What Are We Training Here? Hint: Not the Breath

From 1871. Underlined parts are from the blogger:

One great error respecting the so-called breathings is, that they do not in the least educate or develop the parts which vibrate in producing tone. This motive power, or air, should act upon something, and that something is the part which vibrates. It is called the vocal chords [sic]. These are situated in the larynx, and are brought to a requisite degree of tension by volition. This motive power is, then, to put these parts in motion; and that product, or those vibrations, are to be disposed of elsewhere. That elsewhere is in front of the larynx, not behind it; above it, not below it. Bearing this in mind, and it is a self-evident fact, what sense is there, let us ask, in pumping and forcing inward and outward, the muscles of the abdomen? Even the manner of using these muscles is wrong, injurious and dangerous. It is flexible strength; we repeat it, flexible strength which is required, and not this sudden, spasmodic contracting of muscles. And so of all these breathings, every one of them. They are wrong in theory, wrong in the manner of application, useless in developing the vocal apparatus, and dangerous both locally and constitutionally.

In voice building the vocal apparatus is the part to be educated. The motive power which acts upon that apparatus is air. That air should be conveyed to the larynx in a flexible, steady manner, and the product should be carefully located, or brought to a focus of vibration in the mouth. The pumping, or jerking, or forcing of abdominal, dorsal, waist, or intercostal muscles will never do this. We are almost tempted to ask the advocates of the breathings, why they stop at the abdomen; why not keep on and jerk and snap the muscles of the legs and feet? That would be just as beneficial and much less dangerous. Perhaps, however, this course would not “make the surfaces resonant!” What that means we do not know. But it was the reply given by the last-mentioned author, when asked why some of these breathings were used; that is, for what purpose they were intended. In our opinion, the truth is, and we have not the slightest hesitation in making the assertion, that this whole matter of breathings is particularly stupid and injurious as applied in the practice of many elocutionists, and we will engage to develop voices in the most satisfactory manner without reference to any of them.

Streeter, Horace R. Voice building: a new and correct theory for the mechanical formation of the human voice. White & Goullaud, 1871.

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