A while back, a bloke asked me in what way am I qualified to teach voice and communication skills. So, I gave him a list of my training and experience. He wondered if all of those things are relevant, and if they are, could I explain how. I asked him if he had an hour. He had, so I told him. (He fell asleep.)
When I was 17, I acted on stage for the first time, in the musical, Oklahoma . At the readthrough, I was shaking, because as an actor, I was as raw as a Waldorf salad; but I found it tremendously exciting.
There’s a scene where the hero (Curly), and the baddy (Jud – my character), bid against each other for the hand of the leading lady (Laurey). Curly makes a series of bids “I bid 1 dollar; I bid 2 dollars”; and so on. Each time, Jud responds by saying “And 2 bits”. To this day, I can still remember the feelings of electricity and elasticity as I instinctively stretched the timing of each pause before I said “And 2 bits”! I was hooked, and as I look back, I can see that I already had a good sense of timing.
I also had the beginnings of a good speaking voice. One of my teachers, who knew I’d become hooked on acting and wanted to go to drama school, said that my voice would be my living. She was right!
That drama school was the Rose Bruford College of Speech and Drama. For three years, I had at least six voice lessons each week; I learnt the basis of the craft of acting; earned a diploma in the teaching of speech and drama; won the John Masefield verse-speaking prize; and in my spare time I studied singing with an eminent teacher in London, Edgar Herbert-Caesari.
At drama school, I developed a deep understanding of the English language and how to express it. Also, how to breathe properly for speaking; and the relationship between the breath and feelings, breath and posture, and that of posture and feelings. I learnt how to interpret a script, and how to speak it in a natural way – which involves subtleties of meaning and feeling.
The singing lessons not only helped me to develop my singing voice, I was able to apply some of what I learnt to my speaking voice. After all, they’re the same instrument – they’re just played rather differently. Because of the singing, I’m able to use my voice in a relaxed, effective way. It’s flexible, has a good tone, and plenty of stamina.
One of the byproducts of acting was working as a presenter in commercial radio, in New Zealand, where I lived for quite a few years. (I’m back in the UK now.) That relates well to celebrancy. On radio, I acquired the skill of speaking warmly to the listeners as I was talking to them from my studio – not talking at them. In fact, it wasn’t so much listeners, as listener! A lot of radio presenters speak of talking to an ideal listener. Well, early in my radio days, I was given some great advice: not only to speak as if to one person, but to actually use singular language, rather than plural. Instead of coming on air and saying “Good afternoon, everybody”, I’d just say “Good afternoon”. I’d never say “I think you’re all going to enjoy this song”, I’d get rid of the ‘all’. I can’t think of anything that can’t be expressed in this singular way, and it has the effect on the listener – even if there’s more than one listening in the same room – that they feel they’re being spoken to individually.
And this doesn’t just apply to radio. You can do it with any form of public speaking/oral communication: including celebrancy. I like to imagine that everyone at an event is thinking “I know there are other people here, but I’m sure he’s speaking to me in particular.” Everybody likes to feel special!
Radio was also a good medium to exercise my sense of humour, which I use a lot in teaching to help relax whoever I’m working with. What I did must have been effective as I won a prestigious Australasian radio award.
Compering is something I’ve also enjoyed. In a way, it’s similar to radio, except that the audience is right there in front of you. Before your very eyes! You know whether you’re coming across well – or not! And it means that you can play the audience, which is a useful skill for a celebrant (in the right circumstances).
I’m also a ventriloquist, which, like compering, is a situation where you’re often playing to a live audience.
I’ve done at lot of voiceover work, where there are time constraints. A 30-second commercial is what it says on the tin: 30 seconds – not 30.1 or more. And I’d often go into a production studio at a radio station where I was expected to record 20 voiceovers in an hour. That’s pressure!
Often, they required character voices and accents, which had to be conjured up almost instantly. All useful experience when it comes to training voice and communication!
And I’ve written articles for magazines, and scripts for radio and television.
That’s the relevant stuff from my work experience. From my personal life, there are quite a few things which are also pertinent.
I spent six months learning Alexander Technique, which is important in relation to posture, breathing and relaxation. Alexander was an Australian who developed his method to deal with chronic tension and vocal problems. I like to think that Technique was his surname – as in “Gidday, Technique’s the name: Alexander Technique.” Sadly, this isn’t true.
I’ve studied the research of the HeartMath Institute of the USA. In particular their techniques related to managing the emotions. This, again is associated with breathing, and is important in handling performance anxiety, and everyday anxiety.
I’ve studied The Enneagram of Personality Types, which is a great tool for understanding human nature.
And one more thing: I was trained in person-centred counselling by the Lifeline organisation in Auckland, New Zealand.
So, what qualifies me to be a celebrant? All of the above.
And what qualifies me to teach Celebrant voice and communication: all of the above, with knobs on.