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.