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  • Writer's pictureTim Braithwaite

Manuel Garcia on how to Express the Different ‘Shades of Passion’

‘A few trials will suffice to prove that every shade of passion, however slight, will effect in a peculiar way the physical condition, capacity, formation, and rigidity of the vocal instrument. This tube incessantly changes, and, like a mold, gives a peculiar stamp to every sound which it emits. Owing to its wondrous elasticity, it also depicts external objects, as may be observed even in simple conversation; for instance, if the intention be to represent anything extensive, hollow, or slender, the voice produces, by a moulding movement, sounds of a corresponding descriptive character. The timbres are one of the chief features of a true sentiment; the choice of them cannot be neglected without committing absurdities. They frequently reveal an inward feeling which our words disguise or even contradict.

In chapter II of the First Part, we observed that each sound could receive either the open or closed timbre [see notes below], and that each timbre could, at a singer’s will, become either brilliant or dull [see notes below]. These features, as they offer very numerous combinations, allow a pupil to vary appropriately the expression of voice...’

‘...From our preceding observations, many important results may be deduced:

1st. Sounds that have no brilliancy serve to express poignant sentiments which cause prostration of the vocal organs; such as tenderness, timidity, fear, confusion, terror, &c. Those, on the other hand, which posses their full brilliancy, best express sentiments exciting to the energy of the organs; such as animation, joy, anger, rage, pride, &c.

2ndly. The two opposite timbres pursue an exactly similar course to that of the passions. They start from an intermediate point, where the expression of the softer sentiments is placed, and thence move in an opposite direction. The timbres attain their greatest exaggeration, when the passions themselves reach their utmost limits. Lively or terrible passions, that burst out with violence, require open timbres; while serious sentiments, whether elevated or concentrated, demand dull or covered timbres.’


The image below is Garcia’s diagram illustrating the two different timbres. He explains that the ‘clear timbre’ is caused by the ‘depression of the soft palate and a high position of the larynx,’ whereas the ‘dark’ or ‘closed’ timbre is caused by a ‘raised’ soft palate and a ‘depressed’ larynx.

Garcia gives us an exercise through which we can experience making a vowel either clearer or brighter. Indeed, he states that the changing quality of vowels is explicitly connected to the formation of different timbres:

‘In the same breath, on the same note, and on each of the vowels a,e,i,o, the student must pass through every shade of timbre, from the most open (or bright) to the most closed (or dark). The sounds must be maintained with an equal degree of force. The following table shows what change each vowel undergoes in passing from clear to dark; the process must also be inverted:

A approximates to o.

E “ “ to eu in French

I “ “ to u in French

O “ “ to u in Italian’

Garcia also provides us with another, separate parameter through which the singer can express the various affects; the extent to which a sound is ‘ringing’ or ‘dull:’

‘If after every explosion the glottis closes completely, each impinges sharply on the tympanic membrane, and the sound heard is bright or ringing. But if the glottis is imperfectly closed, and a slight escape of air unites the explosions, the impressions upon the tympanum are blunted, the sound then being veiled. The waste of air can be verified by placing a lighted match before the mouth. The brighter sound does not stir the flame, the veiled one will.’

To summarise the different parameters with which a singer can be vocally expressive according to Garcia:

Somber/Closed = High soft palate and lower larynx

Clear/Open = Low soft palate and higher larynx

Ringing/Bright/Brilliant = A perfectly closed glottis with no wasted air

Veiled/Dull = An imperfectly closed glottis with a certain amount of wasted air

Manuel García, Garcia’s New Treatise on the Art of Singing. A Compendious Method of Instruction, with Examples and Exercises for the Cultivation of the Voice (Boston: O. Ditson, 1870).

Manuel Garcia, Hints on Singing (London: Ascherberg, 1894).

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