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Expressive Voice Culture, Including the Emerson System   By:

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Expressive Voice Culture


The Emerson System



Teacher of Voice Culture in the Emerson College of Oratory.


The Emerson System treats the voice as a natural reporter of the individual, constantly emphasizing the tendency of the voice to express appropriately any mental concept or state of feeling.

This treatise is a setting forth of methods and principles based upon this idea with a fuller elaboration of the relation of technique to expression. No attempt is here made, however, to present more than an individual contribution to this broad subject.

J. E. S.

Expressive Voice Culture.


Principles of Voice Culture.

The first essential to one beginning the study of voice culture is an appreciation of the real significance of voice development. We must recognize at once the fact that the voice is a natural reporter of the conditions, emotions, thoughts, and purposes (character and states or conditions) of the individual. The ring of true culture in the voice is that perfect modulation of tone and movement which, without self consciousness, communicates exactly the meaning and purpose which impel the utterances of the speaker.

It is almost impossible for any person to cultivate vocal expression to the best advantage without an intelligent and sympathetic teacher; he lacks the perspective upon himself which is necessary in order to correct his individual faults and draw out his most effective powers. Then, again, he needs that personal supervision and direction of his efforts which will allow his mind to be constantly occupied with thoughts and principles, and relieve him of all temptation to watch his own performances as such. But it is necessary that the student should have a simple and logical basis for practice, however great may become the variety of its application.

That the voice is naturally expressive is shown in the fact that even where there is no possible suggestion of cultivation we instinctively read the broad outlines of meaning and feeling in the tones and inflections of the voice. May it not therefore be possible that a finer culture will reveal all the subtle shades of thought and feeling, and a more discriminating judgment be able to detect these, just as the ethnologist will reconstruct from some crude relic the history of an earlier civilization?

We must remember, too, that first of all the voice is a vital instrument. The physical condition affects most noticeably the quality, strength, and movement of the voice. Hence we see that physical health is essential to a good voice, and the proper use of the voice is itself one of the most invigorating exercises that can be practised. All the vital organs are called into healthful action through this extraordinary manipulation of the breath, and the nervous system, both vitally and emotionally, receives invigoration.

In the beginning, therefore, such vital conditions as are essential to the production of tone should be considered.

First, a standing position, in which the vital organs are well sustained, is essential. One cannot even breathe properly unless one stands well. The weight should be mainly upon the balls of the feet, and the crown of the head so positively elevated as to secure the erectness of the spinal column. This will involve the proper elevation of the chest, the essential freedom of respiration, and the right sustaining tension of the abdominal muscles.

( a ) Take standing position as follows: weight on balls of feet, heels together, toes slightly apart; line of gravity from crown of head, well lifted, to balls of feet; the ear, point of shoulder, and point of hip should be in line; muscles of the thigh strong in front; ribs well lifted so that front line from waist to throat is lengthened to full extent; back kept erect, and curve at waist not emphasized. Breathe strongly and deeply several times.

To secure the elevation of the ribs the hands may be placed under the arms, as high as possible, fingers pointing down; then try to turn or press the ribs up and forward with strong action of hands, breathing freely and emphasizing strength in waist muscles... Continue reading book >>

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