How Your Voice is Affected Through Wearing a Face Mask

 

Wearing a mouth mask is now mandatory on public transport in the UK.  I started wearing a face mask in March when it became clear that coronavirus cases were less in countries where they were recommended.   On the plus side, it lessens the risk of passing on coronavirus if you are asymptomatic on the minus side it can leave you feeling smothered, with a dry throat and sometimes a sore throat, all of which affect your voice.

Humidity inside the mask can potentially allow bacteria to grow so take the opportunity to move your mask and breathe freely whenever there is a safe option.  Keep your face mask clean and have more than one – soap and water is the best way to sanitize a face mask.  Avoid using Chloride or anti-bacterial spray on your mask. 

Give yourself and others a treat by making room therapy essential oil mixes that will clear your airwaves and ease dry and sore throats and help your voice:

Water bowl method:  Put boiling water in a bowl and add 3 drops of  grapefruit, lavender and bergamot pure essential oils.  Close doors and windows and allow 5 minutes for the aroma to permeate the room.
Room-spray method:  In a new plant-sprayer put 300 ml of warm water and add 2 drops of grapefruit, lavender and bergamot pure essential oil.  Shake before spraying.  As with any room spray – avoid spraying on polished wood.

You can make a soothing gargle by mixing 3 tablespoons of cider vinegar with 3 drops of ginger and 5 drops of lemon pure essential oil and adding one teaspoon of the mixture to a glass of warm water.

Special thanks to Valerie Ann Worwood
                             Dr Meza

Speaking at A Distance, Lockdown and Beyond

 

People who’ve been on the Improve Your Voice course have an advantage when talking outdoors to someone 2 meters away.   They’ve learned the “beam/aim/focus your voice” technique.
The voice beam exercise is fun.  In a room full of people, you pair off and then move into lines about 6 metres apart, facing each other.   You then decide what it is you’re going to talk about.  The only rule is that it has to be in the past:  a film, a play, a journey, the night before et al.    After deciding who’s going to begin you all talk at the same time. No moving forward, no bending forward or texting. 
The room was always a cacophony of sound.    Going around the room checking out what it was like to be on the listening end, was….interesting.  It’s not easy to stop people chatting after this exercise so it’s best done before a break. People are far more interested in the content of what is said rather than how it is said.  Once the voice is warmed and opened up, it can focus on where it wants to go, wants to be heard.  It’s the same beam as a torchlight.  This gives confidence.  When you’ve done this exercise, you can be sure you’ll get last orders (Hah! Memories) or talk easily to friends and family while being two meters apart.

Speaking at a distance can change our relationships. Concentration is required and more alert listening

Being Interviewed and Giving Advice During Lockdown

 

Being Interviewed and Giving Advice During Lockdown

I’ve been offering advice on how to relax with your voice during lockdown, with groups online.  It’s a different experience when you see people on screen as in Zoom and Meeting Room to when you can only see your interviewer as on Facebook stream live, GoToMeetings and Webinars.

If you are giving an interview or giving exercises and advice – it’s a good idea to use the following format.  It is the standard Lorraine format.  

Ask the host to alert you when everyone is in the room and the session will start.

Introduction chat with host who then asks you a pre- arranged question.

You reply together with an example or exercise.

The host then asks the viewers if they have any questions.

Answer questions

Depending on time, the host asks another pre-arranged question

You reply with another example or exercise

The host sums up or asks for more questions depending on time.

This way you’re aware of a structure and can be sure that the audience get their questions answered.
It may be that the host asks you questions already sent in and you can answer these and go into an example or exercise straightaway.  When there are no audience questions, your host has a few that can feed you into speaking about what’s happening in your field.


Trademark Voices or Great Voice Actors

 

There are some great actor’s voices around:  Jeremy Irons, Ralph Fiennes, Brendan Gleeson, Ray Gosling, Bryan Cranston, Richard E Grant among them.  James Earl Jones and Morgan Freeman have trademark voices but for the most part, todays actors are great voice actors.  They don’t have the trademark voice of actors of the twentieth century like Cary Grant, Orson Wells, Humphrey Bogart, Laurence Olivier.   Today’s female actors are also great voice actors without having the trademark voice of past celebrity stars: Eartha Kit, Lauren Bacall, Katherine Hepburn, Audrey Hepburn, Joan Collins.  Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore, Saoirse Ronan Elizabeth Moss, Sarah Lancashire, Elizabeth Olsen and Judi Dench all have distinctive voices, but they’re not ‘trademark’ in that you can’t instantly define them and copy the allusion.

