I am thrilled to announce that I am now a published author. I have a chapter in this book and I am so excited I could spit! I’ll give you a brief excerpt of my work, which was a narrative analysis of four eminent Australian singers and their relationships with their singing teachers.
From: Harrison, S. (Ed). (2010). Perspectives on Teaching Singing, Bowen Hills, Brisbane: Australian Academic Press.
“Dame Joan Hammond
Dame Joan Hammond attended the Sydney Conservatorium, learning singing and violin. Her singing teacher there was a Mr Spencer Thomas, about whom, apart from mentioning his name, she makes no comment. Upon graduation, Hammond joined a repertory company after graduation for £3 per week and enjoyed a happy time there, while also competing in the NSW Golf Championship. Her time in Australia seems characterized by consistent hard work and while she mentions that she continued her singing lessons, she does not mention with whom. This oversight does not seem deliberate, but it suggests a fundamental characteristic of Hammond’s persona. She was an independent learner and teacher personality was of little use to her if she did not learn the appropriate skills: it was the pedagogy that was important.
Hammond had commenced her travels to Europe with help from a golf fund, and she began daily lessons with a Frau Eibenschütz in Vienna, as well as having daily coaching sessions with a Herr Gomboz. Hammond, in her autobiography, made frequent mention of her repetiteurs and coaches – she appeared to learn as much from them as she did from any of her teachers. She was also aware over time of a lack of progress in her singing lessons with Frau Eibenschütz, and eventually resolved to change teachers: “She was not one of the best known teachers by any means…I knew that the extensions of my voice were not developing as they should, and I could see no point in spending money to remain vocally static. It was a tearful ‘break-away’, but it had to be done”(Hammond, 1970, p. 67).
Hammond’s autobiography reveals a pragmatic woman whose choices were ultimately not dictated by strong loyalty towards her teachers, although she felt great love and affection for her friends and family. She refused to remain with teachers who wasted her time and money, and her lessons with tenor Dino Borgioli are particularly illuminating.
Hammond was introduced to Borgioli and his wife by an acquaintance in London. Lessons soon commenced four times per week, although Hammond was warned not to tell anyone that Dino was teaching her. Hammond soon “began to have doubts about his teaching”, as her “throat muscles tired easily. This worried Dino, but the trouble soon passed and the voice began to develop”(1970, p. 73). Borgioli was a renowned tenor, and was performing in Salzburg, in Verdi’s Falstaff. The Borgioli couple invited Hammond along as chauffeur in return for reduced lesson fees, and she admitted to learning a tremendous amount from attending rehearsals, having singing lessons and daily coaching sessions with Alberto Erede, who “was meticulous over the smallest details, and he was no clock watcher either. He went on and on – time was of no account; only the music. A session with him was most stimulating” (1970, p. 74).
Hammond’s relationship with Dino Borgioli deteriorated during the Falstaff season, due in part to disagreements over a contract Hammond was due to start in Vienna, which Dino prevented her from fulfilling. She wrote, “once again, I was having great doubts about Dino as a teacher” (1970, p. 76). She was furious about the contract, and became ill. She wrote, “I knew my voice was not as it should be. I have always known instinctively that nature is the surest, safest guide to voice training. If the cords become inflamed or the muscles tire easily, the voice is not being properly produced. I had reached a critical point” (ibid.). At this time she was offered a Glyndebourne contract in the chorus, but refused it, despite vociferous arguments from the Borgiolis. Hammond wrote, “it was a confused time in which I felt I was being pushed hither and thither, often to no point and without any consideration for what I myself wanted” (1970, p. 77).
Hammond did not take kindly to the meddling of the Borgioli couple, despite their apparent generosity, and struck out on her own, accepting the contract at the Vienna Volksoper and graduating eventually to the Staatsoper. She notes that upon her return to London there was pressure from her friends and from Dino himself for her to have more lessons with him, which she did so grudgingly, out of a sense of loyalty to those who were helping her and out of fear of angering Dino’s many supporters.
Characteristic of the Hammond and Dino Borgioli relationship was Borgioli’s insistence that Hammond continue lessons with him, despite her repeated refusals. His fees were expensive and she disagreed with him “on the question of breathing”(1970, p. 85). As Hammond’s success grew, so did Borgioli’s reliance on teaching as a source of income, and the previous secrecy over lessons was now forgotten. Later in her memoir Hammond recounts “my lessons with Dino had virtually stopped as they were beyond my means, and in any case breathing was still a bone of contention between us” (1970, p. 105). Hammond’s particular vocal issues at this time included problems with breath management, and Dino’s techniques were not successful for her. She was convinced that “abdominal breathing was the best whereas Dino liked, not clavicular breathing, but a sort of relation of it which kept the breath high. After three or four lessons I felt my throat muscles tensing, and my voice tired quickly as a result of keeping the breath too high” (1970, p. 105).
While Hammond does not dismiss the Borgioli influence entirely, she makes it clear from her autobiography that she was not a singer to be dominated by her teacher. She notes at this time “I had never been spoken to in such a way, neither did I think he had the right to impose his will on me” (1970, p. 76). This dislike of extrinsic control is a key characteristic of loss of autonomy. Clearly Hammond did not appreciate this domination, nor did she enjoy the loss of competence that came with poor vocal technique. She chose to end the relationship.
After the war Hammond met ear, nose and throat specialist Ivor Griffiths, whom she claimed was “both friend and saviour as far as my voice was concerned. If Ivor advised me to stop singing, I would stop – I had absolute faith in him” (1970, p. 149). This relationship proved to be a vital one for Hammond, for, after her experiences with Dino Borgioli, she placed no trust in singing teachers. In vocal disarray, due to poor habits and vocal misuse, she became an autodidact, learning vocal physiology and experimenting with scales and exercises until she knew “what corrective measures to adopt, anywhere, at any time” (1970, p. 165). She would have weekly check ups with Ivor Griffiths to ensure she was not damaging her voice. Her voice rebuild took her three years “spent in trial and error. There were times of progress and retrogression, of happiness and disappointment, according to the success or failure of my efforts towards self-mastery. It was engrossing and rewarding” (ibid.).
Hammond’s mistrust of singing teachers was well founded – in a later chapter, she recounts the story of hearing two young girls sing who were being taught appalling techniques by a young American teacher. She wrote that “there is so much charlatanism in the world of singing teachers, and here was a big fake before me” (1970, p. 183). Hammond clearly trusted only her own teaching, and, after many years of vocal unwieldiness, was probably right to do so. She claimed that it was not until 1950 that she erased all of her bad vocal habits: she was then thirty-eight.
Hammond’s own experiences with her singing teachers coloured her opinion of singing teachers generally. She distrusted them, and learnt to rely on her own proprioceptive abilities to diagnose and treat her vocal ailments, with the help of a reliable ear nose and throat doctor. Unlike the experiences of other singers, her independent and inquiring mind proved to be her best counsel, and she warned against charlatans in her autobiography.
The no nonsense, independent attitude of this Australian singer towards singing teaching expertise is an attitude mirrored in the experiences of Melba, Bronhill and Elms. Each singer, as they became more secure in their vocal development and ability to sense good from bad singing, was able to make decisions about the worth and expertise of their teacher and to make changes where necessary. A singer must develop a near invulnerable sense of autonomy and competence that will manifest despite youth and inexperience.”
Totally thrilled. Great to see my name in print!