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THE MUSIC OF SPEECH
40. The difference between emotional and unemotional
utterance Though inflection and pitch variation serve to express thought by showing the logical relation of ideas and the relative value of words in revealing meaning accurately, there is in impressive speech a melody made up of pitch intervals, inflections, and cadences not like that of speech in which ideas only are stated. We do not speak the lines
Sunset and evening star,
And one clear call for me, with the matter-of-fact directness we should use in saying, “ It is getting dark; it's time for me to go home.” Likewise, emotional passages in narrative, descriptive, and oratorical prose are elevated in melody above the style of ordinary talk. The power of the following passage would be lost were it spoken in the prosaic, commonplace manner of everyday utterance.
With a wan, fevered face, tenderly lifted to the cooling breeze, he looked out wistfully upon the ocean's changing wonders; on its far sails ; on its restless waves, rolling shoreward to break and die beneath the noonday sun; on the red clouds of evening, arching low to the horizon; on the serene and shining pathway to the stars. Let us think that his dying eyes read a mystic meaning which only the rapt and parting soul may know. Let us believe that in the silence of the receding world he heard the great waves breaking on the farther shore and felt already upon his wasted brow the breath of the eternal morning.
J. G. Blaine: Funeral Oration on Garfield, 1 1 Used with the kind permission of the Superintendent of Documents, Washington, D.C.
As speech becomes imbued with imagination and feeling it rises in cadence above that of discursive, matter-of-fact talk, and assumes something of the qualities and melody of song. The melody of speech through which imagination and feeling are expressed, and by means of which these faculties are awakened in the listener, may be considered under three aspects, namely: (1) Key, (2) Pitch intervals, and (3) Inflection.
1. Key. The prevailing and dominant pitch of the voice during the reading of a poem, or piece of prose, or in the delivery of an address, is called key. Fundamentally, all changes in key may be traced to changes in mental and emotional states. Excitement produces muscular tension, and consequently a higher pitch of the voice, while calm and controlled moods result in a less tense bodily condition and a lower tone of the voice. The temperament of the individual, the conditions under which he speaks, the character of the thought he utters and its effect upon him, all influence the key of the voice.
a. The effect of temperament and physical constitution on the key of the voice. As individuals differ in temper ament and physical make-up, so voices differ in their characteristic pitch. Thus we have tenor and baritone, soprano and contralto singers, and voices of high, middle, and low pitch in speakers. 2
1 Poetry, and all literature and speech, the power of which is derived from imagination and emotion, has certain characteristics of song. Poetry, the nearest approach in literature to music, has rhythm, key, melody, and “concord of sweet sounds." Through these musical qualities its spirit is expressed, and without these it would not be poetry. The problem of rendering the sense and meaning of verse clearly without making it prosaic, and its imagination and emotion and beauty musically without singing it, is one of the most difficult tasks of the reader who aims at a simple, natural, and forceful style.
2 The voice of each individual should be used on the key and through the range of the scale that is most normal and easy for the particular voice. While the range of individual voices may be extended by training, there should be no forcing of the voice from its normal pitch and range in an effort
+, b. Projection of voice. When speaking to a small group of people in a small room, one will be apt to use the voice on a lower key and with less force than when speaking to a large audience in a spacious hall or out of doors. The desire to be heard, to project the voice to the outermost limit of the audience, causes greater tension and effort. The speaker should guard against the temptation, however, to lift the voice to an unusually high key under such conditions, as a controlled and well-modulated voice is more easily heard' at a distance and under ordinary conditions than is a high, strident tone. As an exercise, sit and read the following lines quietly, as if to one person ; then rise and speak them as though addressing a thousand, but without raising the key of the voice.
Romans, countrymen, and lovers! hear me for my cause, and be silent, that you may hear; believe me for mine honour, and have respect to mine honour, that you may believe; censure me in your wisdom, and awake your senses, that you may the better judge. If there be any in this assembly, any dear friend of Cæsar's, to him I say, that Brutus' love to Cæsar was no less than his. If then that friend demand why Brutus rose against Cæsar, this is my answer: Not that I loved Cæsar less, but that I loved Rome more.
Shakespeare: Julius Cæsar, III, ii. c. The influence of thought and emotion on key. The character of the thought spoken and its effect upon the to imitate the key of another in reading a given selection. It will be found, however, that when the thought of a piece of literature is understood and its spirit felt, or when the moods of individuals are similar, different voices will approximate a certain key in utterance. No one who catches the spirit of the line, " And what is so rare as a day in June ! ” would utter it in a low sepulchral tone, nor the line, “A sorrow's crown of sorrows is remembering happier things," in a high treble.
1 It is interesting to observe that instruments for projecting sounds to great distances, such as whistling buoys at sea, fog horns, locomotive and steamship whistles, are low in pitch. Bells of low tone are heard at greater distances than high-pitched ones, though the greater carrying power of the large, low-keyed bell is partially due, of course, to the greater swing and energy of stroke of the bell tongue.
mind and feeling of the speaker are shown in the prevailing and dominant key of the voice.
Thoughts or conditions that produce excitement, joy, anger, and the like, because of greater muscular tension, are uttered on a higher key than are those of ordinary, controlled speech. Read the following lines with spirit.
Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;
Now set the teeth and stretch the nostril wide,
Follow your spirit; and upon this charge
Shakespeare: Henry V, 111, i.
Blow trumpet, for the world is white with May!
Tennyson: The Coming of Arthur. In ordinary conversation, in calm discussion and unimpassioned narration and description, and in moods of serenity and peace the middle pitches of the voice are used. 1
1 Much of the reading aloud done in the home is of this character. In such reading care should be taken not to permit the voice to become tense, with a consequent high key held throughout. One should also avoid the fault, so common in ordinary reading, of allowing the voice to rise and fall with a regular cadence on all phrases, without emphasis or other expressive variation. The principles of simple, conversational speech should be observed here as in more formal reading to an audience.
But after all, the wonder is, in this mysterious world, not that there is so much egotism abroad, but that there is so little ! Considering the narrow space, the little cage of bones and skin, in which our spirit is confined, like a fluttering bird, it often astonishes me to find how much of how many people's thoughts is not given to themselves, but to their work, their friends, their families.
A. C. Benson: From a College Window. When we give utterance to thoughts and feelings arising from contemplation of objects and scenes of 'grandeur and majesty, of powers above and beyond our own, and mysteries which we cannot define or fathom, and when the spirit is humble, reverent, or inspired with wonder and awe, the key of the voice is naturally low.
Strong Son of God, immortal Love,
Whom we, that have not seen thy face,
By faith, and faith alone, embrace,
Thine are these orbs of light and shade;
Thou madest life in man and brute;
Thou madest Death ; and lo, thy foot
Thou wilt not leave us in the dust:
he knows not why,
Thou seemest human and divine,
The highest, holiest manhood, thou.
Our wills are ours, we know not how;
Our little systems have their day;
They have their day and cease to be;
They are but broken lights of thee,