On my bookshelf

  • "The Breathing Book" by Donna Farhi
  • "Confessions of a Public Speaker" by Scott Berkun
  • "My Freshman Year" by Rebekah Nathan
  • "Power Presentation" by Patsy Rodenburg

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

'Tis the Season

Usually around this time of year, I am teaching non-stop or rehearsing for a holiday show. In either case, the physical sensation is the same: fatigue. All I end up wanting is a cosy night at home to rest. Fortunately, I have decided, in the interest of my little boy, to keep a fairly light schedule this season. Little did I know that the gift I had intended for my child was really for myself. As December hits, my stress level is fairly low and most importantly, my voice doesn't feel warn out.

However; at the moment, I have a student and a co-worker who have speech pathology appointments to examine their vocal folds. Both of them are either teaching or rehearsing for long hours and complain of tired voices and sore throats.

"What did the speech pathologist say?" I ask my friend after his appointment.

"She told me to get some rest. Say no to a job, if I need." he replied.

"But we're the 24/7 workers." I tell him. "This is what we know."

We both laugh, and then there is a silence. Somewhere there is the knowledge that we can't keep this pace up. Our voices are our work, and without them, we lose our ability to express our passion and keep food on the table for our families.

We pour a cup of tea and sit down on the couch, listening to the rain.

"You know,I read a story in the news about a Japanese woman whose husband had died while working for Toyota. She sued the company for contributing to her husband's death." he tells me.

"Did he win?" I ask, thinking of the poor man.

"No, he lost. But his wife won the lawsuit." my friend replied before he headed off to the other room to rest his throat and contemplate working a little less.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007


What is that word and what does it mean?

Well you may not have visited this one since Grade 11 English, but it can definitely add a life and energy to anything you say. Onomatopoeia is a term that refers to words that sound like the word they represent. So "splash" is what happens to water when a big truck runs through a puddle. If you say, "splash" the sounds you make are the exact sounds you hear before the water from that puddle soaks you. (As it does me every time I walk home in the rain). "Whisper" is mostly made up of voiceless consonants, so you have no choice but to slightly, "whisper" whisper when you speak it.

Our language is made up of so many onomatopoetic words, but in our on-going attempt to be "cool" we tend to cover them up: to deny their life. In skipping over the sounds of such rich words, we rob the listener of a sensual experience of language. No wonder people's attention spans are short-- we are constantly denying each other the excitement of fully savouring each sound.

So buzz, slip, slide, bark, splash, whiz and gurgle into your next conversation and see how much fun you and your listener can have!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Tongue Flapping and Vocal Health

With a busy fall term, there hasn't been as much time as I had hoped to make my blog entries. I find myself chasing my one-year old around the park,reflecting on the challenge some of my students have doing tongue work. "Griffin, watch out!" I holler as he almost topples head first over another little boy. My fatigue and lack of vocal rest are evident in the slightly tender sensation in the throat after hollering. I thought I better include some links on tongue work and vocal health.

There must be something in the air (besides the overabundance of clouds and rain) because when I checked out my favourite Voice Blog, Eric Armstrong's Voice Guy, I noticed that he was focussing on the exact same issue as I have been for the past few weeks. The separation of the tongue from the jaw. Pull out your mirrors and check out his site for some great exercises.


Several weeks ago, I had a very unique experience where a group of local voice instructors got together with a laryngologist and a speech pathologist to discuss voice issues as they pertained to the arts. It's not often that I find myself in a room full of people who love to talk about voice issues and are passionate about encouraging vocal health. All too often, people injure their voices purely because of overuse or abuse. Check out these quick reminders on keeping your voice healthy and safe during this busy time of year.


Thursday, August 16, 2007

Speaking Shakespeare

"Fear no more the heat o' the sun,
Nor the furious winter's rages;
Thou thy worldly task hast done,
Home art gone, and ta'en thy wages:
Golden lads and girls all must,
As chimney-sweepers, come to dust."

My Uncle Tim and I had a debate several years ago (he's an award winning high school English teacher), it centered around this key question, "Is Shakespeare over-rated?"

My answer continues to be: "NOOOOOOOOO!!!!!", but my students, along with my uncle, would disagree. Most of them feel that understanding Shakespeare is not worth the effort. Although I may spend weeks guiding them through the text, allowing them to put the images into their bodies and their own words, in the end their presentations can lack specificity and understanding.

Every time I explore Shakespeare, my respect for language, communication and words grows. I continue to use sonnets, soliloquies and snippets of dialogue to open the voice and connect it to thought. As a thirteen year old, I refused to sunbathe because, "I want to be a Shakespearean actress!" That feeling hasn't changed and although I have spent the past fifteen years trying, without success, to convert my husband, my uncle and my students, I haven't been as successful as I would have liked.

I shall continue with my mission and as the summer wraps up, I suggest trying out a few lines. The lines above work splendidly spoken to the stars at night or used as a warm-up to try out the accoustics in a new lecture hall.

While you are at it check out Patsy Rodenberg's "Speaking Shakespeare" for great exercises in opening up your range of expression.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Eyes and Breath

Every week, or sometimes every other week if life is too crazy, I talk to my dad on the phone. We usually talk for about an hour and our conversations meander through the events of our lives, movies we've seen, gorgonzola, Miss Petrona (his racing horse), family activities, Rosie and Harpo (cats) and eventually, eyes. Why eyes you ask? Eyes end up being my favourite topic. You see my dad is an optometrist and I spent much of my childhood in his office. First, playing on the big green leather chair that adjusted up and down, getting my first pair of glasses, then my first pair of contact lenses, and finally, working as his assistant one summer. Being extremely near-sighted, I have spent many moments of wonder in his office as I receive a new pair of glasses or contacts and suddenly see the world with new clarity. The leaves of trees are distinct and I run around reading every word on every street sign. The world feels exciting and new once again.

One exercise that we do in voice work is a very simple one. We close our eyes and focus on the breath. Once the breath becomes more even, relaxed and deeper, we are asked to open our eyes and look around. If I lead the exercise, I will ask people if it was harder to stay connected to the breath with their eyes open. The answer is invariably, "Yes!"

Dad says that one exercise he suggests for the eyes is to place a #2 pencil in front of you. Begin moving the pencil around and try not to "look at" the #2, but allow your eyes to follow the number. Most people are confused by the idea, but as I was observing my breath this week I noticed the same thing, for the first fifteen minutes I was "trying to breathe". Then all of a sudden I didn't have to think about it, the rhythm became natural and easy and when I opened my eyes, it took a moment to re-discover the connection, but when I did, everything looked a little clearer. Like getting a new pair of contact lenses.

Sometimes I work so hard to see things that I forget to breathe. How about you?

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Slow and Steady

I told my husband I would be done teaching by 5:10 pm sharp. "I'm never late!" I assure him.

5:35 pm and he has driven around the block six times, our one year old is pulling at his seat belt trying out his best Houdini moves-- and shrieking.

"You said that you are never late!" My husband accuses as I slip into the back seat, trying to avert the crazy rush-hour drivers.

"Sorry," I say, while attempting to soothe our one year old, "there were tears." On the ride home, I try to explain to my husband the students' frustration as the term comes to an end. Final performances are looming, they want the work to be perfect, but find they are still struggling to find some release in their throat or an emotional connection to words or freedom in their range.

Voice work is challenging because it requires exploration and sometimes just plain dedication. After four or five months of taking classes, a student may begin to understand what is possible but feel very far from achieving that possibility.

* * *

In a beautiful suite above Coal Harbour, we sit on chairs along the perimeter of newly washed living room carpets. We massage our jaws and flex our tongues, experiment with the rhythms and music of commercial tag-lines. My accent reduction pupils feel the same sense of frustration as the acting students. It's just good old-fashioned hard work today.

What we lose sight of is that tomorrow there may be a revelation, a giant leap forward, a triumphant step into new and exciting territory. That land can only be reached through the work, day after day, after day, after day, after day the work begins to unfold and flourish.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Accent Reduction

I'm spending Saturday mornings working with a wonderful couple from Columbia who are polishing their standard American. I think if someone were to walk in on one of our sessions they might think that we are from some strange planet. Mirrors poised, we watch our mouths shape new sounds. We sing "It's a small world after all" and feel the weight of the vowels.

As I am teaching IPA to acting students, one curious young woman asks, "Do you really love language?"
"Yes!" I shout in response. I'm reminded of this interchange as I help this couple contemplate the sound "r" for over thirty minutes.

In the process of sharing the accent reduction work, I found a very helpful website that narrates simple news articles in an appropriately slooooowwww fashion. Print it out and then listen along. Once you have done this a few times, tape yourself and begin to identify the differences.


Thursday, July 19, 2007

Keep it up!

I've just finished teaching at a summer intensive where I had the opportunity to introduce voice work to aspiring actors. I felt lucky to be sharing such empowering information, on the other hand, it was hard to leave people when they were just beginning to feel something new, taste some potential. The scope of voice work is a lifelong exploration.

I became aware of my own desire to delve deeper into the work, and due to time constraints (and a very active and demanding 15 month old) I realize that my private exploration will have to suffice. I'm trying to make time to re-commit to my own practise.

Here's a simple physical and vocal session that is easy to follow:


So to the SFUers who are missing "Vocal Practise" and the "Summer Intensive" gang who are heading back to jobs, family and other provinces, here's a little workout to keep you vibrating!

