Edmund Myer on Indirect Control

The rightly trained singer breathes as naturally and as unconsciously for singing as for living. It is true the singing­ breath is fuller than the vital­ breath, but it must be as automatic, as unconscious. He who consciously breathes to sing, sings wrongly: for, conscious breath­taking compels conscious breath­ control, which always means a loss of the true conditions of singing. We sit quietly, we breathe quietly; we walk, we unconsciously breathe a little fuller; we walk rapidly or run, and, naturally or automatically, we breathe according to our wants or needs; we are conscious of breathing only when we have run too far. How is this necessarily increased breathing secured? Unconsciously or automatically through bodily action.

The singer stands, he breathes quietly; he desires to sing; instantly, if he has been properly trained, he feels pervading his entire being “the singer’s sensation,” the sensation of singing. He asserts his position according to the pitch and power of the tone to be sung, and unconsciously or automatically, through flexible action, his lungs fill with air. This will take place in spite of him, and in order to avoid taking the increased breath he would have to consciously and directly oppose it. If the desire is to sing medium power, or softly, the action and the breath is according to the desire.

If with dramatic power, or high tones, the action and the breath will be equal to the desire. Thus, through right position and action, the singer secures not only a right singing-breath but the true conditions of singing at and above the organ of sound as before described; and so long as these true conditions are maintained the singer enjoys absolute automatic breath-control. He need give neither inspiration nor expiration a thought. He can thus give himself up entirely to his art, and be moved and controlled by giving an outward expression of his inner, his higher, his emotional nature. This is art; this is truly high art. In this way the singer can give expression, without interference, to his artistic temperament and nature; to the very deepest feeling of his emotional nature, of his soul.

But, it may be asked, how is all this to be taught to the beginner? Certainly not by localizing his thought and his effort upon the muscles of his body, and by locally teaching him to pull them in, push them out, and to grip and hold them firmly and rigidly. One may in this way, it is true, develop great muscular strength without applying it to the voice; and therein largely lies the evil of localized effort; the strength is developed but not used or applied. On the other hand rigidity and local grip induce interference with the parts which should be flexible and automatic.

“Motion is life.” There is no strength applied except through movement; but a gripped and hardened muscle, even though it be locally pulled in or pushed out, becomes a hindrance instead of a help.

We are taught to do something with the hand which requires skill and which necessitates the constant moving of the hand by the use of the arm. Do we think of the arm, or of the different muscles of the arm, and pull, push and adjust them locally? Certainly not. They act, automatically, in response to will through thought. How is the necessary skill of the hand acquired? Through intelligent thought drawn out and directed by a competent teacher. You desire to raise your hand to your head; you certainly do not think of your arm, and yet your hand is raised by your arm.

And so it is in the training of the student, of the beginner. He is made to study effects and results through flexible position and action, and not by localized effort. He is taught that when his movement, his action, his position, are right as a whole, then all parts of the body come into action and adjustment in a natural and automatic way; that they are then on the alert, that they are then vitalized, and are ready to respond to his will or desire. He is then taught to study effects or results through movement or action. Under skilful guidance he soon learns that certain movements produce certain results. If the results are not de sirable the movements are studied and understood to be avoided. If the results are the desired ones the movements are studied, applied and developed. They are then tied, as it were, to the tone or the voice; they then become a part of the grand whole. They then act automatically in response to thought, just as the arm acts in moving the skilfully trained hand.

The development and application of free, flexible, automatic movements in the training of the voice, and of automatic breath­ control, power and beauty of tone, through the study of right position and action, will be more practically set forth in the second part of this work.

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 to­day, 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 inbreathing 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 utter ance that is the desideratum in singing, regarded from the highest stand-point.” — Clara Kathleen Rogers.

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.

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