Dame Clara Butt on Silent Practice and Vocal Rest (1912)
'Here is another point which beginners should take to heart, and follow
as far as they are able. Try to avoid over-anxiety. Students often make
the mistake, through over-anxiety, of over-working their voices just
before a concert, with the result that they are not at their best when
on the platform. It is a good plan to rest both the body and the voice
before singing in public.
I should like to emphasise the importance of this very fully. Young
singers seem to lose sight, half the time, of the fact that they should
be at their very best when on the platform. Personally I always keep,
and have always kept, this clearly before my mind. It is the greatest
possible mistake to waste your efforts at the last moment in private.
Rest before you sing in public, in order that when you go on to the
platform you may give your audience--who, after all, have paid to be
entertained--of your best. Remember that while polishing is highly
desirable, there is such a thing as over-polishing, and this, instead of
improving, only wears out. I am a great believer in the quiet study of
a song without the aid of a piano. Not only does this avoid tiring the
voice, but it enables the singer to fully grasp all the beauty and the
meaning of the words and the music, and so to enter into the spirit of
the subject when upon the platform. When on tour I frequently adopt
this method of studying. It enables one to be doing something useful
when in the train, or elsewhere, when actual practice is undesirable or
This resting of the voice before singing in public applies not only to
vocal exercises, but to all kinds of over-exertion of the throat. Even
those who are aware of the danger, and who are careful to refrain from
singing-practice just before an appearance in public, very frequently
forget that speaking may tire the voice every whit as much as singing.
It is most important not to do too much talking for some hours before a
public appearance is made. In this way the throat will be thoroughly
In singing, as in everything else, experience teaches, better than any
amount of instruction, what an individual is capable of, and how the
full power and merit of the voice may best be acquired and preserved.
When students have "found their feet" sufficiently to understand the
best way to manage their voices, they will be able to regulate their
practice according to what leads to the best result in each individual
case. Some may be best suited by morning practice, others by afternoon
practice. Personally, I put in most of my practice between the hours of
eleven and one each morning.'
Clara Butt, “How to Become a Successful Singer,” in How to Become a Successful Singer (London: George Newnes, 1912).
There are plenty of wonderful recordings of Clara Butt, but this is perhaps my favourite, recorded in 1909:
The image below is a cartoon of Clara Butt by George Belcher, published in Punch Magazine on the 13th of April, 1927. The text reads as follows:
Dame Clara Butt.
There are contraltos useful in their way, but
None that can rival CLARA RUMFORD (née BUTT);
Deep as a ‘cello, poignant as a sackbut,
Against all others I’m prepared to back Butt.