Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 36.djvu/254

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
254
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

SPEECH AND SONG.
By Sir MORELL MACKENZIE.
PART II.—SONG.

HAVING dealt in a previous article (see "Popular Science Monthly" for November, 1889) with the voice in its every-day garb of speech, it now remains for me to speak of it as it is when transfigured in song. The organ is the same in both cases, but in song it is used strictly as a musical instrument—one, too, of far more complex structure than any fashioned by the hand of man. The mechanism of voice has already been described, but, for the sake of clearness, it may be well to recall the three essential elements in its production: 1, the air-blast, or motive power; 2, the vibrating reed, or tone-producing apparatus; 3, the sounding-board, or re-enforcing cavities. These, to parody a well-worn physiological metaphor, are the three legs of the tripod of voice; defect in, or mismanagement of, any one of them is fatal to the musical efficiency of the vocal instrument. The air supplied by the lungs is molded into sound by the innumerable nimble little fingers of the muscles which move the vocal cords. These fingers (which prosaic anatomists call fibers), besides being almost countless in number, are arranged in so intricate a manner that every one who dissects them finds out something new, which, it is needless to say, is forthwith given to the world as an important discovery. It is probable that no amount of macerating or teasing out with pincers will ever bring us to "finality" in this matter; nor do I think it would profit us much as regards our knowledge of the physiology of the voice if the last tiny fibrilla of muscle were run to earth. The mind can form no clearer notions of the infinitely little than of the infinitely great, and the microscopic movements of these tiny strips of contractile tissue would be no more real to us than the figures which express the rapidity of light and the vast stretches of astronomical time and distance. Moreover, no two persons have their laryngeal muscles arranged in precisely the same manner, a circumstance which of itself goes a considerable way toward explaining the almost infinite variety of human voices. The wonderful diversity of expression in faces which structurally, as we may say, are almost identical, is due to minute differences in the arrangement of the little muscles which move the skin. The same thing holds good of the larynx. In addition to this there are more appreciable differences, such as we see in the other parts of the body. The larynx itself is as various in size and shape as the nose; and this is still more the case with the other parts concerned in the production of the voice. The most laborious ana-