Choral Technique and Interpretation by Henry Coward

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Chapter Three VOICE.

  - 19 -


   It has been assumed in the foregoing remarks
that reading ability, vocal power and control,
and temperament were all possessed by the
choralist, and at hand for the conductor, who
had only to fit these constituents into his
preconceived plan in order to realise all that
was in his mind.  Alas, this is seldom the case.
The conductor has often to create, or develop
from a feeble germ, the elements which make good 
singing possible.  With respect to the voice this is
frequently so.  In most choral societies, even in
those where the voices are tested, there are a great
majority of untrained voices, which may be roughly
classified as follows: -- weak and quavery, worn and
tinny, harsh and shrill, strident, metallic, shouty,
throaty, cavernous, hooty, scoopy, and nondescript.
I have been blessed with voices answering to each of
the above classes for thirty or forty years, and have
not wholly got rid of them to the present day -- and
yet I have survived!  With such singers as a
general vocal asset, is there any wonder that the
most frequent question I have had to answer at 
home and abroad has been: "What would you do
if you had to conduct a choir of poor, faulty voice?"
The questioners imagined that my choirs were
composed of trained singers, which is not and has

not been the case.  The obvious answer has always
been: "Make the best of the material you have --
as I have to do; keep on pegging away on right
lines, and good results will accrue; be not too
impatient, but 'learn to labour and to wait.'"  To
the inevitable question which followed: "How
would you bring about the improvement?" I will
now endeavour to give an answer in detail.
   First let us see what qualities of voice the
members of a choral society should possess: --
   1.  They should have a fair amount of power.
   2.  The voices should be properly produced.
   3.  They should have some agility and flexibility.
   4.  They should be under good control
   5.  When used collectively they should be homo-
        geneous; that is, each part should sound
        like one full, glorified voice, and not as an
        assortment of voices.  It is the possibility
        of getting this unity of voice -- with well-
        directed effort and a little trouble -- that
        is the bright spot and salvation of choral-
        voice equipment.
   Conductors, in their despair at not having an
army of Pattis, Butts, Lloyds, and Santleys, may
think that they are the victims of a specially hard
fate, but really they have no need to be down-
   Every society is made up of average voices, and
my experience is that there is not nearly so much
difference as some would have us believe in the
average voices, such as are to be found all through
the English-speaking countries.  I make this
statement with the special object of inspiring

conductors with hope, and of assuring them
that they have great potentialities at hand in their
choirs if they will only make up their minds to
expend the requisite labour. 
   To quote only one instance,  out of many, of what
can be done with a set of average voices -- and that
a low average, -- I would say that the fifty singers
who established the reputation of the Sheffield
Musical Union were all young and untrained, and
not one was tested for voice in any form, the sole
qualification being the possession of the elementary
certificate of the Tonic Sol-fa College, or, in later
years, the alternative of a similar certificate in the
staff notation.
   The fact is, really good results can be obtained
from a choir of average voices if the following
things and instructions are carried out, and the
conductor is willing to "labour and to wait,"
instead of, like most inefficient workmen, grumbling
at his tools.


   The problem of how to blend the harsh, dull,
and twangy voices of untrained singers into an
agreeable unity is not so difficult as it appears at
first sight.  The defects enumerated above (page 19)
nearly all arise from one source -- the wrong placing
of the voice, which, stated in simple language,
means that the air current after it has passed over
the vocal chords (the larynx) when producing
sound is allowed to proceed in the wrong direction,
or lacks control.  Therefore all that is necessary is
to get the choralist to control the breath, and direct
the sounding air current to one approved spot or

region in the mouth where the sound seems to float 
on the breath.  This spot or region lies between
the front of the mouth -- just where the teeth join
the palate -- and the lips, according to the kind and
quality of tone required.  Of course it is more
difficult to get a large body of singers to do this
than a single individual, but there is always a good
percentage who follow instructions and can success-
fully imitate a pattern, and this is the leaven which
permeates the whole choir in time, though not as
quickly as some conductors desire. 
   In my scheme of choral voice-building I start
with the three axioms: --
   1. The exercises, and the time spent in voice
        exercises, must be short.
   2. The exercises must be very easy, so that
        they can be memorized and sung
        automatically, and thus prevent the
        mind from being diverted from the
        object to be attained.
   3. The exercises must unfailingly lead to the 
        desired result.
   Long experience and uniform success have
shown the wisdom of these axioms, the practical
application of which now follows.
   On a blackboard I write this exercise:
     Write and memorize the following:--
   Ex. I. 
Scale c to c' up and down
Sing to the vowels "oo, oh, aw, ai, ee."
   Before giving the pattern for the choir to
imitate I explain the particular point they are
to aim at -- unity of tone -- remarking that the

singers themselves have shown how necessary it is
to have some exercises for this purpose, as there
are so many conflicting tone-qualities -- harsh,
strident, raucous, dull, hooty, throaty, twangy --
amongst them.
   I explain that the disagreeable effect of some of 
these tone-qualities (the strident, the nasal, the
guttural, the throaty, &c.) is due to the harsh
harmonics which are developed by their faulty
voice-production, which harmonics refuse to blend
with any other sound; hence the heterogeneity of
tone.  The remedy for this is to direct the voice, or
in other words the air column, as they sing, to the
front of the mouth, when, the harmonics being
fewer, more consonant, and approximately the
same, they will blend sufficiently well to produce
an agreeable compound tone; thus all throatiness,
twang, hooting, &c., will disappear.  This I
show by giving specimens of each fault and 
its remedy, driving home the fact that a person's
natural voice is not unalterable, like the colour of
his eyes, but is subject to control by the will of the
singer.  This preliminary explanation over, I then
sing Ex. 1 very softly in key Bb, to the vowel oo,
with the sound at my lips.  The choir then 
imitate the pattern.  Many fail to do it, but there
are a good number who imitate well, and these act
as a stimulus to the unsuccessful.  We try again,
with better results.  Having secured good blending
tone on oo, I then pattern ee, calling attention to
a better quality of tone.  The singers are also
urged to observe their own physical sensations --
the feeling of the muscles in the mouth -- when 
producing the ee sound, as it will be of
great advantage later, when developing another vocal

point.  When the pattern has been imitated
successfully, I stop.  The above explanations and 
exercises will have taken from twenty to thirty 
minutes -- much too long as a regular thing, but
when a new topic is introduced, and you feel that
you have the interested choir with you, extra time
may be taken once in a way.  This remark applies
to any subject relating to the work of the choir.
At the next rehearsal we get a step further -- taking,
say, fifteen minutes -- in developing unity of tone
on all the vowels.  This I do in the following
manner: -- I pattern Ex. 1 in key Bb to the vowel oo,
which the choir imitate.  Then the vowels oh, aw,
ah, ai, ee, are taken in succession.  The choir then
sing the vowels without pattern in keys C and D,
patterning being resorted to when any glaring
faults need correction.  By the third week we get
into what is the normal method of carrying on
voice-building exercises, which should not take up
more than five minutes, because choralists resent
the time of rehearsal being taken up by things
outside the music set down for rehearsal.
   The procedure is as follows: -- The accom-
panist strikes the chord of Bb or C, and the
choir immediately sing Ex. 1 to oo, very softly.
Immediately this is done the chord of B is 
struck, and at once the exercise is sung to oh.
Rising by semitones for twelve semitones the
exercise is sung to each vowel in turn, until each
vowel has been taken twice.  At the second higher
repetition of the vowels the contraltos and
basses sing an octave lower than the sopranos 
and tenors.  Although this unifying exercise is
short (five minutes) its effect is great, because
it influences the tone-production all through the

rehearsal, and further, it is largely used in
private rehearsal by those who are keen about
improving their voices.
   A few cautions may with advantage be given
here.  When oneness of tone has been secured, it
must not be supposed that each voice is of the 
same quality (timbre).  This would in many cases
be an undesirable thing.  What is wanted in 
choral singing is a rich compound tone, made up of
voices of various timbres, which has the disagreeable
excesses of individuality so modified that the
characteristic qualities of one set of voices form
the complement of another set or other sets, the
combination making an agreeable whole.
   Those who have seen great artists mix incon-
gruous colours to get a certain tint will understand
how it is possible to get, say, a glorified soprano
tone from a mixture of ordinary voices.  Therefore
when a conductor hears, in solo, Miss A's rather
shrill voice, he must not be worried, but think how
beautifully it will add brightness to Miss B's heavy,
full voice; and instead of being despondent at 
Miss C's dull, characterless voice, he must rejoice
that it acts as a foil to Miss D's rather strident
vocal organ.
   Beyond certain limits, to which reference will be
made later, it is a mistake to labour for too much
similarity of tone.  It is better to get good blending
voices of varied qualities.  I know of a choir which
consists of the present and past pupils of a professor
of singing.  He has trained them well, but although
they sing with taste and feeling and the voices
are good individually, through their having been
formed or trained on one model, and that on the 
rather hard, bright side, the effect is unsatisfactory,

there being a disagreeable suggestion of acidity in 
the tone.  
   Another necessary caution is: -- In all choral-
voice exercises avoid too much use of the vowel
oo.  The forward tone is so easily obtained by
this vowel that some conductors and many church
choirmasters, taking the line of least resistance, use
oo to such an extent that everything the choir
sings is dominated with oo; consequently the
dull, cavernous sound spoils the effect of all their
efforts, just as the "ooey" -- often hooty -- wordless
voices of many choirboys are an infliction.
   Each vowel must be taken in turn, and if in the
earlier stages any vowels are favoured, let them
be ai and ee, as these favour "nasal resonance,"
which will be referred to later.  It should be said
however, that at the first few lessons it is sometimes
necessary to use oo as a starting point for the
other vowels, in order to coax the air current into
its proper place, as oo-oh = woe, oo-aw = was,
oo-ah = wah, oo-ai = way, oo-ee = we.


   The next essential of a choir is adequate compass.
In many choruses the sopranos and tenors "shy"
at the high notes, or negotiate them badly.  This
is really not necessary, as both sopranos and tenors
can be "nursed" into taking high G's, A's, and 
B's easily.
   Ex. 1 is a splendid vehicle by which to extend
the compass of the voices, and if in the exercises
for unifying the voices it has been used with judgment,
the compass of the voices will have extended to
some extent unconsciously, and prepared the way

for the time when more definite instructions as to
the extension of the compass of the voice are
   The following plan I have found to be very
successful: -- I strike the chord of F and ask the
choir to sing Ex. 1 to the vowel oo very softly,
to fix the air current.  (The basses and contraltos
sing an octave below the sopranos and tenors.)
The same exercise is sung to ai, this time mezzo-
forte, and again to the vowel ee, forte.  F sharp
is then struck, and the same process repeated.
Rising by semitones, we proceed to key Bb,
B or C.  The singers soon realise that by
proper placing of the voice they can reach the high
notes with comparative ease, and in a short time
there is little difficulty with respect to the high
notes in any voice part.
   The results of this compass-extending exercise are
so satisfactory that the sopranos and tenors of all
my choirs can easily sing the high B flat and
B natural in Elgar's "Go, song of mine," leaping
at the notes and hitting them in the middle with
true "shock of the glottis."


   The third requisite of a choir is power, or at
least ring and intensity of voice.  The unifying and
extension of the compass of the voice, mentioned
above, are very important elements, but if power
and ring of voice be absent, you can at best only
get smooth, sweet, decorous singing, such as is
heard at genteel conventional suburban societies.
But with tone of this sort it is impossible to get
grand climaxes; consequently there are no thrills, 

no uplift of the heart, no stirring of the emotions --
nothing, in fact, to send a glow of delight through
the audience.  Hence the power to produce the six
degrees of fortissimo, which Mr. Kalisch referred to
as being present in the Sheffield Chorus, must be 
cultivated and secured.
   I am happy to be able to say that this power of
voice can be obtained by a choir of good average
voices, as I have demonstrated hundreds of times.
   When a professional musical critic I was often
struck with the effect produced upon the hearer
by a few notes, or a phrase, drawn white-hot,
as it were, from a violin by a brilliant player.
The mental disturbance was quite disproportionate
to the quantity or volume of sound produced,
for the sum total of the sound could be drowned 
by a single strong-lunged chorister.  On analysing
the cause of the "thrill", I found that it was due
to the intensity of the sound produced by the
player's firm attack and nervous energy.  This
taught me a lesson, and gave me a principle
which I applied to choral music in order to get
thrills at a crisis or climax. 
   When a conductor has made up his mind that
the time and conditions are ripe for cultivating
power of voice, he must be alert to seize the
favourable opportunity to introduce the subject.
Let it be at a point where six fortes would not be too
much -- say the end of a massive chorus, or a 
phrase like "Overwhelmed," in Elgar's King Olaf,
where the singers themselves realise that more
power is wanted.  With this as a cue to yourself,
and as a splendid peg to hang your instructions
upon, break in upon the rehearsal by giving
them a dose of "Specializing," the subject being

"How to strengthen the voice so as to produce a
thrilling climax."  Being a new, interesting, and
desirable topic, the choir will cheerfully tolerate
a twenty to twenty-five minutes' break -- fifteen
minutes for explanation and ten for exercises.
   The following is an outline of my explanatory
matter and the method I adopt when introducing
and working up this important feature of choralism.
   I begin be saying that "At every concert the
audience should experience at least six thrills.
A concert without thrills is like a cloud without
water at drought time, or bread without salt --
unsatisfactory and unsatisfying.  Thrills can be
produced by charming pianissimos and well-graded
crescendos and diminuendos, but most of all by
stirring fortissimo climaxes.  It is evident to you all
that to get a rousing climax we shall have to sing 
louder and with more brilliance.  Seeing that you
seem to be singing with all your power, you may
think it impossible to sing louder.  In that you are
mistaken.  Though you had the impression it was
your loudest, you can sing twice as loudly and,
what is of greater importance, with greater intensity.
The question arises, 'How is it to be done?'
This I will show you after I have explained why
my instructions should be followed.
  "The science of acoustics teaches us that
differences in the loudness of sounds depend
upon the amplitude of vibration of the sounding
medium -- that is, say in a violin, upon the
difference in the size of the swing of the
sounding string.  Further, the science teaches us
that the loudness varies according to the square
of the amplitude; that is, if a certain swing -- say
the vibration of a violin string -- produces one unit 

of sound, a swing twice as great will produce not
merely twice as much sound -- two units -- but four
units; and if the player causes the string to have
three times as much motion it will produce nine
units, and four times will produce sixteen, and
so on.
   "Now compressed air agitating the vocal cords
produces the same results.  Therefore, if you
compress the air in your lungs twice as much as
usual when you are producing a given note or
phrase, you will get four times the sound, and, what
is still more important, you give an impression of
intensity of feeling which heightens the thrill of
the fortissimo.
   "It will be seen from the above that comparative
loudness resolves itself into a question of breathing
and control of breath.  The correct manner of
breathing for vocal purposes, especially for strenuous
singing, is by the side-rib (Lateral Costal) method,
of which the following is an example."  Here I 
pattern the method by placing my left hand on 
the pit of the stomach and the thumb of my 
right hand on the side-rib, making the tips of
the fingers of the right hand touch the tips of the
left hand, as shown in Fig. 1. 
   It then take a deep breath, with the result that
there is an expansion all round the base of the 
lungs.  The expansion affects not only the muscles
at the pit of the stomach, which are on a level with
the floating ribs, but these ribs also.  In the
following (Fig. 2) the side-rib expansion is
shown by the space between the finger-tips,
but the pronounced frontal expansion of the
muscles of the pit of the stomach is scarcely

