Bird and Byrd on the Value of Voice Lessons

The other day I found a perfect excerpt to share with you.  In my beloved Weiss & Taruskin textbook from college lie some words as true today as they were when written 425 years ago.

William Byrd, who I like to believe is one of my husband’s ancestors, was a 16th century English church composer and astute musical businessman.

English: Portrait painting of William Byrd II
English: Portrait painting of William Byrd II

In 1588 he published a music book specifically for amature singers.  It was called Psalmes, sonets, & songs of sadness, and as a sort of advertisment or “jacket blurb” for the book, Byrd penned eight reasons for learning to sing.  They are as follows:

Reasons briefly set down by th’auctor, to perswade every one to learne to sing.

First it is a knowledge easily taught, and quickly learned where there is a good Master, and an apt Scoller.

2. The exercise of singing is delightfull to Nature & good to preserve the health of Man.

3. It doth strengthen all the parts of the breast, & doth open the pipes.

4. It is a singular good remedie for a stutting & stammering in the speech.

5.  It is the best meanes to procure a perfect pronunciation & to make a good Orator.

6.  It is the onely way to know where Nature hath bestowed the benefit of a good voyce: which guift is so rare, as there is not one among a thoushand, that hath it: and in many, that excellent guift is lost, because they want Art to expresse Nature.

7. There is not any Musicke of Instruments whatsoever, comparable to that which is made of the voyces of Men, where the voyces are good, and the same well sorted and ordered.

8. The better the voyce is, the meeter it is to honor and serve God therewith: and the voyce of man is chiefly to be imployed to that ende.

Omins spiritus laudet Dominum.

Since singing is so good a thing
I wish all men would learne to sing.

 – selection from Music in the Western World: A History in Documents Selected and Annotated by Piero Weiss and Richard Taruskin, Wadsworth Group/Thomson Learning, Belmont CA 1984, pp. 155-156

And there you have it.  Learning to sing is good because:

  1. It’s easy.
  2. It’s good and healthy.
  3. It makes you breathe better.
  4. It helps you speak smoothly.
  5. It helps you be a great speaker.
  6. It might turn out that you’re a star waiting to be discovered.
  7. It’s so much cooler than instruments. (and yes, this is a pianist paraphrasing this)
  8. It helps you have more freedom in worship.

Oh, and by the way, my husband, Nathan Bird, professional tenor and teacher, has some openings in his schedule, so if you’re in the Twin Cities – or are willing to commute 🙂 – contact him.  He is a ‘good Master’ eager to get acquainted with some more ‘apt Scollers’ such as you.

Nathan giving a voice lesson to his youngest pupil
Nathan giving a voice lesson to his youngest pupil

At the very least, head over to Facebook where you can support all those wonderful reasons for singing by ‘liking’ his page and sharing his info.

Happy Singing!

By Naomi Bird

Wife of tenor Nathan Bird, pianist, organist, former music therapist, writer, tea-drinker, mom of two mini-sopranos and two mini-tenors, and learner of loving the arts.


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