Pilates History Research: William Herman

William Herman

William Herman was a voice teacher in NYC who taught famous singers such as Roberta Peters, Lucille Ball, and many others. He was a client and a fan of Joe’s, and he also had a mini-studio in his voice studio with pilates apparatus. We don’t know everything he had but what we do know is that he had 3 reformers/Devanas and at least one ped-o-pul. He also famously had his students sing while using a punching bag.

William Herman Teacher

William Herman’s studio, to the right. It was 2 floors, with a piano, ped-o-pul, and punching bag on the first floor and the other apparatus upstairs.

William Herman studio

What William Herman did that was unique with the ped-o-pul was to use two springs at the same time. He invented ways to use the Ped-o-pul that were unlike how Joe used it, one of which was to suspend the arms as a way to enhance intercostal breathing, the breathing method he taught for singing.

A newspaper article from 1958 wrote about William Herman’s techniques, stating, “It is easier to produce a great tone while the body is in vigorous tension.” It also wrote of how a Broadway star’s voice “must be very strong and very loud,” and “she and her teacher are conscientiously striving to meet this demand.”

William Herman ped-o-pul exercise singer

I was completely excited to discover this photo from a vintage, original magazine depicting Mary Martin working with William Herman and using the famous “weighted shoes.” Until this photo, I had only guessed that the weighted shoes Mr. Herman used in his lessons with voice students were the ones invented by Joseph Pilates, since he also used other apparatus invented by Joe, such as the Devana and Ped-o-Pul. However this photo shows that, in fact, he was not using Joe’s weighted shoes, but rather generic weighted shoes, possibly made by York Barbell, that were common in physical culture at the time. Amazing! 

With Joe’s weighted shoes, the weight was controlled by adding an iron insert into the footbed of the shoe. With other weighted shoes, such as the ones shown here, the weight was controlled by added iron plates to the sides, similar to how one would add weight to a barbell.

Mary Martin and William Herman archive photo

An article about Mary Martin, William Herman, and Kounovsky’s gym.

Mary Martin Pilates archive article

I am thrilled to have recently acquired an original, rare magazine copy of this photo with Mary Martin using the Ped-o-Pul at William Herman’s studio in NYC. So much more detail than in the newspaper version.

William Herman and Mary Martin with punching bag

Example Voice Lesson

Here is an example of a voice lesson, William Herman at the piano and his student singing while using the ped-o-pul. You can see that the apparatus is being used for a specific purpose, Joe’s exercises are not being done here.

William Herman is using the Ped-o-pul to teach appoggio: to lean.

The most important feature of appoggio is that one must preserve the feeling of the balance of forces even while the expiration tension of the act of singing threatens to collapse the chest.

Roberta Peters about William Herman

“His way of teaching was very unorthodox. He was a very physical teacher. He would ask me to put the palms of my hands against the piano, feet about 3 feet away, leaning…. that’s what it was…. appoggio… and that’s what you have to feel, which is leaning. I was singing in that position as I was leaning.

Then he would have me sing bending down, so the blood rushed to the head a little bit. Also, I would lean over, when I stopped staining, when I needed a little rest. It relaxed the whole throat area.”

William Herman Piano Singing Lessons

Now the question is, did William Herman have a bike seat?

Here is the proof that William Herman not only had a bike seat on his ped-o-pul, but that it was not Carola who chose the bike seat.

The punching bag: prevented singers from focusing only on their tone, conditioned them to produce big tones, and strengthened their diaphragm action.

Once she could sing her songs while pummeling the bag, they became effortless on stage.

William Herman Singing Lessons on Ped-o-pul
William Herman and Mary Martin with punching bag

An original copy of this vintage article is available for purchase. Contact Elaine Ewing.

An article about Mary Martin

Another example of the ped-o-pul being used to open the ribs and lungs for singing.

Mary Martin Punches Out a Song Article
Mary's a Knockout Archive Article

William Herman was the voice teacher to many prominent opera singers and performers of the time, such as Robert Rounseville.

Herman prominent voice oepra teacher pilates archive article
William Herman pilates archive article
William Herman pilates archive article

A description of Mary’s workout at William Herman’s studio. I’m not yet sure if the “pulley machine” was the Ped-o-Pul or a non-pilates apparatus that he had.

Mary Martin workout description pilates archive article