Monday, June 28, 2010

Finding Your Voice

I’ve been going through an old file looking for blurbs that would work on the public speaking book jacket, and have been struck by the number of former clients who thanked me for “finding my voice.”

That phrase usually has two meanings: that they found their natural speaking voice, and that, having found that voice, they used it to speak up.

We learn to speak by imitating our primary caregiver. Not just by imitating the sound, but by adjusting physical musculature in order to produce that sound. My daughter’s kindergarden teacher sent me a note, warning me that something was wrong with the child’s voice–she spoke at too low a pitch. I’m a contralto, my husband was a bass. Yes, she spoke at a low pitch, but not “too” low.

Little thought seems to be given to voice training in theatre programs in this country. Spencer Tracy, Humphrey Bogart, Jimmy Stewart–their voices were distinctive and instantly recognizable–but today one actor’s voice sounds pretty much like every other actor’s voice. I said as much to the Dean of a university program. He agreed, but said, “Where do I find the teachers?”

Friday, June 25, 2010

Performance Readiness

I’m back. When I write I find that my focus is so internal that I should be wearing a sign–one of those reversible “Open”/”Closed” signs–and I ought not be allowed to drive.

My focus for the last month has been on the revision of my public speaking book. Which is more or less finished (I’d love to tinker some more, but . . . ), so my mind is more or less “Open” again and I’m back in the world.

I was late starting my monthly column (, didn’t even pick the topic–performance readiness–until yesterday.

And then I got a call this morning from a former student that dropped that subject neatly into my lap. She had sung at a wedding last weekend. I asked her how it went.

“Not well,” she said. “Something strange happened in the ceremony and I was so startled that I forgot the words and had to make something up.

“I’d written a new song for them, and it wasn’t in my bones yet. I should have rehearsed more.”

Lack of rehearsal, wasn’t the issue. When she explained what the couple had done, which was so odd that trying to explain it would take an hour, I saw 2 other performance elements at work.

First, she couldn’t have possibly been prepared for such a bizarre happenstance.

Second, she was too emotionally involved in the ceremony. She wasn’t thinking of it as a performance.

Weddings are like that. Funerals, too. We have to think of them as performances, have to put some emotional distance between ourselves and the event.