By comparison today’s top actors are good at voice acting.   What would Shrek have been without Michael Myers, Antonio Banderas, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz or the Lion King without Chiwetel Ejiofor, Beyoncé, Donald Glover and Seth Rogan?  What would the Call of Duty games have been without the voice of Gary Oldman?  What would Beyond: Two Souls be without the voice of Ellen Page?

With celebrity actors voicing video games and animation, how can the yet to be famous voice actor get a job?   Well the good news is the industry is posting more and more jobs on sites available to all voice actors.  If you have access to a recording studio you can send in clips for jobs direct.  If they like the clips you’ve posted on a site, it could be the Spotlight site, you may get asked to record something and send it from your phone. They need voices that sound like – you at your most human.  Voice over agencies take on voice actors when they’ve done a few jobs and have established their zone.  Accents and dialects are good, but they need to be your own or as good as.

There is dubbing work and ADR.  Dubbing from English/American films into languages like Spanish and Danish is now better than the quality of dubbing into English.  I’ve heard some dubbed English voices in period dramas on Netflix recently that have been…not great.   There are some good ADR training courses. Sometimes the best ADR results come from when voice actors work only by listening.  Be aware that low paid jobs (outside Equity rates) are available.  If you choose to do them then make sure you don’t sacrifice your talent.  If you’re a voice actor who wants to do more work, keep out there, keep practicing, keep perfecting your timing and technique.  There are loads of resources on YouTube and online.  Stephen Kemble’s Audio/Visual resource pack from his VoiceOver Book is relevant for its information on technique.  You can download it from the www.oberonbooks.com/voiceover page.   There will always be room for quality voice actors.  Make sure you’re heard.  Max Your Voice.

Letting Go Of Your Breath

 

A lot of voice problems are caused by muscle tension in the chest. We hang on to our breath and never allow the lungs to empty.  When you feel muscle tension in your chest if you’re nervous about speaking or when you start to speak, this is a reason why.   With regular simple breathing exercises, you can alleviate chest tension.

When starting voice exercises you need to release your breath.  Most people are not used to completely emptying their lungs and you need to do this in a relaxed way before taking a breath in.   Your muscles can then learn to handle the breath in your lungs for maximum vocal interpretation.

Here is a picture of the flop over which allows the muscles in the stomach to flatten forcing the diaphragm up and expelling the breath from your lungs.  The other pictures show Pilates positions which flatten your stomach and expel the air from your lungs.

The flop over flattens your stomach and releases breath.  Gently some up while breathing in through the nose.
This position flattens your stomach & expels breath

Once you get to know how to completely empty your lungs you can go on to more advanced exercises that will help you to get rid of muscle tension and give you a better voice.  Want to know more?  Come on one of our workshops.  You can fill in a contact form.

The Son by Florian Zeller

 

Christopher Hampton’s translation of Florian Zeller’s The Son is a masterful.   It is so skilled.  The translation from the formal and informal tenses of French and from the flow of  French speech  into a rhythm in English which still maintains the structure is good. The director Michael Longhurst uses the speech rhythms to direct the play like movements from a symphony with surges and rests and always underneath – a sense of tension.  The composer and sound designer Isobel Waller-Bridge’s work was part of the success of the production.  The whole play flows from one conversation into another – with the son at the centre of the action.   The voices are so indicative of the characters that you feel you might know them.   The casting is faultless, and a lot of credit must go to Amy Bell and her assistant Atri Banerjee for this.  Cudjoe Asare, Amanda Abbington, Amaka Okafor, Martin Turner are all good, but the outstanding performances are from Laurie Kynaston who plays the son and John Light who plays the father.   Many men and women in the audience including me cried (a lot).  The Son is the final play in Florian Zeller’s trilogy after The Mother and The Father.  If plays are written to help us understand ourselves and the times we live in, then Florian Zeller is the playwright. 

