A skillful throat specialist should be able to give aspirants for a singing or speaking career a great deal of valuable advice. One of the things concerning which they frequently are consulted is whether or not a young person with a promising voice should desist from singing or speaking lessons during the period when the voice is changing, at about the age of 14.
There seems to have grown up a tradition that it is bad for the voice to be trained during this time, but an eminent throat specialist of my acquaintance contends that that is based entirely upon custom, and there is no reason why training should not continue through the period of voice changing. He says, very sensibly, that while the objection is made that the larynx is growing at this time, and the vocal cords are growing, the muscles and the bones are also growing and the brain is growing. No one recommends that the youth at this time should stop exercising his legs because his leg muscles are growing, so why should he stop exercising his voice? My friend has had a great deal of experience in this line, and can point to a number of examples of successful singers who have paid no attention to the old taboo.
Among the older masters of the singing art, it used to be taught that the singer should breathe with his lower chest rather than with the abdomen. Perhaps the most difficult part of the technique of singing is to learn proper breathing. The breath must be governed so that not a particle of it shall escape without giving up its mechanical equivalent of sound. “The vocal cords must use the breath,” to quote the words of a great laryngologist, “as Jacob did the angel with whom he wrestled: they must not suffer it to depart until it has blessed them.”
In former days it was considered that women had more difficulty in learning to use the ribs in respiration during singing than men, on account of the wearing of corsets. Nowadays that criticism does not carry any weight, for the corsets of today are nothing like the iron-clads of a previous generation. But even before they departed they were defended by several singing masters who believed that they actually aided in the chest respiration, keeping the abdominal muscles tense.
The reason that great singers lose their charm of voice as time goes on, is due more to the diminishing control they have over respiration than any degeneration of the vocal cords or ear. The vital capacity begins to be lowered at the age of 30, and diminishes progressively from then on. It is sad to think that just the time when a great singer could portray the emotions of a great part, these physical limitations get in the way.