Did Manuel Garcia Teach “Forward Placement”?

The short answer is, yes. Yes, he absolutely did.

I can say that with 100% certainty.

We know that Manuel Garcia Jr. taught forward placement because he said he did so himself. And if we can take the man at his word, which I believe we can, then Manuel Garcia Jr. taught forward placement. Otherwise, I’m slipping down some sort of a DaVinci Code pedagogical rabbit hole.

In article published in 1894 in Werner’s Magazine, on page 349, we have the great Maestro saying the following as quoted by Frederick Root:

Garcia said that he began with other things; he used to direct the tone into the head, and do peculiar things with the breathing, and so on…

Garcia was not immune from the mechanistic pedagogical zeitgeist of the nineteenth century. We have to remember the historical period in which he lived was the Industrial Revolution. This meant that science, exploration, and knowledge exploded in a way that hadn’t been seen in human history. The tempo of life increased exponentially, and mechanistic ‘speeding up’ was the rule of the day. If Eli Whitney’s cotton gin could make swift work of picking cotton, and factory production could increase the output of common goods, what is to say that vocal pedagogy wouldn’t seek out alternate ways of speeding up vocal training? Up to that time vocal training by the greatest masters of bel canto took anywhere from 6-8 years.

Garcia was only human, and of course he had clay feet. So why wouldn’t he explore the other pedagogical concepts of his day? We know from writings and scholarship that ‘breath-centrism’ was largely the work of the Lampertis through their work with the ‘appoggio’ (a breath management/control term that did not exist prior to the 19th century).  The Garcia and Lamperti schools were the discussion of heated debates in Europe, and the methods were largely mutually exclusive to each other. The Lamperti influence was the more historically durable of the two schools, coming to us in the present day in the writings of Richard Miller, who shunned the largest parts of the Garcia School in favor of ‘appoggio’ and ‘breath dominated’ classical singing.

If we take the above statement of Garcia at face value, it also means that people Garcia taught before 1894 would go on to teach ‘forward placement’ or ‘directing tones into the head’ as Garcia’s ‘method’. It only stands to reason that this would happen. Garcia said he taught it! And as the self-same article mentioned:

His great experience and his scientific habit of mind give unusual weight to everything that he says.

The concepts of ‘forward placement’ and ‘resonance’ (another term that did not exist prior to the nineteenth century) were largely brought to the pedagogical table by Jean De Reszke:

I find that the great question of the singer’s art becomes narrower and narrower all the time, until I can truly say that the great question of singing becomes a question of the nose.

Blanche Marchesi, daughter of Mathilde (who was a student of Garcia himself)  who knew De Reszke personally, had this to say about not only this method, but its effect on De Reszke’s voice:

The serious fact witnessed by the whole world was that Edouard de Reszke’s voice failed completely when he was still a fine, strong man [of 53]. His instrument was beautiful, but the nasal method destroyed it. His brother Jean de Reszke, one of the finest singers the world ever knew, fell a victim to the same practice in the prime of life.

There is a current theory propounded by a very well-respected colleague of mine (and someone for whom I personally hold in high regard), that Herman(n) Klein, a pupil of Garcia, taught singing ‘in the masque’.  In all likelihood, Garcia probably taught Mr. Klein to sing ‘in the masque’ himself in his studio in London. If Klein was instructed by Garcia prior to 1894 (when the quote above was published and his Hints on Singing went to press), then he most assuredly was taught to sing ‘in the masque’ by Garcia himself.

There’s just one problem.

If we read the rest of the article, we get a clearer picture of Garcia’s stance on ‘forward production’:

He was very emphatic in his recommendation to avoid all these modern theories, and stick closely to nature.

What were the ‘modern theories’ of 1894?

Breath ‘support,’ ‘forward placement,’ and ‘resonance.’

As for breathing, breath support, squeezing the dime, tucking the pelvis, this is what the great Maestro had to say:

Do not complicate it with theories, but take an inspiration and notice nature’s laws.

His greatest condemnation against placement, despite that he most DECIDEDLY taught it in his studio in London, was this (at the age of 89):

Garcia said that he began with other things; he used to direct the tone into the head, and do peculiar things with the breathing, and so on; but as years passed by he discarded these things as useless, and now speaks only of actual things, and not mere appearances. He condemned what is so much spoken of nowadays, the directing of the voice forward or back or up.

