Whatever happened to choral speech?  When I was in elementary school choral speech was as important in our choirs as singing.  I remember Mrs Budgell directing us to learn John  Masefield’s , Sea Fever .

I must go down to the sea again  ( say  “must” with great emphasis.)

To the looooonely (Stretch this to four syllables and make it sound spooky)sea and the Sky ( say sky in a high pitched voice)

And all I ask is a TALL ( make the word sound tall) ship

And a star (make star light and airy) to steer her by.

By now you probably have a sense of how it should go.  Final t’s were spit out like the sizzle of water on hot grease; an “s” sound would swirl behind the teeth to give the sound of sea spray ; we could put a Scotsman to shame with our rolling  “r”.   A “wh”was blown through the lips.  What , where, when, why  _try saying those and blow out each time you say the first two letters. To this day I blow my wh sound.

If you said words like down, under, beneath or low you were required to speak in a bass voice.  If it was a high word like star, sun, up, you would use a high soprano squeak.

Action words like  kick, shut, skip would be like a staccato note in music. Clipped and enunciated precisely.

Roar” “screamscreech”? _make the given sound. Think of lion , horror movie , horror movie again

It was a great exercise for learning how to be expressive and the mechanics were as rigid as music notation.  It was after all music of a different sort much like rap today.  Come to think of it choral speech was perhaps the precursor of rap.

We learned many poems in our choral speech practices.  I remember a couple of them .  Godfrey Gordon Gustavus Gore was one.  Has anyone else ever heard of that poem about a boy who never would shut the door?  It was full of words that allowed us to put our whole creative vocal talents to work.

And we presented these poems in music festivals.  Thirty voices recited one verse after another in perfect unison, and with perfect timing.  The rise and fall of pitch, the rhythm changing from fast to slow and vice versa, the soft gentle melodies and loud thunderous roars spilled from our ten year old synchronized mouths . It was an art form that has been forgotten but not by my class.  I suspect that everyone of those choir members now in their sixties would  be able to give a good approximation of Sea Fever or Godfrey Gordon Gustavus Gore.

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5 responses »

  1. I can’t remember choral speech but I definitely remember Sea Fever and Godfrey Gordon Gustavas Gore. It’s been years since I’ve heard them but I found myself reciting them as I read your post. Well written and enjoyable.

  2. I don’t recall any choral reading in my elementary school. Mostly we sang in concerts but were told not to really sing, just lipsinc. Pretend in other words. This was not a good way to deal with a few of us who felt we had no voice, or not a singing one anyway! I always did choral reading in my classrooms. I would have boys, then girls, then together and so on. I encouraged them to memorize poems. I recall getting each student to choose a poem to memorize. We had poetry booklets, where we kept copies of our favorite poems. On certain days, students could choose a favorite to read for everyone. When children wrote poetry, I encouraged them to save copies in their booklet. Poetry and choral reading were big in my classroom. Unlike you, I never did any memorization or choral reading as a child. Lucky you! It never stopped my love of poetry however.

    • I have heard other people say that they were asked to lip sync as children. That must have given you quite a complex. My feeling is anyone with a voice can sing. It just requires finding the right key. Some of the greatest performers do not have the traditional melodious voices but are top ranking performers just because their voices are different. Take Rod Stewart and Leonard Cohen for example.

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