Academic journal article Journal of Singing

Frederic W. Root's "Systemizing Voice Culture"

Academic journal article Journal of Singing

Frederic W. Root's "Systemizing Voice Culture"

Article excerpt

I AM GRATEFUL TO David Grogan for providing me with the following article that appeared in The Musical Visitor, a magazine of music literature and music published in the United States from 1883 to 1897. David is a DMA candidate at The University of North Texas and is completing his thesis on the life and teaching of American educator Frederic W. Root.

Regular readers of this column might remember an earlier article by Root called "The Voice Teacher's Problems."1 Root was a well known voice teacher in this country as well as a very prolific author and regular guest lecturer. The following is a lecture that he presented at a meeting of the Canadian Society of Professional Musicians, December 31, 1890. My purpose of presenting these comments is as an introduction to the principles of pedagogy as he expressed in his popular method books, including School of Singing (1873), Root's New Course in Voice Culture and Singing (1891), and the monumental Technic and Art of Singing (1901) that was published in eight volumes. It makes sense to follow the address offered below with his solution to what he perceived to be a common problem: the absence of a consistent method that is universally trusted and taught. While some of his remarks might be considered a bit inflammatory, I believe that it is a good thing to consider how far we have come in the last one hundred years.

Systemizing Voice Culture

Frederic W. Root

I wonder if teachers generally ever stop to consider how poorly our science compares with others in the matter of Pedagogics; how imperfectly its professors have as yet approached the standard of the professors of other branches of instruction, as regards analysis, scientific statement, careful gradation and systematic instruction. Do we ever reflect that, while a parent wishing to have his child taught science, literature or languages, can find on all sides schools in which he justly has perfect confidence, if he wishes to have him taught Voice Culture, and is highly ambitious as to the result, he searches long and anxiously for some teacher or institution, where he may experience a comfortable certainty as to the result?-a certainty not so much that the finest educational work will be done, as that the voice shall not be ruined and the mind filled with affectation and nonsense.

Our public schools afford an example of what scientific pedagogy may be. Notice the accuracy of statements made in their textbooks; observe the copiousness of illustration of every point, and the well-considered gradations of all difficulties; observe how foundations are laid first, and how, as the subject is developed, one step prepares for another in logical sequence. Notice the methods by which the pupils are examined at intervals to ascertain if every step has been correctly taken; and lastly, appreciate the fact that graduation from one of our higher educational institutions, which carry the public school course to conclusions, means real mastery of certain subjects of study. As further proof that education in such lines of study is broadly established upon a sound pedagogic basis, and is scientifically administered through civilized countries, we perceive that graduates of reputable institutions everywhere compare similarly; that they are similarly equipped, and are not in serious conflict as to definitions and results. We shall find each to revere his Alma Mater, and all to respect each other's attainment. Indeed, the same thing is true of music-study in all its departments except Voice Culture.

It is possible that some would claim that such was the case with Voice Culture as well; that its principles are established, and generally understood. You might say that a singer's education is well and thoroughly provided for in such important and sufficient considerations as placing or locating the tone in the head rather than in the throat; changing registers at proper places so that there shall be no forcing of the voice; breathing abdominally, and hence deeply and effectively; purifying vowel sounds, articulating forcibly and elegantly, executing clearly and rapidly, etc. …

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