The Old Neapolitan School of Velocity – Part 1

But I must teach Trilby to trill — no pun meant — and run fast scales, and although there are many and varied ways of trying to get at the same result, we’re going to take the easiest and most direct method there is — and I know them all — the Old Neapolitan School of Velocity as Giovanni Sbriglia taught it to Clara Louise Kellogg and as she taught it to me, for when I knew old Maestro Sbriglia it was in the latter years of his life, long after he had done his best work. Of course, my ways of explaining it are all my own, but the method is the real Antica Scuola Napolitana Di Velocita.

To sing fast scales we cannot sing slow ones and gradually increase them. In this the voice differs from all instruments.

We must sing the scales at a quick tempo and correct them with practise.

This velocity can be obtained almost immediately by making a little glotis stroke (coup de glotte) on each fast note.

It should not be made on any notes that can be sung with out it — that is on any but the very quickest.

Two of the worst vocal defects are the bleat and the tremolo. Yet the bleat is the base of quick passage work and the trill is the perfected tremolo.

Those initiated into vocal phraseology will know what I mean by the bleat, but perhaps many students will not.

A voice that bleats in Italian is “una voce da peccora,” and in French they say “une voix qui chevrotte.”

The bleat is a note sustained with a succession of glotis strokes making a rattle-like sound.

It is, of course, a great vocal defect, and neither it nor the tremolo should ever be used except to make quick scales and trill as herein indicated.

Now we’ll begin ! First we’ll sing:

There! Don’t bleat them (above), but double on them and sing (below) with the bleat or glotis stroke.:

Now try:

You must go according to the metronome.

Never mind if you don’t get them all in.

When you’ve tried it a few weeks they’ll all be there.

“Yes,” you say, “but the bleat makes them ugly.”

Granted, but the bleat will disappear and nothing but the velocity and the clearness will remain.

It’s the short road. Do other ways if you like, but after you’ve practised years and have failed to attain quick passage work, try what Svengali tells you, and you’ll get them as if by magic.

But they must be practised patiently and constantly. All the beautiful quality will come on them and the hardness of the “petits coups,” the little attacks will disappear — and . . . Why, listen to Trilby ! There! She can already do the fifths, so we’ll try the second — larger scale — the whole scale plus one note.

To help you get it, Trilby, I’ll play:

while you do it. That gives the accent. You must get all the notes and arrive on the accented one with me. If the intonation is faulty it will gradually be perfected uncon sciously by doing the slow scale first. Thus:

Oh, you light sopranos, who have been studying years to get velocity, how I pity you, and how dare such teachers take your money and waste your young lives!

“Just practise it and little by little the speed will come,” I hear them say.

Practise what, “nom d’une pipe!” If you have no method and they have none to give you?

Why don’t they say: “I don’t understand a school of velocity; so and so does — go to him!”

A good conscientious physician calls in the specialist, but oh! oh! oh! There, I know . . . These singing teachers! Wait till I calm myself.

Duval, John H. The Secrets of Svengali on Singing, Singers, Teachers and Critics. JT White & Company, 1922.