Many people get the impression that, in voice production, a thorough knowledge of the anatomy of all the organs used in singing is necessary to both teacher and pupil. There is so much of this introduced into singing lessons that one might think the teacher should be as skilled in surgery as in the production of a voice, and the student often becomes so confused in the effort to comply with the requirements of the teacher that the technique, seemingly, is built up at the expense of the voice. In doing this, it often happens that one thing of the greatest importance is overlooked - that is, that the student must be taught to listen. Every tone has a purity all its own, but a purity that should harmonise with every other tone. When a tone is perfect, or as nearly perfect as the human voice can make it, the value of it may be carried into the other tones by listening and so getting the ear thoroughly impressed with its sound. In listening to the voices of some singers, one becomes painfully aware that they (the singers) have never heard the inner message of the music they are singing, and no matter how artistically they may sing, or how perfect their technique may be, there is something lacking and the listener is not moved by the music; for music is essentially of the soul, and if it be lacking in soul qualities, no one need expect it to reach the hearts of the listeners. So one should learn to listen to music, not with an active mind, but in a restful mental condition, wherein one can absorb the sound. I have known people who were able to do this to such a degree that after hearing a composition sung once, they had no difficulty in repeating it without making mistakes of any kind. Use the ear to listen to music, but listen with the heart as well, for only in this way can one understand what the music is meant to convey. A singer should always remember that contained within the greater thing is the lesser, and that the form or technique through which music expresses itself is not, and never can be, as great as the music itself, any more than a song can be as great as the singer of it. The soul can make its own form or technique, but the whole technique of music could not make music. I have no wish to underestimate the value of technique in its legitimate place, but the singer whose whole mind is filled with a conscious effort to do everything in the most technical way, can never become a spontaneous singer. If the mind is absorbed with the thought of breath control, and forms, or moulds through which the voice should pass, the voice will become just as mechanical as a musical instrument.
Again I say, technique should only be acquired in order to be forgotten when one begins to sing. It is a trite saying that the highest art conceals art. Often we hear professional elocutionists read, and their art is made to detract from the value of the reading for the simple reason that the listener's mind is quite as conscious of the technique as of the thought and sentiment in the reading. We know that the very best elocution is that in which the listener becomes so absorbed in the subject matter imparted by the reader that he loses sight of all else. I have heard great singers who would so entrance you with their singing that you had really no desire even to look at them, but would choose rather to close the eyes so that nothing might detract from the beauty of the voice.
Singing is a natural expression of life. The regrettable thing is that so few people give natural expression in this way to the music that is within them. If they could realise how much singing would add to their own health and happiness, and also the happiness and consequently the health of others, we should hear many more naturally good singers. A thoroughly healthy body, one that is elastic and rhythmic in its movement, forms what we might call the physical basis of singing. I can remember seeing Edwin Booth in one of his plays many years ago, and I shall never forget the elasticity of his body, and its beautiful rhythmic movement. One could not but feel in listening to his words, and watching his acting, that this man was the thorough artist, but back of it all there must have been something more than art. That wonderful, vibrant life would have expressed itself in a thoroughly artistic way even if the artistic side had been left untrained. I do not question for a minute that art added both to the value of his speaking and acting, but another might have had all his art without his greatness. There is a natural beauty of song which need not be a studied art. Sometimes this natural beauty and power may carry fully as much conviction to the hearts and minds of the listeners as the thoroughly trained voice could do. Ira D. Sankey, in his day, was a living exponent of this. All over the world he swayed the hearts and minds of people with the fervour and glow of the religious conviction he put into his songs. The artistic singer might criticise his use of tone production, but could not produce the effects that Sankey was able to produce with his natural singing. The one who would sing well should remember this: that everything that affects his mind or his feelings in a vicious way will interfere with his tone production. In order to retain a beautiful voice, one must live a beautiful life; because, after all, the most beautiful singing comes when the soul is awakened. It is doubtful whether the world has produced in modern times a more beautiful singer than Jenny Lind, and it is doubtful if any singer of modern times has lived a more beautiful life. The outer revelation of beauty can only come from a person who, in consciousness of both heart and mind, feels, thinks, and lives a beautiful life. Such a life always tends toward greater health and power.
Some people have what might be termed a good ear for melody and time. This is always of the greatest help to them. But it can be acquired by people who have not developed it naturally. In order to sing well, one should also speak well. There are some who say that the speaking voice has comparatively little to do with the singing voice, but this is not so. It has far more to do with it than most people imagine. True it is that the speaking voice is generally used to give expression to one's thoughts and the singing voice to give expression to one's emotions. But in varying degree, both thought and emotion enter into speech and song, although in singing greater variety of rhythm is required, yet the emotions demanded both in singing and in poetic rendering are alike in quality. All emotions, whether expressed by the speaking or singing voice, require rhythm if one would interpret the emotions aright. Each kind of emotion has its own particular rhythm. Joy should cause the speaking voice to leap and almost sing. In speaking with sadness, one cannot connote words of joy, because sadness requires rhythm full of its own motive, which is slow and complete. The ecstasy that one tries to express through the spoken word takes its rhythm in a quick, rising movement, while mystery may be best expressed by a rhythm that has suspense and restraint, a rising and a falling. We might say it affects speech much in the same way as the use of chromatics in music. The speaking voice cannot interpret emotion in the same degree that the singing voice does, and in all probability the reason for this is that the rhythm of poetry is very limited in comparison with that of song.