What is Vocalizing

Music of Yesterday

by Karleton Hackett

What is vocalizing, and why do we do it? Vocalizing is learning to sustain vowels. Learning to produce the vowel sounds in such manner as shall bring out the full beauty of the tone. Except when we hum, we always sing some vowel sound, and vocalizing is to teach the pupil the laws of tone-production so that he may make them with the ease and freedom which give purity to the tone. Just to sing scales and arpeggios, to sustain notes, is perfectly worthless unless the tones are produced with the freedom which gives them musical value. The basis of the value of every voice comes from the beauty of the tone quality, and this is more quickly learned through vocalizing than in any other way. but many pupils do not seem to grasp the reason for it. They appear to think that a certain number of minutes each day given to various forms of vocalizes is practicing. It certainly uses up a definite amount of time, but unless it K done with care and understanding of the reasons for it, the pupil may be worse off when he has .finished than he was when he began. It the student is not singing well, practicing with understanding, then he is doing ill and harming himself with each tone he makes. Perfunctory practice is worse than none at all. If the pupil does not practice he will not make progress. but also he will do himself no harm, while careless half-understood practice is one of the fruitful causes of injured voices and failure.

Why do we vocalize? Because when we come to sing songs, to use our technical skill for the practical purposes of music, we do precisely the same thing as when we vocalize. To vocalize is to sustain vowel sounds, and every syllable of every word in all the languages singers use is composed of some sustained vowel sound. This elemental fact pupils do not appear to realize. Vocalizing is a sort of punishment which they must undergo that they may have a song, and in their minds the two have no connection. But if the pupil has some sort of comprehension of what vocalizing really is, then when he begin- to study a song’ he has some foundation to go on. lie is to sustain the vowels which form the words just as he sustained the vowels as mere vocal exercises. Suppose he has the word ”heart” to sing for a whole tone. This is merely an aspirate, then a long sustained “‘ah” with the consonants added at the close. A simple vocal exercise on ‘ ah.” and yet when the pupil conies to the fact he often acts as though he had never sung the vowel in his life and had no idea how to go about it. He has failed to grasp the meaning of his vocalizing, and even though he may sing his exercises very well, they arc of little value to him, because he does not understand the relation of vocalizing to singing. Singing is an extension of vocalizing, based on the same principles, done in the same manner, with consonants added. Pupils should be made to comprehend this elemental fact, and then the vocalizing would be more interesting, because they could see the reason for it. Vocalizing is to singing as the raw material is to the finished product; unless the raw material is good there is small chance that the finished product will be of value.

Schumann in one of his letters to Friedrich Wieck, his friend and teacher, wrote, “How often did I think of you in the Scala theatre in Milan How charmed I was with Rossini, or rather with Pasta’s interpretation. I leave her name unqualified to show my respect – I might say adoration. In the Leipsic concert-room I sometimes experienced a thrill of awe in the presence of the genius of music, but Italy has taught me to love it. Only once in my whole life have I had an impression of the actual presence of God, of gazing reverently and unrebuked into His face; this was at Milan as I listened to Pasta and Rossini. Do not smile, dear master, for I speak seriously.”

No words can be added after what Schumann wrote, to bear tribute to the power of the singer to awake the best in us. What so moved Schumann was no display of mere technical skill, but the outpouring of a sincere soul. All through the ages this has been the peculiar gift of the singer, to touch the deepest chords of the human heart.

Mr. Henry T. Finck in his admirable book, “Success in Music.” quotes from Wagner the assertion that the human voice “is the most genuine and the most beautiful organ of music” and that, compared with the infinite variety of coloring of which it is capable, even “the most manifold imaginable mixture of orchestral tints must seem insignificant.”