This morning in Truro cathedral, the preacher at sung Eucharist was the Archdeacon of Cornwall, The Venerable Bill Stuart-White. As well as the sermon he led many of the prayers, and also performed the Gospel reading.
Considering that a few days ago I posted that I would be silent for a week, you might well wonder what it is about that paragraph that could cause me to break my Trappist vow. The answer is that there is something about his speaking on which I feel compelled to comment.
He is conscientious about his speaking which is very expressive. His voice has good resonance, plenty of personality shines through, yet he has a flaw; and the title to this posting may be a big enough clue for you to think you have spotted it. And yet…
We are looking here not at your normal run-of-the-mill syllable loss, caused by vocal idleness (like Obama): I would not have bothered to trouble you with anything so mundane. What we have here is a very pronounced example of a type that is caused by that conscientiousness that I mentioned earlier.
It is disproportionate emphasis.
Normally I would here have an embedded video with which I could illustrate what I was describing and I itched to dare to capture him on my mobile telephone for a few precious minutes before the vergers threw me out on the street. I chickened out of that adventure; and instead have to explain and describe as best I can.
If you are speaking, and striving to do so expressively, you will lean more heavily on the natural emphases – so far so good. Often, however, some subconscious instinct causes speakers to enhance those emphases even more by suppressing the surrounding verbal landscape – making the strong syllables sound louder by uttering the other syllables softer. That is what Stuart-White does to a disastrous degree.
(If ever he happens to read these words, he probably won’t believe them: I refused to believe the same message from my voice coach all those decades ago till I had to – but that’s another story. And this is another reason that I wish I had a recording as evidence.)
You may think that the loss of a few insignificant syllables is a small price to pay for expressive speech, but not needing or wanting to emphasise a syllable does not make it unimportant. It may be a whole, single syllable word. Take the following phrase…
the love of God
If the sense makes you want to stress the word ‘love’, and the last syllable (word) gets rendered inaudible, are you telling me it doesn’t matter? That, I fear, is an actual example from this morning (oh how I wish for a recording!)
I earnestly urge Stuart-White and all those who strive to be super-expressive to be aware of this danger. It is rare, because expressive speakers are rare, but a widespread tendency among them.
When you heap stress upon a syllable or word, do NOT steal the stress from other syllables.