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Methought I heard a voice cry, "Sleep no more !"
no more-Macbeth shall sleep no more !
MODULATION OF THE VOICE.
The following judicious observations on this important subject are from Walker's “ Elements of Elocution.”
“After a perfect idea is attained of the pause, emphasis, and inflection, with which we ought to pronounce every word, sentence, interrogation, climax, and different figure of speech, it will be absolutely necessary to be acquainted with the power, variety, and extent of the instrument, through which we convey them to others; for unless this instrument be in a proper pitch, whatever we pronounce will be feeble and unnatural; as it is only in a certain pitch that the voice can command the greatest variety of tones, so as to utter them with energy and off as to be almost out of hearing, we naturally raise our voice to a higher key, as well as swell it upon that key to a much greater degree of loudness; as, on the contrary, if we wish to be heard only by a single person in company, we naturally let fall our voice into a low key, and abate the force of it, so as to keep it from being heard by any but the person we are speaking to.
“Every one has a certain pitch of voice, in which he is most easy to himself, and most agreeable to others; this may be called the NATURAL PITCH : this is the pitch in which we converse ; and this must be the basis of every improvement we acquire from art and exercise : for such is the force of exercise upon the organs of speech, as well as every other in the human body, that constant practice will strengthen the voice in any key we use it to, even though this happen not to be the most natural and easy at first. This is abundantly proved by the strong vociferation which the itinerant retailers in the streets acquire after a few years' practice. Whatever key they happen to pitch upon at first is generally preserved ; and the voice in that note becomes wonderfully strong and sonorous : but as the Spectator' humorously observes, their articulation is generally so indistinct, that we understand what they sell, not so much by the words as the tune.
“ As constant exercise is of such importance to strengthen the voice, care should be taken, that we exercise it on that part where it has naturally the greatest power and variety: this is the MIDDLE TONE; the tone we habitually make use of, when we converse with, or speak to, Dersons at a moderate distance ; for if we call out to one who is so far
“In this situation nature dictates; but the situation of the public speaker is a situation of art; he not only wishes to be heard, but to be heard with energy and ease ; for this purpose, his voice must be powerful in that key which is easiest to him, in that which he will most naturally fall into, and which he will certainly have the most frequent occasion to use; and this is the middle tone.
“ But before we enter farther on this subject, it seems absolutely necessary to obviate a very common mistake with respect to the voice, which may lead to an incurable error; and that is the confounding of high and low with loud and soft. These plain differences are as often jumbled together as accent and quantity, though to much worse purpose.
“ Those who understand ever so little of music, know that high and loud, and soft and low, are by no means necessarily connected ; and that we may be very soft in a high note, and very loud in a low one; just as a smart stroke on a bell may have exactly the same note as a slight one, though it is considerably louder. But to explain this difference to those who are unacquainted with music, we may say, that a HIGH TONE is that we naturally assume when we wish to be heard at distance, as the same degree of force is more audible in a high, than in a low tone, from the acuteness of the former, and the gravity of the latter; and that a LOW TONE is that we naturally assume when we are speaking to a person at a small distance, and wish not to be heard by others; as a low tone with the same force is less audible than a high one; if, therefore, we raise our voice to the pitch we should naturally use if we were calling to a person at a great distance, and at the same time exert so small a degree of force as to be heard only by a person who is near us, we shall have an example of a high note in a soft tone; and on the contrary, if we suppose ourselves speaking to a person at a small distance, and wish to be heard by those who are at a greater, in this situation we shall naturally sink the voice into a low note, and throw just as much force or loudness into it as is necessary to make it audible to the persons at a
tance. This is exactly the manner actors speak the speeches that are spoken aside. The low tone conveys the idea of speaking to a person near us, and the loud tone enables us to convey this idea to a distance. By this experiment we perceive, that high and loud, and soft and low, though most frequently associated, are essentially distinct from each other.