Thursday, July 12, 2007


Memory. I'm fourteen and I have spent almost all afternoon lying on the front lawn in my pink and black striped bikini reading Moliere. We live on 5th Ave. (Puyallup, WA. not New York City) which is one of the busier streets in the little town whose only claim to fame is hosting the state's fair every September. By the evening I have absorbed enough sun tan lotion, car exhaust and UV rays to make my brain function at less than optimal levels. This puts me in the mood for one of America's great summer past-times: a cheesy, fluffy summer flick! As the streets take on that neon pink and orange hue, the popcorn and pop comes out as I plop myself down on the floor and indulge.

I've gotten quite sensible in my older age and, when given the choice, I will usually opt for "An Inconvenient Truth" over "Spider Man III". As soon as the temperature hits thirty, though, I am gone. All of a sudden, my craving for things light, fluffy and downright fun emerges. What does all of this have to do with voice, you ask? Well this week's "Question of the Week" seems to suite my humour. It's not particularly heavy and the answer is a whimsical one, at least according to the sites I will direct you to.

In the midst of this heat wave, ten bodies filled a hot studio and began to breathe, with relish. Now what happened was predictable, everyone began to yawn. Big juicy yawns. When asked why this was the case, I gave my usual response, the physiological theory, "we yawn because we want to draw in more oxygen." Usually this does the trick, but this particular group was keen and the questions continued. So I thought I would track down a little more information. Here's several cute and helpful sites that informed me that my theory is purely that-- just a theory. In reality, no one has discovered the definitive answer for why we yawn.


Just remember, though, whether we know why we yawn or not, it's ability to open up the soft palate and create more space in the lungs is helpful for voice work. So yawn away!

Tuesday, July 3, 2007


The long Canada Day weekend is over, the maple leaf tattoo I temporarily affixed to my shoulder has rubbed off and I am back in the office! We’re in the midst of planning blogs, podcasts and fall workshops and as I update my suggested reading list, I realize that one of the seminal voice texts, “Freeing the Natural Voice” by Kristin Linklater, has been updated. It has taken me awhile to track it down, but as I peruse her new website and check out her brief video outlining the key elements of voice work, my passion for this type of training is rekindled. So for a little inspiration, check out the audio/video component and the intro, and for those of you who continue to ponder, “Do I breathe through my nose or my mouth?” check out her voice notes section:


Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Speaker Within Audio Companion VI: Putting it into practice

This is the final episode in The Speaker Within Audio Companion. We hope you have enjoyed the series and found it to be useful.

Putting it into practice

Stay tuned for more podcasts and videos at www.sfu.ca/voice

The Speaker Within Audio Companion V: Discovering Resonance

Our bodies contain many resonating chambers. Learn to differentiate between the nasal, skull, and chest resonating chambers and maximize the sounds that each can produce, all the while supporting the sound with the breath.

Discovering Resonance

The Speaker Within Audio Companion IV: Supported Sound

Begin to add sound to your diaphragmatic breathing - start with exercises on voiceless fricatives ("FFFFFFs") and voiced fricatives ("VVVVVVs").

Supported Sound

The Speaker Within Audio Companion III: Diaphragmatic Breathing

In this third installment of the Speaker Within Audio Companion, learn to breathe from the diaphragm in order to support your sound. It's trickier than it seems!

Diaphragmatic Breathing

The Speaker Within Audio Companion II: Alignment

Here is the second in our series of six podcasts that make up The Speaker Within Audio Companion.

This episode is on alignment - it's especially good if you are experiencing stiffness in your neck and shoulders.


Speaker Within Audio Companion I: Introduction

The Speaker Within Podcasts are here!

Do you want to communicate more effectively? Do you find yourself tongue tied or strained at times? If so, you have come to the right place. Welcome to The Speaker Within Audio Companion. This series of podcasts ties in with the Speaker Within workshops presented by Simon Fraser University’s Learning & Instructional Development Centre.

We hope you find this audio companion useful; each segment builds on the previous ones, so we encourage you first to listen to them in order. Later on, you can practice specific exercises by picking out the appropriate episode and working within it.


Wednesday, June 13, 2007


The pomp and circumstance of convocation is over. My regular coffee shop has returned to it's home after being displaced by the rows of silky black robes. As I walk through the now sparsley populated halls, I smile to myself at the memory of the triumphant sound of bagpipes merely a week ago.

I am scheduled to lead a monthly drop in class and judging by the low traffic in the area, I assume that the attendance will be minimal. Five minutes before the class is scheduled to begin, only one student has wandered in. I do not blame our theme for the day, "articulation", for failing to attract. In fact, five minutes later as the room is filling up I realize that there is actually a great desire to find more clarity of speech. I pull out more chairs, apologize for not making enough copies and begin listening to the student's requests, "I trail off at the end of my thoughts." "Sometimes it doesn't feel like my thoughts link up with my speech."

We begin to work, as we always do, with the breath. We warm up by elongating vowels, then we move on to the articulators. Lips part, teeth are revealed, plosives explode and the words begin to find their life. We practice the sounds two ways, one without articulation and the other with robust articulation. "What is the difference?" I ask.

"You can hear the words."

"We're taking more time."

Another participant has heard an item on the news that morning, apparently, we in North America, I assume, are walking 10% faster than we were just a short time ago. She concludes that we must be speaking that much faster, as well. The group nods and mumbles their agreement. I launch into my impassioned plea to reclaim words and am stopped in the middle by a slightly flushed and earnest face. I recognize the look of frustration, "Sarah, that is all well and good if English is your first language, but I come to words that I don't know how to pronounce, so I just mumble them so no one knows what I am saying." Her frustration is understood by 90% of the class. How do we own words when they aren't in our language?

Accent Reduction classes have become extremely popular in Vancouver. So here are a few suggestions:

This site refers you to a book written by Andy Krieger, a local accent reduction coach. I have never worked with the text, but know several of his past clients and most of them have been quite pleased with the results.

Here is a class on accent reduction work, that is offered through the William Davis Centre for Actor's Study. Not to worry, you don't need to be an actor to take the class and the price is much more reasonable than you might find elsewhere.

Here's the source that we needed all along. Free English conversation classes given by the University!

Finally, I mentioned "Speak with Distinction" by Edith Skinner (available at the Vancouver Public Library). Another great one to check out is "Voice and Diction" by Jon Eisenson. Both of these have lots of exercises focussing on challenging words and consonant combinations.

Keep me posted with any resources you may discover.

Oh, and one last thought, I just read a wonderful book titled, "Lost in Translation" (No relation to the Bill Murray film), by Eva Hoffman. It is a wonderful account of a woman's search to own a new language and culture. Eva Hoffman immigrated from Poland to Vancouver, B.C. when she was a teenager. It's filled with insights on the relationship between language and self.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Performance Anxiety

Minutes before our class, I re-read a brief article on conquering the fear of public speaking written by Morton C. Orman, M.D.


I like his commonsense approach and his affirmation of the individuality of each speaker. I'm constantly awed by the confidence it takes to stand up in front of a group of people who are there to "critique the performance".

Today we shared, analyzed, made suggestions and re-worked individual presentations. I noticed that the sequence followed the usual pattern. The first presentation had it's usual special energy and excitement to it. The second re-working got a little sloppy (words were forgotten, etc.). The presenter was thinking about the changes, processing them, and making the adjustments his/her own. The final presentation then had a new energy, one of confidence and ease. Vocal inflections ceased to rise at the end of sentences and the material was no longer rushed. Even though the knowledge base hadn't changed in such a short time, the perception from the audience was that the presenter's knowledge of the material had grown.

Today one of the participants commented, "During the final presentation, there was a shift in the tone of my voice. It felt more genuine."

Maybe there is something to the old adage, "Practice makes perfect."

Don't write today, just practice.

Monday, June 4, 2007


Thoughts on a rainy muggy Monday in Vancouver.

After doing some subbing this morning for an actor's training program, I was struck yet again by the power of just letting go and breathing. I find it incredibly exciting to guide a group of people, who begin wracked with tension -- making it impossible for them to settle into their breath, to a place of relaxation. Suddenly they are able to breathe and speak in a slow and easy manner. Their faces soften and I feel like they are taking the time to really see and hear one another.

Now, get out your journal and your favourite pen. My question of the day is this:

Where can I make room in my schedule for more opportunities to relax and breathe?

*Check out Donna Farhi's "The Breathing Book" and don't miss the section on breath holding patterns. When I discussed the idea of reverse breathing with one of the students today she said she could finally feel precisely where she was holding her breath.


Welcome to the first installment of the Voice Werx blog!

I'm very excited to begin this forum to discuss, what else but, our voices. I've always been intrigued by our connection, or lack of connection, to our voices when we present, lecture, conduct workshops or just generally communicate!

So, in this first official post, a little about me. I'm an actor, voice instructor and resident Teaching Enhancement Specialist here at Simon Fraser University's Learning and Instructional Development Centre. I lead workshops for faculty in becoming stronger and more confident presenters.

I have a few reasons for creating this blog. Since most of my workshops are fairly short, participants are always hungry for further information. Well here's where we can share some great references. There are some wonderful websites that I will direct you to, some books I will advise you to peruse and some incredible instructors (my own) who I hope will join me every once in awhile by sharing their thoughts. Don't worry, I'll also post any exciting thoughts or revelations that come out of my sessions.

So, come back each week, or whenever you get a chance, and see what's new. We'll also be posting some fabulous podcasts that will explore breath, sound, allignment and more!

Glad you took a peak.

Sarah Louise Turner

P.S. As I am an avid journal keeper, I may throw a question up each week for you to ponder.