History Of Voice Methods
The first record which has come down to us from the ancients in regard to voice training is the record of the greatest of all Grecian orators, Demosthenes. His father was a blacksmith and left him an orphan at the age of seven. Ambition prompted him to the study of oratory. His voice was harsh and uncouth. He stammered and enunciated badly. His whole person was awkward. He hit upon the device of placing pebbles under his tongue and forcing himself to speak with this obstacle in his mouth.
All the best known teachers, even said that a voice can be improved in many ways; that nature has produced very few perfect voices. To develop the voice, the student must learn to modulate and use his voice in an elegant style. He must learn not to open the mouth very far.
They all acknowledge, however, that they had never succeeded in developing a voice to the utmost. At best their methods could only refine and make useful whatever voice the student had by nature. Defective voices, they said, are very hard to cure.
The principle of starting a tone softly and by degrees swelling it to great strength was much used. Also the voice should never start very low or very high, but in the middle range.
The old masters said truthfully that in a sick body there could not be a healthy voice. Loss of sleep, exhaustion, overwork, etc., weaken the functions of the body and the breath, and causes weakness of voice. Self-indulgence in eating, drinking, etc., causes the voice to break down.
Anything that helps the body will also help the voice, hence shower baths and walking are advised.
One should practice physical exercise four or five hours after eating. One should not eat too much, but also not too little. Choose easily digested foot. Nuts of all kinds are almost prohibited.
As the purpose of the voice and speech is to communicate thought and to entertain, so the voice must be free from faults. A voice that offends the ear, that is coarse or harsh, or that stammers, is not to be tolerated. Such voices must be changed to sweet, clear and sympathetic voices. The cause of these faults is found in the incorrect function of the vocal organ. To speak through the nose, or through the teeth; to rasp or to speak gutturally, is a sign of incorrect use of the vocal organs.
The good voices, according to the old masters are those that can sing the “cantus suavis” – those with suave voices, that delight, elevate and can sing rapid passages. A voice must be sweet and lovely, even like a girl’s voice. The tone of the voice should be made to correspond with the song, sadness, joy, rage, peace, repose, or energy must be felt in the tone. But an actor should not change voice and gesture on every word.
Many and diverse opinions were current among the old masters on this all-important subject. However, these old masters contradict each other. All of this that has been gathered in the four corners of the earth and covers practically all that has ever been said or written about voice training, from the earliest time to the early 1900s.
If we define “Method” as a systematic, orderly rule or arrangement of a thing to be done, then it must be apparent to you, that until now we never had a method, but that some teachers practiced certain devices which in their “opinion” or experience helped some students. Another teacher held just the opposite opinion. Their experience taught them, as they believed, that exercises of an entirely different nature were more effective. In short, no two teachers ever exactly agreed as to the rules which must be taught and observed in order to train a voice.
Columbus started out to find a sea route to India and by accident discovered America. Thus it was with the so-called methods. By accident they produced a voice now and then; mostly the student and teacher produced nothing. Nowadays we have an exact mariner’s chart and the navigator does not arrive in port by accident, he knows not only the exact route to take in order to reach his destination, but he knows the hour and the day he will land.
All voice is produced by the action of the vocal organ, therefore the training of the voice must be in reality a training of the vocal organ, just as playing the piano is the result of the training of the muscles and nerves of the fingers, hands and arms, CONTROLLED BY THE MIND!
Therefore, we must train organs, rather than voice. If the organs act rightly and are under the control of the mind, good voice MUST be the result in every case. If the voice is faulty it can only be because the vocal organ is faulty; correct that and the voice is ALWAYS good.
In future lessons on resonance you will obtain further proofs.