   It should be remarked that many professors of
singing regard these particular muscles as the pivot
upon which rests all breath control   While
acknowledging that they play an important part, I
recognise that the ribs are an effective factor in the
regulation of the breath, hence my advocacy of the
Lateral Costal method.
   This outward expansion of the upper muscles
of the abdomen seems to assimilate it with the
abdominal method; but though incidental to the
costal method it differs from the abdominal method,
which causes all the abdomen -- the lower as well 
as the upper muscles -- to protrude. 
   If there be room for the choir to stand and go
through the exercise I may ask them to do it, but if
not they do it as well as they can as they sit; but
they are urged to practise it at home.  The next
step is to show how, after taking breath, the
abdomen is drawn in, and the diaphragm forced up
to support the expanded ribs and thus compress the
air.  This done, I ask the choir to take a good
breath, following my example, and to convey to
them how to do it I ask the singers to breathe
as though they were going to lift a heavy weight or
to expand themselves as though they were trying
to touch the sides of the room with their ribs!
A scale or a particular phrase which requires the
fortissimo effect is sung under this increased breath
pressure, and the result is generally surprising to
the choir.  The success proves an incentive to
further effort, and after a time astonishing
fortissimos are realised by choirs who did not think
they had such reserve of power.  This practice
gives to singers the power of "holding the breath at
the waist," which is of great importance. 

   It should be remarked that these special fortissimos
should not be used too often -- say not more than
thrice in an evening -- and they should not be
attempted until the words and the music are
thoroughly mastered by the choir, in fact learned 
by heart, so that undivided attention can be given
to the management of the breath and to the
proper placing of the voices so as to avoid putting
strain upon the vocal organs. 


   The importance of attack -- the striking of the 
notes firmly and cleanly -- may be gauged by the
fact that however well the piece may be sung in all
other respects, if the notes are not struck firmly,
especially high notes and points of imitation, the
whole performance falls flat.  Poor attack renders
all performances unconvincing, while to hear each
and every part triumphantly hit the bull's-eye is
exhilarating to a degree. 
   There are two kinds of attack, which I name the
Mechanical and the Artistic.  The mechanical is
that firm singing which arises from such a thorough
knowledge of the music that the singer, confident
of his powers, can "go for" the note or notes even
in difficult passages.  Though each note may not 
be struck in the most perfect way, the general
effect is good and stirring.  The artistic attack
super-adds to the mechanical attack -- which it
includes -- clean striking of each note, hitting it in
the middle, without the trimmings or incubus of a
scoop, drawl, or glide, the last-named occurring
when the note is struck a shade sharp or flat.  This
artistic attack is the goal to be striven for, but it

  VOICE - 33 -
must be clearly understood that it cannot be
utilised until the mechanical attack is attained.
When the artistic attack is mastered it means the
attainment of that consummation desired by all
singers -- the true "shock of the glottis" -- the coup
de la glotte of Garcia.  This term, open as it is to
misinterpretation, is not a happy description of the 
vocal action it describes, as there is not or need
not be a shock as we understand the term.  It
merely means that at the moment of the air
passing through the larynx to make a sound
by means of the vocal cords, these cords are
firmly stretched at the right tension, and the
note struck is exactly the pitch required without
any adjustment being necessary, as there would
be if the note were struck half or quarter of a tone
sharp or flat.  
   This synchronization of the two factors -- breath
and vocal cords -- seems such a formidable thing, 
and the term "shock of the glottis" appears so fearsome,
that it strikes a kind of terror into many 
minds.  But there is no need to feel alarmed.  
The "shock of the glottis" comes naturally and
subconsciously to most people.  Like the man who
was astonished to learn that he had been talking
prose all his life, many singers will be equally
surprised to know that every note which they have
sung, which was struck perfectly in tune, was sung
with true shock of the glottis.  Some persons 
possess this accomplishment naturally.  Some 
through carelessness have let it slip from them, 
while a small percentage have great difficulty in
striking notes accurately.
   Coming back to attack in choral singing, most
notes and phrases can be and are sung with 

satisfactory clearness.  But there are passages
which present difficulties to every singer.
   The chief of these are: -- (a) detached staccato
notes, (b) quickly reiterated notes, (c) high reiterated 
notes, whether sung quickly or slowly, and (d) high
or low notes approached by leap. 
   To overcome these difficulties two things are
necessary: (1) Exercises to train the required
muscles to respond at will to make the proper
adjustment of the vocal cords, (2) mental preparation
on the part of the singer before the difficult notes
are song.
   The following exercise is the one I use for
developing "attack." 
   Sing to ah, ai, ee, oo, oh, aw -- in keys Bb, Eb: --
Ex. 2. Arpeggio Bb, Eb, F
To the above is added Ex. 1, sing staccato, slowly
and then quickly.
   The best time to introduce the subject is when a
good "peg" offers full justification -- say the failure
of the sopranos to sing a passage like the opening
of "And He shall purify," or the leaps in the bass
solo passage "Et iterum" in Bach's B minor Mass.
When the opening has presented itself, explain why
some exercises are necessary, and then take Ex. 2
legato and staccato.
   During the course of the study period the
conductor should pattern the exercise, explain about
the shock of the glottis, and convince the choralists
that good attack is easy of attainment with forward
tone.  Three or five minutes' exercise puts them on
the right track, and with right principles in mind

  ATTACK - 35 -
the singers soon develop satisfactory "attack."
It should be pointed out to the choir that although
the vocal cords are in the larynx, they must never
associate the production of sound with the throat,
but always with the front part of the mouth, from
which all good tone seems to emanate.  It used to 
be said of Sims Reeves that you could always feel
and even see where his tones came from, and the
charm of the sounds was that they never varied in
the quality though they were wonderfully varied
in shading.
   This is what singers must strive for, if they wish
to have every note cleanly struck.  It is through
associating the voice with the throat that many
have gone wrong, and have been unable to strike
notes firmly, because they have tried to control by
will what should be done subconsciously; they
have tried to experience a "shock" where there is
no shock, but merely and automatic response to the
will be unconscious cerebration.  If singers will
keep their minds fixed on the forward-in-the-mouth-
point of the breath impact, and ignore entirely all
thought of the vocal cords, difficulties of attack
and shock of the glottis will vanish.
   When a series of high notes has to be struck --
for instance, the phrase in "And He shall purify,"
or the high A's in the Choral Symphony, or 
the fugal subject in "Et vitam venturi" in
Beethoven's Mass in D -- if there be bad
attack it is probably due to the giving way of the
muscles of the throat, rather than to any defect of
the voice.  The partial collapse or shrinkage of the
muscles causes a disturbance and diversion of the air
current, and the muscles not having time to recover
before the next note is struck, we get that uncertain

scooping effect due to the gliding up to the note 
from a semitone or even two tones below pitch.
   Bad attack due to this cause is easily remedied.
Tell the singers to will that the muscles of the
mouth remain in one position while they sing these
high reiterated notes, in order that the air current
shall not be deflected from striking the front of the
mouth (just where the teeth join the palate) and
they, knowing precisely what to do, will accomplish
their desire with brilliant effect.  This at least has
been the experience of my choruses.
   To get clean, firm attack on high or difficult
notes, where dramatic intensity is required, it is
necessary for the singer to prepare for the attack
by mentalizing the note and controlling his voice-
production.  If there be no inertia in the singers,
this can always be done and success achieved. 


   There are several things pertaining to the 
management of the voice, such as obtaining tone
color -- white, dark, bright, sombre -- and charac-
terization of tone -- the laugh, the jeer, the snarl, &c.
-- as well as particular features in the management of
the voice, -- such as the staccato, the swell, sforzando,
and other points of the dynamics of sound, -- which 
might be considered in this chapter, but which will
be better dealt with under the head of "Expression." 


   There is however one exception to this, and that
is "How to obtain pianissimo in choral singing."

