Natural Singing and the Old Italian Method

Garcia portrait

(Celebrated singer and teacher Manuel del Pópulo Vicente García, father of Manuel Garcia, Jr, Pauline Viardot, and Maria Malibran.)

Among the questions debated by vocal theorists none has been more earnestly discussed than the underlying basis of the old Italian method. There is little question about the practical features of the old method. A vast number of excellent collections of exercises and vocalises has been preserved, and many of these are in constant use in vocal studios throughout Europe and America. We know that the old Italian masters trained their pupils’ voices by having them practice the studies contained in these works, or studies of an exactly similar character. But we know, also, that the whole of the old method is not contained in any collection of exercises and vocalises. Important as it is that the compositions chosen for vocal practice shall be adapted to the development of the voice, it is of even greater importance that they be sung and practiced in some special way. There is a vital difference between the old method and the systems of vocal cultivation generally followed nowadays. This difference is seen not so much in the nature of the compositions chosen for study, as in the manner in which students are instructed to practice their daily studies.

Almost every student of singing understands the present idea of vocal cultivation. It is supposed to be necessary for the student, while practicing any exercise, to pay attention to some one or two elements of vocal control. There are a large number of these elements, each one of which is taken up in turn. The proper way of filling the lungs, the management of the expired breath column, the attack of the tone, and the correct adjustment of the vocal cords, for each note, are usually the first topics to receive attention. Other points to which the attention is turned are the influence of the resonating cavities, – chest, throat, and nose, the expansion of the throat, and the placement of the tone in the front of the mouth. All these devices for securing the correct formation of the tones are strictly modern inventions. Nothing had ever been heard of them at the time the old Italian method flourished.

Taylor, David C. “Natural Singing and the Old Italian Method.” Etude Magazine, August 1916: 594.

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