Full Voice: The Art and Practice of Vocal Presence

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Noted speaker, musician, and coach Barbara McAfee shows how to become a more effective communicator by mastering the full range of your voice and learning to match tone to content.

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Contents

ePub

 

One Voice, Instinct, and the Oral Tradition: A Context for Voice

ePub

 

 

What is life? It is the flash
of a firefly in the night. It is
the breath of a buffalo in the
wintertime. It is the little
shadow which runs across
the grass and loses itself
in the sunset.

Crowfoot, Blackfoot
warrior and orator

 

Our voices carry a rich legacy. How we speak and listen today has emerged from the long unfolding story of human history. In her book The Four-Fold Way, cultural anthropologist and author Angeles Arrien suggests that indigenous wisdom and practices have an essential role to play in restoring our balance with each other and the earth. She discovered that voice—as expressed in song, sound, breath, story, and even silence—is a vital element in indigenous societies around the world. In many of these cultures, the voice is directly linked to the soul or spirit of a person.1

The oral tradition is an enormous area of study, as is language development in individuals and societies. I must, however, make brief mention of these subjects as a way to root this exploration of voice in a deeper appreciation for our individual and collective vocal heritage. Let’s begin with your own vocal genesis.

 

One Voice, Instinct, and the Oral Tradition: A Context for Voice

ePub

 

 

What is life? It is the flash
of a firefly in the night. It is
the breath of a buffalo in the
wintertime. It is the little
shadow which runs across
the grass and loses itself
in the sunset.

Crowfoot, Blackfoot
warrior and orator

 

Our voices carry a rich legacy. How we speak and listen today has emerged from the long unfolding story of human history. In her book The Four-Fold Way, cultural anthropologist and author Angeles Arrien suggests that indigenous wisdom and practices have an essential role to play in restoring our balance with each other and the earth. She discovered that voice—as expressed in song, sound, breath, story, and even silence—is a vital element in indigenous societies around the world. In many of these cultures, the voice is directly linked to the soul or spirit of a person.1

The oral tradition is an enormous area of study, as is language development in individuals and societies. I must, however, make brief mention of these subjects as a way to root this exploration of voice in a deeper appreciation for our individual and collective vocal heritage. Let’s begin with your own vocal genesis.

 

Two Voice and Identity: Who You Gonna Be While You Do What You Do?

ePub

 

 

Who you gonna be while
you do what you do?

How you gonna show up
while you’re passing through?

Barbara McAfee, from the
song “Who You Gonna Be
While You Do What You Do?”1

 

The word “personality” is derived from the Latin per sonare, which means “to sound through.” This phrase refers to a type of theatrical mask that was designed to amplify the sound of an actor’s voice. This etymological link between sound and identity is an apt one: our voices are a direct reflection of who we think we are—and sometimes who we wish we weren’t.

Your ego’s job is to maintain a prescribed identity for you. It tells you, “You are this kind of person, not that kind.” It defines the boundaries between what’s “you” and “not you”—a very useful distinction. I like to think of the ego as a kind of psychological immune system: it identifies anything that runs counter to the story you tell about yourself and kills it off. If we constructed this ego in a reasonable and purposeful way, it would serve us quite well. The problem is, the stories we tell ourselves about who we are get cobbled together out of a random mishmash of personal history, unconscious fear, other people’s expectations, and cultural conditioning. Many of the stories aren’t the least bit true—and can even sabotage our deepest beliefs, values, and intentions.

 

Two Voice and Identity: Who You Gonna Be While You Do What You Do?

ePub

 

 

Who you gonna be while
you do what you do?

How you gonna show up
while you’re passing through?

Barbara McAfee, from the
song “Who You Gonna Be
While You Do What You Do?”1

 

The word “personality” is derived from the Latin per sonare, which means “to sound through.” This phrase refers to a type of theatrical mask that was designed to amplify the sound of an actor’s voice. This etymological link between sound and identity is an apt one: our voices are a direct reflection of who we think we are—and sometimes who we wish we weren’t.

Your ego’s job is to maintain a prescribed identity for you. It tells you, “You are this kind of person, not that kind.” It defines the boundaries between what’s “you” and “not you”—a very useful distinction. I like to think of the ego as a kind of psychological immune system: it identifies anything that runs counter to the story you tell about yourself and kills it off. If we constructed this ego in a reasonable and purposeful way, it would serve us quite well. The problem is, the stories we tell ourselves about who we are get cobbled together out of a random mishmash of personal history, unconscious fear, other people’s expectations, and cultural conditioning. Many of the stories aren’t the least bit true—and can even sabotage our deepest beliefs, values, and intentions.

