Pupil: Do you allow the use of the “falsetto” tone in the male voice ? I thought it was generally considered wrong.
Teacher: It is generally regarded as something to be avoided, but I doubt whether it is wise to give it up. It is certainly most necessary to possess the ability to produce it. In former times the falsetto tone was regarded as much a part of the voice as any other, and you observe that the action is perfectly natural. At all events, it is most useful as an agent, in forming and developing tone. We have yet, however, to overcome the prejudice in favor of the splendid, shouting, high C, which seems the great object to be attained, in the minds of most tenors. That same splendid note, so much desired, may not be the greatest of blessings to an ambitious singer. It cannot be indulged in with safety. I have quoted Salvi as a model. He never sang a high C, like Lefranc ; but he was an infinitely greater artist, and his high notes were pleasanter to hear, in my opinion. You must see, from what I have shown above of the action of the muscle, that such high notes, if shouted, can only be obtained in a forced, unnatural way, and ultimately at the expense of the organ.
Pupil: But the audiences applaud these startling tones much more than they do the softer ones. Should not the singer aim to please all that he can ?
Teacher: Audiences always applaud what is startling, more than what is simply artistic. People like sensation. Applause is not the best test of merit, or even of appreciation. I remember a rendering of the beautiful contralto song, ” He was despised,” from the ” Messiah,” which was followed by no applause; but I saw a great many moist eyes, and a great many handkerchiefs in use. Was not that a higher compliment than clapping of hands would have been? Homage is always intoxicating, and public applause is homage to a certain extent. Public singers and actors are dearly fond of it, and for that reason will sacrifice art to obtain it. Audiences are in a measure to blame for the introduction of “clap-trap” into singing, and “gags” into acting. It all proceeds from a longing for applause, — no matter what kind of applause, whether judicious or not ; and there is not as much judicious applause as one could wish. Few realize how little sincerity, even, there is in most applause. A few persons scattered over a house can get up an “encore” without difficulty. Startling notes, however, will generally gain the desired end without assistance.
Pupil: Do you then deprecate the use of such high tones ?
Teacher: I deprecate the use of clap-trap of any kind. Let the singer learn to deal fairly with the composer, and strive to render his music in the truest and best manner, and think of himself only as the vehicle of the composer’s thoughts. But generally the composer must occupy the second place. Even in the drama, dress takes the place of good acting. But be not you one of those to cater to a vitiated taste. Be content to do every thing well and conscientiously, gaining applause rather by well-doing than by sensational trick.
Daniell, William Henry. The Voice and how to Use it. JR Osgood, 1873.