“ Such, however, is the nature of the human voice, that to begin in the extremes of high and low are not equally dangerous. The voice naturally slides into a higher tone, when we want to speak louder, but not so easily into a lower tone, when we would speak more softly. Experience shows us, that we can raise our voice at pleasure to any pitch it is capable of; but the same experience tells us, that it requires infinite art and practice to bring the voice to a lower key when it is once
raised too high. It ought therefore to be a first principle with all public readers and speakers, rather to begin under the common level of their voice than above it. The attention of an auditory at the commencement of a lecture or oration, makes the softest accents of the speaker audible, at the same time that it affords a happy occasion for introducing a variety of voice, without which every address must soon tire. A repetition of the same subject a thousand times over, is not more tiresome to the understanding, than a monotonous delivery of the most varied subject to the ear. Poets, to produce variety, alter the structure of their verse and rather hazard uncouthness and discord than sameness. Prose writers change the style, turn, and structure of their periods, and sometimes throw in exclamations, and sometimes interrogations, to rouse and keep alive the attention; but all this art is entirely thrown away, if the reader does not enter into the spirit of his author, and by a similar kind of genius, render even variety itself more various; if he does not, by an alteration in his voice, manner, tone, gesture, loudness, softness, quickness, slowness, adopt every change of which the subject is susceptible.
Every one, therefore, who would acquire a variety of tone in public reading or speaking, must avoid as the greatest evil a loud and vociferous beginning; and for that purpose it would be prudent in a reader or speaker to adapt his voice as if only to be heard by the person who is nearest to him; if his voice has natural strength, and the subject any thing impassioned in it, a higher and louder tone will insensibly steal on him; and his greatest address must be directed to keeping it within bounds. For this purpose it will be frequently necessary for him to recall his voice, as it were, from the extremities of his auditory, and direct it to those who are nearest to him. This it will be proper to do almost at the beginning of every paragraph in reading, and at the introduction of every part of the subject in discourse. Nothing will so powerfully work on the voice, as supposing ourselves conversing at different intervals with different parts of the audience.
“A celebrated writer* on this subject directs a reader or speaker, upon his first addressing his auditory, to fix his eyes upon that part of them from which he is the farthest, and to pitch his voice so as to reach them. This, I fear, would be attended with very ill consequences if the assembly were very large; as a speaker would be strongly tempted to raise his voice, as well as increase its force; and by this means begin in a key much too high for the generality of his auditory, or for his own powers to continue it. The safest rule, therefore, is certainly to begin, as it were, with those of the assembly that are nearest to us; and if the voice be but articulate, however low the key may be, it will still be audible; and those who have a sufficient strength of voice for a public auditory, find it so much more difficult to bring down than raise the pitch, that they will not wonder I employ my chief care to guard against an error by far the most common, as well as the most dangerous.
“Much, undoubtedly, will depend on the size and structure of the place we speak in: some are so immensely large, as many of our churches and cathedrals, that the voice is nearly as much dissipated as in the open
* He alludes to Sheridan.
air; and often with the additional inconvenience of a thousand confused echoes and re-echoes. Here a loud and vociferous speaker will render himself unintelligible in proportion to his exertion of voice: as departing and commencing sounds will encounter each other, and defeat every intention of distinctness and harmony.
“Nothing but good articulation will make a speaker audible in this situation, and a judicious attention to that tone of voice which is most suitable to the size and imperfections of the place. If the place we speak in be but small, it will be scarcely necessary to observe that the loudness of the voice should be in proportion. Those who have not ears sufficiently delicate to discern the true quantity of sound necessary to fill the place they speak in, ought to take every possible method to acquire 80 essential a qualification. “In order to reduce the foregoing observations to practice,
not be unprofitable to attend to the following rules :
“Rule I.—To gain a habit of lowering the voice, it will be necessary to drop the voice to a lower key upon the end of one sentence, and to commence the next sentence in the same low key with which we concluded the former; for this purpose, it will be necessary to select sentences where this pronunciation is eligible, and practise upon them.
EXAMPLES. “Our sight is the most perfect and most delightful of all our senses. It fills the mind with the largest variety of ideas, converses with its objects at the greatest distance, and continues the longest in action without being tired or satiated with its proper enjoyments. The sense of feeling can indeed give us a notion of extension, shape, and all other ideas that enter at the eye, except colours; but at the same time it is very much straitened and confined in its operations to the number, bulk, and distance of its particular objects.--Spectator, No. 411.
