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Physiologists have named this vocal pipe the larynx, which forms a portion of the respiratory channel, and is not three inches in length perhaps; and they have given us many elaborate theories to sustain their own ideas as to what kind of an instrument the human larynx is like. Aristotle and Galen, and the older writers in general, looked upon the larynx as a wind-instrument of the flute kind. Fabricius was among the first to object to this view of the subject.
It is stated that about the commencement of the last century Dodart laid before the Academy of Sciences of Paris three memoirs on the theory of the voice, in which he considered the larynx to be a wind-instrument of the horn and not of the flute kind. Ferrein, in a communication also made to the Academy of Sciences, maintained that the larynx is a stringed instrument-each giving what seemed to him plausible arguments to sustain his theory. At a later period, even to the present day, a large number of physiologists regard the larnyx as a wind-instrument of the reed kind, such as the clarionet or hautboy.
We have given quite a variety of opinions, sufficient to show that the larynx is considered by men of science quite a complicated instrument. We shall differ from them in one essential point, which is that it is not like any of the aforesaid instruments; but the degree of likeness of each is to be placed on the instruments that most fully imitate the qualities of the voice; for the larynx is the king of instruments—the grand model, fashioned by the Divine hand, animated by a presiding spirit, stamped with the seal of perfection, and which man must be ever content to imitate without the hope of equaling. The crowning excellence of all inventions must ever lie in their nearness of approach to its wonderful capacities. Yet it is a delicate little instrument, nicely packed away out of sight-a miniature affair, too common to be appreciated, because every person is in possession
Many long years are required, and freely given, to enable persons to achieve excellence in performing on musical instruments, and many years of valuable time are spent in acquiring a knowledge of the dead languages, and also to master the orthography of our own—an orthography which we might reasonably wish were dead; while the animating and vitalizing spirit of our own tongue--the sweet musical tones of speech, the delightful avenue of expression through which the tenderest and best of life's joys are exchanged-is neglected and abused, without the slightest compunctions of conscience. Had we cultivated voices, music would flow from human lips in speech as well as in song, and the pleasure of social intercourse would be enhanced tenfold.
The little vocal pipe wherein voice-sound is produced forms a portion of the respiratory channel, and its entire management comes under the control of respiratory and muscular action.
We inhale air and exhale breath. We can do so for an indefinite period of time and produce no sound; but by volition, so simple we are scarcely conscious that we make it, this breath ripples with sound freighted with thought. Music, the emotions and passions, the tones of tenderness and love, and the shrieks of fear, are borne on its invisible wings.
By what process is this achieved ? Why do we make one breath without sound and the next one vocal with ideas? How does it become a motive power of communication from person to person? We may sit in a vast church filled with human beings—breathing creatures--and a death-like silence prevail. One single voice bursts forth in song and the atmosphere is filled with sound, the whole superstructure seems alive with melody, and all the delicious variety and sweetness of tones are made by air-waves caused by breath playing on the vocal chords.
It is said that the voice is an effort of volition; so it is, and so also are all the efforts we make. But the place and manner of producing voice-sounds are matters of some importance to those who have weak voices, or are suffering from bad management or loss of voice.
To explain, in the simplest manner possible, how voice is produced, we will say that by volition the chords at the bell-like cavity of the larynx contract so as to collect and retain in the larynx the exhaling column of air, and the expulsion of this concentrated breath plays on the vocal chords, causing their vibration. The principle is that of the Eolian harp. The waves of air sent rapidly out through the mouth produce a sound we call voice, and all sounds made in this way are denominated voice-sounds. Perhaps the nearest thing we can refer to toward illustrating the manner in which the vocal chords contract, and at the same time to show the power which the concentrated breath displays when forced through a small aperture, and its susceptibility of modulation into a great variety of tones, is the act of whistling. The flexibility and contractility of the lips in some persons is truly wonderful, but of course not so much so as in the chords of the glottis. In the whistling act there is wanting the bell or round-shaped cavities of the mouth and larynx to give resonance to the vibrations.
It will be observed that much talk is frequently indulged in about chest-tones and head-tones, to designate the grave and acute sounds. All this is simply absurd, as all voice-sounds are made in the same place-neither in the head nor in the chest, but in the glottis, by the vibrations of the chordce vocales, before referred to.
