A technique which changes lives
Reading White’s books today gives an interesting view of both the man who wrote them and the world in which he lived that is so different from our own.
The introduction to Science and Singing starts with a sentence that could have been written today: ‘Every month and almost every week, fresh wonders of science and skill are being unfolded … for the benefit of the human race.’ Except that two of the fresh wonders White gives as examples are ‘radio-telephony’ and ‘radio-activity’ – the practical applications of which we now accept as such ordinary, if vital, parts of our life that we rarely stop to remember what wonders they are.
So of course in some ways the books can’t help but seem old-fashioned, especially when their author is arguing in detail against the rival theories of musicians and physicians of his day who are now long gone and forgotten. But through the text shines the spirit of a man who obviously read widely with a lively and open mind, finding in all sorts of unlikely places interesting nuggets of information to support his theories, and quoting frequently from thinkers as diverse as Plato, Isaac Newton, Abraham Lincoln, John Keats and Charles Darwin.
And there is certainly nothing old-fashioned about the technique that was the end result of all this research. In fact, with its emphasis on self-realization, it comes across as decidedly modern.
As a teacher, White helped numerous pupils with a wide variety of vocal problems, many of whose cases are documented in detail. He always intended his technique to help speakers as well as singers. Indeed the publicity blurb for Light on the Voice Beautiful records how ‘schoolmasters and the clergy’ (who in those days were expected to deliver long sermons to large congregations without the help of a microphone) ‘must be counted as some of his most grateful and enthusiastic supporters’.
Tackling wider health problems
He also successfully treated many stammerers and sufferers from chronic catarrh. In White’s day infected catarrh was a serious health problem for many people that was extremely difficult to cure – there were no antibiotics then. Not only was it very unpleasant to live with, but the infection it carried was known to lead to all sorts of other problems including deafness, asthma, bronchitis and even tuberculosis and madness. But White found from working with many sufferers that regular practice of his Technique not only cleared the catarrh but helped to prevent it building up again. As a result he felt he had made an important contribution to medical science.
White was clearly one of those inspiring teachers whom students never forget. A number of his students are on record as saying that their lives were changed by him, sometimes after only one or two lessons. His last surviving pupil, Arthur Hewlett , who died in 2005 at the grand age of 102 (and who until well into his eighties still had the good tenor voice that he had developed thanks to E.G.W.’s tuition), remembers him even in older age as ‘untiring, stimulating, and with a keen sense of humour and infectious laugh that cheered many a pupil’.
White must have needed that perseverance and sense of humour through the times when he seemed to be getting nowhere trying to convince people about his technique.
It seems White was not a natural businessman, because it wasn’t until 1931, when he was 68, that he registered a business name for his technique, calling it (accurately but to our ears rather offputtingly) The School of Sinus Tone Production. Two years later the teachers and students of the School formed themselves into the charmingly named Guild of the Voice Beautiful, which held annual meetings and recitals until the Second World War, by which time it had over 300 members.
E.G. White looks back.