Vocal Observations

Breathing Capacity

Last week, I mentioned the way the Bradfordians prepared
their performers so that they could better project their voices in a Tithe
Barn.  The other exercise they did in the
same workshop was designed to increase the performer’s breathing capacity.

The exercise was simple but it is effective if practiced;
the recommendation was doing it every day to see improvements.  So what was it?  Saying the alphabet… three times through…in
one breath.  The rate should be constant
(approximately 3 letters per second).  In the workshop,
the first time through was done in a whisper, then in a normal voice, then in a
loud voice (using diaphragm, not shouted).   As an exercise it can be added to a general
vocal warmup.  The first time through only about half the performers could do it, but I can testify that with practice, this does improve!

40 Voices Challenge #4

Old Man #1

The fourth voice challenge shall be Mr Woodhouse from
Jane Austin’s novel, Emma.  

Emma was published in 1816 and captures life in the
fictional village of Highbury somewhere in Suffolk, which is an
agricultural stronghold in the southeast of England.  Sparknotes.com describes Mr Woodhouse as Emma’s
father and the patriarch of Hartfield, the Woodhouse estate. Though Mr.
Woodhouse is nervous, frail, and prone to hypochondria, he is also known for
his friendliness and his attachment to his daughter. He is very resistant to
change, to the point that he is unhappy to see his daughters or Emma’s
governess marry. In this sense, he impedes Emma’s growth and acceptance of her
adult destiny. He is often foolish and clearly not Emma’s intellectual equal,
but she comforts and entertains him with insight and affection.

So what should be considered when doing an older voice?  The voice definitely mellows in tone the older
we get and sometimes the voice or the lungs aren’t necessarily in great
condition.  A more over-the-top example can be
heard by YouTube user Yaseen Nasser
.

Other tips from the Voice Acting Club Forum
include dropping your cheeks/corners of your mouth due to sagging of the face,
which in turns means the other parts of the mouth need to work harder.  Also expressed was an old man voice is more about
texture in the throat and chest than pitch.

It is certainly the case that Mr Woodhouse’s voice will be
influenced by his nervous and frail condition and in the book he doesn’t get
out much beyond his short walks in the grounds of his estate.  The tone of his voice will also no doubt be
influenced by his friendly nature.

Here are some examples of Mr Woodhouse in adaptations of
Austen’s novel:

BBC 2009 Series of Emma with Michael Gambon as Mr Woodhouse – breathy, fragile, soft tone, upper-class
accent.

BBC 1996 TV Movie of Emma with Bernard Hepton as Mr
Woodhouse
– Light and friendly, but still fragile.

I have chosen the following lines from Mr Woodhouse’s
dialogue:

1)
“A house of her own!—But where is the advantage of a
house of her own? This is three times as large.—And you have never any odd
humours, my dear.”

“How often we shall be going to see them, and they
coming to see us!—We shall be always meeting! We must begin; we must go and pay
wedding visit very soon.”

“My dear, how am I to get so far? Randalls is such a
distance. I could not walk half so far.”

2)
“He is very young to settle,” was Mr.
Woodhouse’s observation.

“He had better not be in a hurry. He seemed to me
very well off as he was. We were always glad to see him at Hartfield.”

3)
“You are acquainted with Miss Jane Fairfax, sir, are
you?” said Mr. Woodhouse, always the last to make his way in conversation;

“then give me leave to assure you that you will find
her a very agreeable young lady. She is staying here on a visit to her
grandmama and aunt, very worthy people; I have known them all my life. They
will be extremely glad to see you, I am sure; and one of my servants shall go
with you to shew you the way.”

Vocal Observations

Voice Projection

For a recent stage performance the Bradfordians (based in Bradford
on Avon, England) prepared their actors the daunting task of projecting the
voice so that everyone in the auditorium – in this case, a long Tithe Barn
can hear what is being said.

John Palmer had us partner up and one half walk 20 metres
away.  We then had to try and pick out
from the ensuing sounds what phrase our partners were saying without them yelling and damaging their voice.  We found it was still possible to speak and
be heard, so long as we used the correct technique.  The next exercise had small groups walk a
third of the way down the barn and say in a quiet voice a phrase that the
remainder of the group had to repeat.
Those speakers then repeated the exercise by walking further away –  two thirds of the way and finally the whole 51
metres of the barn.  Again, the remainder
of the group picked out what was said and repeated it back.  So how was this done?  By engaging the diaphragm (such as ‘Breath for Singing’ video by Felicia Ricci) and articulating the words.