Garcia goes on to rail against any kinds of ‘doings’ or ‘placing’ or ‘proscribed feelings’ in the voice in very same article:

He also does not believe in teaching by means of sensations of tone. The actual things to do in producing tone are to breathe, to use the vocal cords, and to form ‘the tone in the mouth. The singer has nothing to do with anything else. Vibrations come in puffs of air. All control of the breath is lost the moment it is turned into vibrations, and the idea is absurd, he said, that a current of air can be thrown against the hard-palate for one kind of tone, the soft-palate for another, and reflected hither and thither. He drew a picture of the throat, and scouted all that.

To further stress his assertions of ‘non-interference’ with voice, he equally sets his sights on the faddism of laryngeal height in singing (another mechanistic 19th century pedagogical tenet):

With regard to the position of the larynx higher or lower, or the more or less raising of the palate, he said that the singer need only follow natural emotional effects, and larynx, palate and the rest will take care of themselves.

So what can the reader of this blog take away from the following arguments?

  1. That prior to 1894, Garcia most assuredly taught forward placement. On that point there can be no doubt (unless Garcia is not to be trusted).
  2. That in 1894, Garcia disavowed forward placement in writing.
  3. That students instructed in this forward placement by Garcia would go on to teach and insist that Garcia taught forward placement, which he did prior to 1894.
  4. That in 1894, at the age of 89, Garcia had been teaching for roughly 58 years, and would go on to teach another 12 years until his death at 101 years of ago.
  5. That in 1894, Garcia went back on much of what he had been teaching (in the form of modern methods of the mid-nineteenth century) as useless (his word).
  6. That despite the pedagogical discoveries of the 19th century, Garcia couldn’t get much faster results or farther progress with a student than he could at the beginning of the 19th century, when his first Traité de l’Art du Chant (1841) was published.
  7. That teachers or pedagogues teaching forward placement as a ‘Garcia methodology’ should be viewed with skepticism based on Garcia’s denunciation of ‘forward placement’ in 1894.
  8. That by 1894, Garcia had adopted a largely ‘leave it alone’ or INDIRECT methodology for the training of the singing voice.
  9. That in 1894 Garcia was no longer concerned with the effects of singing but the causes of singing.
  10. That Nature, and what might be called Somatic experience of the voice was to be observed, and direction of vocal study was to be guided in a way that was simple, free, and uncluttered by ‘modern theories’ of singing.
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12 thoughts on “Did Manuel Garcia Teach “Forward Placement”?

  1. Thanks for the nod, Justin. There’s just one problem with your conclusion, which its lack of context. There is ample evidence to suggest that, while García did not tell students to sing “forward” i.e., make a column of air go somewhere after 1894, he did understand what caused both singer and teacher to have that perception, which, if anything, is a result of the /i/ – like adduction (“pinching”) of the vocal folds and the rounding of the vocal tract. That he focused on the cause of “forward placement” is to his credit.

  2. I should also that that Klein doesn’t tell the reader in his Phono-Vocal Method manual to sing in the mask, that is, he does not proceed from effect to cause. Rather, a close reading of the text reveals that he takes the reader through those activities and actions which result in it, a very different thing. That he includes effect as well as cause is what is noteworthy, since his own teacher did not address the matter.

  3. Lastly: García’s spoke to Anna E. Schoen-René about mask resonance when the later studied with him in 1901, well after 1894, which Schoen-René recounts in “America’s Musical Inheritance (1942).” She also gave an interview about García’s teaching in 1941 in which she says he “stressed this freedom of tonal expression…” Suffice it to say, this information contradicts your time line. Sorry.

    • Thanks for your feedback as always Daniel. If Garcia talked to Schoen-René about mask resonance in 1901, then according to that logic, he is most decidedly not telling the truth in this 1894 article and was misrepresenting himself and his teaching philosophy to Root in their interview.

      This particular conflict in essence is an epistemological one: How do we know what we know, and how do we have common ground if historical sources are in conflict? How do we reconcile these vastly different views from a place of logic and reason, free from confirmation bias and based on available resources and materials of the time? Courtrooms are rife with the types of issues we’re dealing with here! Garcia is saying X (unless he’s lying and really meaning Y) and Schoen-René is saying Y (unless she is lying and really meaning X). These exclusive ideas are in obvious conflict in the sense that one resource is saying “I don’t teach X!” (Garcia) and another is saying ” He taught X” (Schoen-René). It can’t be both things, unless one of them was seriously psychologically disturbed, lying, or Root was fabricating his interview.

      My choice is to stand with the Root and Garcia article, yours with Schoen-René. Based upon that, we’ve drawn different conclusions from the available evidence. There’s room for a variety of opinion on the subject and I appreciate (as you know) your scholarship and study. I just think we’re not going to agree on this point of pedagogical historicity as it pertains to Garcia’s teaching and philosophy.

