The History Of Voice And Voice Methods (Ancient)
The study of voice preceded every other form of culture. “Let there be light” were the first words spoken, and such was the power of this voice that all things were created thereby.
Before the first sound was possible in the visible world, untold eternities passed away. Slowly the elements ordered themselves at the divine command; epoch was followed by epoch; immense forests of ferns and palms arose; through them pounded and wheezed creatures of inconceivable size; the dinosaur, iguanodon, diplodocus and mammoth lived and found the world good to their taste.
Millions of years passed away before the telluric upheavals within the earth had created a new balance of adjustment. High mountains arose from the depth. The earth was shocked with might convulsions. From craters and geysers flowed cataracts of chemical substances in mighty streams; out of the salty perspiration of the gigantic combat the oceans were formed. The old order had disappeared to give place to the reposeful paleological era.
Exhaustion seemed to brood over the earth. Time was no more. Life had disappeared. But here and there, in little mud puddles, were some tiny cells of life; some infinite power of re-creation had been saved even in the era of destruction. Slowly new forms of life developed and produced themselves. In the course of ages these new forms of life shaped our present world and what is found therein. All sorts of animal life appeared, but now in many new forms and of many and diverse kinds. Not crude and ponderous, slow and dull, as in former periods, but of finely chiseled features, body and limbs; fleet, many of them, and highly intelligent. Nature had become an artist – with experience had come higher demands and greater vision.
In this period, with stealthy, silent steps, a form, upright with projecting jaw, the body covered with long hair, in his hand a sling containing a sharp stone to slay the sleeping hare, in the heat of day, appeared something unknow heretofore – a man, our pre-adamite progenitor.
From the trees birds sand their improvised melodies; it was the first sign of audible Nature, made beautiful.
The young maidens in diluvial time, in the valley of Couze, in France, listened and gave vent to their love longing in sounds learned from these birds. Gradually words, crude and simple, were added to these sounds. This was the origin of speech and song. When they became mothers, new thoughts and a new form of love filled their souls. New demands were created, new words invented to give it expression In this wise, speech was developed, love and cradle songs invented.
The impulse both to speech and song is born with man. He had to make his desires known in the circle of the tribe. He wanted to recount his successes in the hunt. As his emotion took stronger hold he burst into song, uncouth, no doubt, but to him an expression of the life within.
Later, as the tribes marched to war, he burst into martial strains. He sees his enemy lying dead before him and exults in shouts of joy. In the evening around the camp fire, the sorcerer of primitive times, later the medicine man and still later the priest, recite the heroic deeds of the might warriors of the tribe. All repeat the strains, and the crude form of national life, of love of the tribe – patriotism – has become an accomplished fact.
At this time, “accident,” the greatest discoverer of all, caused a boy to blow into a discarded, defective drinking horn. A new sound was heart. The bugle and trumpet were discovered. Another boy beat a stick against a skin, stretched over a hollow log to dry, and the drum became known. As the arrow sped from the bent bow, the string gave forth a new kind of tone. The father of all violins was disclosed.
How terrifying, how fierce was the sight, when the men, clothed in the skins of bears, wolves and buffaloes, danced around the camp fire, when drunk with mead and emotion they circled around the tribal emblem, an oak tree of a thousand years’ growth, an emblem of life and strength!
Countless generations passed. The pace of development was exceedingly slow. No marching forward, rather snail’s crawl, with many pauses and, not infrequently, a falling back. In spite of the manifold capacity within us, men rose unspeakably slowly from the stage of animal savagery. For while a tree produces a new ring each year, to mark the progress of its growth, man needs an entire generation to move one step forward. The man took a wife, or several of them, lived and hungered with them, when fortune was against him. This community he called, in conscious or unconscious irony, a family.
Now and then, in winter time, when hunting was impossible and stealing unprofitable, a maimed or cripple of the tribe would sing or recite some wild hunting adventure, or praise the heroic deeds of some member long dead and now become the saint or honor emblem of the tribe.
From the caves and holes in the earth, families moved to huts made of stone and mud, or else built upon posts and tree trunks in swamps. Gradually such groups became villages, surrounded by palisades, and later by stone walls. The few who, by valor, superior cunning or by stealth, rose above the numerous common herd, built for themselves castles of stone. Cities counting millions of inhabitants erected palaces to their kinds and filled them with ivory, gold and beautiful women. The few had succeeded in making slaves of the many. Out of crude beginnings of mutual communication a highly and richly endowed language had been evolved. From the crude recitation of a simple hunting adventure the classic poem took form.
But mere speech could not satisfy. The rhapsody sounded cold and monotonous in the wide halls of the king. With angry face and bored silence the men reached for their cups, but when the Bard pluched the strings of the lyre and with far-reaching voice sang the praises of the king; his courage, which shames the lion; his strength, which is as that of five hundred steers; his anger, which is like the lightning and thunder in a summer’s storm; his wives, so lovely that the roses bow to them as they walk in the garden, with their rapturous forms and love-lit eyes, the men listened; they became interested.
This is the mystic time of humanity, a gradual unfolding, born of the necessities and desire of men.
Practical life demanded and achieved comparatively quickly and development of speech, which was recorded by means of lines, curves and figures, that remain, even to this day, as historic evidence of the gradual progress of human speech. Of their music we have no record. No one seems to have thought of fixing those sounds by means of signs.
(A LONG history lesson of music is omitted here. . .) Continued:
With the ancient Greeks, singing was not a pastime, but a means of culture. Life needs proportion and harmony, says Plato, their greatest philosopher. In accordance with this, children and youths were taught oratory and music in order to learn rhythm and order, which developed their souls and gave them self-control to meet the requirements of life.
The hightest point of artistic development was reached in Athens. Their poetry, oratory, mimicry and music were united. Large choruses and orchestras were employed with singers and orators. Out of this grew modern Grand Opera.
The Olympic festivals, where races and contests of various kinds took place, were enriched and ennobled by music and oratory. The traditions of a noble art inspired the ancient Greeks and raised their civilization to a higher physical basis than any which humanity has had before or since.
But the ancient Greece is not more. Their philosophers died out, degenerated; from its pedestal of nobility and grandeur music descended to become the handmaiden of the charlatan and juggler. The singer who could sustain a tone longest or the one who could execute the most difficult trills and neck-breaking passages became the favorite. The vocalists became acrobats. Art became mere glitter and show. Bizarre changes of harmony and rhythm became popular. Music became a mere means of display and declined, never to rise again in its original home. Is not our “jazz” music the forerunner of moral, intellectual and physical decay also?
The purpose of this chapter is that in search for a better voice you are occupying a really exalted stage of human development where mere physical comfort no longer satisfies. You have reached a spiritual stage of development which drives you forward. No better evidence of human growth can be found than a splendid voice. Longfellow realized this in his “Hyperion,” where he says: