I am a perpetual beginner. A generalist, an amateur. The sort of person who will learn to knit every stitch in the book, but will never complete a project beyond ‘cat-nip mouse’ (which was itself a creative exercise: I had no pattern, and it was the first time I’d decreased stitches to a point.) So, I find it hard to understand people who will not learn. Who resist tips and suggestions. Who resent being offered ways of improving.
Now, put like that, you may have sympathy. Who was I trying to ‘improve’ this time? But it wasn’t like that. Not really.
We had a rehearsal today for an ecumenical service. I’m not leading the service, and I wasn’t leading the rehearsal. It was led by a highly skilled well trained public speaker, and between us our job was to make sure that everyone knew what they would be doing in the service, and that they could be heard while doing it.
The readers were good. Some of them very good. One or two just OK. None terrible. But there were a few predictable problems: not quite loud enough (especially on a windy day), a bit too fast, not quite at home in the words. Things that can be fixed, things that one can learn to improve. And we had a voice coach there, for goodness sake. Expert resource…
At the end of the rehearsal, I offered a few general comments and suggestions, being very careful to comment on nothing that didn’t apply to more than one person. So, the advice went like this:
- There is nothing harder to overcome vocally than roaring wind. If the weather is like this next Friday, we will all have to work hard to be heard. You were all doing well — and under normal circumstances, it will be fine. But if it’s stormy, we’ll all need to be louder. Maybe (trained voice coach) can help us with a volume exercise before we leave today…
- One of the things I have been working on with my congregations is the question of who we are talking to in worship. Sometimes we’re talking to each other, sometimes a question is directed at particular people, sometimes our words are directed to God. It’s worth being aware that as we read — who are we talking to?
- Usually, when we speak, we are thinking at the same time (I hope!). Thinking naturally slows us down. But when we have a script, it is easy to speed up — to forget natural pauses. So, it’s worth thinking about how we can slow down, get closer to natural speech patterns.Two suggestions. (1) If I am nervous and afraid I will speed up, I use strategies to slow down. Sometimes I make it artificial: at the end of the paragraph, I count ‘one…two…’ to help me pause. Do the artificial thing a few times, and then it becomes natural. Anything to let the words breath.Or–(2) a couple of you have lists to read. Lists are hard. If we are creating a list on the spot, we tend to think about what we are putting in. We imagine the person sitting under a bridge, and we pray for the homeless. We remember the young woman who was going crazy because her baby wouldn’t stop crying, and we pray for new parents. If you picture the thing you’re talking or praying about, it will naturally slow you down.
Now, was any of that helpful? (or would it have been if you were a good-enough, but not trained reader?)
I don’t know. I hoped it would be. I think it was for some of them. But one person got really cross. She said (among other things) ‘we are not experts, we just do the best we can. We haven’t received training.’
Absolutely. That’s why we’re trying to offer you some…
But what she seemed to mean was ‘I don’t want to learn’.
And that I find hard to fathom.
So I wish I could learn how to deal with it, because it happens all too often, and I clearly still don’t know what to do.