Louise Homer (1871-1947) was an American contralto, who actually started out right here in Boston as a vaudeville performer. Her husband, Sidney, wrote a loving tribute to his wife’s work and documented her search for a good teacher. It’s interesting to note that her difficulties coincide with much of the historical writing of that time, and bear out the fact that ‘pet theories,”scientific singing,”vocal experimentation’, and other aberrant methodologies were deeply entrenched in most singing studios by the late 19th century. We DO NOT read accounts of vocal ‘struggle’ in singer’s and teacher’s memoirs until the 19th century (i.e. Nourrit, Homer, etc.). The Old Masters didn’t teach voices to be anything less than beautiful and flexible, and would be horrified by the type of brute vocal force that came to the fore in the mid-to-late 1800s.
My voice was said to be ‘glorious’, but it was a cumbersome, unwieldy organ. I could only sing up to F (F5).
According to her husband, she took a year off to study voice abroad. They both believed that Paris was the ‘Mecca for singers’ and they first went to the studio of Jacques Brouhy in 1896. Her husband described the work with this maestro as such:
…After five months…my wife’s voice was growing smaller, [and] was so covered that the brilliance was diminishing fast…
After a stint in Brouhy’s studio, they decided to begin lessons with an Italian tenor by the name of Juliani. Homer described this work thus:
He soon had my wife’s voice bright and free again… [but] my wife’s voice began to sound peculiar on the lower medium notes. The timbre was gone and there were a breathiness and throaty quality…
An American woman begged Louise Homer to study with her husband. He had apparently also been a teacher to Suzanne Adams, a celebrated coloratura soprano. His remarks are profoundly interesting on this work. It’s also important to note that Homer and Adams were NOWHERE similar in voice type (Adams was a coloratura, Homer a contralto) but apparently the PRINCIPLES upon which they were trained were similar.
The time was short, the money was almost gone. My wife’s voice was rich and heavy and did not run high easily; she had never sung coloratura, she had no repertoire and in one whole year had only learned parts of Samson and Dalila…[Fidèle Koenig] gave her a lesson every day, and allowed only fifteen minutes vocalizing at home. He concentrated on head tones and brought them down into the medium of the voice. He selected the great scene of Fidès in the fourth act of Le Prophète, as the number which would secure a possible engagement for her. It ran from low G (G3) to high C, over two octaves and a half, and had coloratura and sustained cantabile.
And according to her husband, it WORKED! Within two weeks of working daily with this knowledgable teacher, Homer’s voice bloomed, and within a year she began her operatic career in France.
Please note the successful teacher ‘concentrated on head tones’. A rather telling pedagogical approach.
To read the wonderful and loving book that Sidney Homer wrote, click the link found here.