In 1925, when Arthur Hewlett was a young man doing postgraduate work at the University of London, he found himself trying to sing, he thought none too successfully, in the choir of St Mary, Somers Town, St Pancras: well known at the time for its fine choral tradition of men and boys.
He noticed that before the service a fellow choirman would retire into a corner of the vestry and hum quietly to himself. Intrigued, Hewlett asked him why he did this. The explanation led him to Ernest George White, and to a lifetime’s commitment to White’s Technique that only ended 80 years later at his death on 2 March 2005 at the age of 102.
Although Hewlett went on to pursue a professional career away from singing and music, first as a teacher and then in educational administration, he always found time to support White and his work. He edited the 1938 edition of White’s Sinus Tone Production, suggesting refinements to the basic theory.
After White’s death in 1940, Arthur Hewlett became the principal teacher of White’s invaluable technique, supported by a number of others who had qualified as Registered Teachers. When the work of promoting White’s Technique and training new teachers became formalised in 1944 with the founding of the Ernest George White Society, Hewlett was the General Secretary, and subsequently Honorary President from 1987 to 2005.
In 1956, at the age of 53, Arthur Hewlett took time out of his busy career in education to gain the LRAM diploma in singing – at a time when many singers would be giving up. He always admitted to having been vocally “little gifted”, and gave the credit for his success to White’s Technique, helped by a course in the Alexander Technique that he believed complemented White’s Technique so well. He also believed that his own modest talent allowed him to teach others better than can some who sing marvellously but with no clear idea of how they do it.
Hewlett always believed in the basic tenets of the White’s method, but his considerable intellect and logical thought led him to develop White’s concept of voice production still further, culminating in his “General Theory”. In this he stated that, even though during voice training and practice the attention is best directed to the sinuses, voice is actually produced by the integral activity of the whole vocal tract. This, however, was as far as he would go. He would argue passionately with any who wanted to give greater credence to the vocal fold theory of voice production.
In 1970 Hewlett published Think Afresh About the Voice which, in its revised and enlarged edition in 1981, described his General Theory as well as interpreting White’s teachings for a late twentieth century audience.
In the late 1970s he was asked to present two papers on White’s Technique to meetings of the Association of Teachers of Singing (AOTOS). Although received with polite interest by many members of the Association, he was saddened by the hostility of several and the general indifference to a Technique that could prove useful to fellow teachers in their work.
An exception was Sir Peter Pears, the famous tenor and partner of Benjamin Britten, who having read of E.G. White’s books requested a lesson and was promptly given one! Sir Peter subsequently wrote the Foreword to the 1981 revised and enlarged edition of Think Afresh about the Voice.
Although Arthur Hewlett had been teaching White’s Technique to individual students since the 1950s, it was on retirement from his career in education that he set about making the Technique in which he believed so passionately more widely known. He taught both at the Wigmore Studios in London and in Dover. His students remembered him for his enthusiasm, inspired teaching, and generosity with his time.
Arthur Hewlett was a living tribute to the longevity of voice that is possible with White’s Technique. He was a regular solo performer at Society gatherings for many years, and mastered the Beethoven song cycle An die ferne Geliebte – in German – in his 78th year. His tenor voice was still in good enough shape for him to be performing five years later!
Until well into his nineties he continued to teach, write articles, attend conferences, and sit in the front row of E.G. White Society meetings and concerts where his former pupils and “grand-pupils” were performing.
In death Arthur Hewlett provided a generous bequest to allow the work of the Society to continue. He had wished that his skull be used for further research into the sinuses and voice production. This was not possible, but his legacy lives on in those who, thanks to White’s Technique, have achieved success and enjoyment through the use of their voice whatever their initial talent.