English for German First Language Speakers

 

Fred Thompson – Head of English at the University of Koblenz – Landau

As teachers for English, we are always thrilled when our German pupils come to class well prepared as well as bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.  Our enthusiasm, however, can be dampened whenever we hear a sentence like the following one from a pupil:

“I have made my homework last night at home”.

While this utterance should not cause a major breakdown in communication, it does lack a certain degree of accuracy in Standard English, especially with grammar and linguistics. In its written form, we have problems with verb tense, collocation and word order. And in its spoken form, the pronunciation of final voiced consonants will most likely need some more attention.

To begin, German speakers often confuse two English tenses: the present perfect and simple past. The usage of the present perfect in the utterance above (i.e. have made) may appear to match perfectly with the German perfect form or Das Perfekt (i.e. habe gemacht) as both tenses in these languages contain an auxiliary verb and past participle. This assumption, however, is a pitfall. The German perfect form is always used for completed past actions; English uses the simple past (not the present perfect) in similar cases. The English present perfect, in contrast, describes events that begin in the past but have some connection to the present moment of speech. It should be noted that there is no exact German equivalent for the English present perfect.

Another mistake in the original sentence is linguistic, specifically choice of verbs. The English verbs make and do can cause problems for German speakers. Whereas we do our homework in English, Germans use the verb machen or make (i.e. die Hausaufgaben machen) with this expression. This explains the odd combination of made my homework above. It is not always easy to know which of the two English verbs should be used, as direct translations can sometimes work. In both English and German, it is appropriate to say to make a mistake (i.e. einen Fehler machen) or to make fun of someone (i.e. sich über jdn lustig machen). In other expressions, however, we must know that only do can be used in English, for example to do the shopping (i.e. die Einkäufe machen).

Word order is also problematic. The specific order of adverbs in the end position of an English sentence can be particularly tricky. In contrast to German where adverbs of time usually precede any other type of adverb, English speakers generally prefer having adverbs of manner first and then having adverbs of place and time. In the original sentence, last night should actually follow at home.   

Turning our attention to pronunciation, we must concern ourselves with the “notorious” devoicing of final voiced consonants, especially with plosives and fricatives. Final devoicing or Auslautverhärtung is a common feature of L1-German speakers. Instead of articulating /meɪd/ for made in the original sentence, /meɪt/ (or mate) is usually uttered. Mate and made are two separate words in English. Likewise, the devoicing of have will create a new word: half.  Concentration on saying I have made and not I half mate will increase intelligibility between both the speaker and interlocutor. Needless to say, had the correct word order in the original sentence been used in the first place, we would have avoided at least one articulation problem with have!  

Fred Thompson – University of Koblenz – Landau

Voices are Designed to be Sexy

 

“The larynx is hormonal dependent and evolves with time and the sexual life of each individual.”  Jean Abitbol MD
If a woman has a smear test from her cervix and from her vocal folds, they will be almost identical because both the vocal folds and the cervix have oestrogen receptors.  Voices are designed to be sexy.  Females use the left and right parts of their brain at the same time, but men use only one side of their brain at a time.  Another reason why real men are feminists.  Most women, it seems, prefer sexy audio stories to porn.  A recent BBC study showed that 50 per cent of females felt that porn dehumanised women.  Voices change when you are aroused.  If you meet someone, in public and you find them very attractive, rather than stand there with your mouth open, you’re more inclined to laugh at something innocuous that someone says.  It’s no wonder then that Dipsea – the site that sells sexy audio stories in an app, is so appealing to women.  Eroticism and seduction together with a good story does wonders for your libido.  I also like what the Dipsea site says:
“Feeling turned on is more than a wind up to sex.  It’s a way to feel more alive, heighten intimacy, unlock confidence and cultivate your wellbeing.  Dipsea empowers you to tap into those feelings.”
Dipsea stories have different time frames and different moods.  You can choose from lesbian and heterosexual themed stories.  You can listen to three stories for free before you start to pay a subscription.  They have sourced some good voice over actors.  Alas, they won’t be able to afford Miriam Margolyes, who paid her bills when she was just starting out as an actor, by doing voice-overs for porn/sexy films.   I bet those would be fun to listen to.  Click on the photo for the link to Dipsea

