The Confessions of a Vocal Teacher

And lo, as he slept he dreamed. And there stood before him a grey-bearded Ancient, with shrewd but kindly face, who said: “I am Conscience. I have been uneasy for a long time. Answer my question; satisfy me, that I may be at peace and you may have strength for your task.”

And he replied: “O, Conscience, what have I, a vocal teacher, to do with thee?”

Then Conscious said: “Answer me, and thou shalt know.”

And he said: “I will truly and honestly answer.”

C: Why did you take up vocal teaching?

A: I had studied hard, and had success in singing, and many asked me to give lessons.

C: You had prepared yourself for teaching?

A: I knew what I had learned.

C: You sang bass?

A: Yes.

C: You knew the special, peculiar needs of the tenor student?

A: I knew how to sing.

C: Had you developed the power to show others how to sing?

A: Well, I could give them pattern tones, good tones, and show them the way.

C: The higher tenor tones?

A: Well, of course, I do not sing tenor.

C: Then what could you do for the tenors?

A: I told them to do the things I had been told to do for my own upper tones.

C: Did it work?

A: Some of them improved.

C: What about the others?

A: I hated to say it, but after a while I had to tell them I could do nothing more for them.

C: That was to your everlasting credit. But were you satisfied with the situation?

A: I certainly was not.

C: You are still taking tenor pupils?

A: Yes.

C: In spite of the fact that you cannot always depend upon ‘imitation’ of your own tones, or doing the things you were personally taught to do for your own voice development, to bring results to your tenor pupils?

A: I can help some, and at least I do no harm to others.

C: What about the time and money of the “others”?

A: I give them some good ideas; they get something out of it.

C: But as a teacher you are not quite satisfied with the outcome?

A: To tell the truth, I am not. But I do not know just what to do.

C: Did you ever think that there must be some principles founded on natural law, underlying good tone production by all classes of voice?

A: Well, now that you mention it, I should say that such must be the case.

C: And that there are also principles of teaching founded on the law of the operation of the mind which can be applied to the teaching of singing.

A: That also is probably true – yes, it must be so; if one could get at them.

C: What, in your opinion, is the duty of the vocal teacher who is taking all kinds of voices and of personalities to deal with?

A: I had a good teacher, and I have a good “Method.”

C: Do you know the principles upon which your “Method” is founded?

A: We did not discuss that topic at my lessons. We just went ahead and did things.

C: Was that a proper, effective preparation for you as one intending to take up the work of a teacher?

A: I was not thinking at the time of becoming a teacher of singing.

C: Then as a matter of fact you really made no special preparation for the work of teaching singing?

A: I suppose it might be put in that way.

C: Ever find that your exercises did not bring the results you wanted?

A: Oh, yes, sometimes. I have told you about the tenors. I had trouble with some sopranos, too.

C: Was the fault in the exercise, in the lack of ability on the part of the pupil, or of want of teaching skill on your own part?

A: I could not always tell.

C: If the exercises which worked with you in a similar condition did not work with your pupil, what did you do?

A: Tried something else.

C: And if that did not work satisfactorily?

A: There have been some cases like that, and they worried me.

C: So that if you had known of Fundamental Principles of Tone Production, based on natural law governing the use of the vocal instrument, at such times you would have been very glad to have applied them?

A: Do you mean a new Method?

C: To work against nature is to make failure certain. Given a knowledge of the laws of nature governing the use of the vocal organs in song, you can work with nature. Every “Method” which produces satisfactory results is based on obedience to the laws of nature in this relation. The teacher who understands the principles of tone production based upon natural law is prepared to deal with all sorts of vocal troubles, refer them to a contravention of natural law, and if need be, devise new exercises for the successful application of said principles. No matter what his “Method,” an understanding of these laws and the principles based upon them, makes his teaching immensely more effective.

A: I follow you there. I see I shall have to do some study of my own “Method.”

C: And some study of the principles underlying the Art of Teaching, also?

A: Yes, indeed.

C: Do this, and again I shall be at rest.


Wodell, F. W., “The Confessions of a Vocal Teacher”, Etude Magazine, April 1917: 267

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