This point touches so many vital considerations in
connection with the voice that it must be considered
under the head of "Voice," rather than in the chapter
on "Expression," although it is an important factor
in that topic.
   To sing pianissimo with firmness and at the same
time to maintain the pitch postulates a vocal
technique which comparatively few people possess;
and yet with proper instruction a choir can be
trained to meet the severe demands imposed by
the dual task.  Of course an indifferent choir can
sing pianissimo, and, at times, come through the
ordeal of keeping the pitch successfully -- more by
good luck or elation of spirit than by mastery of 
voice; but what I wish to show is that choristers
can be trained so that normally they will be able to
sing pianissimo and maintain the pitch without 
being surprised, -- the surprise being when they fail
to do so.  As already said, soft, firm singing
demands great skill, and as every artistic attain-
ment necessarily involves a long preparation, I
will go to the root of the matter and note the
evolution of the necessary equipment and control
of breath. 
   When a new or inexperienced choir have been
rehearsing a modern work for some weeks -- say
six -- the time will have come for them to
endeavour to sing certain passages with really soft
tone.  In all probability they will fail to satisfy the
conductor, even after two or three attempts.  These
repeated failures should be welcome, as they give
the conductor his opportunity to introduce the
questions of soft singing and artistic voice control.
  The first step should be to fix a standard of
pianissimo, and make the choir realise what the

standard is.  To do this the conductor should 
pattern Ex. 1 to the vowel oo very softly, asking
the choir to listen for the ticking of the clock
above his voice.  The choir then imitate that
pattern, and, after a few attempts, with sundry
admonitions from the conductor to keep the tone
at the very lips, they will be gratified by hearing
the "tick, tock" of the clock over all their voices.
Some people may think this impossible, but I hear
this many times every week.  A short time ago,
when Sir Frederick Cowen was conducting the final
rehearsal of his fine work The Veil, I told him
to listen for the ticking of the clock, as when we
heard this we knew we were singing sufficiently
pianissimo; and sure enough, under his beat, we
could hear distinctly, in every part of the room, the
ticking of the ordinary eight-day clock over the
four hundred voices, every one singing.
   When the choir have grasped the standard of
pp or ppp, ask them to sing the exercise again, this
time noting the physical sensation -- or lack of 
sensation -- of the muscles of the throat, mouth,
tongue, and lips, and to realise mentally how they
place the breath current, or "tube of air," near
the lips.  Now ask for the phrase in the work which
is being rehearsed to be sung to the words.  The
probabilities are that while there is a gain of
softness there will be a loss of pitch.  Try again,
and the result will be nearly the same.  The
choir by this time will probably be as interested and
as anxious to remedy the fault as is the conductor;
therefore their palpable shortcomings give the latter
his chance of making the welcome announcement
that at the next rehearsal he will give most
important and definite instructions how, in future, 

to avoid flattening when singing pp, and, growing
out of these instructions, how to secure "the artist"
   During the next rehearsal, at the first favourable
opportunity -- an effort should always be made to
do the right thing at the right time -- introduce the
subject of "Flattening, and how to remedy it."
Briefly state that flattenin may be due to a number
of causes, such as fatigue of body, indolence of
mind -- inertia, of which much will be said later --
not knowing the music and words, vitiated air,
atmospheric conditions, &c.; but more than all by
faulty voice-production.  This last cause may be
said to be cheifly an ignorance or disregard of
that modification of the voice known as nasal
   Here let me insert a short disquisition on the
important topic of Nasal Resonance, because so  
few of the conductors whom I have met are
sufficiently acquainted with, or sufficiently under-
stand, its import.
   By "singing with nasal resonance," is meant
the enriching of the voice by so adjusting the
sounding air current that part of the "tube of air"
which passes over the vocal cords, goes behind
the uvula and passes into the nasal cavities, there
producing sympathetic overtones which blend with
and enrich the sound which proceeds, in the main,
from the mouth.
   There is no doubt that, generally speaking, the
English choral singer favours a backward voice-
production.  This would appear to arise from the
tradition that a choral singer must make as much
noise as possible in fortes, and this develops a species
of bellowing and a thick, heavy throat tone; and

because singers can vividly feel the vibration of
the sound at the back of the mouth, they are
satisfied that they are doing effective work.  Here,
unfortunately, they misapply a physical sensation,
just as did the man who said he knew his razor was
sharp because he could see the edge!
   It requires great persuasive power and tact on 
the part of the conductor to remove this idea, and
to get singers to alter their mthod; but if, in order
to get unity of tone, attack, &c., the exercises and
plans mentioned previously on pages 22ff., 34ff., have
been followed, htey will have been taought to realise
and obtain forward tone, and the ground will have
been prepared for the addition of this important
superstructure; and it will only need a little care,
skill, judgment, and time to get them to follow the
conductor's lead with respect to nasal resonance.
   The question might fairly be asked, If nasal
resonance be of such importance, why not 
introduce it to the choir at once, instead of
so long delaying its introduction?  The answer
is very simple.  You cannot introduce with success
any advanced artistic accomplishment connected
with the voice until the mind has grasped the 
importance of the idea, and the muscles of the
throat and mouth have been trained to respond to
the demands of the higher achievement.  In other
words, preparatory technique is abosolutely necessary.
Many times have I tried to make a short cut and
get to the desired quality at once, but every time
I have failed to secure success, and have
always had to proceed afresh from the beginning.
Therefore I urge every conductor not to hurry in
the matter of the voice, but to keep pegging away
at the earlier stages, making the most of the voices

he has, and to be satisfied with a little progress at
each rehearsal, until the time comes when the
majority of the singers have assimilated his ideas
and instructions, and can do what he wants spon-
taneously.  Only after this should the more difficult
subject be introduced. 
   After this digression I will resume the hints on
how to deal with the choir.
   To get the choir to apprehend nasal resonance,
first pattern Ex. 1 to the vowel e ("ee") or a ("ai")
softly with pure non-nasal quality, and get the choir
to imitate it.  Then sing the exercise again rather
loudly, very nasally -- indeed with nasal twang.
Tell the choir to imitate it, imparting a derisive,
mocking character if possible.  "He trusted in
God" (Messiah) and the "Demons' Chorus"
(Gerontius) are fine preparatory exercises if
properly sung.  This excess of nasality will help
them to realise nasal tone, and predispose the
muscles of the mouth for the next step.
   Pattern once more Ex. 1, but this time
with proper amount of resonance, and ask the choir
to imitate.  Of course success will be limited.
This partial failure will enable you to introduce
the device of humming on the letter m, which later
on will be used frequently in the developing of
pp and ppp. 
   The choir having got an idea -- though perhaps
a hazy one -- of nasal resonance, ask them to sing
to words the pianissimo phrase in the work under
rehearsal.  Afterwards ask them to hum the
passage very softly, with the sound on the lips, at
the same time calling their attention to the 
attenuated, nebulous, almost despicable sound,
which should be such that one could hardly call it

singing.  If this is done correctly they will have
realised one of the most spirit-reaching effects in 
all music, the mysterious ethereal quality which
I call "floating tone," which seems to belong to
the seventh heaven.
   While this entrancing effect is in their mind and
moving their hearts, ask them to sing the phrase to
the words, but producing the voice in the same 
way and avoiding any increase of tone, and very
likely under the enthralling surroundings they will
produce that rare delight, a real pianissimo, with
true maintenance of pitch, because the effort to
produce tone in the proper way gives that mental
uplift, that psychological stimulus which, joined
to the freedom of the throat, makes singing in tune
almost an absolute necessity.
   Here,in a few words, is the secret of the
pianissimo singing of my choirs.  To sing a true
pianissimi get the tone quite to the lips of the
nearly closed mouth, and let the sound be a half
hum, so as to secure nasal resonance.  The loose
throat, absence of muscular strain, and forward
breath induced by this production, together with
the accompanying mental alertness, tend to maintain
the pitch; the quality of the tone gives it clear
definition and carrying power; and the union of
the whispered fundamental sound of the mouth
with the nasal harmonics gives quality and character
to the tone, the whole satisfying the mind both as
to quality and quantity of sound and intonation 
   The classical quotation, "The price of Liberty is
eternal vigilance," is equally applicable to pianissimo
singing.  The choir will always need pulling up
because some singers have not exercised enough

restraint.  But notwithstanding this it is an
incalculable gain to the conductor and the choir to
have a definite system, which enables the singers
to aim at the goal unerringly.   Conductors under
these conditions can work hopefully, and with more
heart than when they are uncertain how to achieve
the desired ideal of real pianissimo and true pitch.
Other aspects of pianissimo will be dealt with under
the head "Expression."

