Blanche Marchesi: fourteen rules to be a good singing teacher

Blanche Marchesi (1863 – 1940), daughter of the illustrious artists and teachers Mathilde and Salvatore Marchesi, gives us a list of indispensable requirements for the practice of vocal art. Apart from the rules themselves, which go far beyond what they literally state, this brief text shows us the seriousness, quality and respect essential to the study of singing in the old days. The living result of this disciplined and rigourous teachings was that lineage of singers that is an inescapable reference until today in terms of technical perfection and expressive power.

It cannot be said too often that the teacher can only be known by his results. One celebrated pupil is not sufficient to speak for a system —one swallow does not make the summer. It is by good results in great numbers that a system can be judged, not so much by the production of star voices, as some of those are made by God, but by the training and producing of voices of the rank and file and turning them to the best advantage. My mother often used to say to me: “Some pupils that have made me the most celebrated have given me the least trouble.”

The fourteen points essential for teaching are:

  1. To have sung —not necessarily to have been a famous singer.
  2. To have studied with a great master of the true school.
  3. To have heard great artists.
  4. To have genius for imparting knowledge.
  5. To love one’s profession.
  6. To be a musician.
  7. To possess knowledge of the world’s ancient and modern vocal music.
  8. To be able to impart all branches of the art of singing —opera, oratorio, church music, songs, part singing, etc.
  9. To possess knowledge of the world’s most important literature.
  10. To know at least the four principal languages.
  11. To have, if not understanding, at least interest in all the other branches of art.
  12. To possess pathological, physiological, and psychological instinct —and, if possible, knowledge— because soul and body must be in perfect accord if the voice is to be trained to perfection.
  13. To have energy necessary to guide mortals.
  14. Patience.

This last is one of the most necessary virtues of a teacher and a rare one. First of all, patience is the outcome and result of real knowledge. Only the person who knows exactly the difficulties to be overcome, and who can judge the intelligence before her, can have the patience to point out the faults day by day and to help the student to master them. For serious study is long and the path is strewn with difficulties of all sorts. I do not wish to insist upon the terrific ignorance that reigns nearly all over the world concerning the study of singing. People admit and know that the study of instruments demand endless years of patience, but expect that singing be taught in a few weeks. In singing the human body and brain have to work simultaneously; there appears many a Rubicon on the journey which has to be bridged or swum over. Only time and patience can accomplish perfection in physical training, for the training of the voice is a physical training, and athletes know how long muscles and nerves take to acquire certain qualities of ability and endurance.

Text excerpted from Singer’s pilgrimage, Blanche Marchesi, Boston, 1923.