A Practical Guide for Singers

Buttercup By Buttercup, 19th Jan 2013 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Humour>Off Beat

Extracts from a late 19th century American encyclopedia. It gives instruction on how to sing, which was serious in its time, but is now humorous for a modern reader.

Excerpts from ‘Colliers Cyclopedia of Social and Commercial Information’ 1893 (Published in New York) A Practical Guide for Singers

Singing is an art, and one of the most difficult arts to master; and anyone who attempts to learn it must be prepared to give the same devotion to it as is demanded by the sister arts of painting and sculpture.

Remember that the human voice is the most delicate of all instruments, susceptible to more and varied influence than any other. The singer has to combine in himself the instrument and the performer; and while all the artistic and intellectual qualities necessary for the instrumentalist are required by him, he is compelled beyond that to realize that he is a living instrument, and to exercise over himself all the care – and indeed far more than all – that players exercise over their most cherished “weapons.” He has not only to learn how to sing, but how to be and to remain fit for singing. He, more than any other musical artist, will find that he is affected by moral as well as physical and intellectual causes, and he must face this fact boldly.

Habits, diet, etc

Practice early rising, and, if possible, take a short walk before breakfast.

Strict cleanliness is of the greatest importance.

If a mustache (moustache) is worn, let it be kept within bounds, and not allowed to fall over the mouth, where it would affect the tone of the voice. Do not cut it straight along the lip, but train it right and left, allowing it to grow naturally and uncut. The advantages of the mustache (moustache) are two: it acts to a certain extent as a respirator, and protects the mouth and throat as the eyelash does the eye, and it helps to conceal any slight distortion of the mouth in singing.

Be as much as you can in the open air. Take moderate walking exercise, but of course do not tire yourself before singing or practicing. For male singers, rowing, riding and football, racquet or tennis, and above all an hour or two weekly in a gymnasium, are excellent things: while for ladies, walking, riding, lawn tennis, “la grace” (#) and calisthenics are equally useful. If you live in a town, always walk in preference to taking a conveyance, when time and weather permit it.

Never breathe through your mouth in walking, especially at night or on coming out into the open air after singing. Keep the lips closed, and inhale the air through the nostrils.

Nothing can be said in favor of our climate for singing.

In going out of hot rooms into the open air much pains should be exercised to keep the chest and throat covered up with an overcoat or cloak – however warm the weather may be. In very severe winter weather the singer will derive much comfort by wearing a flannel chest-protector. Sitting about in gardens, and on lawns, in the evenings on even the warmest days is not a safe indulgence for the student who is in earnest in the pursuit of his art.

One caution is necessary as to “wrapping up,” however. Do not over-do it. The constant use of a “comforter” renders the throat delicate and susceptible. All you have to fear is damp, not cold, in the atmosphere. A comforter, closely wound around the throat, promotes perspiration, and the risk of chill in removing it is greater than in not wearing it at all. Common sense must guide every one. It is impossible to make a rule for all.

As to diet: avoid everything that is at all indigestible. Live well, and take plenty of varied nourishment. The singer’s system must be well nourished. Chocolate and coffee are better than tea; the latter is too astringent, and affects the nerves too much if taken in abundance. Sugar, in moderation, should always be used with those beverages, and they should never be taken very hot. Bread is better than toast, but avoid hot or very new bread. Eggs and butter are good. Meat should be plainly cooked and not too well done. Pork tries the digestion too severely to be a desirable food for a singer, and the same may be said of veal. Fish is good for the singer, and he should, if possible, let it form a part of his daily menu. Creams and pastry are simply poison, and cheese should only be taken in great moderation. Fruit is an excellent thing if judiciously used. But here, again, hard and fast rules are impossible, because constitutions vary. Only remember the old proverb, “We must eat to live, and not live to eat.”

Never practice or sing on an empty stomach, or soon after a meal: either of these habits will unfairly tax your digestive organs, and in so doing damage your voice. After a meal, all the energy of the body is required for the stomach; in a healthy person the extremities will generally be cold after a full meal, and the reason is that the digestive organs are using all the heat and blood that the body can give for their special work. Nature thus points to a rest of every other organ at that time, and you must not fight against Nature by attempting any such severe physical strain as the practice of the voice demands.

All acids and astringents are bad for a healthy throat and stomach. Vinegar, highly flavored sauces, almonds and raisins, nuts of every kind should be avoided. Be very careful and abstemious in the use of spirits. Brandy is decidedly injurious; it heats and inflames the throat, and tends to constipate the bowels. Gin or whisky is the most wholesome spirit, but take as little as possible of either. If you drink beer or ale, take draught and not bottled, and always in great moderation. All effervescing liquors are objectionable; therefore eschew champagne. The fluids called port and sherry are cruel foes to singing. The best drink for singers is claret, or any light wine, French, German, or Italian.

# The Game of Graces was brought to America by the French who called the game La Grace. It was meant to be played outdoors by two people. It was very popular with girls because it was acceptable exercise and also taught gracefulness. Boys never played the game together, but would play it with a girl as their partner. The game is played with two wooden throwing rings decorated with ribbons and four catching wands. The players held a wand in each hand. One player would place the rings over each wand in her hands and then toss the rings, one at a time, to her opponent who would try to catch them on her wands. Play would continue for a set amount of time. Whoever caught the most rings during this time period would be declared the winner. (from Wikipedia)

On the practice of singing

A looking-glass should form a part of the furniture of a singing student’s study, for it is most important to watch the face – its features and expressions – when singing; and it is none the less useful for insuring the constant right position of the mouth. In respect of the facial expression when singing, there is a very great tendency to look too serious, too sever, and too hard when earnestly studying. Now, a cheerful and good-humored expression does not necessarily imply carelessness, and it is far more agreeable to the audience than an anxious and troubled look. Some people look quite savage when singing; and when rendering passages of love and tenderness, their features are far more indicative of rage, revenge and murder!

How to stand when singing has been explained by a great number of writers on the subject, and most of the explanations given have been chiefly remarkable as being entirely erroneous and false. The body should not be kept in a perfectly upright position, as it is (too popularly) believed that it should. The best position is when the body is well collected, with its chief weight upon the right leg and foot, with the head gently leaning forward, and the arms, and indeed the whole carriage, disposed in that manner which would indicate to the audience a sort of desire on your part to persuade them and bring them over to your feelings and sentiments. When the right leg begins to tire with the weight of the body, the left leg can take its duty, when the right may be gracefully drawn back as in dancing.

Chorus singing

If you are studying seriously for solo singing, you must discontinue all chorus singing, especially during training. Singing in church choirs and choral societies must be abandoned. And this not because there is no good to be learned there, but because the little good is by no means commensurate with the great amount of harm which is acquired along with the good. To enumerate here all the evil habits so easily learnt would be impossible. Not the least of them, however, is the tendency to shout louder than your neighbor, to use yourself to the bad habits of those on each side of you; to produce a bad tone; to “chop” the passages instead of phrasing them; to attack notes carelessly; to sing coarsely; to depend on others; to get into a machine-like regularity of rendering the music.

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