Working with Vocal Extremes

an original blog for the Voice Over Network

The workshop is over, notes are being packed away and talk of who is going in the same direction as another are being had as journeys back begin. The room looks and feels like the place we have shared and made our working “home” for the last seven hours or so: yoga mats, water bottles, bags, clothing, personal notebooks and handouts are being carefully collected and packed away. I look around at the tired but happy faces and enjoy the sense they share of newly established friends and contacts. I am privileged, once again, to have worked with members of the Voice Over Network.

So this has been the “Vocal Intensive” day. We have worked through various elements including how to look after that key communication asset each of us can’t function without: our voice. These elements have been explored under a metaphorical microscope today. Time has been taken to revisit and/or experience for the first time the benefits of working through physical exercise to release tension in shoulders, neck, jaw and tongue-root. The video of what that diaphragmatic muscle actually looks like and how it functions has been discussed, the exercises to create a reliable fitness routine to increase breath support and protect the voice from as deep down as the abdominal “SPLAT” has been practiced in detail. The larynx and the anatomical “accompanying cast members” have been regarded with refreshed understanding. Vocal resonance, optimum pitch and expressive tonal range has been explored. Articulation “boot camp” has traversed a varied terrain to anticipate anything that the next script might throw at us. Importantly, the three “non-negotiables” have been established with practice routines in place now to increase vocal fitness for the next few weeks because some will be returning to explore how everything works together to deliver the ultimate in vocal performance – the extremes.

In over thirty years of voice teaching and coaching, I have watched the demands on actors and artists go from occasional requests to shout or play levels of heightened intensity to pretty much an expected “given” that this is in everyone’s tool kit. It isn’t going away. Computer games, intense scenes in a range of plays and films are an established norm. Writers are writing the stuff. Voice artists and actors are expected to deliver it. It is not to be feared. It is to be prepared for.

The word “extremes” can induce varying levels of stress as the nature of the work is anticipated. Ironically the fear might even cause a kind of “better avoid it” attitude. Yet we all know what its like to “scratch” or temporarily damage the voice. Aside from our professional work, it only takes a celebratory night out or half a day supporting our favourite sporting team to know that, within a very short space of time, our voice can suffer.

So the progression from the “Vocal Intensive” day onto the “Vocal Extremes” day is designed to look after everyone: from beginner to very experienced artist /actor. While the semantics might be scary (calling, moaning, screaming, shouting, laughing & crying, playing angry and heightened, intense emotions) the journey through the day is well established in those who have used it very successfully. The goal is to keep everone safe, working from their individual starting point and developing skills to sound like the real deal.

There are anecdotes and tales to tell that I will save for another day. Suffice it to say that there are phone calls and requests for help that I deal with on a regular basis, supporting artists who are faced with the seemingly frightening or impossible. It has been my privilege to work with individuals who have had to travel from absolute beginner to leading actors in West End productions in just a few days before embarking on a contract performing eight shows a week for several months.

So the experiment has begun. I want to see members of the Voice Over Network beginning to make more waves in this industry through the level of skills, creativity and reliability that they produce when asked to work in the extreme end of the vocal spectrum. I want to see them coming back for more where others fell at the first fence because the VO Network cares enough to support its members in their professional development.

Like learning to walk a tight rope (when you have a fear of heights and rubbish balance) there are techniques and safe ways of building the skills. Everyone is different and needs individual guidance and support. The rope will only be raised to the height that each person chooses on the day. Inch by inch. Skill by skill. Everything is to be gained. The ultimate vocal chapter awaits.

Let’s bring out the Vocal Warrior in you.


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