Accentuating the positive (or if you prefer – You thief of love! Arthur the rat. Totally awesome!)
In June, a brave group of pioneering folk set forth into unknown territory armed with only a mirror and their vocal cords. The arena was a three day accent workshop with the AHHH-MAZING (zone 4 – but more of that later) Yvonne Morley – vocal coach to the stars of theatre, stage and film as well as former Head of Voice at LAMDA. As we turned up that Thursday morning jabbering away with each other (well we are voice over artists), we were excited at the prospect of decoding accents. Many of us do it so naturally and if like me you can speak a few languages then the prospect of figuring out how that happens was intriguing. We were soon putting our mouths, mirrors and brains to good use. This wasn’t just voice theory, this was a vocal onslaught of mind expanding proportions.
The first day focused on the theory of voice, accents, how and the where’s of it all. We started by reading a short story that would become ingrained onto our psyches – Arthur the rat. While his story was rather sad, it offered every single vowel/consonant grouping to analyse any accent. Yvonne took us up and out of ourselves with this active workshop which saw us punch, press and wring among other Laban actions. A real eye opener for anyone interested in deciphering the magical code of accents – a physicality as well as a vocal skill! My favourite was pressing, kneading out dough, to impress the importance, focus, direction and power of the voice. All very important for day 3 as it turns out! We focused on cross sectional diagrams of the head and learning that how we say things is literally in a “nutshell”. Now I know my velum and epiglottis from my uvula and alveolar ridge!
An accent is a whole structure, comprised of so many elements that Yvonne really took us on a journey. Yes the accent and how to develop it is important but so too are the settings (where your cheeks, jaw, tongue are placed), location (is the geography cold/hot/noisy), history, journey the accent took. What fascinated me most is how accents move, get on ship, sail into the unknown, land and then again transform. Or stay and maybe because of a royal speech impediment changes a whole nation’s accent because it was fashionable to follow the Kings Speech! “Submit to the geography” is a phrase that Yvonne used a lot and with that in mind we really did take off into different vocal worlds.
With a list of vowels, consonants and the all-important ZONES we were coming close to working out how an accent is structured. If like many of us VOs in the UK you work in RP you will find your tongue, not firmly in cheek but rather in Zone 2 – or the alveolar range. Combine all this together and we found that, just as you bake a cake with different ingredients and measures you can even get quite a few versions of our beloved RP. I loved being a Wartime Wendy in day 2, clipping away at the RP with an abrupt infinite manner. With elegance and flourish we waltzed through RP texts, dabbing at words hither and tither. The work comes from the tongue and as Yvonne says “no perspiration in restoration” because the words are power, every one laden with meaning. Throwing out insults at each other from A Midsummers Night’s Dream just showed us exactly how much energy we can use without raising even an eyebrow let alone the volume of our voice.
Boarding the merry ship with my fellow ship mates on day 3 we sailed across the pond we landed on the shores of the Standard American accent. WHAT A REVELATION! A rhotic language where the expressiveness focuses on the vowels. Whereas we were oh so polite and dutiful on day 2, we summoned up the energy to live and breathe this TOTALLY AWESOME accent – firmly in Zone 4. Pressing, forceful, directional, absolutely no intention of repeating ourselves we totally immersed ourselves into the American Dream – WE CAN SO TOTALLY DO IT. To realise where that energy comes from immediately turned us from quiet church mice into loud, excitable puppies. “YES WE CAN!” became our motto and even at lunch we were the loudest bunch by far, smashing the silence around us. The best moment was when Yvonne described us as being like a group of American tourists getting off the tube! Praise indeed!
Yvonne succeeded in opening my eyes and vocal cords, muscles and tongue with a set of exercises to unlock the mysteries of accents. With her help, it’s like finding the settings to un-code the enigma machine. An amazing approach to accent development, one which, with a little bit of patience, plenty of practice and full mental submersion of the culture, history and attitude will get you to where you want to be!
Voice artist Mary Cha found it just as useful – ‘Yvonne really taught us “how to fish”. She showed us the methods and tools to RP and American accent. We just need practise to perfect it. The workshop was really fun, informative and lots of interactions.’
RP voice over artist Emma Wheeler loved it – ‘Brilliant accent workshop with top vocal coach Yvonne Morley. Three days of perfecting and fine tuning our standard RP accents. Yvonne is a true vocal Pro who discussed the many articulators and their uses, whilst we also learned about vocal health. A vital workshop for any Voice Over Artist.’
Narration voiceover Ana Clements found her Eureka moment – ‘I thought accents were about the voice but they are about the attitude and body language that you bring to the character. I am watching people and listening so differently – and seeing so much more.’
Get on the accent ship and set sail for new vocal territories, you might be surprised what you find when you get there!
Blog By Lorraine Ansell – lorrainevoiceart.com
Lorraine Ansell is a bilingual voice over artist showcasing British RP and Spanish (Latin American) voices in warm, natural and commercial tones.
With over 15 years’ experience especially in corporate narration Lorraine has worked with clients spanning many industries from fashion/beauty to human rights. She focuses on bringing scripts to life to engage the target audience, delivering a professional sound.