              NASAL RESONANCE

   The conductor having inculcated the advantages
of nasal resonance by its easiest mode of present-
ent, namely, soft and very soft singing (humming),
and the choir being by this time convinced of the
practical value to the voice of this form of
modifying the production, the way is now open
for a decided effort towards making nasal
resonance a vocal habit of the singers, in mezzo
and loud singing as well as in pianissimo.
   This will be a more difficult task than getting the
tinge of nasality in soft singing, because in  loud
singing there being more strain on the muscles of
the mouth, it is harder to overcome the regular
"set" of these muscles, and determination on the
part of the singer is required to deflect the precise
amount of the air current to the back of the uvula,
so as to produce the tone flavour required.  Still,
with care it can be done.
   The conductor must set himself to nurse this
quality of tone on every possible occasion.  He
should carefully note any phrases in which occur
forward vowels, such as "Blessed are the men who
fear Him, they ever walk in the ways of peace"

Elijah, "Sing ye" (Bach), &c.  He should in
these phrases pattern the tone-quality, and as the
vowels favour the sounds required, the choir will
respond with fair success, until in time the tone
becomes habitual.
   The basses generally give the earliest and best
signs of progress; therefore in solo phrases like -- 
But like an earthquake
where the climax note on the word "din" is
particularly favourable to the right production, ask
the men to repeat the passage as an object-lesson
to the other parts.
   Whenever a combined phrase is sung with fine,
ringing tone of the right quality, as may happen to
words like "Sing praises to the King of Heaven,"
or "Hail to the Chief," stop the choir to call
attention to the beauty and quality of tone.  The
choir will welcome the stoppage, as they like
nothing better than an interruption in order to be
complimented.  On high notes in the soprano part,
frequent stoppages will be necessary to get the
singers to place the tone forward, especially on
words like "high glory," "for honour," &c., but
even they will fall into line fairly quickly.
   Of course one must always be careful to avoid
excess of nasality, or more harm than good will
result; but I must say that, except in two cases in
the United States, where the people have an excess
of nasality in speaking, I have never yet heard a
choir go beyond the limits of good tone in the way
of nasal resonance, whereas one often hears excess 
of throatiness in England. 

   Choral singers, by the law of sympathy and the
influence of example, seem to improve up to a 
certain point with wonderful quickness.  Here I
would caution conductors no to be misled into
ceasing their efforts because of this apparently
exceptional progress.  It is when the finer stage of
artistic voice-production is reached that choirs
dishearten conductors.  Then they seem to make
no progress, the same faults recurring again and
again.  But the conductor must persevere. Progress
even under well-directed effort is slow, but this is
always the way in the higher stages of every branch
of artistic culture.  To paraphrase the proverb,
"Art is indeed a long time in coming, while time is
decidedly fleeting."


   Before closing this capter a word should be said
as to preservation of the voice.  Great musicians 
like Sir Hubert Parry, Sir Edward Elgar, Granville
Bantock, and others, who have seen the apparently
remorseless way I make my choirs sing, have
frequently expressed the fear that I was putting
too severe a strain upon the voices; but I have
always been able to convince them by results that
their fears were groundless.
   This is because when a voice is properly produced
it can stand a strain and be fresh after it, whereas
an improperly produced and imperfectly trained 
voice would collapse.  Therefore I endeavour to
get perfect tone and ease of production, and proper
placing of the voice, from the first rehearsal.
   The first thing I insist upon is a loose throat.
This I explain is produced by getting the tone as 

near the lips as possible, and never associating the
production of tone with the throat.  To secure this,
the general instruction is to sing rather softly until
the music and words are fairly well mastered.
When this is done, we sing with expression ranging 
from pp to loud or louder or loudest according to
what is required.  But in this later stage the
choristers are always told to rest the voice while
they sing -- that is, they are to regard each soft
passage as an operation of massage on the vocal
organs.  They are urged to change the position of
the mouth with each degree of force, and thus
strengthen each part of the throat, instead of
wearing out the voice with persistent use of one
part only, i.e., keeping the sound in one position
all the time.
   I illustrate this by the story of Dead Horse
Road.  This road, somewhere in Norfolk, is so
called because it is the cause of the death of so
many horses  This is due to its length and
flatness, on which account only one set of
muscles of the horses which traverse it are called
into play, with the result that the beasts are soon
worn out.  Further, when brushing up well-known
works, like The Messiah and Elijah, for the usual
annual performances, at the first two rehearsals
I disregard the expression marks, and ask the choir
to sing a soft mezzo most of the evening with the
avowed purpose of massaging the vocal muscles,
toning the voices by getting rid of "clatter" -- that
is, the harsh harmonics which produce strident
voices -- getting a loose throat, developing nasal
resonance, and securing general ease of production.
   Some conductors may think that this continued
soft and medium singing will have a weakening 

effect on the voice, but it has not.  Take the case
of the Huddersfield Chorus.  I mention this choir
by name because, rightly or wrongly, it has the
reputation of having the strongest voices -- singer
for singer -- of any choir in the North of England,
which, as everybody knows, is the home of strong
   This choir knows The Messiah so well that I
would risk a performance with one copy to every
twenty singers, or, if the necessity arose, with one
copy to a part.  Notwithstanding this, we always
begin the rehearsals as though we did not know a
note, because it is by this assumption alone that
perfection of detail can be maintained.  When we
begin, I instruct the singers to be prepared for
taking the choruses either as a voice exercise, or as
a finished display.  As they know the music so 
well they are asked to concentrate their attention 
on voice alone, purity of tone being the Alpha
and Omega of the rehearsal.  But to develop
mastery of certain phrases, and general alertness,
whenever I say "Sing" they must change from
mezzo voice to forte or fortissimo according to the
markings of the copy, but at the word "Voice,"
they must at once resume the soft voice-cultivation
   This yearly toning of the voices, together with it
influence away from the rehearsals, is of inestimable
value, while the well-known vibrant resonant quality
of the Huddersfield Choir is strengthened.
   If futher testimony of the efficacy of the above
methods were needed, I would point to the wonderful
test of endurance of the World Tour Choir, where
the singers -- except in rare isolated cases -- never
lost their voices, and where a great proportion

attended every rehearsal and every one of the one
hundred and thirty-four concerts without a trace of
voice weariness or hardness; in fact, the only thing
that seemed to affect the voices was the severely
cold weather of which we had experience in East 
Canada and the United States.
   Other aspects of treating the voice will be dealt
with in the chapter on "Musical Expression."

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Chapter Four BREATHING.

    - 49 -


   The importance of a correct method of breathing
is such a commonplace that one is loath to lay
stress upon it.  But the lack of clear, definite
knowledge of the various methods, and the inability
of many to note the points of unity and harmony
between the conflicting and apparently irrecon-
cilable systems, make it necessary to repeat the
trite saying that to attain the highest results in
singing it is imperative that the art of breathing be
thoroughly understood, and the respiratory organs
strengthened and put under perfect control
   In the preceding chapter on "Voice," when
dealing with the question of "How to obtain a
fortissimo vocal climax," I foreshadowed the correct
method of breathing; but as only the fringe of 
the subject was touched upon, a more complete
statement and a review of the question in all its
bearings will now be given. 
   The dual object of respiration in relation to
singing is to inhale sufficient breath to fill the lungs
entirely, and to get such command of the respiratory
muscles as to exhale the acquired breath to the best
advantage.  The question of breathing therefore
narrows itself down to

   1.  What is the best way of taking breath?
   2.  What is the best way of giving it out?

                    HOW TO BREATHE.

