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Reflections on teaching Voice for Twenty Years.

It's been an interesting journey. I can date my teaching of voice by my son Robin's birthday. He was born on the day we shared our Sonnet project at Central (where I trained as a voice teacher). After that we began our teaching practise proper so it serves as a marker for me. His 20th birthday has just passed.


I put these together on Facebook and some people said they liked them. Some people disagreed with some of them. I thought perhaps they are worth sharing to agree with or dispute.


It is often the case that when a man learns to talk he forgets how to listen...


Reflections on twenty years of teaching voice. 1. The sound of your voice is as a pane of glass. It reveals inevitably. There’s really not much you can do about that. But what it reveals is a snapshot of where you are today. You can be somewhere (someone) else tomorrow if you want to. Technique and practise and knowledge rearrange the destination. They change the future. Which is hard to fully grasp in the present.


2. It is an act of deep cruelty to criticise somebody’s voice and an act of symbolic violence to criticise someone’s accent. That’s true even when it’s dressed up as banter or solicitude. It takes great and subtle skill to work with someone’s voice. if you lack those don’t say anything. Ever. Mocking someone’s accent is exactly equivalent to things we consider utterly abhorrent. That’s true even if the person seems privileged in other ways or doesn’t obviously seem vulnerable. Posh Irish people don’t like you doing impersonations of them anymore than anyone else does.


3. Not saying things is bad for peoples voices. Saying hurtful things is painful for people. There’s a paradox here and sometimes it’s very hard to solve. I’d say tend towards expression. Risk it. Speak your mind. A good person might be misguided or just plain wrong sometimes but that’s ok. You’ll figure it out. If you don’t speak you’ll get a clicky jaw and a sore throat…possibly forever.


4. Real, deep, exploratory and transformative voice work built on an understanding of good fundamental use is one of the best things a person could ever do.


5. Don’t leave it too late. You can’t acquire a safe secure voice during rehearsals for that fantastic gig you just got. It’s too late. You fucked it. And now you’re going to spend six months feeling anxious and trying to stop smoking and doing toungue twisters in the shower and desperately humming down a straw. It’s too late. You blew it. Start yesterday.


6. This is a big one. There is absolutely no point in trying to have a nice voice or wanting to sound like someone else. Work on your voice. Diligently. And then never think about. Sometimes think about how you are using yourself through your voice but don’t ever think about how it sounds. Think about what you’re saying. Think about what you’re doing. But leave your voice alone. Then do more voice work.


7. There is no right technique. I loathe do this and this will happen approaches. Some people don’t respond to imagery. Some people swear by tremoring. I learned most about my voice through chi gung. Keep looking till you find a click. Find a teacher that suits you. Franchised methods are for marketing. People have to eat so selling is fine. But it’s bollocks. I could write most of what you need to know on the back of an envelop. It’s doing it which is tricky. That requires faith. In yourself.


8. Don’t ever fix a line reading. It’s disastrous. And don’t ever give one. It’s dishonest, unhelpful and catastrophic. Establish meaning through imagination. Sometimes people need help with that. If it comes out the same way several times you’re not acting you’re remembering. Remembering has very little to do with acting. Which of course means you have to know it well enough to not know how you’re going to say it.


9. For actors. Not that many people who aren’t voice teachers understand the voice. And not all voice teachers are good acting teachers. In a drama school you need to be both. Many people will give you bad advice. You need to think about it quite a lot in order to be able to work out who to listen to.


10. The most beautiful voice I ever heard beloved to a murderer. A serial one. There is no inherent morality to sound. It emerges from freedom. That’s complicated.


11. It takes no less energy to say a f rather than an th. A glottal stop is a consonant. People from Birmingham don’t have a kick back g after ing because of tongue tension. I’ve never met anyone with a lazy habit of speech. H dropping isn’t a speech impediment and axe is a perfectly reasonable way to say ask. I loved most of my colleagues but I didn’t half hear some daft nonsense in staff rooms over the years and sometimes that stuck in student’s minds and ears and VOICES. Which was rubbish of us and rubbish for them.


12. Alfred Wolfson was right. Human beings have an 8 octave range. I’ve heard it twice and done it once. They weren’t great evenings. One was when I experienced an anaesthetic failure during surgery. Not a very nice experience but now I know. So not very nice experiences can teach you things. Good to remember.


13. I wish my accent hadn’t been changed by my education. I grew up in Chatham, Tottenham and Southend in a tiny terraced house, rented flats and a housing estate. I once mentioned to a student at Lamda that we came from the same street in the Medway Towns and his jaw literally dropped. You lose something when you code shift. You gain something to. But at 55 I wish I’d made the other choice.


14. Work on the voice is a mystery. Not a riddle. Just get into the questions. It’ll keep changing as you change. Some days it doesn’t work as well as other days. That’s kinda fun if you can see it that way.


15. And finally finally. I have enjoyed and still enjoy almost every moment of my career as a voice teacher. It’s been wonderful. I get a thrill every time I jump on the train for the commute to work. I’ve met 1000s of funny, clever, sexy, charming people who’ve decided to dedicate themselves to exploring the human condition through play and had wonderful, thoughtful, quirky and hilarious colleagues. I’ve often struggled with the institutions I’ve worked for but never the work. I’m pretty broke and always have been but my job has been the most secure and joyful part of my life. I wouldn’t have swapped it for anything. Literally not for all the world.











A final couple of reflections on 20 years of teaching voice. I wish my accent hadn’t been changed by my education. I grew up in Chatham, Tottenham and Southend in a tiny terraced house, rented flats and a housing estate. I once mentioned to a student at Lamda that we came from the same street in the Medway Towns and his jaw literally dropped. You lose something when you code shift. You gain something to. But at 55 I wish I’d made the other choice.


A final couple of reflections on 20 years of teaching voice. I wish my accent hadn’t been changed by my education. I grew up in Chatham, Tottenham and Southend in a tiny terraced house, rented flats and a housing estate. I once mentioned to a student at Lamda that we came from the same street in the Medway Towns and his jaw literally dropped. You lose something when you code shift. You gain something to. But at 55 I wish I’d made the other choice.

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