Still Carrying A Torch for the Nineteenth Century?

The old Italian masters made singers because they taught the art of singing pure and simple. They knew little or nothing of the science of the voice. Time passed on, and study and research, principally by scientists, not vocalists, gave us that which is known as the science of voice. Immediately there sprung up numerous teachers and writers who formulated their methods and theories based upon that which they called the science of voice. From these methods or theories grew the prevailing systems of the nineteenth century. These systems have been passed along and added to until to-day they should be called, as a whole, that which they really are, the modern local-effort school of singing.

The great mistake of the modern school is that it constantly strives to compel the phenomena of voice, the natural form, action and adjustment of the parts, by direct local effort, instead of studying the conditions which allow or let them occur in a correct natural way. Thus, under the cover of the science of voice, the modern school attempts to compel, by direct effort, that which Nature alone can do correctly and automatically. The modern school of the nineteenth century has had its day and has proven to be a gigantic failure. The trend of the best thought and effort of the vocal profession is away from it. The reaction, or rather the advanced thought or movement, is coming; it can be seen and felt in every direction. It will, no doubt, however, take years before the evils wrought by the modern local-effort school is overcome.

Myer, Edmund John. Position and Action in Singing: A Study of the True Conditions of Tone: a Solution of Automatic (artistic) Breath Control. Boston Music Company, G. Schirmer, 1911.

3 thoughts on “Still Carrying A Torch for the Nineteenth Century?

  1. This is so on point. This idea of compelling the voice is all connected to the hegemony that prevents us from growing the art of singing. One point that is often not considered is that much of this makes me think of your “What IS Classical Singing?” post. Many people conflate learning classical style of singing with “proper” vocal training. I am myself guilty of this. Much of what I have since learned through practice and this blog and more education is exactly what you are putting forth here: that to vocal science is useful irrespective of the style you are singing. The 19th Masters seemed to understand this intrinsically, while modern schools have replaced this starting point with some kind of stylistic one-upmanship. Much of what I used to believe was useless dogma. That somehow learning to sing classically would “validate” that I can be a great singer.

  2. Dear Justin, I would like you to consider an apology for the actions of humanity in the !9th century. I’m not trying to be an advocate of the “accused”, but it is important to understand the contemporary circumstances:The available (mis-)information, the state of the human mind, the state of the Art (e.g technology), tastes, trends and fashions, the best practices of the Times and the aspirations of the era (intent).

    The operational culture of the 19th century was informed by the application of 18th century science. The industrial revolution, engineering, the first train, the first car, etc, All this created a culture of fabrication and repair that was necessary to have order in the industrial universe full of engines, machines and factories. The bread-and-butter of the of his Economy depended on it. The universe and nature were all seen through the eyes of the industrial manufacturer/repairer. The fashionable solution for many problems was performing operations in the manufactured order of things. it was the style of adaptation common to the Homo Faber (the mankind who created factory culture). That is his mind-frame and logic. So the operational style of direct control is a “logical” reflex. No attention was paid to the consequences of his excessive appetite (greed for operational control). The lasting damage to our planet cannot be overstated.

    In contrast: The style of adaptation common to the Homo Informaticus (mankind who created information tech) is rather building faster processors and smaller memory devices to process and store the increasing amount of info needed to run his world. The bread-and-butter of his Economy depends on it. The next ‘logical’ reflex is to create Artificial Intelligence that helps him run the info-systems that run his world. No attention is being paid to the consequences of his excessive appetite (greed for info-systemic control). The lasting damage to our planet cannot be overseen.

    The juxta-position of these two kinds of human serves to show that we are not immune to the same mistakes of the 19th century. The quesion is: what are we doing to prevent a similar disaster? How would we respond to a human of the 23th century that posted the question: “Still Carrying a Torch for the 21st Century?” How would we motivate our answer if we were the “accused”? We could not defend our position based on “We did not have the information” The German political version of this defense “Wir haben es nicht gewusst” has become a well-known historical anecdote. How is our operational and informational appetite relative to this issue?

  3. Footnote:
    The quote “Wir haben es nicht gewusst’ or rather “Davon haben wir nichts gewusst” refers to a well-known German argumentation related to accountability issues of the Holocaust. (“We did not know anything about that”).

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