Heinrich Panofka: general considerations VII

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Seventh 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 VII
Of the will. “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

The application of a system to the development of the vocal organ is the most annoying affair in the world. Every teacher has their own, they are convinced and believe it to be the best. One recommends supporting the chest notes on the chest and the head notes on the head; another teaches the student who does not yet know how to emit the voice that the chest E should express a religious feeling, the F a feeling of love, the G a feeling of jealousy, etc; others recommend closing the mouth to make the voice come out, etc.1 Everyone forgets one very simple thing; that is, that the seat of the voice is in the larynx; that the chest is the container of air and the head that of intelligence;2 more so: that we do nothing without our will. We raise an arm when we want to, we raise our eyes to heaven when we want to, we sing in tune when we want to, and we sing out of tune when we want to. Now, since the art of singing is about singing in tune, you need to want to sing in tune. The old Italian masters, who understood something, never used these artifices that resemble quackery.

Here are the three precepts which are true and the simplest ones obtained for the beginning of vocal studies:

  1. Open your mouth naturally, before emitting the note;
  2. Have an understanding of the right intonation of the note you are about to emit;
  3. Emit this note with a light blow of the throat on the vowel a, with the firm will to produce a sound pleasant to the ear.

Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” Therefore, young artists, you should be willing to open your mouth properly, without nervous effort and with grace, so that your voice can come out unhindered. You should be willing to think about the intonation of the note you are about to sing, instead of constantly worrying about the sound and the strength of the voice; replace the false designations of chest voice and head voice with those of voice in the first and second registers. These false designations of chest voice and head voice are the source of very serious vocal disorders of students and inexperienced teachers. It is natural for them to look for the chest voice in the chest where the voice is not found at all, only air, and the head voice in the head, where not the slightest voice resides just the brain (when there is one). Therefore, you should be willing to pay attention to me when I say that where there are healthy voices, the union of the two registers is done with absolute naturalness and that the two registers do not differ from each other except for the impasto; that there is no gap (separation), and that there is absolutely nothing but a change of impasto. But where are the healthy voices!

Almost always, then, it is a matter of healing an inveterate evil caused by ordering students to do the exercises of messa di voce (filare i suoni) and of agility without paying attention to the union of the two registers; thus creating a difficulty that did not exist, because the difference between the two registers has been neglected and the students have been made to study by making them overreach the limits of the first register. One month of such studies is enough to ruin the most beautiful voice!

We help the student in the exercise of three, four, five, six, seven and eight notes of our Vade mecum, informing him of the number of notes he has to sing in the first or second register and indicating the change of register. This moral assistance prevents the pupil from worrying; and, when he reaches the scale, the most perfect union of the two registers is found beautiful and accomplished, and one of the greatest supposed difficulties of the art of singing is overcome already at the beginning of the studies.3 The guide of the singer is his intelligence and his will; and the more discerning he is, the more intelligence there will be in his singing.

It is said of a singer that he sings stupidly not only because he articulates badly, but mainly because his voice has a stupid metal, resulting from his limited vocal intelligence and the lack of a firm and resolute will to amend this defect.


1 See the very interesting and instructive book by M. Oscar Commettant: Musica e musici, published by Faure in Paris.

2 L’arte di cantare by Panofka, Italian edition; Lucca and Milan. Foreword, page 7.

3 L’arte di cantare, Italian edition; page 45.


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