This Memorial Day, I am thinking about those musicians and singers whose contributions to singing continue to inspire and encourage me.
I am fortunate to live within walking distance of one of America’s first garden cemeteries. The Mount Auburn Cemetery has been a respite from the bustle of Boston, and is affectionately referred to as “Sweet Auburn.” When I first visited, I instantly fell in love with the cemetery, and have taken many, many walking tours here. It has provided a place of comfort, solitude, and reflection for me.
You can imagine my surprise to find many pedagogues and singers buried here. One of them is soprano Clara Kathleen Rogers. Known by her stage name of Clara Doria, she had an illustrious career, and later joined the faculty of the New England Conservatory. Rogers was one of the youngest singers ever admitted to the Leipzig Conservatory. She was a consummate musician, studying piano, harmony, violin, cello, part writing, and voice. She graduated at 16 years of age with honors!
Today, I’m sharing some of her wisdom in her memory, and all those wonderful teachers, singers, and musicians that have inspired me to be the best teacher I can be.
“A free body relieves the singer immensely from the mechanism of singing. So perfect is the unity of the body that a voice will not obey perfectly, unless the body, as a whole, be free. Once secure, in the freedom of voice and body to obey, the song can burst forth with all the musical feeling of which the singer is capable.
“The art of breathing consists in regaining the faculty of inflating the lungs naturally, that is, easily, freely and rhythmically. The regaining of the faculty must not be confounded with the artificial method of breathing so universal among the singers of to-day, and which is the result of conventionalized error; I mean the practice of deliberately and consciously working the diaphragm in the acts of expansion and contraction. This is most distinctly to be avoided. What is required in breathing is expansion without unnecessary tension. The lungs must fill themselves in proportion as the breath is exhausted, under the regulation of their own law, that of action and reaction, and not by conscious regulating of the diaphragm on the part of the singer, as this leads inevitably to a mechanical and unspontaneous production of tone.
In attempting to regulate natural processes, we are wasting energy which should be wholly centered in the will-impulse to utter the sound.
With a conscious, mechanical process, there can be no spontaneous utterance of the emotions, and it is precisely the spontaneous utterance that is the desideratum in singing, regarded from the highest standpoint.” — Clara Kathleen Rogers.