There are a given number of vibrations in each note of the scale or gamut, and the pitch of a sound always depends upon the number of air-waves or vibrations which produce it. These determine the tone, and any variation in number changes the pitch. The range of voice, in degree from high to low, depends upon the ability one has of contracting and relaxing the vocal chords. The fewer the vibrations the graver the sound, and vice versa. Loudness of voice depends upon the extent of the vibrations, and these again will depend altogether upon the quality of the air and the force with which it is driven through the larynx.
But the purity of tone depends upon the regularity or evenness of the air-waves. There is, however, what we denominate a pitch of voice which is peculiar to each one of us, and is as designative as any other individual characteristic. Every one finds that there is a range of tones on which it is easier or more natural to speak than on any other. This can not and should not be interfered with, although the greatest possible range above and below may be cultivated.
Speech is made of a great variety of vocal and breath-sounds; and by these sounds, joined or woven together into words and sentences, we convey our thoughts and feelings to each other. This we call artificial language, because it has been sanctioned by long use, and is agreed upon, and remains as yet the only systematic method by which, as human, intelligent beings, we converse and make known our desires. We also have symbols of these sounds, or a system of notation, by which we convey all these thoughts, desires, and emotions by what we denominate written language. This table of notation is with us the English alphabet, whose twenty-six letters, as before stated, are supposed to stand as symbols or representatives of the various sounds in the English language. Unfortunately, however, this table is sadly imperfect and fatal to any systematic method of orthography or pronunciation. For instance, we say that a has four regular sounds, which is an utter impossibility. The letter a could, with as much truth, stand as a representative of the sixteen vowel-sounds as for the four sounds it now symbolizes. The broad and short sound of a have no nearer similarity in sound to each other than they have to any other vowel-sound. This want of a distinct character for each sound leaves us entirely without a basis upon which to construct a system of pronunciation which would be orderly and satisfactory.
The eye and ear need the same training. They must be taught in harmony, else the results will be imperfect. If the letter a always stood for a simple sound, having once learned it, the eye would recog- . nize it, and the voice know at once what sound to make. Now it must have some person's authority, who has several other backers of equal authority; and if these are not at hand, it must venture a guess of one sound out of four, and run the gauntlet of ridicule if the guess do not hit upon the sanctioned sound. Perhaps no one realizes the painful vexations which result from this more than the teacher of elocution. However, we can only enter our protest, and then do our best with the material we have.
We will now return to the letters, and divide them into three distinct classes. A.
0. A has four regular sounds.
O has three regular sounds.
old Grave sound,
Close sound, Broad sound,
Short sound, Short sound,
U has three regular sounds.
Long sound, as in .
ир Long sound, as in .
full Short sound,
Y has three sounds.
isle Y duplicate of I long," rhyme Short sound,
ill Y duplicate of I short, hymn
Oi, as in
oil | Ou, as in .
THE VOWELS—THE ENGLISH ALPHABET-VOWELS AND ASPIRATES— VIBRA
TIONS OF ATMOSPHERE IN SPEAKING AND SINGING-VOWEL-SOUNDS THE MOTIVE POWER OF SPEECH.
The letters a, e, i, o, u, y, are called vowels. These vowels we will call vocalized breath-sound. They are the only pure voicesounds which we have, and constitute the musical material of both speech and song, and are embodied in all passional and emotional expressions of voice. They are free, open sounds, the simplest ones we make, and are capable of great prolongation.
They are produced in the larynx, and derive their character of sound by the position and shape of the mouth, tongue, and lips while uttering them.
To render these sounds full, clear, and pure in tone, free from nasal adulterations, and without running into a different vowel-sound, is an important object to attain,* one that requires persistent care and practice, and without which there can not be such a thing as a sweet and musical voice.
This practice should be instituted as a daily exercise until the abdominal and respiratory muscles work in perfect harmony with the vocal chords, and all have gained sufficient strength and unity of action to enable the pupil to prolong the sound in pure and even tone ; also to increase it in great volume, and diminish again to an almost imperceptible tone, yet preserving the evenness and uniformity of the vibrations.
In our table of twenty-six letters, or English alphabet, we have all the characters used in the broad and almost boundless field of English literature. They also stand as representatives of all the sounds we use in speech. It seems hardly possible, when we think of the many words spoken and the hundreds of thousands of volumes written, that these twenty-six letters should comprise all the material used in this great work. Imperfect as they are, we may congratulate
. ourselves that they have served so good and grand a purpose, and that they have enabled us to accomplish so much.
* I is a combination of ah-e. In making and prolonging it the voice must glide into one or the other of these sounds. It ought to be placed with the diphthongs.