The Effects of Moral Character upon the Voice

By Ashton, Agnes | The American Organist, February 2010 | Go to article overview

The Effects of Moral Character upon the Voice


Ashton, Agnes, The American Organist


There is a decided tendency of late to observe the mental as well as the physical side of voice culture. Teachers vary all the way from extreme emphasis of the physical to absolute reliance upon will power, the majority taking a medium course between these two methods.

In entering the realm of mind, teacher and pupil are either upon holy ground, or else they seek a highway over a morass of evil. This moral element in the problems to be solved seems scarcely to enter into the modus operandi ofthe average studio. It should be understood and dealt with, as it will, when the mind ceases to be a mystery. Then we shall no longer have the strange phenomenon of a morally debased man lifting us to heights of religious exaltation by his beautiful rendering of "If with all your hearts," while we are untouched by the efforts of an excellent singer of exemplary character. Does moral character directly affect the voice? A keen and deep student of human nature once said to me: "A singer has but to open her mouth and her inmost self is revealed to me."

Said a good vocal teacher, speaking of a certain pupil: "Her voice lies to me - every note. I never can make an artist of her!"

And again: "Miss A's voice is like herself, sweet - too sweet. It is cloying, like too much honey. Such amiability, such tranquility, such complacence! IfI could only make her lose her temper just once, to make that perfect tone human!"

If the student has a fine voice and musical gifts and works hard, what more need we ask? The bad students sing as well as the good ones - sometimes better. What have we to do with moral character?

And there are the great singers! Varying from real nobility of character to absolute voice, they seem to refute any possible argument that morals affect the voice, except the general admission, in all professions, that actual dissipation ruins the health.

But observe one common virtue in the great singers, namely: sincerity. Signor B - , who is far from a model of character, puts more sincerity into one phrase of his aria than a devoted member of the Christian Endeavor puts into an entire repertoire. Artistically considered, these singers are models of conscientiousness. To them, vanity, treachery, debauchery are light matters. To phrase badly, to lack tone color, to ruin a pianissimo -these are crimes!

After all that the studio can do for a pupil, after all that nature has done before that, the innate character of the singer decides her success. Take an average group of pupils, whom we will suppose to be under a competent teacher.

Miss A - abounds in temperament. In fact, she fairly wallows in it. She talks about it a great deal, excuses herself for various follies and eccentricities because of it, and works only when she "feels like it." Her voice is large, rich, promising, but seldom under control, invariably a disappointment to her teacher, when put to the test. …

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