   Many books have been written on this subject
of "How to Breathe," -- some very useful and
informing, others harmful on account of the fanciful
theories propounded, while others have been very
good, but so obscure in statement as to darken
counsel instead of giving illumination.
   Having during the last thirty years studied every
book of importance on the subject, with the object
of learning the views of the best authorities, in order
to apply the knowledge for the benefit of my
societies, I have been able to put every theory to
the test, and from the process I have evolved a
fairly clear grasp of the practical application of the
various theories, their points of agreement and
difference, and their degrees of value.
   I propose therefore to epitomise my interpre-
tation of the different theories of "How to Breathe"
in a popular and, I hope, so clear a manner that
at any rate everybody who reads this resume of
the subject will know what I think and teach.
   Now as this is not a physiological treatise, but a
guide to the practical application of approved 
methods, I shall only deal with breathing as a
medium for obtaining the best vocal results in the
development of artistic phrasing, and incidentally
as a source of health to the body, a brightener
of the spirit, a foe to indigestion, a beautifier
of the complexion, and a promoter of good carriage.
   To those who desire fuller knowledge on the
physiological side, as well as a series of well-
considered breathing exercises, I strongly recommend

Dr. Hulbert's "Breathing for Voice-Production"
(Novello, 3s.) as the safest, most logical, and on
the anatomical basis the simplest book published
on the subject.
   I use the word "simplest" in referring to
Dr. Hulbert's book.  Some conductors may wonder
at the use of the word in connection with a subject
that has the reputation of being anything but
simple.  The popular notion is that the subject of
breathing is involved, hard to understand, very
controversial, conflicting, and irritating.
   Notwithstanding this current notion, I repeat
that the essential features and principles of correct
breathing are simple.
   As a matter of fact is is surprising, especially to
those who have waded through innumerable books,
in what a small compass the kernel of the subject
lies.  This kernel is merely the filling of the lungs
in a natural way, and the emptying of them in an
equally spontaneous manner.  The method of doing
both these things, and the scientific reasons for the
processes, can be given in a couple of pages, so
that it may well claim to be simple.  The elaborate
anatomical experiments, and the long series of
deduction made from these involved researches,
cannot be so briefly stated; but the results can,
and these only are what concern vocalists.
   The 	question may be asked, "If this be so, why
have so many books with conflicting views and
statements been published?"  This I will try
to explain. 
   There are two chief methods of breathing: --
     (1) The Clavicular, or collar-bone, so called
           because in this method the collar-bone
           is raised at each inspiration: and, 

     (2) The Diaphragmatic, so called on account
           of the important part played by the
           diaphragm, or midriff, in controlling the
           style of breathing.

     Diaphragmatic breathing may be used in
   two different ways: --

     (a) The abdominal (stomach);
     (b) The costal (rib), now generally spoken of
           as the Lateral Costal (side-rib).

   It should be here stated that in some treatises
the methods of breathing are set forth as
follows: --
     (1)  Clavicular.
     (2)  Abdominal.
     (3)  Costal.
     (4)  Side costal (for medical purposes only).

   It is from the opposing champions of the
abdominal and costal theories that all the conflict
and ensuing confusion have arisen.
   In making a comparison and giving an estimate
of the two methods, it may be said that both
schools of thought rightly insist that the lungs
should be completely filled at each inspiration, by
inflating the lungs at their base -- the broadest
part -- and not merely using the upper part as
in clavicular breathing.  It is when we ask
"How is this filling to be done?" that the methods
differ fundamentally. 
   To make these differences clear, it will be
necessary to consider briefly the diaphragm, which
has been compared to an inverted muscular basin.
This dome-shaped muscular partition between the
chest or thorax and the abdomen is capable of

being altered somewhat in shape.  The arched 
portion can be flattened, with the result that the
floor of the thorax -- that is, the base of the chest --
is lowered, and the pressure of the diaphragm on
the abdomen causes the latter to protrude.  The
diaphragm may also have its shape altered by
being distended through pressure from below,
resisting the pressure from above.  These
combined forces result in the dome becoming
shallower, and, the enlargement of the circum-
ference demanding more room, the muscles at
the pit of the stomach are pushed forward and
the ribs are thrust outwards and upwards.  By
these means the lungs are enabled to expand to
their utmost capacity.
   The Abdominalists -- led by Mandl -- claim that
as more breath space is secured by this protrusion 
of the abdomen, therefore theirs is the best method,
and the one to be followed. 
   The Costalites say that by the expansion all
round the base of the lungs and uplifting of the
side-ribs, they get an equal amount of breath space,
while it is more natural, more healthy, and much
better for breath control.
   Sixty years ago the idea of treating the subject
of breathing, as applied to singing, on a scientific
basis was hardly considered.  People said there
was no need for it.  Vocalists were able to sing
brilliantly without knowing anything of the laws of
inspiration and expiration, except in a vague way.
They were taught, and followed, the traditional
empirical methods of their singing-masters, and
managed to do so well that they did not bother
their heads about the theory of breathing so long as
they could do it naturally.  Their way of breathing,

and the success that they achieved, are such inspiring
traditions that it is now the aim of every teacher
to get back to the old Italian methods.  In 1855
Mandl caused the first flutter in the singing
dovecotes by advancing the theory that as
abdominal breathing gave the greatest amounnt
of breath capacity, therefore not only was this
method the correct one, but all other methods
were wrong.
   This theory was enthusiastically taken up in
England by two well-known gentlemen, who
collaborated, one for the breathing and the other
for the voice.  Being backed up by physiological
reasons and seemingly irrefutable anatomical
demonstrations, their advocacy of the new method
was most successful.  Being first in the field with
their data, the abdominal system of breathing
had a tremendous vogue, -- for what chance had
an empirical system against one which was
based on scientific principles?
   But most people felt that something was lacking
in the system.  It was quite correct that it gave
great breath capacity; but did it ensure breath
control, especially for great crises, and for getting
power and ring of voice?  Still, notwithstanding
these doubts as to its efficiency, the system kept 
the field for a long time, chiefly on account of its
supposed scientific sanction.  Then there came a
reaction, and clever men thought that what was
really true in practice must have a scientific basis;
for it was hardly believable that the old natural
way of breathing, as used by every great singer
consciously or unconsciously, could be based on
error.  Therefore the anatomical and physiological
aspects of the problem have been re-studied, with

the result that the older traditional empirical usage
has been found to rest on scientific sanction.
   The results of this research have now been set
forth in the system known as the "Lateral Costal
Method," which can bring physiological fact to
show that not only is it the best for inspiration, but
also that it gives perfect control in expiration, which
is the singer's chief asset, because it is the power to
use a tool or implement which makes it effective.
   Briefly, the new discoveries and the deductions
which have restored the side-rib breathing to its
now unchallenged place of supremacy are as 
follows: -- In deep inspiration, by drawing in the
abdomen, the liver and stomach, being firmly held
in the basin-like dome or arch of the underside of
the diaphragm, prevent any downward movement of
this strong muscular partition below the level of the
flying ribs.  It is therefore forced to extend with an
outward expansion.  This expansion, coupled with
the existence of the intercostal muscles, causes the
ribs to widen in an outward and upward direction,
thus giving the widest possible breath space, as well
as aerifying the upper part of the lungs.
   Further, this pressure of the abdomen against
the thorax enables the singer to regulate the air
current to the requirements of the sound he wishes
to produce.
   I showed on page 30 how to get supreme
pressure and condensation of the air in a fortissimo
climax.  A corresponding control of breath is
necessary to secure pianissimos, staccatos, and swells,
and this method enables singers to acquire these 
accomplishments, as I shall show later.
   As a result, this confirmation of the best
traditional usage by modern physiological research

