Nature Under High Cultivation

“One of the writer’s acquaintances has declared it to be his belief that there is no such thing as a natural method of singing, because singing is an artificial achievement. It is art. We were never intended by nature to sing, but simply to speak. In a measure this is true. Singing is art, while speaking is nature. But singing can be done by methods entirely opposed to nature, and also by other methods amicably related to her. These latter methods are all simple, the others are all complex.

The truth is that while speaking is nature, singing is nothing more than nature under high cultivation. The culture of wildflowers has in some instances given us beautiful additions to the garden. Speaking is like the wild rose; singing like the American Beauty. The student of singing should always keep this thought in mind, and when he finds himself confronted with some theory which makes the act of drawing and exhaling the breath or beginning the emission of a tone appear to be a complex process, depending on the voluntary guidance of a number of muscles and ligaments, he should examine it very closely and with suspicion.

The art of singing is an aesthetic art, not an anatomical study. It begins with an ideal dwelling in the realm of the conception of tonal beauty, not in the domain of correct movement of muscles. The problem of the great masters of the early period was to ascertain the best way of singing beautiful tones on every vowel sound throughout the entire range of a voice, not to find how to operate certain parts of the body and decide that such operation ought to give the tone.

They reasoned from the tone to the operation, not from the operation to the tone. Too many modern theorists seem to proceed in the latter way, and that is why they build up complicated and unnatural processes which confuse students and do incalculable harm.”


Henderson, William James. The Art of the Singer: Practical Hints about Vocal Technics and Style. C. Scribner’s sons, 1906.