How Did That Voice Get Ruined?

If the teacher’s procedure has led to the utter ‘ruin’ of the voice this, broadly speaking, is the sequence of events that led to it.

Before his training began the pupil possessed, in spite of his deficiencies, at least some sort of natural co-ordination between all parts of his vocal organ; he ‘had a voice’ – or he would not have chosen singing as his profession. With all his imperfections, he sang with his inborn and as yet undamaged singing-sense directing his organ. Now, however, the instrument must be ‘perfected’; the voice ‘made over’, be ‘properly placed’. In other words: the order that existed until now in the functional structure of the organ will gradually change. Radical ‘adjustments’ are made in the mechanism, it builds itself up in another way and this leads, in time, to what is often called with pride, ‘conscious singing’…Soon the natural path that ran, more or less smoothly, between the pupil’s intuitive-imaginative faculties and his vocal organ – the very thing that made him a singer – will have been obliterated to be replaced by a foreign element; namely, a method. Nothing ‘right’ can occur in singing without spontaneity; how can something organic be regulated deliberately, methodically, and still move spontaneously? A voice thus fettered can only be produced with difficulty, with conscious effort. Because the natural impulses have been smothered, nothing in the singer now sings.

This kind of procedure, and its results, are known in the medical world as unphysiological ‘channeling’. A descriptive term: an artificial channel has cut across the natural co-ordinating process. The resulting mechanism is equally artificial and to sing with it – really to sing – is impossible.

We have described, it is true, the worst possible case, what singers call the totally ‘ruined’ voice; yet the most expert laryngoscopic examination will not necessarily reveal any damage.

Functions obliterated in this way by the ignorant use of long-established, in themselves perfectly sound, practices are extremely difficult to re-awaken. “Faults” acquired by learning, inhibitions caused by teaching, are far more dangerous than those that exist by chance and with which the singer is able to deal more or less successfully.

At this point the question may well be asked: if it is so dangerous to interfere in the functioning of the vocal organ, is there any justification for wishing to train it at all? Yes, indeed, there is every justification – providing the voice trainer overcomes his amateur status and, having mastered the findings of voice physiology, learns to keep a picture of the whole before him as he works: not only in his ear, but visually as well.

Surely he may be expected to have as much, if not more, of the physiological knowledge relating to his subject as a hospital nurse, for instance, must have of the workings of the human body?

 

Husler, Frederick, and Yvonne Rodd-Marling. Singing: the physical nature of the vocal organ: a guide to the unlocking of the singing voice. Vintage, 1976.

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