proves to me, at least, that the correct way of
breathing is by the Lateral Costal method.
   Therefore, reverting to my previous statement
that the kernel of correct breathing lies in a small
compass, we find that as the outcome of all the
patient, baffling, anatomical researches of both
Abdominalists and Costalites we get practically 
the clear, simple directions of many an old singing-
master, "Stick your chest out, keep your stomach
in, hold your breath at the waist and sing."
   To complete our consideration of the different
methods of breathing, a passing notice of the
clavicular method must be given.  This method is
so universally condemned by all authorities, that
were it not that Jenny Lind is reputed to have used
the system it would have been ruled out of court
at once.  Personally I am not quite sure that
Jenny Lind used the clavicular method so
exclusively as we are led to believe, for the
following reasons.
   During the last thirty years I have conducted
very many concerts, oratorios, cantatas, &c., at
which scores of the finest artists of the day have
sung.  Many of these singers have been trained by
the finest and greatest teachers known, and on the
most approved and up-to-date methods, and in the
matter of breathing their style and method have
been above suspicion.  Yet I have many times
seen these artists at important crises in their
interpretation of a song, solo, or scena, lift 
their clavicles as though they were breathing by
the forbidden clavicular method.  This, however,
they were not doing.  As a matter of fact they
were simply making an extra physical effort under
the stress of temperamental excitement, and using

every available means to increase their stock of
breath for the great effort they were about to make.
Consequently they instinctively called into play the
whole of the respiratory muscles, and the additional
pressure of the abdomen on the diaphragm and the 
greater condensation of the air in the lungs made it
quite natural to supplement all the other muscular
disturbance by lifting the clavicles.  This action, then,
under conditions of temperamental and dramatic
excitement, instead of proclaiming clavicular
breathing, while it masks and obscures the ordinary 
action proclaims the highest development of
breathing -- Lateral Costal in excelsis.  Hence,
when I see members of my choir raise their
shoulders when preparing for a grand outburst of
sound, I do not condemn them for breathing
wrongly, but rather commend them for the implied
instinctive effort to gain an extra amount of breath
and increased air-pressure.
   These facts have often made me wonder whether
after all Jenny Lind did use the clavicular method
exclusively, or whether she merely used it as an
auxiliary to the costal method, but in such a way
as to hide or mask the action of the side-ribs.
Failing proof to the contrary, I believe that her
method was a combination of the two systems, as
this explanation falls more easily into what is now
known of the physiology of the art of breathing as
applied to singing, which in her day was not
seriously studied.
   In relation to this mixing and masking of
methods, it is worth remark that when abdominal
breathing was the vogue, I have time and time
again seen singers, who had been trained by this
system, breathe by the costal method, and in

justification explain that because they breathed 
by means of the diaphragm therefore it was
abdominal, only it was in another form.  As the
precise and definite theory of the Lateral Costal
method was not then known or formulated, this
reasonable explanation was allowed to pass; but
the wrong method got the credit of the right usage.

             HOW TO INHALE BREATH.

   Having shown conclusively the best method of
respiration, I will now deal with several secondary,
but still important, matters connected with the
   With respect to the question of inhalation,
should it be through the mouth or through the
nostrils?  For many reasons of health, and for
special reasons of voice, breath should be inspired
through the nose, as the air thereby taken in is 
warmed and filtered before it reaches the larynx
and lungs, both of which temperings are necessary
to the preservation of the voice and health.  When
the body is in repose there is not difficulty about
breathing in this manner, but even when walking,
exercising, running, and speaking, this breathing
through the nose must as a general rule be followed.
   Nevertheless this law must not be regarded as of
the Medes and Persians, which altereth not, for
in singing it cannot be carried out always with
   In singing there is not time to breathe through
the nostrils, especially without such effort injuring
the smoothness of the musical effect -- particularly
in bravura singing -- and impairing the beauty of

the phrasing.  The artist must not be worried or 
disturbed by mere physical actions and methods.
Whatever is done should be carried through
automatically, and absolutely without conscious
   The rendering of a piece being the chief concern,
the merely mechanical means must be subservient
to the ruling principle.  Therefore the rule for
taking breath may be stated as follows: -- Whenever
possible inhale through the nose, but in singing
take breath subconsciously; or, in other words, do
not take breath, let breath take you.
   If the singer is unconscious, say, in a quick
passage, of how his breath supply is replenished --
whether through the mouth, or nose, or both -- he
will not be far wrong.  The problem at issue with all
singers is how to acquire automatic nasal inspiration.
This subconscious habit can be acquired, as I shall
show later. 

                     BREATH CONTROL.
   It is evident to everyone who knows anything
about singing that however correctly one may
breathe, it is necessary for professional singing
purposes to have a super-ordinary chest develop-
ment and highly-specialized breath control.  This
development and accomplishment can only be 
brought about by special exercises, (1) to enlarge
the lung capacity and (2) to give quick and
responsive action to the breathing apparatus.
   Such a set of exercises are to be found in Dr.
Hulbert's "Breathing for Vocal Purposes," which
should be followed by all who wish to excel as
vocalists.  Personally I feel very strongly on this

question of the cultivation of lung power and
responsiveness.  I regard command of breath as
the touchstone of a young singer's success.  Singers
who cannot breathe well may take it that their fate
is practically sealed.  Many debutants have good
voices and good style, but if they have not good
breathing powers they always have a short singing
life.  They somehow recede from the public eye,
and they wonder why this should be so with 
"people of their ability."  The solution is to be
found in the fact that in not developing breathing
power by strenuous and sustained effort they
cease to grow vocally.  The same power of voice
which is considered quite satisfactory in a new
singer is quite inadequate and disappointing in a
singer who has been before the public for some
time.  I have heard singers express surprise that
they have been coldly received, instead of being
rapturously applauded as formerly.  The secret
can often be traced to lack of development in
power through defective breathing.  The public
have an unconscious way of weighing people in
the balance; and those who are "work shies"
-- for breath development means real hard work
-- those who have followed the line of least
resistance, i.e., taking it easy, are found wanting,
and are passed over for others who show progress 
in their art.  
   Whenever in performances that I conduct I find
young principals failing to take the runs in the
Messiah, Judas, Creation, or similar works, in one
breath, I usually wipe them off the slate, as their
lack of determination to excel in this direction is a
sign to me of arrested development, connoting 
premature vocal decay. 

   When spoken to on this point these young
singers invariably quote the example of some old,
well-tried vocalist.  They forget that these old
singers are favourites for general all-round
excellence, and though, through advancing years,
or neglect, or indolence, they take breath in the
middle of a run or interpolate words so as to hide
their weakness, and use other devices to cover their
deficiencies, these subterfuges cause a pang of 
regret to even their warmest admirers, who inwardly
lament "How are the mighty fallen."
   From the above remarks upon the importance of
breathing, it will probably be thought that I favour
a very rigid application of a systematic course of
breathing exercises for choirs and choral societies.
Though I may favour such a course theoretically,
I am afraid I cannot recommend it with advantage
to either conductor or choir.  I wish that I could
   It would be easy to follow the example of some
writers on this subject, and compile a list of things
that should be done -- e.g., ten minutes' breathing
exercises before each rehearsal; certain muscular
evolutions, &c., to be performed; but I shall refrain.
It is a mistake to insist upon an impracticable 
thing simply because it is desirable theoretically.
I shall restrict my advice to a minimum of what is
strictly practicable for choral singers.  My reasons
for this are; --
   (1) Though elaborate breathing exercises are
imperative for soloists, for choral singers a few
definite, well-directed exercises suffice.
   (2) Whenever I have tried to impose a systematic
course of breathing exercises upon a choir, the
members all with one consent began to make excuse,
and arrived after the exercises were over.

