Heinrich Panofka: general considerations V

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Fifth chapter of the book Voices and singers, twenty-eight chapters of general considerations on the voice and the art of singing, published in 1866 by maestro Heinrich Panofka.


Chapter V
Of the harm of accustoming singing students to beat with the hand while singing.

The feeling of time and rhythm is innate in good musical organisms; but not all people who are endowed with a beautiful voice have a good musical organism and often sin either in the aspect of the rhythmic sense or in that of the auditory sense. Those who have flaws of delicacy and finesse in their ears will be out of tune more or less throughout their lives: it would be easy for us to cite famous names ad hoc. People who have difficulty in feeling time are susceptible to some improvement, but it will always be uncertain and they will be mistaken more than once, especially in group works.

What is unforgivable is the absurd way of making the poor students beat time with their hands when they study solfeggio: and, as if it were not cruel enough to make them pronounce the name of notes they are not singing,1 a new way of making them move their heads, arms and feet is added to this barbaric teaching; while they sing something totally different from what is written on the paper in front of their eyes.

When the student sings a piece in common time, he sees well this distribution on the paper, just as he sees the notes. The instrumentalist, who must overcome the mechanism of the piano forte, the violin, the flute, for which he needs, in addition to the fingers, an exact calculation of the breathing (the same as the singer), cannot pronounce the notes he plays or beat the time with his hand: he does it with his foot anyway, which is not beautiful to see and harmful to the performance. Why then is the singing student forced to resort to this false help? It is clear that time is felt in the mind, where the seat of our intelligence is located: now, the hand will reproduce exactly what we feel: if we feel falsely, what we reproduce will be false; if, on the contrary, we feel as it really is, it will be useless to beat it.

It is the teacher’s responsibility to come to the aid of the student and beat the time where he or she might encounter a complication from the sudden change in either tempo or rhythm. Here it is necessary, as in the study of notes, to proceed with mental study. It will be useful, therefore, for the student to mentally count the part of the vocalizing or the piece he must study; to become mentally familiar with both the tempo and the rhythm and intonation: then he will not need to use the indecent method of beating time with his hand.


1 See Chapter I.


Text excerpted and translated from Voci e cantanti, Ventotto capitoli di considerazioni generali sulla voce e sull’arte del canto, Enrico Panofka, Florence, 1871.