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“And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living soul." How wonderful is breath! this simple motion of air; this mysterious, active agent, invisibly, silently vitalizing and animating nature-pulsations cease or beat—life comes or goes on its wings. With it are woven the sweet words of affection and the melodies of song.
When our hearts are stirred with responsive sympathies, these gush forth in accents of speech, coined in tender phrases, borne from lip to ear, from soul to soul, by this gentle messenger, this slender stream of air, called breath. Let us reverence it—let it come to us freely, fully, joyfully. Yet it is nothing but air—air that is common every-where. It plays wantonly with the mighty monarchs of the forest, kissing and swaying their branches with rough caress, till they reel and laugh with hoarse mutterings of delight. Again, swollen to the fierce hurricane, it makes fearful music of their crashing limbs and snapping trunks.
It comes to us in the soft summer morning laden with the perfume of flowers; but ere it reaches us it has kissed a thousand scented leaves. The birds soar aloft in this mysterious ether, pouring their triumphal songs on its resonant bosom; and the butterfly and buzzing insect, “like winged flowers and flying gems," sparkle and shimmer in their dazzling beauty.
But whether it brings upon its waves the mutterings of the coming storm, or the merry, ringing laugh of childhood—the awful booming of the heavy cannonade, or the silvery tones of the violin—it is air, such as we breathe. Oh! then let it become a thing of joy to us—this great motive power, charging with ceaseless activities the complicated machinery of our bodies. Let us learn to make it a thing of beauty, wreathing embodied thoughts in vocal gems of purity and sweetness that shall gladden the ears of all who listen.
Breathing, --- breathing sweet and strong,
Breathing naught but purest air. Speech is vocalized breath. If the pupil has not learned to breathe naturally, or through bad habits has lost the proper control of the organs, the first effort must be to restore a normal process of breathing. No clear, musical sound can be given unless the muscles of the chest and vocal organs are strong by the exercise of natural breathing. A feeble or imperfect voice is always disagreeable and sometimes painful to the hearer.
Air, of which breath is made, should be inhaled through the nose. Be it distinctly understood that this is the appropriate organ to receive, warm, and filter the air of impurities, adapting it to the use of the lungs. The nose is suitably lined with a material that catches the minutest particles of dust and all irritating substances, preventing them from reaching the air-passages and lungs. The mouth is not thus prepared, because it has other specific purposes and uses. One of these is to keep the vocal organs moist and soft for the act of talking. The air, unfiltered, as received through this channel, deposits its impurities in the saliva, drying it, and causing a stiffness of the membranes, producing inflexibility of muscle and consequent huskiness of voice. It visits the lungs cold and unclean, forcing the delicate cells to receive it unprepared for their use, thus effectually sowing seeds for all throat and lung affections. Avoid breathing through the mouth if you desire health and a sweet, smooth-toned vocality.
Another reason why the air should be received through the nose is that by this effort a natural motion of the muscles of the abdomen is produced, allowing them to vibrate with ease; whereas breathing through the mouth incites a gasping effort, producing an expansion of the upper part of the lungs only, causing an unnatural elevation of the shoulders, leaving the lower part of the lungs unexpanded, and consequently unvitalized with air.
Stand erect, resting the weight of the body gracefully on the left foot; throw the shoulders and head back, not strainedly, but with sufficient dignity to allow the diaphragm ease of action; place the hands upon the hips, with the fingers pressing upon the abdomen, the thumbs extending backward, and with the mouth shut breathe through the nose, forcing the breath down until the motion can be distinctly felt under the fingers. Let this practice be repeated until this long, full breathing becomes a habit.
When we are sitting at ease, and not using the voice, our breathing is slow and regular; but the more we exercise, speak, or sing, the greater the expenditure of breath, and consequently the more frequently we must inhale fresh air. Many persons fall victims to a neglect of this practice; and little there is in the present method of primary instruction in reading, in our schools, calculated to give any aid to proper breathing. Indeed, it is not considered as having any part in making good readers and speakers; the results of which are many exceedingly bad habits and unvitalized bodies.
We shall treat more fully of this subject when we come to Emphasis, Rhetorical expression, and the Music of the voice.
LAUGHING-BREATH AND VOICE-SOUNDSPRACTICE FOR EXPULSION OF
The effort of laughing is a valuable gymnastic exercise, and when moderately indulged in strengthens the vocal muscles, and much facilitates a healthy circulation of the blood, a good flow of genial spirits, and a happy disposition.