   (3) I have never known a case where the
persistent use of breathing exercises in rehearsal
time has not had the effect (a) of killing the interest
in the rehearsal, (b) of doing more harm than good,
and (c) of causing, if persisted in, the dissolution of
the society.  Therefore, instead of drawing up an
ideal scheme of what is theoretically desirable, I
shall confine my remarks to what experience has
shown me is practicable.
   Now while my experience has proved to me the
futility of the bad tactics of a frontal attack in the
matter of imposing or attempting breathing 
exercises during rehearsal time, I never neglect the
subject, but gain my object by a flank movement.
On all possible occasions -- say, when long runs have
to be negotiated, long notes sustained, staccato
passages attacked, a climax realised, or a pianissimo
phrase controlled -- I always refer to breathing as the
key of the situation, and by taking a short exercise
that seems to grow out of the necessities of the
music I get the choir to do it willingly.  The
conductor must seize such opportunities, and keep
his singers engaged on breathing exercises until
interest begins to flag.  This, however, does not
often happen, because the object will have been
achieved before that time arrives.
   In my own societies I point out to the choir
that though breathing exercises have to be somewhat
crowded out at rehearsals owing to lack of room
and time, yet there are daily opportunities of
practising breathing in most pleasant and
agreeable manner, without any limitation to
their duration or consideration as to space for
exercise -- the two drawbacks in the rehearsal
room -- and that without loss of time to anyone.

   I emphasise the importance of these exercises
by stating that they are what I have done daily
for years, so they see it is a case not only of
"Do as I say," but of "Do as I do."
   An additional recommendation to the singers is
their knowledge of the fact that I can sing the
longest and most difficult "runs" or "divisions" in
one breath, which is due to the use of a certain
time-saving exercise.  I also mention that, useful
as the principal exercise is for singing purposes, I
practise it chiefly for hygienic reasons, which will
be mentioned later. 
   This wonderfully useful exercise is very simple
It consists in taking deep breaths as I walk along
the streets -- say for a distance of two hundred yards.
Each respiration is taken rhythmically -- that is,
during each six strides, allowing three steps for
each inspiration and three for each expiration.
The time allowed can be varied according to the
wishes of each singer, some only allowing four
steps for each respiration, while others will allow
eight steps -- four for inhaling and four for
   The following is a sketch of how I deal with this
subject in rehearsal.  (It is all done, by the way, in
about five minutes.)  Having spoken of the evident
necessity of developing the breathing powers of the
choir as a whole, if we are to do full justice to the
work in hand, I tell them that there is an exercise
which will produce wonderful results, that it can be
done in an easy and pleasurable manner, and that
it will not take more than five minutes daily.
   I then repeat an exercise which many will have
seen before -- that is, I place my hands on my lower
ribs and breathe deeply, making the enlargement of 

chest at the base, by means of the expansion of
the side-ribs, very evident (see Fig. 2).
   I ask them to imitate the pattern.  This having
been done a few times, I explain how they may
perform the lung-strengthening, chest-expanding
exercise which I practise every day, and which --
for its inherent benefit -- I strongly recommend to
them.  I then place my hands on my ribs as
before, and, while I breathe, I either walk along the
platform or step as though I was walking, breathing
audibly in order to show how to inhale and exhale
rhythmically.  To every intake and outlet of breath
four, six, or eight steps are taken.
   I then tell them how, every time I go for a walk,
whether on business or pleasure, whenever I come
to a gentle incline I make it a rule to practise deep
breathing for, say, from two to three minutes to
give my lungs and air-bath, and thereby (a) improve
my breath power and control for singing.  It, 
however does much more than this.  From a 
health point of view it is very important, as
(b) it oxygenises the blood; (c) it improves the
circulation and strengthens the heart; (d) it gives
that peristaltic action to the stomach, which
promotes digestion and is a foe to dyspepsia;
(e) it raises the spirit and often banishes headache;
(f) it improves the carriage and the figure; and
(g) it beautifies the complexion.
   But of more importance than all is the correct
subconscious habit of breathing which this daily
exercise establishes.  In my own case, whenever I
walk uphill I unconsciously begin the deep-
breathing exercise, and carry it on for about the
usual two minutes.  One can see how important
and useful this habit must be to the vocalist, as

rhythmic inhaling gets the breath apparatus under
proper discipline.
   The charm of it all is the ease and pleasurable
manner in which it can be acquired, without any
loss of time.  To the faithful following of these
instructions by many of my singers we owe a great
deal of our choral success.
   To the above hints and instructions I add the
recommendation that all singers should, when
passing through doorways, inflate their lungs as
though they were going to lift a heavy weight, and
with arms extended push or thrust against each
jamb of the door for about five seconds, as though
they wished to push them down.  This strengthens
the breath pressure enormously.


   The "How" to breathe having been dealt with,
attention must now be given to "When" and
"Where" to breathe.
   A great fault with choral singers is to leave
inspiration until the very last moment, or quarter
of a moment, with the result that they take snap
breaths and catch breaths instead of full breaths.
   Ample time should be given for full respiration 
whenever possible.  To achieve this end a good
rule is to take breath with the conductor's beat
which precedes the singer's entry or beginning of a
new phrase.
   All these things can be done with a little trouble
if only there be method.  What I suggest is that
every breathing place be marked by each singer;
then this sign is the signal for taking breath in the
right place.

   The above remarks apply chiefly to each fresh
beginning, when broad principles can be followed.
Much more important is the management of
breathing for artistic phrasing.
   There is a general tendency amongst undisciplined
singers to sing as long as they can in a breath,
irrespective of the finer shades of phrasing.  The
only remedy for this is to pattern the phrase
and get the choir to mark the breathing places
carefully.  The fault is often very noticeable at the
beginning of a phrase, when, being full of breath,
they object to stop and take another breath for what
seems to them a trivial reason.
  But these phrasing breaths must be observed,
and the conductor must not feel discouraged if in 
such phrases as --
         For unto us a child is born,
         Go, song of mine,
         Strike, strike the lyre,
he has to go over the phrases a score of times to
cultivate this habit of breath control for artistic
   Conductors must read carefully the words of each
piece, and in all places of difficulty, or where special
care is necessary to get a particular emphasis and
shade of meaning, the breathing places must be 
indicated.  As a rule the divisions fall so 
naturally that in three-fourths of the piece there is
little or no trouble.  It is in the remaining fourth
that care will have to be exercised.
   When choice of a breathing place has to be made
in a complicated phrase, the following considerations
will give data sufficient to tread the mazy path with 
firmness: -- Breath may be always taken after a full

stop, colon, semicolon, and comma.  Also before a
preposition, an adverb, a relative pronoun, and,
when necessary for emphasis, before an adjective
which comes after the noun, as "Spirit Divine"
(Cowen's The Veil).  Latitude is also given in
breathing before or after the verb "to be."
   A burning question with some conductors is how
to manage runs and long, sustained notes in one
breath.  Theoretically this is the correct thing to
do, but as it cannot be done as successfully as
they would like, such tests of breathing cause them
much anxiety.  In these and similar cases I always
tell my singers to take two or three breaths so as 
to make sure of a bold and confident finish. But
some may ask, Is this not incorrect?  It would
be if care were not taken to make it pass
unnoticed by the auditors.  People judge by
results, not by processes; therefore if the effect is
all that it should be, the way in which a thing is
accomplished does not matter much.  This unity 
of effect I manage to get by the following
   In all long runs, divisions, and long phrases of
any sort -- even in sustained notes -- which cannot
be well managed by one breath, I ask all the
singers whose name initials commence from A to H
to take breath on the first beat of any bar except
the last bar, which must be sung with unbroken
power and firmness.  Those singers whose initials
are between I and P to take breath on the second
beat and those from Q to Z to take breath on the
third or fourth beat, in any bar except the last (for
the reason stated above). To make sure that this
is done correctly, I ask every singer to mark his or
her book. 

   The carrying out of this instruction usually
results in a brilliant finish to runs and sustained
phrases which would otherwise have the effect of an
   Further consideration of the subject of breathing
will be given in the chapter on "Expression,"
where pianissimo, staccato, breathing tone, breath
afflux, &c., will be discussed.

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