Penquin Classic Audiobooks brought out a set of audio books a few years ago and I was asked to review them. With 10 books to listen to it could have been a chore, but they were exactly read by skilled actors and it was an enriching experience. Last week I listened to Pride and Prejudice again while driving by myself to the north. It was an even fresher more entertaining listening experience than when I first heard it read by Joanna David. The journey took a bit longer when I turned RDS off because I was eager to listen to the next part of the story.
July 15th was the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death. Claire Tomalin, herself a wonderful writer, chose Pride and Prejudice as her favourite Jane Austen novel. Jane Austen first drafted the novel in 1790 and read it aloud to friends and family who, it would be lovely to imagine, recognised some of the personalities in the novel. I wonder at the wit and vivacity and changes of Jane Austen’s voice while she was reading? The opening lines still ring true for many women, who travel from near and far and via the internet, with this thought in their minds: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” This statement gets us as readers hooked, but soon discover the protagonist’s Elizabeth Bennet’s independence of thought with regard to her circumstances. Great wealth is not something she would sacrifice her happiness for. Ironically it is her independence that helps her fulfil the opening statement of the novel. Ahdaf Soueif writes in the same Guardian article: “Austen’s genius is that you find in her a true reflection of whatever you, at a particular moment, think is a reality.”
This collection of Penguin classic Audiobooks is sadly no longer available, a couple of mine are missing (not Pride and Prejudice) via clients on the Speak English Clearly course, well, they are very good to listen to. You can get downloads of the classic Penguin novels but they are read by other narrators.
As soon as Anatomy of Suicide opens you feel the isolation of Carol and her freefall into a life that does not consider her and won’t understand her. With the dialogue intercut between scenes, there are words that pop out to highlight the story with humour or pathos. The slow rhythmic changes of set and costume draw in the progress towards the inevitable fates of Carol and then Anna. When the final scene opens up into light and space there is a feeling of hope, but at a terrible price.
This play throws up so many questions about expectations, attraction, mindfulness, genetic inheritance that I suggest you go and see it with someone who you can really talk to afterwards.
Written by Alice Birch with Katie Mitchell directing. The Royal Court, Jerwood is an excellent theatre for accoustics and listening to the cast speaking these painful and sometimes funny words was cathartic.
My best friend gave me Beyond Black as a Christmas present ages ago. It was because of the Nottinghamshire/Derbyshire connection (Hilary Mantel is from Glossop in Derbyshire and we’re from Nottinghamshire). I spent a lot of time reading Beyond Black with my mouth open in shock and kept putting it down only to take it up again minutes later. It was as if I were reading about a relative – one who the family didn’t often see and generally talked about more with their eyes than with their words. The spirit world was accepted in our family but not encouraged, for the very reasons that are contained in Hilary Mantell’s Beyond Black.
Hilary Mantell has a playful voice that is full of knowledge and reflection. Her fearless imagination weighs up the odds facing those between life and death. She is able to inhabit the minds of those now dead, with compassion. Looking forward to hearing her Reith Lecture: The Day is for Living – art can bring the dead back to life. Radio 4 Tuesday 13th June at 9.00 am.
When people are confused or afraid of saying something that they think might not be received well, their voices can become constricted. This may result in even a quite pleasant “young” sounding voice, but the long term effect on the listener will still be vapid and the content of what they’re saying pointless. Many voices in the media at the moment, sound stuck. When I came across these excerpts from Keith Bain’s book called The Principles of Movement it was something I wanted to blog. Nervous Energy
from Keith Bain’s book “The Principles of Movement”
“To work subtlety with emotional energy you need great discernment and relaxation. Otherwise that bugbear nervous energy takes over. Nervous energy can be a manifestation of fear of failure, determination to be better than everyone else, or just plain self-consciousness. Apart from the forced quality that nervous energy produces, its worst effect is the way it depletes your energy resource, wearing you down and using up your reserves.”
In the business world a company’s performance is more dependent on sentiment than immediate performance. The same can be said for politicians. Their views and values are never stated with any semblance of passion unless some poll has told them to say what is popular and will get them or keep them in power.
Nervous energy apart, how long will it be before we hear wake up voices and see people who are not repressed by doubt or uncertainty or influenced by desire for personal power?
Always like to listen in to Radio 1 surgery on a Wednesday eve when I’m coming home from the gym. Dr Radha and Gemma Cairney give really useful advice. Recently they had an evening devoted to speaking – which is right up my street. They had one amazing girl phone in who had cured herself from stammering by turning her shyness and fear into a belief and appreciation of herself and her worth. She’d worked on her self – value and stopped worrying about people judging her. It’s been life-changing for her. The committment needed to make the changes take time, but when you believe, then the transformation does take place. Annik Petrou overcame her fear of speaking out loud and formed the Pony Express company – teaching others to speak in public
Her business has grown and the events are stimulating and fun.
When we’re in situations that make us particularly nervous like an interview or meeting a date for the first time, remember the onus is with the other person. Interviewers have to be good at their jobs and you are evaluating them. A date is there for you -to see if you have anything in common – if you don’t feel relaxed when you’re with them, then they’re not right for you.
There was good advice about thinking “bum and feet” to help you relax before a speaking event/presentation from voice coach Caroline Goyder. Part of the Max Your Voice Check List Before Speaking.
Drinking water was recommended for hydrating the voice. Yes but please sip small amounts frequently rather than glugging it down. It’s good to sing in a steamy shower – the steam helps the vocal folds.
