Mme. Alma Gluck
[Mme. Alma Gluck was born at Jassy, Roumania. Her father played the violin, but was not a professional musician. At the age of six she was brought to America. She was taught the piano and sang naturally, but had no idea of becoming a singer. Her vocal training was not begun until she was twenty years of age. Her teacher, at that time, was Signor Buzzi-Peccia, with whom she remained for three years, going directly from his studio to the Metropolitan Opera House of New York. She remained there for three years, when the immense success of her concert work drew her away from opera. She then studied with Jean de Reszke, and later with Mme Sembrich for four or five years. Since then she has appeared in all parts of the United States with unvarying success. Her records have been among the most popular of any ever issued. Very few vocalists seem to realize the necessity for a repertoire in the same sense that the pianist or the violinist regards it. A few songs of the day – a few ballads – a number of songs of the art song type sung by “everybody” a few operatic and oratorio arias and the “repertoire” is complete. As a matter of fact, the singer must have a much larger and more varied repertoire than the pianist or the violinist. This is especially the case with the singer who aspires to appear in opera or in oratorio. Many oratorio and church singers with gorgeous voices, who have depended upon their ability to read at sight, have lost fine positions simply because the director knows that such a prima vista reading of a work will not satisfy the public in these days. A part or a role must be studied for weeks, months, years, before its artistic resources are fully developed. A great singer recently expressed it – “it will take me months to get this song in my system, and I shall be bettering it all the time” – and this was said about the simplest kind of folk song. Not long ago we saw the printed repertoire of a great English singer who sang all of his works from memory. It was amazing in its length. Such an artist is valuable to the manager because he can supply a multitude of requests for special programs, and he knows the requirements down to the very last accent and phrase mark. Incidentally he was capable of playing from memory all of the pianoforte accompaniments. The reason why thousands of girls to do “get on” in the concert filed is that they have nothing to sell but what might be called the “raw material”. The public demands the finished product, and in these days when the competition is more severe than ever before in the history of the art, and when there are numerous so called “glorious” voices, the artist whose repertoire contains the most works developed in the most finished manner is the most successful. Mme Gluck’s very practical aspect of this subject will be of great interest to all young singers. – Editors of the Etude]
Many seem surprised when I tell them that my vocal training did not begin until I was twenty years of age. It seems to me that it is a very great mistake for any girl to begin the serious study of singing before that age, as the feminine voice, in most instances, is hardly settled until then. Vocal study before that time is likely to be injurious, though some survive it in the hands of very careful and understanding teachers.
The first kind of a repertoire that the student should acquire is a repertoire of solfeggios. I am a great believer in the solfeggio. Using that for a basis, one is assured of acquiring facility and musical accuracy. The experienced listener can tell at once the voice that has had such training. Always remember that musicanship carries one much further than a good natural voice. The voice, even more than the hands, needs a kind of exhaustive technical drill. This is because in this training you are really building the instrument itself. In the piano, one has the instrument complete before he begins; but in the case of the voice, the instruments has to be developed and sometimes made by study. When the pupil is practicing, tones grow in volume, richness and fluency.
There are exercises by Bordogni, Concone, Vaccai, :amperti, Marchesi, Panofka, Panserson and many others with which I am not familiar, which are marvelously beneficial when intelligently studied. These I sang on the syllable “Ah”, and not with the customary syllable names. It has been said that the syllables Do, Re, Mi, Fa, etc., aid one in reading. To my mind, they are often confusing.
Go to the Classics
After a thorough drilling in solfeggios technical exercises, I would have the student work on the operatic arias of Bellini, Rossini, Donizetti, Verdi, and others. These men knew how to write for the human voice! Their arias are so vocal that the voice develops under them and the student gains vocal assurance. They were written before modern philosophy entered into music – when music was intended for the ear rather than for the mind. I cannot lay too much stress on the importance of using these arias. They are a tonic for the voice, and bring back the elasticity which the more subdued singing of songs taxes.
When one is painting pictures through words, and trying to create atmosphere in songs, so much repression is brought into play that the voice must have a safety-valve, and that one finds the bravura arias. Here one sings for about fifty bars, “The sky is clouded for me”, “I have been betrayed”, or :Joy abounds” – the words being simply a vehicle for the ever moving melody.
When hearing an artist like John McCormack sing a popular ballad it all seems so easy, but in reality gongs of that type are the very hardest to sing and must have back of them years of hard training or they fall to banality. They are far more difficult than the limpid operatic arias, and are actually dangerous for the insufficiently trained voice.
The Lyric Song Repertoire
Then when the student has her voice under complete control, it is safe to take up the lyric repertoire of Mendelssohn, Old English Songs, etc. How simple and charming they are! The works of the lighter French composers, Hahn, Massenet, Chaminade, Gounod, and others. Then Handel, Haydn, Mozart, Loew, Schubert, Schumann and Brahms. Later the student will continue with Strauss, Wolf, Reger, Rimsky-Korsakoff, Mousorgsky, Borodin and Rachmaninoff. Then the modern French composers, Ravel, Debussy, Geroges, Kocklin, Hue, Chausson, and others. I leave French for the last because it is, in many ways, more difficult for and English speaking person to sing. It is so full of complex and trying vowels that is requires the utmost subtlety to overcome these difficulties and still retain clarity in diction. For that reason the student should have the advice of a native French coach.
When one has traveled this long road, then he is qualified to sing English songs and ballads.
In this country we are rich in the quantity of songs rather than in the quality. The singer has to go through hundreds of compositions before he finds one that really says something. Commercialism overwhelms our composers. They approach their work with the question, “Will this go?” The spirit in which a work is conceived is that in which it will be executed. Inspired by the purse rather than the soul, the mercenary side fairly screams in many of the works put out by every day American publishers. This does not mean that a song should be queer or ugly to be novel or immortal. It means that the sincerity of the art worker must permeate it as naturally as the green leaves break through the dead branches in springtime. Of the vast number of new American composers, there are hardly more than a dozen who seem to approach their work in the proper spirit of artistic reverence.
Art for Art’s Sake, a Farce
Nothing annoys me quite so much as the hysterical hypocrites who are forever prating about “art for art’s sake”. What nonsense! The student who deceives himself into thinking that he is giving his life like an ascetic in the spirit of sacrifice for art, is the victim of a deplorable species of egotism. Art for art’s sake is just an iniquitous an attitude in its way, as art for money’s sake. The real artist has no idea that he is sacrificing himself for art. He does what he does for one reason and one reason only – he can’t help doing it. Just as the bird sings or the butterfly soars, because it is his natural characteristic, so the artist works.
Time and again a student will send me an urgent appeal to hear her, saying she is poor and wants my advice as to whether it is worth while to continue her studies. I invariably refuse such requests, saying that if the student could give up her work on my advice she had better give it up without it. One does not study for a goal. One sings because one can’t help it. The “goal” nine times out of ten is a mere accident.
Art for art’s sake, is the mask of studio idlers. The task of acquiring a repertoire in these days, when the vocal literature is so immense, is so overwhelming, that the student with sense will devote all his energies to work, and not imagine himself a martyr to art.