A crisis – and a challenge
Ernest George White was born on 19 May 1863 in Lee, a suburb of south-east London. He was to live there for all but the last few months of his life. His father was a successful man, active and influential in the local community, who sent the young White (or E.G.W. as he came to be known) to a good school.
He also clearly passed on to his son his own love of music, as White took up music as a profession. He taught the piano and singing and, as the church was an important part of his life, it wasn’t surprising that he became a keen church organist and choirmaster; he also composed church services and songs.
The face that looks out at us from his photographs at the time seems rather serious and even stern, but those who knew him said he had not only seemingly boundless physical and mental energy, but a charismatic personality and a good sense of humour – a powerful mixture that he was going to need throughout his life.
Loss of his voice leads White to his big idea about voice production
As a teenager White studied singing at his local conservatoire in Blackheath, and then went on to the Guildhall School of Music in London. It was while he was there, having lessons from two singing teachers, that he developed problems with his voice. These became so severe that in the end he couldn’t sing or speak.
His problems were finally cured – beginning, according to White, after only one lesson – when he met a voice teacher called Hugo Beyer, who believed it was possible to produce sound ‘above the tongue’. This was the exact opposite of the accepted teachings of the time which, because the vocal cords (now more correctly known as the vocal folds) were believed to be the only origin of the voice, emphasized working on the voice from the throat.
But White knew that he had recovered his voice when he actively avoided thinking about producing it from his throat. He became convinced that the only thing the vocal folds are designed to do is to regulate the flow of breath and set in motion that air in the way necessary to produce sound. If that was true, then there had to be somewhere ‘above the tongue’ where are the actual sounds of the voice are created using that air. White thought the obvious place was the various air cavities, known as sinuses, in the bones of the skull.
From that point onwards he devoted himself to researching, developing, teaching and publicizing this theory of voice production, which he called sinus tone production (and we now call White’s Technique) – ‘quite unconscious’, as he later said, ‘of the long years of endeavour ahead of me’.
How did White take his technique to the world?