For Voice Over work, the target is very different as the
target – the microphone  – is inches away
from the performer.  I am currently using
the tip of Troy Dean, who provides a great visual concept called the ‘Tiny Box’.

I think that using both these tips – engaging the diaphragm
and projecting correctly – will be very important in providing a good vocal
performances in future.

40 Voices Challenge #3

Middle-aged man #1

The
third voice challenge shall be Edward Fairfax Rochester from Charlotte Brontë’s
novel, Jane Eyre.  As with voice
challenge #1, I am not familiar with this novel and will need to do some
research to better understand the chosen character. 

Sparknotes says Edward Rochester has a stern manner and
is not particularly handsome, but despite this he wins Jane’s heart because she
feels they are kindred spirits.
Cliffsnotes.com says Rochester’s life has been wild and dissipated, that
he is a passionate man guided by senses rather than his rational mind.  He is also an example of the Byronic Hero,
which is a variant on the romantic hero character-type.  

According to Wikipedia entry on the subject,
Byronic heroes share defining features.
This character was described by Lord Macaulay as “a man proud,
moody, cynical, with defiance on his brow, and misery in his heart, a scorner
of his kind, implacable in revenge, yet capable of deep and strong
affection”.

What kind of voice is Rochester supposed to have?  Where is he from?  How old is he?  He is the master of Thornfield Hall so we can
presume that he is well brought up and educated.   As the Byronic Hero features are also those
exemplified not only of characters but of Lord Byron himself, this supports the
idea that he was born into nobility and very well educated.

The final factor to defining his voice is the setting for
Jane Eyre, which according to Crossref-it takes place in the north of England at
locations in Derbyshire, Lancashire and Yorkshire. This was the area of England
most familiar to Charlotte Brontë, from the places where she had lived, been
educated and worked prior to the time she came to write Jane Eyre.  As to his age, he is in his mid to late
thirties or ‘twice Jane’s age’ when Jane is eighteen.

Let’s look at some examples of this character adapted for
media:

2011
movie
– this is an  upper-class
accent with a hint of a northern accent
in words such as “months”.  It
contrasts quite a bit with the far more regional accent of Jane Eyre.
2006
BBC series
– very
much a high class accent.
1983
BBC series

– there
is far more of a northern accent here.

OK, finally the Edward Rochester lines to say:

1) “My bride is here,” he said, again drawing me
to him, “because my equal is here, and my likeness. Jane, will you marry
me?”

2) “That is my wife,”
said he. “Such is the sole conjugal embrace I am ever to know—such are the
endearments which are to solace my leisure hours! And this is what I wished to have”
(laying his hand on my shoulder): “this young girl, who stands so grave
and quiet at the mouth of hell, looking collectedly at the gambols of a demon.
I wanted her just as a change after that fierce ragout (ragoo). Wood and Briggs, look at the difference! Compare these
clear eyes with the red balls yonder—this face with that mask—this form with
that bulk; then judge me, priest of the Gospel and man of the law, and
remember, with what judgement ye judge ye shall be judged!”

3) “Oh, don’t fall back on over-modesty! I have
examined Adèle, and find you have taken great pains with her: she is not
bright, she has no talents; yet in a short time she has made much
improvement.”

“Sir, you have given me my ‘cadeau’; I am obliged to
you: it is the meed teachers most covet; praise of their pupils’
progress.”

Vocal Observations

Warm ups

One thing I am finding very useful and which is
recommended by both vocal artists and my book (Voice-Over for Animation by Jean
Ann Wright and MJ Lallo) is the warm-up.
I’m used to doing a brief warm up as part of performing musicals on
stage, but hadn’t really considered what was required for voice over work.  It makes absolute sense that the voice needs
to be warmed up in the same way in order to perform.

Here is the warm up I’m currently using, by vocal artist
Amy Walker.

40 Voices Challenge #2

Young Man #1

Character : Lysander from William Shakespeare’s Midsummer
Night’s Dream.

OK, first up I have a confession to make.  I was initially going to try to do Holden
Caulfield, the main character and narrator of J.D. Salinger’s novel The Catcher
in the Rye, but I am simply not ready to produce a New York accent – but bear
with me, it’s in the works.

Sparknotes.com says Lysander is a young man of Athens, in love with Hermia. Lysander’s
relationship with Hermia invokes the theme of love’s difficulty: he cannot
marry her openly because Egeus, her father, wishes her to wed Demetrius; when
Lysander and Hermia run away into the forest, Lysander becomes the victim of
misapplied magic and wakes up in love with Helena.

