March 8, 2012
CRITERION #6: PATTERNS
Test the boundaries of your dynamic range.
Everyone has a speech pattern than is uniquely them. Very often it is learned from one’s parents. Don’t you find that sometimes when you say a certain phrase, it seems like an echo of the way that your mother or father might have said the same thing? Or, when you laugh. Doesn’t it sound eerily similar to the way one of your parents laughs… or your brother… or sister?
Language – and particularly its intonations – is initially learned at home. However, unless your parents are professional elocutionists, it’s likely that you have some vocal patterns that are not “by the book”. The vocal pattern you employ in your day-to-day conversations is likely to be a little bit awkward… and is as idiosyncratic as you… but it works. It’s a significant part of your personality – and probably an endearing part of who you are.
Things are a little different when you hit the stage, however. Somehow, being on-stage accentuates everything. It places you under a magnifying glass. Quite simply, everything that you say or do is “larger than life”. You need to pay special attention to your patterns… and break them. Most people have a definite pattern that is comfortable for them. Early in the speech, they slide into their pattern… and stay there. Sliding is a good word to use, because if you were to map the pattern of most untrained speakers in graphic form, it would look like a slide in a playground. At the beginning of each sentence, they climb up; then they push themselves off, and start the downward journey; finally, with a pronounced downturn as they fall off the end of the sentence. Then they run back and climb the slide again. And so it goes. Over and over. The key problem is that it quickly becomes repetitive. And after several minutes, repetition takes on a drone-like character. And that puts people to sleep.
You need to test the boundaries of the dynamic range that is available to you. Change it up. And I mean up. If you have to choose one direction to go… go up. As I said before, most people have kind of a downward spiral to their speech pattern. So, be courageous and swim against the current. It’ll produce some very interesting speech dynamics. And it’ll definitely get people’s attention.
A few years ago, I had the opportunity to work with one of the greats in the stage and screen business – Christopher Plummer. I had hired him to be the “voice” on a soundtrack I was recording for a corporate client. Knowing his reputation, I was expecting him to be good at his job, but I was quite unprepared for just how good he turned out to be.
Having written the script that he was to read, I had a pretty good idea of how the words might be delivered. However, Christopher Plummer had a very different idea. And that’s what makes him so good. It’s almost as if he has a personal commitment to himself that he will not read a script in the way that anyone else might. After all, you’re hiring Christopher Plummer (and paying a pretty penny for the privilege), so why would he give you a conventional read? In the script that I gave him, at the points where other people might have lowered their pitch on a certain word, he would raise his; where others might have pushed through a paragraph in one breath, he would start into it at top speed and then pause… for dramatic effect… and then turn on his heel and shoot off in a different direction. When all was said and done… and mixed to music… I was left with a recording that very effectively conveys the information, but with a veneer of the unexpected applied to it. I got everything I asked for… and more… just from the way in which Christopher Plummer stretched the limits of the pattern of the words. He took the way in which the words seemed to be arranged, he re-arranged it, and delivered it in his own way. And yet, when all was said and done (and it was), the sense of the words was exactly as it should be.
Christopher Plummer is Canadian. But you knew that, eh?