Gina Gutierrez and Faye Keegan

Mental Health & The Desire to Achieve Perfect Balance

 

There is a word in Swedish – Lagom, which means something like – just right – in English.  Tim Bergling, the DJ Avicii was under a lot of stress to get it right.  So much success, so young and such high expectations of him.  A treadmill without much fun.
There are different ways that you can look after your mental health in stressful times.  Be open to irony.   An old poster on the underground at Mornington Crescent saying “Warning -The Light at the End of the Tunnel Has Gone Out” laughed me out of a dark moment.   Maintain your self-worth.   Boxers and athlete’s are told to keep something, no matter how small,  in reserve.  I ask clients who are crazy, busy – please never let your voice run on empty.   Kind words and phrases like “cheer up love it might never happen” are clichés but still supportive.  When you are submitted to times of extreme, ongoing stress, it can take hold of you and you don’t hear anything but the voices in your head and you don’t feel anything except the inability to cope.  You may try ways to alleviate the stress and it still won’t go away.  Suicide is the biggest cause of death of people under 35.  Everyday more young lives are lost to us.

Suicide is a taboo subject and seriously at-risk people find themselves isolated.   Young people who are at the most risk of suicide will often try to hide their needs and see suicide as the only self-empowering option left to them.  They have an outward appearance that is smart and happy looking, and they will joke with you.   When their voice sounds forced and jarred and they won’t get involved in conversation that involves anything apart from banter, stay with them.   Look out for your friends, make it easier for them to talk to you.  Most of us have been affected by suicide and yet it still isn’t spoken of in everyday terms.  You can’t stop something happening by ignoring it. The Tim Bergling Foundation is a mental health and suicide prevention charity set-up after his suicide.  As Avicii, the Swedish DJ, his music and persona were massive and influential, especially among young people.  His music is beautiful, his lyrics poetry.  In the end he gave it all and had nothing to sustain himself with.  Avicii’s album Tim has been released posthumously and the proceeds will go to this foundation. Click on the pic to listen to his music.

The agencies listed below work to help people move away from suicidal thoughts.

Avicii
The Late Tim Bergling

Rosmersholm by Henrik Ibsen

 

This version of Rosmersholm by Ibsen is wonderfully adapted by Duncan MacMillan and directed by Ian Rickson.  Ibsen, the Danish master playwright of the 19th early 20th century was clear sighted about the injustices of society & the human foibles & insecurities that helped to keep them in place.  Rosmerholm is a dark play that contains a lot of humour and often in this production, the humour is there.  When Giles Terera came on stage as the politician Andreas Kroll I could hardly believe my luck.  Straightaway there he was filling the stage, perfect timing, wonderful voice mastering the lines and sparking the laughter.  I loved him in Hamilton & I love him in this.  All the acting is of a high standard.  A balance between the surpressed and the spoken, has to be kept for the play to work.  It may have helped if at the beginning we had had a glimpse of the ominous in the dialogue between Rebecca and Mrs Helseth.   Some Grotowski voice and body work may have helped.  There is always a risk that an Ibsen play can tip over into parody because of the time when the play was written & because of  Danish directness.  Tom Burke as John Rosmer bravely and convincingly uses a “piping” tenor voice throughout, which gives us a clear picture of his days as a clergyman giving sermons.  It also makes the conversion of his values –  influenced by Rebecca, easier to accept.  Thanks here to the wonderful voice coach Patsy Rodenburg.   As you wouid expect all the voices are as clearly heard.   You can see where Hayley Atwell is taking the character of Rebecca West and I think that she will reach this full smouldering woman pretty soon.  I didn’t feel that the end was inevitable and I was sad, but then I remembered that it is all part of why we want to see Ibsen.  The audience lapped it up.  It is a grand production and credit must go to the set designed by Rae Smith.

Tom Burke as Giles Rosmer & Giles Terera as Andreas Kroll