 

Who You Gonna Be While You Do What You Do? The Song

ePub

 

 

Who you gonna be while
you do what you do?

How you gonna show up
while you’re passing through?

Barbara McAfee, from the
song “Who You Gonna Be
While You Do What You Do?”1

 

The word “personality” is derived from the Latin per sonare, which means “to sound through.” This phrase refers to a type of theatrical mask that was designed to amplify the sound of an actor’s voice. This etymological link between sound and identity is an apt one: our voices are a direct reflection of who we think we are—and sometimes who we wish we weren’t.

Your ego’s job is to maintain a prescribed identity for you. It tells you, “You are this kind of person, not that kind.” It defines the boundaries between what’s “you” and “not you”—a very useful distinction. I like to think of the ego as a kind of psychological immune system: it identifies anything that runs counter to the story you tell about yourself and kills it off. If we constructed this ego in a reasonable and purposeful way, it would serve us quite well. The problem is, the stories we tell ourselves about who we are get cobbled together out of a random mishmash of personal history, unconscious fear, other people’s expectations, and cultural conditioning. Many of the stories aren’t the least bit true—and can even sabotage our deepest beliefs, values, and intentions.

 

Three Brain Rats: Addressing Fear

ePub

 

 

Brain rats, I’ve got brain rats.
A pestilential blight upon my mind.

They torture with such cunning like
little Marquises de Sade
And wreak unstinting havoc
beneath my cool facade.
They tell me I’m worse than everyone;
My problems can’t be solved,
And I’m the piece of crap around
which this whole world revolves.

Barbara McAfee, from
the song “Brain Rats”1

 

In between contractions, my friend raises her head from the pillows and says, “I’m not having this damn baby!”

Her belly is huge.

She’s been in labor for five hours.

The midwife is present.

The nursery is ready.

I’m there as a friend and supporter.

I look at the midwife with amazement.

My friend clearly is having this baby.

The midwife climbs up onto the bed, literally gets in my friend’s face, and says in firm tones, “You are in transition. Women giving birth go through this. You are having this damn baby!” This typically mild-mannered midwife is fierce and clear with my friend. The mother calms down, gets busy with her labor, and several hours later births her beautiful daughter into the world.

 

Three Brain Rats: Addressing Fear

ePub

 

 

Brain rats, I’ve got brain rats.
A pestilential blight upon my mind.

They torture with such cunning like
little Marquises de Sade
And wreak unstinting havoc
beneath my cool facade.
They tell me I’m worse than everyone;
My problems can’t be solved,
And I’m the piece of crap around
which this whole world revolves.

Barbara McAfee, from
the song “Brain Rats”1

 

In between contractions, my friend raises her head from the pillows and says, “I’m not having this damn baby!”

Her belly is huge.

She’s been in labor for five hours.

The midwife is present.

The nursery is ready.

I’m there as a friend and supporter.

I look at the midwife with amazement.

My friend clearly is having this baby.

The midwife climbs up onto the bed, literally gets in my friend’s face, and says in firm tones, “You are in transition. Women giving birth go through this. You are having this damn baby!” This typically mild-mannered midwife is fierce and clear with my friend. The mother calms down, gets busy with her labor, and several hours later births her beautiful daughter into the world.

 

Four Voice 101: How Voices Work, What Goes Wrong, and Ways to Keep Them Healthy

ePub

 

 

We often refuse to
accept an idea merely
because the tone of voice in
which it has been expressed
is unsympathetic to us.

Friedrich Nietzsche

 

Where does your voice live?

If you’re like most people, you think your voice is in your throat somewhere. Not so. Thinking your voice is located in your throat is like mistaking a saxophone reed for the whole saxophone. If you take that horn apart and play only the mouthpiece, it sounds ridiculous—like a duck with a deviated septum. The apparatus in your throat is just a small part of a much bigger and more splendid instrument.

From a purely technical standpoint, the sound of your voice begins with an impulse somewhere in your solar plexus. That impulse leads you to inhale and then send a flow of breath across your vocal cords, two little bands of mucous membrane in your throat area. These cords vibrate at somewhere between one hundred and one thousand vibrations per second. They work best when they are moist and relaxed and fed by a steady stream of air. The vocal cords are housed in your larynx. The front of this little box forms the Adam’s apple. In addition to housing your vocal cords, the larynx blocks food and liquid from getting into your lungs every time you swallow. (Put your fingers on your Adam’s apple and swallow to feel your larynx do its dance.)