“I shall first consider those pleasures of the imagination which arise from the actual view and survey of outward objects; and these, I think, all proceed from the sight of what is great, uncommon, or beautiful. There may, indeed, be soinething so terrible or offensive that the horror or loathsomeness of the object may overbear the pleasure which results from its greatness, novelty, or beauty ; but still there will be such a mixture of delight in the very disgust it gives us, as any of these three qualifications are most conspicuous and prevailing.–Spectator, No. 412.
“ The sense of feeling, in the first example, and there may indeed, in the second, may very properly commence in a low tone of voice, as this tone is generally suitable to the concession contained in each of the sentences.
* Similes in poetry form proper examples for gaining a habit of lowering the voice.-- See page 71for Examples..
“RULE II.-- This lowering of the voice will be greatly facilitated if we begin the words we wish to lower the voice upon, in a MONOTONE, or sameness of sound.-See page 57 for Examples.
“ROLE III. -As few voices are perfect—those which have a good bottom often wanting a top, and inversely-care should be taken to improve by practice that part of the voice which is most deficient; for instance, if we want to gain a bottom, we ought to practise speeches which require exertion, a little below the common pitch; when we can do this with ease, we may practise them on a little lower note, and so on till we are as low as we desire ; for this purpose, it will be necessary to repeat such passages as require a full, audible tone of voice, in a low key: of this kind is the speech of King John to Hubert, where he takes him aside, and tempts him to undertake the death of Prince Arthur.See Shakspeare's King John, Act iii., Scene 5.
© Almost every part of this fine passage affords an opportunity of practising to speak with force and energy upon a lower tone of the voice; for the whole scene may be considered as only an earnest whisper; but as this whisper must be heard by a whole audience, it is necessary, while we lower the pitch, to add to the force of the voice : this, however, is no easy operation, and none but good readers and consummate actors can do it perfectly. It is no very difficult matter to be loud in a high tone of voice; but to be loud and forcible in a low tone, requires great practice and management.
“RULE IV.-When we would strengthen the voice in a higher note, it will be necessary to practise such passages as require a high tone of voice; and if we find the voice grow thin, or approach to a squeak upon the high note, it will be proper to swell the voice a little below this high note, and to give it force and audibility by throwing it into a sameness of tone approaching the monotone. A speech of Titus Quintius to the Roman people, ironically encouraging them to the greatest excesses, is a good praxis for the higher tone of voice.
“When you are to contend with us, you can seize the Aventine hill, you can possess yourselves of the Mons Sacer, the enemy is at our gates, the Æsquiline is near being taken, and nobody stirs to hinder it. But against us you are valiant, against us you can arm with all diligence. Come on then, besiege the senate-house, make a camp of the forum, fill the gauls with our chief nobles, and when you have achieved these glorious exploits, then. at the least, sally out at the Æsquiline gate with the same fierce spirits against the enemy. Does your resolution fail you for this ! Go then, and behold from our walls, your lands ravaged, your houses plundered and in flames, the whole country laid waste with fire and sword. Have you any thing here to repair these damages ? Will the tribunes make up your losses to you! They will give you words as many as you please; bring impeachments in abundance against the prime men of the state; heap laws upon laws; assemblies you shall have without end; but will any of you return the richer from these assemblies ? Extinguish, O Romans, these fatal divisions ; generously break this cursed enchantment, which keeps you buried in a scandalous inaction. Open your eyes, and consider the management of those ambitious men, who, to make themselves powerful in their party, study nothing but how they may foment divisions in the commonwealth.
“ There are few voices so strong in the upper notes as to be able to pronounce this speech with the spirit it demands ; care must be taken, therefore, particularly in the ironical parts, to keep the voice from going too high, for which purpose it ought to approach to a monotone in the high notes required upon the words-against us you are valiant-against us you can arm with all diligence—and particularly upon the questions Does your resolution fail you
for this? Have you any thing here to repair these damages ? Will the tribunes make up your losses to you?