F. W. Wodell of Boston Describes Some Aspects of Vocal Teaching in America

From the New York Times, dated June 25, 1898:

Nearly 1,000 music teachers and musicians assembled in the ballroom of the Waldorf-Astoria yesterday for the morning session of the second day of the convention of the Music Teachers’ National Association. A symposium on vocal culture was the first number on the programme of the day’s proceedings, and the remarks of several speakers were listened to with close attention. F. W. Hodell of Boston began the discussion with a few extemporaneous remarks on the subject of “Some Aspects of Vocal Teaching in America.”

He congratulated the profession upon the improvement in the class of men and women who have of late years entered into the work of teaching, and upon the marked improvement in the character of musical journalism in this country. He then referred to the spread of interest in vocal music in America, important factors of which were the teaching of music in public schools and the carrying on of public singing classes for the study of note reading.

“The profession,” he continued, “should encourage these lines of work in all possible ways. The spirit of commercialism made itself felt in the reluctance of parents to permit talented sons to go into music as a profession, and caused prospective students too often to look upon singing merely as a means of making money. Vocal teachers should set their faces against this feeling, and do everything possible to bring the public to a higher appreciation of the art and profession of singing.

“American pupils are intelligent and quick of perception. They lack, however, seriousness in their views of vocal study. They too often choose teachers without common sense or discrimination. They find it hard to labor and to wait, and are not willing to subordinate themselves to their instructors. Vocal teachers should preserve the dignity of their office ,and not pander to the notions of their pupils, and thus alone they can secure obedience and respect.

“The unfortunate habit of so many American students of changing teachers is a hindrance to good work on the part of the pupils, and does a grievous injustice to the teachers. Its cause can be found mainly in the presence of an inordinate conceit in the pupil. Teachers are, however, sometimes to blame in bringing about this state of affairs by publicly cricitising [sic] other teachers’ work. A persistent effort should be made to educate parents and pupils to look upon the choice of a teacher as a serious matter, and to discountenance frequent changes of instructors.”

Referring to professional advertising, Mr. Wodell said the best advertisement a teacher can have is his pupil. He submitted a pupil’s recital programme, based on what he called the “reformed code.” In substance the programme, after announcing the piece the pupil was about to perform or sing, gives a sketch of his or her musical education, as to length of time, kind of teachers, method of study, and personal characteristics.

Speaking then of the influence of Europe in America, the lecturer called attention to the grand opera artist.

“Pupils hearing grand opera artists and inferring that, of course, these are the models to be followed,” he said, “determine to follow some one of these and try to imitate a peculiarity of voice or expression. This tendency obviously is one which would be a source of danger to the pupil and of trouble for the teacher. Professors should insist on pupils following their instructors without reference to the grand opera artists’ voices or performances.

“Modern European composition in opera has dethroned the voice and elevated the orchestra, owing to the way in which prominent artists brought here to interpret the operas have done their work. Vocal pupils have seen audiences loudly applaud impassioned declamation as though it were good singing. They have noted that singers have been persistently off key, have been unable to exhibit a genuine legato, and yet, because of their musicianship, their passion and fervor, have been greatly praised. Therefore the pupils return to their studies under the impression that they, too, must strive for loud, intense tones, no matter whether they sing with good quality or not.”

Among the other speakers in voice culture were Arnold W. Teeg-Meyer of Washington, Mme. Giulia Valda, and Dr. F. E. Miller.

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