Five minutes a day is very little time to spend to get a quiet face, but just that five minutes—if followed consistently—will make us so much more sensitive to the unquiet that we will sooner or later turn away from it as by a natural instinct.
I KNEW an old German—a wonderful teacher of the speaking voice—who said “the ancients believed that the soul of the man is here”—pointing to the pit of his stomach. “I do not know,” and he shrugged his shoulders with expressive interest, “it may be and it may not be—but I know the soul of the voice is here—and you Americans—you squeeze the life out of the word in your throat and it is born dead.”
That old artist spoke the truth—we Americans—most of us—do squeeze the life out of our words and they are born dead. We squeeze the life out by the strain which runs all through us and reflects itself especially in our voices. Our throats are tense and closed; our stomachs are tense and strained; with many of us the word is dead before it is born.
Watch people talking in a very noisy place; hear how they scream at the top of their lungs to get above the noise. Think of the amount of nervous force they use in their efforts to be heard.
Now really when we are in the midst of a great noise and want to be heard, what we have to do is to pitch our voices on a different key from the noise about us. We can be heard as well, and better, if we pitch our voices on a lower key than if we pitch them on a higher key; and to pitch your voice on a low key requires very much less effort than to strain to a high one.
I can imagine talking with some one for half an hour in a noisy factory—for instance—and being more rested at the end of the half hour than at the beginning. Because to pitch your voice low you must drop some superfluous tension and dropping superfluous tension is always restful.
I beg any or all of my readers to try this experiment the next time they have to talk with a friend in a noisy street. At first the habit of screaming above the noise of the wheels is strong on us and it seems impossible that we should be heard if we speak below it. It is difficult to pitch our voices low and keep them there. But if we persist until we have formed a new habit, the change is delightful.
There is one other difficulty in the way; whoever is listening to us may be in the habit of hearing a voice at high tension and so find it difficult at first to adjust his ear to the lower voice and will in consequence insist that the lower tone cannot be heard as easily.
It seems curious that our ears can be so much engaged in expecting screaming that they cannot without a positive effort of the mind readjust in order to listen to a lower tone. But it is so. And, therefore, we must remember that to be thoroughly successful in speaking intelligently below the noise we must beg our listeners to change the habit of their ears as we ourselves must change the pitch of our voices.