What We Need Is Knowledge

I am certain if the teacher of violin or piano should tell his pupil to chase an imaginary dove around the room, to make the “foolish face” so as to “relax;” or to make the letter S with his arms, or to think of his biceps when moving his thumbs, the pupil would think him crazy and seek another teacher. Yet the uncertainty of how to approach the dreaded question of “method” in voice training has filled both teacher and pupil with so much doubt, that the one has been willing to resort to anything, no matter how weird or queer, and the other has been willing to accept it, often in the last throes of despair. If all the teachers who indulge in these queer practices were really charlatans, we should have an obvious method of dealing with them. But the greatest difficulty is the fact that most of them are really honest, sincere, hardworking men and women simply laboring under delusions, or fighting against an ignorance which makes them all the more dangerous. Many of the books on singing are as dangerous as the teachers, perhaps more so, for they pass on erroneous ideas as truths, and we all know the power of the printed page. Ideas and assertions are all very well and often interesting, but the crying need is knowledge, accepted knowledge, put into concrete form understandable by all, so that we may finally build up a standardised method of teaching, even if we cannot now or ever standardise tone. And certainly we should never desire to do the latter, even if it were possible, which it is not.

Herbert Witherspoon, Singing, 1925.