 

Brain Rats, The Song

ePub

 

 

Brain rats, I’ve got brain rats.
A pestilential blight upon my mind.

They torture with such cunning like
little Marquises de Sade
And wreak unstinting havoc
beneath my cool facade.
They tell me I’m worse than everyone;
My problems can’t be solved,
And I’m the piece of crap around
which this whole world revolves.

Barbara McAfee, from
the song “Brain Rats”1

 

In between contractions, my friend raises her head from the pillows and says, “I’m not having this damn baby!”

Her belly is huge.

She’s been in labor for five hours.

The midwife is present.

The nursery is ready.

I’m there as a friend and supporter.

I look at the midwife with amazement.

My friend clearly is having this baby.

The midwife climbs up onto the bed, literally gets in my friend’s face, and says in firm tones, “You are in transition. Women giving birth go through this. You are having this damn baby!” This typically mild-mannered midwife is fierce and clear with my friend. The mother calms down, gets busy with her labor, and several hours later births her beautiful daughter into the world.

 

Five The Five Elements Framework Overview

ePub

 

 

Work on the voice is
in the interest of the
human truth it expresses.

Kristin Linklater

 

The Five Elements Framework we are about to explore will give you a sonic map for accessing a wide variety of colors and sounds in your voice. We’ll explore where each sound is sourced in the body and the gifts or qualities that are evoked by each one. As you build more flexibility, awareness, and choice in your voice, you’ll become more adept at choosing the right voice for the situation. I’ll share stories about how my clients have put these vocal qualities to work in their lives and what happened as a result. Within each of the following chapters in this part of the book, you’ll be directed to the Full Voice website with a practice video for each voice. I’ll demonstrate how each voice sounds and guide you through a simple vocal exercise for accessing that quality in your own voice. Each of the five elements chapters also includes reflection questions and a list of famous people (or creatures) who exemplify that element.

 

Six The Earth Voice: Gut Instinct, Authority, and Grounding

ePub

 

 

Lower your voice and
strengthen your argument.

Lebanese Proverb

We convince by
our presence.

Walt Whitman

 

The following are examples of the earth voice. Can you hear them in your imagination?

The resonant growl of James Earl Jones’s voice slithers from behind the Darth Vader mask in Star Wars.

A Saint Bernard barks to guard his territory.

A group of Neanderthals discuss hunting strategy around the fire in a series of agitated grunts and gestures.

A mother bear warns an intruder away from her cubs.

An inebriated barrel-chested man sings as he carouses down a wintry street at three in the morning.

Johnny Cash kicks off “Ring of Fire” before a roaring crowd.

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character in the movie The Terminator quips, “I’ll be back.”

The earth voice comes from your gut, grounding your words in your body. The deepest and darkest of the five voices, it vibrates in your torso as a groan, a growl, a yawn. Making the deep sounds of the earth voice requires you to relax, open your throat, and sense the pull of gravity on your body. Many of us make these sounds instinctively as we wake up in the morning or settle in for the night. People who are “down to earth” or “rock solid” frequently speak with a healthy dose of this sound in their voices.

 

Four Voice 101: How Voices Work, What Goes Wrong, and Ways to Keep Them Healthy

ePub

 

 

We often refuse to
accept an idea merely
because the tone of voice in
which it has been expressed
is unsympathetic to us.

Friedrich Nietzsche

 

Where does your voice live?

If you’re like most people, you think your voice is in your throat somewhere. Not so. Thinking your voice is located in your throat is like mistaking a saxophone reed for the whole saxophone. If you take that horn apart and play only the mouthpiece, it sounds ridiculous—like a duck with a deviated septum. The apparatus in your throat is just a small part of a much bigger and more splendid instrument.

From a purely technical standpoint, the sound of your voice begins with an impulse somewhere in your solar plexus. That impulse leads you to inhale and then send a flow of breath across your vocal cords, two little bands of mucous membrane in your throat area. These cords vibrate at somewhere between one hundred and one thousand vibrations per second. They work best when they are moist and relaxed and fed by a steady stream of air. The vocal cords are housed in your larynx. The front of this little box forms the Adam’s apple. In addition to housing your vocal cords, the larynx blocks food and liquid from getting into your lungs every time you swallow. (Put your fingers on your Adam’s apple and swallow to feel your larynx do its dance.)