A good, round, full, hearty Ha—hahah is a delightful expulsion of sound, a stout enemy to the “blue devils,” and a far better remedy for dyspepsia than Graham-bread and tepid milk and water, with the condiment of woeful countenance. So, we will commence on the lowest line, right heartily, with a
3. HAH, HAH, hah! 2. HAH, HAH, hah! 1. НАН, НАН, hah!
But even this must be indulged in with care and moderation at the commencement; for the lungs, diaphragm, and abdominal muscles, which are obliged to make strenuous exertions in this effort, are in most persons very weak. The complete exhaustion of air, consequent upon throwing out the breath, and the full, strong inhalation that follows, bring into requisition, for contraction and distension, the entire capacity of the muscles. Therefore discretion is necessary to guard against over-exertion at first. The unfortunate and hurtful fashions in clothing, and the various unnatural habits, have produced a weakness of these organs in our American youth. But we hope to laugh all artificial bandages and customs out of countenance; and we even dare to dream that the day will come when a sweet, clear, strong, perfectly-attuned voice may be considered one of the personal adornments.
The teacher should require the pupil to make selections from authors, or furnish compositions of their own, where laughing is introduced; which should be practiced until it becomes easy to give a seemingly spontaneous laugh whenever required.
Although it is an easy matter to laugh when one feels like it, it is not so easy to laugh at command. Simply repeating the words ha, ha, when the printed letters are seen, is not laughing. It will be well to employ the musical scale in this and other exercises, and when convenient practice with the aid of some musical instrument, running up and down the scale, giving two or three hearty ha-hahs on each note; but bear in mind this must be done with the laughing explosion, not with the singing effort. Then laugh the third, fifth, seventh, and back again, gaining all the varieties of exercises possible.
A sweet, musical laugh is always delightful to the ear, and sunshine and gladness follow in its wake. But we seldom hear it, and so seldom do we indulge in this healthful expression of joy or merriment, when we do lose our gravity sufficiently to give way to it, it amounts as a general thing to nothing more than a well-defined titter or giggle, which is disgusting in the extreme. While the little events of life make up the most of our joys and sorrows, let us cultivate those things that make ourselves and those around us happiest, and at the same time that will add most to our accomplishments.
The whispering exercise also must receive a great deal of practice, and in such a manner as will produce no unpleasant sensations in the throat. The breath must be husbanded with great care, and its expulsion be moderate and even, to enable the pupil to acquire the power of filling a large hall with a clear, smooth whisper. No fears need be entertained that too much attention can be paid to these breath-sounds; for it is only by properly regulated inhalations and exhalations that we can achieve the best results for the voice. To neglect this important first step, and expect to attain excellence, would be as futile as to attempt to run before the strength of the limbs had been tested by the act of walking. By carefully observing in these efforts the various movements of the muscles and the position of the organs, we learn what our resources are.
To make a breath-sound open wide the mouth and breathe out the word hah with as long and loud a whisper as can be produced.
This breath-sound vocalized is the material out of which all voicesounds are made, both of speech and song. We must conclude, from our experience in practicing this sound, that ha, produced by simply opening the mouth and breathing it out naturally, is the radical sound of language. We can not, with any degree of safety, declare that either the aspirate h or the vowel a hold any such position independently; for if we utter a sound in breathing without an attempt at forming words, it will partake of this aspirate and the vowel a, as
in ah. Therefore if this is a primitive sound, it is so only by the perfect union of the aspirate and vowel.
Persons laboring under the weight of some great affliction, or who are depressed with sorrow, give expression to their feelings by sighing the sound hah. Sometimes it is aspirated and sometimes voiced.
If very heavy and drowsy, they yawn and gape out the Ha-haha-ha- If boisterously merry, they laugh with explosive force the Ha-hah-hah-hah. And the infuriated wild animal slightly compresses the glottis, and with set teeth trills, in a rough growl, over his tongue the Hammmmh hammh.
It is important in practicing the prolonged expulsive sounds that they be measured by keeping time. When several persons are practicing together they should preserve unity by expelling the sounds on the same tone and in the same measure. This can be done in
of the usual ways, or by dropping the finger an inch for the first beat, another inch for the second beat; then by raising it one inch for the third beat, and another for the fourth one; occupying a whole, half, or quarter of a second for each motion, according to intention and desired effect.
First make the breath-sound one measure long; then condense it in a voice-sound for one more measure; then give another measure for the breath-sound; closing the last with the voice-sound. The time can be prolonged by an additional number of beats, as strength and facility in prolongation are gained.
To acquire the habit of taking the quantity of breath necessary, and also to gain the control over the muscles of respiration that will allow of making two prolonged aspirate and two voice-sounds with one breath, is attended with more difficulty than is supposed. The experiment, however, will convince us that hard work and persistent efforts will be required.
It will be well for the pupil to observe this distinction of breath and vocal-sounds; for herein lies the secret of successful elocution. As before stated, out of the breath-sounds we make all the aspirates in our language, and by converting breath into voice-sound we make all the vowel and subvowel-sounds.
Practicing the expulsion of breath, vocalized or unvocalized, in a given length of time is one of the best methods of gaining that desired strength, depth, and clearness of tone that makes us masters of the voice on all occasions. Therefore we ask that practice be bestowed on this sound of ah until it can be obtained prolonged, clear,