Relieving a stammer is about clarifying the message from the brain to the speech mechanism as Doc Radha said. When we’re unsure of what we’re saying and nervous -the muscles can get into a habit of trying to stop the word being formed just before it’s said – and a stammer can develop in this way. The muscles can be released and this allows the words to free flow – but it all starts in the mind with how we feel about ourselves and what we’re saying. Once a client who’d stopped stammering told me his girlfriend missed the stammer as she though it was sweet. Fortunately she thought he was great without the stammer too.
“Judi Dench is the latest actor to criticise younger performers for poor diction.
In a speech before unveiling a blue plaque at the former home of actor John Gielgud, Dench complained that younger actors are not applying themselves to develop their vocal technique, expressing her frustration at not being able to hear them properly.” The Stage
There are lots of reasons for poor diction among some young actors.
Not always because they haven’t been to Drama School.
With the casting done by sending self-tapes, the emphasis is on the look and instant openness to the camera. Providing the actor says the lines with conviction and is entirely convincing in the role a director will be satisfied that they can direct them and they’ll be good in the roles. Often they are, but for more demanding parts – vocal technique is essential.
Actors like to deliver in their “natural” voice and are keen to preserve this. When younger actors come to me for voice coaching they are more concerned with learning accents than with learning vocal technique. Depending on the job, I’ll coach vocal technique along with the accent. Maxine Peake has a fantastic vocal technique and her ability to stay with her own accent as well as embrace other accents is a great role model for young actors.
The most successful actors have been fortunate to realise early on that their voice is very much part of their craft. When an actor is working all the time then the voice grows and technique is passed on by the more experienced actors. When you’re not working all the time – actors need to build in a daily routine of simple voice exercises that they can incorporate into their lifestyle. Love of poetry and reading out loud along with the daily voice exercises will always support them – mentally as well as vocally.
President Trump’s style, which embraces the trend against being “politically correct”, has turned – either accidentally or purposefully – against diplomacy. Without diplomacy in President Trump’s office, there is little hope of good relations with North Korea or any country that doesn’t submit to being treated like out of line fifth year students.
The art of diplomacy is practised by Embassys throughout the world, but it’s China that has stepped into the breach during this latest trouble between Trump and Kim Jong Un. Having coached Chinese interpreters at the embassy in London, who are specialising in diplomacy, I am not surprised. The importance of good vocal communication that allows both sides to keep face while discussing matters that could easily escalate out of control, makes life safer for all of us.
Lisa Feldman Barratt has written an excellent book: “How Emotions are Made” giving new insights into the emotions that we see and hear in the voices surrounding us. She writes that we construct our emotions so that we can understand the world around us. We then place an identifying “sticker” of an emotion on the experience which we then identify as an emotional recall. The book is fascinating as it gives new research into positive as well as negative emotions as activated by the amygdala. The understanding of the map of the brain and our emotions is growing. Real situations can give us conflicting emotions, but when we’re listening to actors or singers who have their emotions close to the surface then we are able to empathize and readily “feel” their emotions. Now we know how Dr Chekov heard and saw and was able to write those amazingly raw scenes of conflicting emotions.
How Emotions are Made by Lisa Feldman Barrett is published by Macmillan
With so many talented young people emerging from the arts and sciences, we need to have accessible support services in place to help them. Throughout the early part of their working life, it’s important that people have the confidence to overcome what every talented person faces – criticism. From others and from themselves.
“One needs very strong ears to hear oneself freely criticized; and since there are few who can stand it without being stung, those who venture to perform this service for us give us a remarkable proof of their friendship.” Montaigne
Friends and family may want to help but there isn’t enough time to really mentor others when most people are already preoccupied with either their own career path or keeping a balance within the family. It is crucial at an early stage in your career, to have someone to turn to for help and advice, someone who you can talk with freely. This is why a mentor; a truly good mentor can change your life for the good. Many young people opt to conform to values that they don’t necessarily believe in because they are afraid to offend others and don’t have the confidence to speak up for themselves. This shows in your voice and gives others a message that you’re insecure rather than secure in your belief of your own talent. The Prince’s Trust, that helped me when I first started Max Your Voice, has joined forces with L’Oreal in a campaign to help build young people’s confidence. Dame Helen Mirren is backing the campaign and has some great advice for young (and old) women:
“Be free be liberated, be what you want to be. It’s to do with liberation, not sexiness, that’s in the past.”
Ask yourself “What is it that I want?”
The imagery contained in How Not to Live in Suburbia production at the Soho Theatre is fantastic – as is the accomplished performer/writer with a great voice – Annie Siddons. The comedy starts with the crisis of her marriage break up or the sh** that hit her life as a result. The subsequent move to Twickenham – Home of Rugby – gives rise to the Suburbia of the title. The reason for the move? – Her family of two children that can’t be in the show, so are represented by two small trees in pots. The agony of leaving friends behind who live in enclaves of creativity and then being confronted by people with suburban perceptions and values is something that rang peals of laughter from the audience – yes we all know this one. The sacking from the book club, the imaginary pass shown to get out of Twickenham and into town, the boyfriend, the drinking and ….the depression. The comedy and best acting comes through in the films that Annie Siddons made with Richard Dedomenici. The hulking Walrus of Loneliness and Seal of Shame crowd in on her as she begins to sink into some suburban puddle of oblivion and loses the will to live let alone write.
The live stand up with her younger alter ego (you can tell by the big hair wig) played by Nicki Hobday, is where the depression becomes more depressing. One of the small tree children gets ill with an ongoing condition and it’s sad and the sadness begins not to get funny any more. It becomes reminiscent of Brené Brown and her talks on shame and vulnerability.
At the end Annie Siddons gave out badges and I got one saying “I love f**cking London”, so I perhaps got it horribly wrong in wanting to give her a hug and recommend a good counsellor.