 

Video: Breathing Exercise

ePub

 

 

We often refuse to
accept an idea merely
because the tone of voice in
which it has been expressed
is unsympathetic to us.

Friedrich Nietzsche

 

Where does your voice live?

If you’re like most people, you think your voice is in your throat somewhere. Not so. Thinking your voice is located in your throat is like mistaking a saxophone reed for the whole saxophone. If you take that horn apart and play only the mouthpiece, it sounds ridiculous—like a duck with a deviated septum. The apparatus in your throat is just a small part of a much bigger and more splendid instrument.

From a purely technical standpoint, the sound of your voice begins with an impulse somewhere in your solar plexus. That impulse leads you to inhale and then send a flow of breath across your vocal cords, two little bands of mucous membrane in your throat area. These cords vibrate at somewhere between one hundred and one thousand vibrations per second. They work best when they are moist and relaxed and fed by a steady stream of air. The vocal cords are housed in your larynx. The front of this little box forms the Adam’s apple. In addition to housing your vocal cords, the larynx blocks food and liquid from getting into your lungs every time you swallow. (Put your fingers on your Adam’s apple and swallow to feel your larynx do its dance.)

 

Seven The Fire Voice: Passion, Personal Power, and Vitality

ePub

 

 

Nothing great in
the world has ever
been accomplished
without passion.

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

 

The following are examples of the fire voice. Can you hear them in your imagination?

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., delivers his “I Have a Dream” speech at the Mall in Washington, DC.

A martial artist lets loose a shout as she practices her punches.

Luciano Pavarotti pours himself, heart and soul, into an aria at La Scala.

Rabid football fans yell as their team’s running back sprints for the end zone.

A drill sergeant dresses down a new recruit on the first day of basic training.

An outraged New York City cabbie yells out the window during rush-hour traffic.

No doubt you’ve heard the term “fire in the belly.” It’s an apt expression: the fire voice is centered in your solar plexus. It comes from smack dab in the middle of you. Making the fire sound literally heats up your body and physically prepares you for powerful action. You take in and expel lots of breath in a short period of time, sending oxygen-rich blood to all corners of your body. Yogic breathing practices include “the breath of fire”—a rapid breathing pattern that activates the abdomen and sends vital energy through your entire system. The connection between physical energy and the fire voice is a continuous feedback loop. The body enlivens the sound; the sound activates the body.

 

Eight The Water Voice: Caring, Compassion, and Affirmation

ePub

 

 

There never was any heart truly great and generous,
that was not also tender and compassionate.

Robert Frost

It is only with the heart that one can see rightly;
what is essential is invisible to the eye.

Antoine de Saint - Exupery

 

The following are examples of the water voice. Can you hear them in your imagination?

A parent enthusiastically praises a young child for taking her first steps.

Julia Child describes her technique to a television audience while whisking eggs and oil into mayonnaise.

An operatic alto in a glittering gown sings a tender love scene at the Metropolitan Opera.

Former president Jimmy Carter gives a speech at the United Nations about his work combating malaria.

A male comedian pretends to be a woman (picture Tootsie, Dame Edna, and the Monty Python guys).

A couple exchanges apologies after the resolution of a difficult disagreement.

The water voice is the voice of the heart, the sound of human kindness. It is sourced in the chest and throat area and carries a warmer, softer tone than the earth and fire voices. You may notice that when people are speaking sincerely or emotionally, many of them put their hands over their hearts. Others clasp their hands at heart level. When you welcome someone close to you with a hug, you open your arms at heart level. You may also notice how people fighting back tears sometimes touch their throats. The water voice dwells in the gateway between the thinking mind and the feeling body.

 

Five The Five Elements Framework Overview

ePub

 

 

Work on the voice is
in the interest of the
human truth it expresses.

Kristin Linklater

 

The Five Elements Framework we are about to explore will give you a sonic map for accessing a wide variety of colors and sounds in your voice. We’ll explore where each sound is sourced in the body and the gifts or qualities that are evoked by each one. As you build more flexibility, awareness, and choice in your voice, you’ll become more adept at choosing the right voice for the situation. I’ll share stories about how my clients have put these vocal qualities to work in their lives and what happened as a result. Within each of the following chapters in this part of the book, you’ll be directed to the Full Voice website with a practice video for each voice. I’ll demonstrate how each voice sounds and guide you through a simple vocal exercise for accessing that quality in your own voice. Each of the five elements chapters also includes reflection questions and a list of famous people (or creatures) who exemplify that element.

 

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