The Great Danger in Quack Vocal Teachers

by W. Dayton Wegefarth

The word quack was originally applied to charlatans and swindlers who went about “quacking” like geese about qualifications and attributes they could not possibly possess, hi all branches of professional work “quacks” exist, but the number in music exceeds all other professions, since no legal safeguards are thrown about those who would patronize the music teacher. Music teaching is an art, and it has been found impractical to license those who follow an art in the manner in which a physician, an engineer or a lawyer is accredited, for this reason the mailer of the selection of a teacher becomes especially difficult and exceptionally important.

There are more “quacks” in the ranks of vocal teachers than in any other artistic profession. More good voices are ruined by incapable teachers than there are good voices – that is to say, naturally good voices – developed.

Before a teacher of piano or organ dares to pose as a competent instructor he must undergo a. course of careful training, lasting through several years of tireless work, lie must understand his instrument thoroughly and must have a profound knowledge of music in all its branches. Otherwise he’ cannot hope to train a pupil successfully; and even though he were to attempt it, his inevitable failure would speedily brand him as a fraud.

Yet, how very often does a piano or organ teacher, without any preparation whatsoever, decide to-day to add vocal instruction to his accomplishments tomorrow. He has an ideal tone in his mind – a tone belonging only to the instrument he has mastered – and he argues with himself that since tone is the fundamental requisite of singing, if he can successfully introduce that particular tone into the voices of his prospective pupils his success as a singing teacher would be assured. And consequently he declares himself prepared to teach what is without any doubt the most subtle of all the arts.


A pupil in the hands of an unprepared vocal teacher is the most helpless being in the world. He goes to the teacher with an unformed idea; he is convinced that he has some little voice, how much he doesn’t know; but his friends have been pleased to listen, and he may have been requested to sing at informal affairs.

The teacher surmises all this, and wields to advantage the power he has in his visitor’s ignorance. In nine cases out of ten the teacher, after listening to the voice, and after having plunged into a lengthy speech on “timbre,” “quality,” “range,” “registers” and other foreign terms, manufactured with the intention of conveying awe to the pupil, predicts a splendid career for him. “In opera?” the victim timidly asks, and is immediately assured that he would doubtless succeed brilliantly in that field as a baritone, providing, of course, that he places himself entirely in the hands of his teacher for perhaps three or more years. From that minute the mislead pupil dreams opera, and deprives himself of necessities in order to meet the expense, which is no light one. of his vocal instruction. At the end of three years he is virtually penniless; sings with as much expression as his teacher’s church organ or grand piano; almost chokes to death on notes that were once easy to sing; loses all the sympathy and charm of his once natural voice, and then if. perchance, he meets with an honest vocal teacher, after all this atrocious ruin has been wrought, he is told decisively that his voice is unmistakably tenor and that the past years of agony that were spent in the effort to develop an unnatural bass or baritone have brought his voice beyond the power of restoration. The pupil, broken-hearted, returns to his clerkship, determined to lose his grief in his books, while the teacher happily continues to dispense knowledge concerning the voice, the piano and the organ, blaming this particular failure – if he thinks of it at all – on his pupil’s lack of “artistic temperament.” a term the meaning of which he is quite as ignorant as he is of the human voice.


A man, possessing a voice of rare beauty, studied with a teacher of reputation for one year. He was told that his voice was fitted for baritone operatic roles, and at the end of that time he did some public singing at affairs of no great prominence, meeting with success. His voice was heard by a devotee of opera, who declared it to be tenor. The student wanted further assurance, and so he traveled to another city, where a teacher of great repute lived. This teacher declared his voice to be bass; another of equal prominence said it was baritone. Tn this uncertain state the singer decided to place himself in the hands of his operatic friend, who found a reliable teacher – one who was willing to trust to his pupil’s future success for his remuneration – and began his new studies. In three years this teacher freed . the natural voice, which developed into a magnificent robust tenor. The three first teachers who had ventured opinions, although ranking high in the field of vocalism, lacked the inner sight into the deeper secrets of the voice, which only come to those who have devoted long years of study to the art. They were capable to a certain extent, but their knowledge was not profound enough to stamp them true masters.


This deplorable condition is even more prevalent in Europe than in America. Some years ago an aspirant to operatic laurels could feel assured of receiving honest criticism and proper tuition from European teachers. It is different now. The desire of pecuniary gain has displaced the nobler gratification which belongs to a teacher who succeeds in his work. Art is fast finding a commercial level, with the result that innumerable voices are ruined every year and as many purses lightened.

The idea, which is fostered by young students of this country, that the world’s greatest teachers reside in Europe is a mistaken one. It is quite true that America has many frauds who should be exposed ; so likewise has Europe. But there arc many capable teachers here who will do big things for a young singer, if they are only found. When these have been singled out, as they eventually will, the problem will be, effectually solved. But until that time the pupil can profit only by bitter experience.