The Hygiene of the Vocal Organs

Publication details: 1886. Belmar, NJ: Edgar S. Werner & Co.

Who was Sir Morell Mackenzie? (1837-1892) A British physician who became a pioneer in the emerging specialty of laryngology. He helped found one of the first “Throat Hospitals” in Europe (in London in 1863), and wrote a number of books, including The Use of the Laryngoscope in Diseases of the Throat (1865).

What is The Hygiene of the Vocal Organs: A Practical Handbook for Singers and Speakers? This book addresses Mackenzie’s views on issues such as the training of the singing voice, its anatomy, and vocal registers. He also presents a contemporary review of the controversy regarding these issues—and his skepticism as to usefulness of vocal science in voice teaching. Manuel Garcia (see A Complete Treatise) made criticisms of an early edition of Mackenzie’s book in a medical paper published in Berlin. In the 7th Edition of this book, Mackenzie interpolated these comments and presented his rebuttals to them.

Great Quotes from The Hygiene of the Vocal Organs:

The physiology of the vocal organs is a very difficult subject in itself, and its obscurity has been deepened to almost Cimmerian darkness by the dust and smoke of angry controversy. The sober scientist has shown an unphilosophical proneness to rage and imagine vain things…” (Mackenzie 26)

“Indeed, with the exception of certain points relating to the falsetto register, the laryngoscope can scarcely be said to have thrown any new light on the mechanism of the voice. This will no doubt be a hard saying for many vocalists who look upon the little mirror as a sort of magic glass in which the whole secret of Nature’s workmanship is made visible to the eye.” (Mackenzie 35)

[During laryngoscopic examination] the parts must, therefore, be seen under more or less artificial conditions, which may lead the observer utterly astray as to the normal state of things.” (Mackenzie 37)

The subject of the registers has been much debated by the learned, and still more perhaps by the unlearned; it is the “Eastern question” of vocal physiology…[but] the actual mechanical principles involved are only two… This division of the voice is fundamental, all others being based either on convenience for teaching purposes, or on fantastic notions derived from subjective sensations or erroneous laryngoscopic observations.” (Mackenzie 53)

“The old Italian masters who knew little and cared less about the science, but were profoundly skilled in the art, of singing, trained their pupils’ voices with a success certainly not inferior to that of our modern professors armed with their laryngoscopes, spirometers, stethometers, and other vocicultural implements.” (Mackenzie 86)

The teaching of singing by anatomy is an absurdity worthy of Laputa. What would be thought of a dancing master who should begin his course with an elaborate exposition of the structure of the lower limbs?” (Mackenzie 90)

“The old Italian masters taught that in inspiration the anterior abdominal wall should be slightly drawn in, and this method was practically for more than 150 years.” (Mackenzie 99)

“It is necessary that this twofold function of the soft palate should be thoroughly understood by the voice trainer, as the muscles which move it can be educated just like those of any other part.” (Mackenzie 231)

Hover the cursor over any quote to pause it.

Note: The quotes I have selected do not necessarily reflect my own views on the subjects they address, and they may not be scientifically accurate. They were chosen because they are representative of the author’s views. –Dr. Nielsen

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