so that the tone may flow out freely without obstruction.
Pupils, also, may then practise without tiring the voice, pronouncing words with the mouth remaining open at the finish of the word, such as " mother," " down," " long," " bread," etc. Most of the singers who come to me for tuition end their syllables with their mouths almost, and sometimes quite, closed, which, of course, deadens the sound and prevents the vibrations flowing out. The effect is exactly the same as if they turned off a tap.
Pupils should, when singing words ending with 1, n, t, etc., be careful not to drop the tongue until the tone is quite finished, otherwise the word ends with a vowel sound, which is very unpleasant to hear.
The mouth should be opened squarely, so as to show something of the upper and lower teeth. Many people open their mouth and keep their lips pressed over the teeth, which are never seen at all. This is bad for the tone, for, by keeping the lips tense, all the muscles in the neighbourhood of the throat are likewise made tense, with the result that the tone becomes hard and unpleasant. When the teeth are made to show, it proves that the lips are not contracted. The result is that the tones get fuller and more mellow, for the muscles are relaxed around the mouth, and there is no tension in those about the throat. It is impossible to produce a fine, full, round, open tone with tensely contracted facial muscles.
Another important point to be observed is that the root of the tongue must be pulled down as far as possible. This may seem an exceedingly difficult thing to do when set down in words, for people generally think that they have no control over the root of the tongue, and that it is, in very truth, " the unruly member."