"Healthful Hints for Singers" is the heading over the following advice which was first printed on Wednesday, July 22, 1885. A column by Miss Annie Lewis, who got it printed in something called "Music and Drama," it came to light recently when a friend found it stuck in the back of an old mirror that had obviously hung untouched for the past 93 years. It seemed more than eminently worth bringing to the immediate vocalists, not to mention your Cousin Mae who now and then gets up to render "No, Not Tonight," for her defenseless neighbors. Without further ado: "Let no vocalist ever overheat the body, within or without.
"Constant bathing is a strong requisite for the vocalist, and that always in tepid water.
"Cold air, sudden change of temperature, even draughts do not hurt the well and sensibly-clad vocalist.
"The outside dress of vocalists should never be too heavy, and in making up stage dress, this is a first requisite.
"Vegetable fibre, such as cotton or linen, in clothing is cooling; it does not over-encourage perspiration and is oftener washed than wool textures."
Richard Wagner would have loved this one "Let him or her wear underclothing of silk if possible; if notof mixed manufacture, of as elastic a texture as possible, and change it very frequently indeed.
"Frequent change of clothing is a necessity for the vocalist; perspiration fills the interstices of clothing textures and makes them less elastic for the skin." Ah, for Ban Roll-On!
However, notice this:: "Very hot baths are injurious to the voice, so are cold baths; tepid baths are alone suitable. Firstly, there may be no danger of a chill, and secondly, that the system may not become exhuasted." I wish Miss Lewis could have seen Elizabeth Schwarzkopf swimming in the icy cold waters of Mondses outside of Sulzburg the day before she sang the Marachallin in "Dr Rosenkavalier." Danger of a chill indeed!
"The fashion of taking Turkish baths is scarcely for the vocalists; the Russian baths is more invigorating, but the best bath for those who undergo a vocal strain is the plain tepid bath, after which vigorous rubbing should be used.
"If a daily bath cannot be obtained, then daily ablutions from head to foot should be used. There have been hundreds of good vocalists who use but little ablution, but a fresh, vigorous flexible voice can only come from a well-cleansed, healthy body." I wonder if Miss Lewis ever went backstage in a provincial French or Italian opera house.
"The results of perspiration should be removed from underclothing by frequent washing or cleansing. All the personal ablutions are of no use if the clothing worn is not thoroughly clean and freed from the impurities given off by the evaporation of the skin.
"The underclothing of vocalists is the most important part of their dress; I believe that half the sudden colds and half the sore throats and more than half the coughs come from ill-chosen underclothing. The latter should never be too heavy, even in winter, and to my idea pure wool should never be worn at all on the skin; pure wool, even if it has been ever so much cleaned and refined in the manufacture, is always irritating to the skin in some measure." It's a good thing Miss Lewis never ran into smog and other refined forms of air pollution. She would have had a lot less time to worry about her favorite prima donna's unmentionables.
After this, however, I shall never again have to wonder why that soprano is singing so flat, or the tenor is having such trouble getting out his high C. It will be nothing more than a question of from whom she and he are getting their underclothing or whatever it is called these days. Thank you, so much, Miss Lewis.