With Shakespeare, the plays are so widely done and with
so many different adaptions that the accent isn’t normally so much a
requirement.  But it is important to be
aware of the rhythm, such as the Iambic Pentameter that Shakespeare uses in his
plays and sonnets.

There have been attempts to perform Shakespeare in original
pronunciation
however.  I won’t be
attempting this but it is good to be aware of in case the need ever arises.

Here is a BBC audio recording of a scene between Helena
and Lysander,
on Soundcloud.

Chosen lines to speak:

1)
Lysander:
A good persuasion:
therefore, hear me, Hermia.
I have a widow aunt, a dowager
Of great revenue, and she hath no child:
From Athens is her house remote seven leagues;
And she respects me as her only son.
There, gentle Hermia, may I marry thee;
And to that place the sharp Athenian law
Cannot pursue us. If thou lovest me then,
Steal forth thy father’s house to-morrow night;
And in the wood, a league without the town,
Where I did meet thee once with Helena,
To do observance to a morn of May,
There will I stay for thee.

2)
Helena :
But who is here?
Lysander! on the ground!
Dead? or asleep? I see no blood, no wound.
Lysander if you live, good sir, awake.

Lysander:
[Awaking]
And run through fire I will for thy sweet sake.
Transparent Helena! Nature shows art,
That through thy bosom makes me see thy heart.
Where is Demetrius? O, how fit a word
Is that vile name to perish on my sword!

40 Voices Challenge #1

Boy #1

My first Voice Challenge shall be… Pip (Philip Pirrip),
from Charles Dickens’ novel ‘Great Expectations’.  I should say what ‘Boy #1’ means.  In the 40 Voices Table, I have categorised
the voices into types and will have a go at each type 5 times, so creating 5
variants.  In this example, this is my
first attempt at creating the voice for a boy (Boy #1).

So what do we know about this fictional character?  Sparknotes.com says that there are two Pips; the character and the
narrator, who is an older version of Pip.
As I am covering the Boy #1 entry here, we will focus on the character
in the early chapters of the book.  Sparknotes.com
says Pip’s two important traits are his immature romantic idealism and his
innate good conscience.  He is also
ambitious and wishes to improve himself, whether educationally, morally or
socially.

Voice-wise, Pip’s Wikipedia entry informs me that he is an orphan brought up in Kent in the
early 1800s by his cruel sister Mrs Joe and her husband Joe Gargery, who is a
blacksmith.  When the book begins he is 7
years old.

Let’s examine the Kent accent a little: Example 1, Example 2, Example 3.  In these three examples alone, there is a distinct
difference in their accent despite all coming from Kent, but examples 1 & 3
do have a sound that could be associated with the east-end of London.  But we also have the passing of time to
consider. 

A study was done in 1950s to try and trace the old Kent
accent that would have originated when Londoners would have migrated to the
east coast during the 19th century.
Whilst those voices belong to people born in the closing decades of the
19th century, later than the time of the novel, it may provide a
more accurate version than the modern Kent accents.  The older accent still retained the ‘r’
pronunciation which had been lost in the popular London accent at that time.  Voice #5 from this collection is a blacksmith and has a
mix of rural and east-London in his accent.

Let’s see what the adaptations did with Pip’s accent:

  • BBC
    2011 adaptation
    – Pip meets Miss Haversham. 

    Interestingly,
    many people expressed their surprise in the comments about the rustic sound of
    the boy’s accent.

  • 1946 Movie

    there
    is a definite cockney accent here but it feels toned down or flattened.

  • 2012 Movie

    again,
    the accent is far more rural than London, which was different from my
    preconception.

Finally, let’s listen to his father figure, Joe Gargery, performed here by actor Greg Jones.  Again, there is definitely a
cockney twang to this accent.

OK, finally choosing lines to say…

‘O! Don’t cut my throat, sir,’ I pleaded in terror.
‘Pray don’t do it, sir.’
‘Tell us your name!’ said the man. ‘Quick!’
‘Pip, sir.’

‘I have only been to the churchyard,’ said I, from my stool,
crying and rubbing myself.
‘Churchyard!’ repeated my sister. ‘If it warn’t for me
you’d have been to the churchyard long ago, and stayed there. Who brought you
up by hand?’
‘You did,’ said I.
‘And why did I do it, I should like to know?’ exclaimed my sister.
I whimpered, ‘I don’t know.’

‘I think you have got the ague,’ said I.
‘I’m much of your opinion, boy,’ said he.
‘It’s bad about here,’ I told him. ‘You’ve been lying out
on the meshes, and they’re dreadful aguish. Rheumatic too.’