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Singing Advice

Nancy Reardon's Advice for Reporters and Hosts is Useful for Actors Too

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Nancy Reardon's Advice for Reporters and Hosts is Useful for Actors Too
If you think you're simply going to ask tough-minded voice expert Nancy Reardon questions in an interview and respectfully take down the answers she gives, you had better think again. I thought I'd sit facing her neutrally as Reardon filled me in on which of the techniques she talks about in "On Camera: How to Report, Anchor & Interview" (Focal Press, 2006, $39.95)—the book for reporters, commentators, hosts, and the like she co-authored with Tom Flynn—are just as useful and advisable for actors.

In the handy tome's thorough chapter on the voice—the volume is described on its cover as "a report from the trenches"—she insistently recommends "finding your own voice," which she'll tell you some already have and many haven't. If you haven't, she goes on to help you locate it, her point being that it's not only people who appear as themselves on television or elsewhere who depend on their own voice. Actors are also encouraged to "use their own voice," and she means that if, for instance, accents are required, they're only an overlay.

Well, it wasn't more than minutes after going into our tête-à-tête that the crusading Reardon had me on my feet and relocated to another part of the building, where I could go through some of the more involved mouth, vocal cord, chest, and diaphragm exercises she puts mentees through.

This was after she had remarked that I hadn't necessarily found my own voice yet and might think about pitching it lower. She had come to this conclusion when asking me to hum and put my finger on my closed mouth to feel the vibration. The idea is that such vibration indicates that sound is being properly produced, not stuck in the throat, where it can cause what she termed "glottal fry."

I succeeded at the challenge, but when asked to let my jaw drop so that the sound emerged fully, I had trouble. I wasn't letting my jaw go completely and therefore was stifling the "maaaah" volume. I did better when requested to put my hand on my chest and feel vibrations there.

Anyway, when Reardon and this impromptu student arrived where no one could hear us, I found myself backed up against a wall and asked to press my neck against it. "You're not going to be able to do it," Reardon said, "but try." What she wanted next, she demonstrated, was for me to raise my arm high and count in a voice placed at the approximate equivalent to the arm's height. Next, I was to continue counting while lowering the arm to a position akin to the lowered sound emitted.

The theory is that at some point—at some number—the counter will feel in the chest what seems be the pitch at which his or her voice is optimum. Did I pass this exam after several attempts, with Reardon pointing out things like "Your four and five are the same"? No answer will be revealed here.

It's About Personality

Reardon—who teaches regularly at NYU and Brooklyn's St. Ann's School—is so turned on by her interest in the voice that she skips from one observation to the next as she  posits her contentions. Nevertheless, she always starts with her belief that the voice has everything to do with "personality." She says, "The voice is so important—and not a shrill voice. A low voice. Think of the voices you love. They're all low."

She's also strongly behind cleaning up any vocal problems and mentions lisps and the sibilant S among them. "They're so easy to get rid of," she notes, and goes on to say that she knows about the latter from firsthand experience: "My mother was a teacher and made me go over and over the beginnings of words." She elaborates on the sibilant S by saying that the way to get around it is to quickly get off whatever S is involved.

Emphasizing that she doesn't advocate homogenizing voice patterns, she nevertheless recommends getting rid of regionalisms and associated solecisms. "If you say 'aks,' " for ? example, "you're not going to be asked to do Shakespeare." She adds that some expressions make the speaker "sound dumb. Get rid of them. If it's stopping you from getting roles, you better do something about it."

She's against breathy speech. She concedes that "it worked for Marilyn Monroe," but discourages it for anyone else, declaring, "It will not work in the theater." (Reardon's first Broadway play as an actor was the short-running "Poor Bitos," produced by Harold Prince in 1964.)

Returning to the importance of the low voice, she cites Meryl Streep and Angelina Jolie for the appeal of their voices. "It makes people listen to you," she observes. "It's part of the charm of becoming a star if you have a rich, low voice." In line with this, she talks of the crucial need to know when to raise and lower the voice, claiming that too many people lower their voices at the ends of sentences when it's more effective to raise them.

In closing, she makes an observation so obvious that I wondered why I hadn't heard it a million times: "The voice doesn't change. Has your voice changed?" She is referring to the voice's essential characteristics; someone whom you haven't seen for years will still immediately recognize the sound of your voice. "The voice gives you more bang for the buck," Reardon says. It's an essential part of your individuality, which is all the more reason to optimize it.

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