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34. Definition of vocal quality. The term vocal quality is applicable to two conditions of voice. It denotes (1) that distinctive and relatively permanent character, or timbre, by which the voice of one person is distinguished from that of another, and (2) the modulations of tone of an individual voice by which emotional states, such as joy, sorrow, fear, doubt, or affection, are expressed. 1
35. What determines vocal quality The difference in the quality of voices is due to difference in the form of vibrations. The tone produced by the vibration of the vocal bands alone, if these could be set out from the rest of the vocal instrument, would be thin and characterless, but when it is reinforced by the secondary vibrations of the resonant spaces of throat, nasal chambers, and mouth, the tone assumes definite character and quality. As the sound of the flute differs from that of the violin because of difference in the material, texture, shape, and construction of the two instruments, so the quality of voices is determined by the texture of the vocal bands and all parts concerned in the making of tone, and by the size, shape, and condition of the vocal cavities of chest, throat, nose, and mouth, - wherever, indeed, the tone vibrates.
1 The voice of every human being has a quality of tone peculiar to it and different from that of any other voice. We recognize our friends and the individual members of the family by their voices, even after long periods of separation and though we do not see them when they speak. Yei, each voice, while preserving its distinctive character, is susceptible of marked change of quality through the influence of imagination and emotion. The child knows by the tone of the mother's voice whether she is sympathetic or impatient; the voice of a friend tells us whether he is happy, sad, calm, or excited.
But while the quality of a particular instrument is more or less stable, that of the voice is subject to notable modification. A change in the condition of any part of the vocal apparatus will change the quality of the tone. A cold is at once perceptible in the voice. Emotions, affecting as they do the muscular texture of the entire body, exert a marked influence over the delicate muscles controlling the voice, and consequently they modify the tone according to the character and intensity of the emotion. Joy brings a sense of firmness throughout the whole body - the tone of joy is clear, firm, and strong. Grief relaxes, — the tone of grief is dull, monotonous, and sometimes not voluntarily controllable. Anger hardens and tightens the muscles, — the tone of anger is high, strident, tense. Affection, tenderness, love, soften the muscular texture, — of these the tone is low, tender, soothing.
36. Control of tone quality It is obvious that the quality of the voice is partly within the control of the will, partly beyond it. In so far as the character of the tone is predetermined by the size, the shape, and the texture of certain firm and fixed parts of the vocal organs, such as the roof of the mouth and the nasal chambers, it cannot be changed at will. To these fixed parts of the instrument the distinctive, individual quality of voices is attributable, while the emotional qualities are the result of adjustments of the flexible and adaptable muscles and tissues of throat, soft palate, and tongue, these being sub ject to the influence of the will and the emotions. It follows that the expressive qualities of the voice may be extended, improved, and brought under control. This may be accomplished by technical vocal exercises 1 and by bringing the voice into intimate and responsive relation to mind, imagination, and feeling through the sympathetic vocal rendering of all forms of poetry and imaginative literature.
37. The sympathetic rendering of literature The most effective way of improving the quality of the voice and of making it obedient and responsive to the demands of the mind and the emotions, is found in the sympathetic voicing of selections from literature embracing all varieties and shades of thought and feeling. As modula. tions in tone quality are the result of the direct influence of thought, imagination, and emotion on the voice, it fol. lows that the training of the voice in quality depends on educating and strengthening these faculties through an awakened appreciation of various types of literature. Read aloud the lines quoted below and observe that, as the spirit of each is understood and felt, the quality of the voice undergoes a distinct change in passing from one to the other. Shylock. Who is he comes here?
Shylock (aside). How like a fawning publican he looks ! I hate him for he is a Christian ; But more, for that in low simplicity He lends out money gratis, and brings down The rate of usance here with us in Venice. 1 The discussion of the technique of tone production does not come within the province of this chapter. However, it should be remarked in passing that technical vocal exercises, when wisely used, are highly important and beneficial means of securing voluntary control of tone and of overcoming weaknesses and faults in the speaking voice. Thus, certain exercises may be effectively used removing nasality, huskiness, thinness of tone, and the like. But mechanical exercises do not suffice for the training of the voice in qualities of sympathy and in spontaneous responsiveness to thought and feeling. These qualities cannot be secured by mechanical devices, and a deliberate attempt to simulate sympathy of tone when sympathy is not felt results in obvious insincerity and artificiality.
If I can catch him once upon the hip,
Shakespeare: Merchant of Venice, I, iii.
The day is cold, and dark, and dreary;
It rains, and the wind is never weary ;
And the day is dark and dreary.
It rains, and the wind is never weary ;
And the days are dark and dreary.
Behind the clouds is the sun still shining ;
Longfellow: The Rainy Day.
38. Kinds of vocal quality The possible changes and shades of quality of the cultivated and obedient voice are limited only by the capacity and range of the imagination and the emotional nature of the individual. According to the character of the impulse governing the voice, tone quality may be considered as (1) Normal, or Pure, and (2) Abnormal, or Impure.
1. Normal, or pure tone. Pure tone is that clear, rich, resonant quality of voice resulting from the harmonious action of all parts of the vocal instrument in obedience to the normal, controlled action of mind, imagination, and feeling. Whatever is worthy, noble, and beautiful in thought and spirit, whether related to the common affairs of every day or to the idealistic conceptions of literature, finds expression in pure tone. But, as there are many aspects of human experience and many states of mind and emotion which may be considered normal, there are many modulations of pure tone indicative of varying thoughts and moods of the individual. A minute classification of modulations of pure tone, even were it possible, is not necessary for the purposes of our study, but for the sake of suggestions for training in vocal expression and of affording criteria by which appreciation and emotional response may be judged, certain typical conditions of thought and feeling finding normal expression in tones of pure quality, may be considered in this connection. Qualities of pure tone are heard in (1) common conversation, (2) the expression of strong and elevated feelings, (3) somber and reflective moods, and (4) genial, glad, exultant emotions.
(1) Common conversation. Under ordinary conditions of everyday conversation the mind is calm, and the voice, if properly used, is pure and pleasing. This is also true of most of the reading aloud done in the home. As the greater part of our speech is of this quieter sort, the cultivation of an easy, normal use of the speaking voice is highly important. Read the following extract in a simple, clear, pure tone, suited to the genial character of the conversation : —
There are sweet voices among us, we all know, and voices not musical, it may be, to those who hear them for the first time, yet
1 A voice misused cannot give consistent and adequate expression to genial, fine thoughts and impulses. Tenderness is not expressed in a harsh guttural, nor strong confidence and hope in a high falsetto, nor happiness in a hoarse whisper. A clear voice of resonant and sympathetic quality is one of the most valuable attainments of the student of vocal expression.