LIBRARY - Reference(s)

Voice Power: Review by John Baron.

AT Focus: 
Alexander Technique
Article, essay
Article, citation and copright
Article Text: 
Most Alexander Teachers have a copy of Michael McCallion's The Voice Book on their shelves, in the company of FMÕs four books and other Alexander related works. Published in 1988, it is a classic work, written by a voice teacher who understood the Alexander Technique well. During his lifetime, Michael McCallion specialized in voice training for professional actors in theater companies around the world. Later, he extended his work to include politicians, businessmen and women, as well as radio and TV personalities. His second book, Voice Power, is directed to this latter crowd and as such may be of interest to Alexander teachers and their pupils.

McCallion completed Voice Power in 2004, shortly before his death, but the first edition did not become available until 2012. The strength of Voice Power comes from the authorÕs experience - it is a "wisdom" book - a compilation of realized truths interspersed with the mechanics, craft, and artistry of a talented voice teacher.

This book guides the reader "step-by-step through the whole business of releasing your voice" in a course designed to last about six weeks. The book is divided into two sections, the first focusing on Voice Mechanics, the second on Performance and Communication.

The first part of the book, "The mechanical aspects of voice and speech", covers the basics: breath, vocal chord function, resonance, jaw movement, tongue and lip movement, soft palette, vowels, humming, consonants, clarity, as well as: head, neck and back relationship, habit and choice, doing or not doing, directions, inhibition, whispered "ah," and a clearly explained section on "lying down." Although the Alexander Technique figures in the introduction as well as in the authorÕs biography, it is not mentioned in the book until page 107.

Part 2, "Making The Connection," introduces the voice as an instrument of expression and communication: the tones behind the words, the body language behind the speech, our genuine connection to others, and playfulness. And it is here the "voice" of this teacher really starts to show. McCallion writes: "The voice is a means of admitting the listener or listeners to what it feels like to inhabit your world. It is a way of sharing with them your excitement, your sense of importance of things, your sense of what is to be welcomed or dismissed, what is funny, tragic, serious, dangerous, true or false - and a host of other qualities. In this it works on the common stuff of our humanity." Ah, now weÕre off and running!

As we know, the voice is not a technical instrument. ItÕs how we play the instrument that matters most. For example, we can study the technicalities of inflection (covered in this book also), but if inflection becomes no more than rote exercise, we will inevitably sound wooden and false. When connected in our selves, however, inflection will naturally reflect the emotional connection of the speaker.

Once the businessman/woman, politician, TV/radio personality or beginning student of public speaking has become familiar with the authorÕs exercises and practices, the book introduces some of the blocks and challenges that we all face in day-to-day professional and personal communication. Meetings, making a speech, group dynamics, choice of words, oratory, inflection, pitch, volume, acoustics, dealing with an audience, even recording an outgoing phone message and giving TV interviews are covered here. The advice is not just technical or pedantic, but practical as well. For example, the author warns against wearing rattling jewelry or clothes that make noise, as microphones will amplify and broadcast that noise to the audience.

While the content of the book is at times engaging, there are problems with the production, design, and editing, which I found to be sloppy and tacky. My guess is that had the author had the opportunity to oversee its publication, the results would have been different. For example, the book finishes abruptly, without a summary or conclusion, not even an index. There are no illustrations and only three (grainy) photos in the whole book, and the organization is rather confusing. A pity, the content surely deserves better!

The "use" of the voice is a detailed and involved subject, difficult to grasp by the written word alone. With more careful editing and thoughtful cuts, perhaps reorganization of some of the chapters, with more illustrations and photos and more professional-looking design, the book would have more appeal to the audience it was intended for.

Despite all my grumblings, I am nevertheless inclined to recommend it. The phrase "DonÕt judge a book by its cover" comes to mind, for if you can look past the production mess, then the gems of wisdom and the practical knowledge, along with the depth of experience that went into writing this book ought not to be missed.

2014 © John Baron ( Reproduced with permission.

This edition © Mouritz 2014. All rights reserved.