      • I’ve offered my argument in the introduction of my book (which I assume you have read including the accompanying footnotes), one which zeros in on “sound” evidence (yes, that’s a pun). I knew when I wrote it that my conclusion was in stark opposition (ha) to the one taken by James Stark, for whom I have great respect (he was given an award by NYSTA at its centennial celebration at my behest). Looking over the available sources, I asked myself 1) why would Klein and Schoen-René make up a new teaching? and 2) what is the context for Root’s statement?

        One thing the reader of Root’s statement probably does not understand is that Root would have had to sing for García. As such, he would have had an experiential understanding of what was being talked about (I know this fact from a source I have not written about). This is what is missing in this discussion: understanding through audition. And don’t you know: the first time the concept of mask is introduced by a the García exponent is Klein’s manual which uses recorded sound. Coincidence? I don’t think so.

        What hasn’t been articulated is why Klein and Schoen-René would have gotten together and made up a new teaching. Without actual evidence, it amounts to heresay.

        Lastly, I have records to indicate that García did not teach his students to sing in the mask. Rather, he got his students to sing with well-adducted vocal folds (i.e. ringing tone) in a rounded pharynx. Those who know how to do this know the result, which both Klein and Schoen-René called singing the mask. Again, this goes back to the matter of audition, which gives the reader something words on a page can never do.

      • I think we may have just come to a rapprochement.

        The action of a proper ‘coup de glotte’ per Garcia’s instructions seems to make the work of any ‘placement’ unnecessary. Perhaps owing to the rejection of Garcia’s true coup de glotte (NOT Miller’s balanced onset), we’ve had to find other ways of facilitating ‘resonance’ or ‘forward placement’ in the voice (éclat et rondeur), which would have been present if a precise closing of the glottis had been operative. If THAT is ‘singing in the mask’ then I am all for it.

      • Nuance is everything. What I could have said better is that García did not direct the student to send the sound into the mask. Rather, the taught the student those conditions what brought about the audition of voice placement in the “mask.” And isn’t it interesting that Klein also used quotes when he wrote the word? I maintain that what is being referred to as a matter of audition.

      • That true man of science, Garcia most assuredly understood the operations of cause and effect, as described in your comment above. Thank you Daniel as always for your passion and commitment to clarity and understanding.

  4. Here’s the thing: the conduction of vibrations into the front of the face takes place primarily when a singer lowers—or leaves open—his or her soft palate. In such a case, air passes through the nose. And yes, it is possible to sing that way throughout most of one’s range, chasing that sensation.

    BUT it is absolutely not correct or efficient to do so. That *is* by its definition, nasal singing, which is a significant and well documented defect in the Italian school. It is an acoustic leakage that sets the entire phonatory system (the impostazione) into confusion and disarray if it is allowed for the whole voice. No Italian vowel—not even I or É or EH—should be sung with the soft palate down (with the exception of possibly a tenor’s high C and somewhat in women’s head voice). It is especially important that males not allow nasality throughout their voice, since most of the standard literature is post-Duprez and thus requires the man to sing primarily in an acoustic system based in the chest and medium-chest register.

    For all of the greatest singers, both men and women—and especially the ones that tackled or need to tackle the melodramatic works from late Donizetti, through Verdi, and the verismo works—the point of impingement (the real meaning of “appoggio”) for the vibration of the sound is always in a direction backward and straight down the throat, creating very, very strong vibration underneath the larynx and right down the chest itself, even down to the sternum. The bone conduction in some cases is so strong as to be felt through the legs and feet, generating extraordinary vibrations perceptibly shake the floorboards (something that has been reported about many singers and indeed happens to me wherever I’m singing at home or at church).

    This can only be achieved by “closed-pipe” singing—that is: soft palate (or “nasal port”) CLOSED. The total system allows the singer to create immense chiaroscuro sounds, velvety tone, clear vowel definition, elasticity, stability, agility, and ease of emission. When this kind of freedom is secured, there really is no sensation of “placement.” Any vibrations felt in the head or face are completely incidental and absolutely minuscule compared to the very strong point of impingement along the front of the chest. The latter is such a strong sensation that it becomes *the* guiding element of the singer’s stability and dependability and confidence in his voice. Chasing the former sensation is highly unreliable.

  5. And just as point of order: it may be helpful to remember that the García and Lamperti lineages may have produced some good singers but by no means did they produce most of them. They did not, for example, produce many (if any) of the greatest singers of the melodramatic works. Who did? How did they sing? Do we have any reports about this? The answer is yes, but the reports and methods are not to be found in the mainstream treatises that everyone knows.

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