I have a maddening addiction for good diction in the performing arts and sadly, my addiction is seldom fulfilled.
I stress to my students, “tell the story.”
It’s how we tell the story that makes the story exciting and interesting, but most importantly, understood by the listeners, the audience..
My Ball State University choral director, Douglas Amman, during a BSU Chamber Choir rehearsal, said, “It’s not the notes, it’s what you do with the notes… and it’s not the words, it’s what you do with the words.”
The summer before, I’d learned some of the diction tricks of the trade from the master of choral diction, Fred Waring, and his choral associates who had once been in The Singing Pennsylvanians, Fritz Mountford, Brian Breed, and Len Thomas. It was that summer I discovered sheer magic through storytelling with excellent diction. When Dr. Amman stated his quote above, I felt like my music life had become the last scene in the Broadway/motion picture classic, THE MIRACLE WORKER: I was at the well of the world opening up to me!
My role as director, teacher, and performer took on an entirely new outlook to the process: excellent diction.
I experimented with my choirs, show choirs, and musical casts. Before long, colleagues were coming to me for advice on how to teach and execute good diction. While I shared some of my techniques, both learned and self-discovered, I encouraged my colleagues to adopt their own strategies of teaching, supporting, and demanding excellent diction.
“I had a teacher who stressed for me the importance of diction in terms of… I want to be very careful about how I say this… in terms of supporting one’s voice when one is singing. In other words, if you hold on to your words, your voice will pull through for you when you’re singing. So be true to your vowels.” – Julie Andrews
I go to concerts and shows and I must say, my students know their shit on stage. Not only do they sing and deliver lines correctly and beautifully, their diction is seldom in question, nor in competition with others.
Am I bragging? You better believe I am.
It’s this simple: young singers/actors, older singers/singers, experienced singers/actors, inexperienced singers/actors need to be constantly instructed with excellent diction and storytelling.
Directors and teachers need to hit diction head-on.
Directors and teachers need to demand excellent diction.
I have had director friends say, “But I understand what they are singing or saying on stage.”
Yes, you, as the director probably do understand what your singers/actors are singing or saying, but the audience may not.
As directors, we know the lyrics and lines; therefore, we do not listen aggressively and with an alien ear. We must always, always listen to our students or casts as though we are hearing the words for the very first time.
“Do we understand each word?”
If not, fix it. Now. Not later when you have an audience. Your audience should never be forced to work hard at deciphering what is being said or sung. I too often find myself working on a few words or phrase only to miss the next few words or phrase. No!
It is not enough to tell our students or casts to “fix your diction.” Sometimes they are not adept enough at comprehending how it must sound to the audience and nothing gets fixed.
If a singer says, “All love you to the in of time,” to them it might sound exactly like the words on the page, “I’ll love you to the end (ehnd) of time.” Ending consonants are too often entirely ignored; a shadow vowel often fixes this common issue.
Directors and teachers: It is YOUR job to make sure excellent diction is taught, instilled, executed and clearly understood. Get the job done!
All too often, concerts or musicals are so close to being excellent productions but they are sabotaged with horrible diction.
Don’t be one of those concerts or productions because “I just can’t get around to everything” or “The audience will just have to listen better.” Do your job, teachers, and directors, and enforce excellent diction.
I am a bitch when it comes to bad diction. I will not accept bad diction and have been known to leave a production at intermission due to piss-poor diction. To show that I do possess some humor in this particular, critical arena of telling the story, I leave my readers with this…..