Some Vocal Techniques as Applied to Field and Court Heraldry
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Some Vocal Techniques as Applied to Field and Court Heraldry

© 1990 Kathleen Sobansky.

Originally printed in the Atlantian Herald's Handbook
(reprinted here with the gracious permission of the author)

As heralds, we are constantly functioning as the voice of the Crown. This can be a difficult job as anyone who has heralded a crown tourney or a lively revel can testify. The strain of being a human bullhorn can take a heavy toll of one's voice and sanity.

What I would like to offer here are a few suggestions and exercises adapted from vocal music techniques. These should help you strengthen your voice, improve your breathing and projection, and most important of all get your message across.

The herald's hardest job is getting people's attention. We SCA folk are a garrulous lot! the noise level at any event can approach the threshold of pain. Add to that music or any martial boom/bash, and you have a most formidable obstacle for the human voice to cut through.

I submit that the best way to gain people's attention is to sing out. You can put a lot more power behind a phrase properly sung than one merely shouted. You also put a lot less wear and tear on your vocal chords. The difference in sound quality between a sung phrase and a shouted one will automatically attract attention, even in a room where everyone is talking.

The idea is to gain attention. If you are efficient in getting the masses to shut up for a moment, your announcement can be made once, and in a much quieter voice.

Your attention-getting phrase is the one that needs to be sung. Usually that phrase is "Oyez! Oyez!" or "My lords, ladies and gentles!" Other phrases may be used depending on local custom or specific situation.

Whatever the phrase, the first thing you want to do is lean on those open vowels: "Ooooooyeeeeehz myyyyy loooords, laaaadiiiiies aaaaand geeeentlzz". Open vowels give you the most power and volume, since you are creating as large a path as possible for the sound coming out of your mouth. Relax your throat and drop your jaw. You will find that this helps to open you up even more.

As far as the "singing" part of it goes, you need only one note. Pick something in the very middle of your range where you feel the most comfortable. If you have no idea what your range is, just start singing "Happy Birthday". The chances are that the note you start on is probably somewhere in the middle of your range. Sing your attention phrase on this note, spacing each word and remembering to emphasize the open vowels. Sing it very softly at first until you are comfortable with it.

Once you have your note and phrasing, it is time to work on projection. Projection is simply making your voice carry as far as possible with a minimum of effort.

The key to this is breathing from the diaphragm. Here is an exercise to make you aware of proper breathing:

Stand in front of a mirror that shows you at least down to the waist. Take a deep breath. Did your shoulders rise up? If they did, you are probably breathing only with the top part of your lungs. (Note: I'm not sure if this is anatomically correct, but it's the term voice teachers use.) Now try holding your shoulders down as you breathe in and concentrate on feeling your lower rib-cage expand. Now the air is getting down there where it will do the most good.

Breathe in slowly, counting to ten and feeling your rib-cage expand. Now breathe out, concentrating on pushing the air out rather than just letting it flow. The muscle that is doing the pushing is the diaphragm. (Note: be careful not to hyperventilate when doing this exercise.) To project, you have to actively push with the diaphragm. You will find that the harder you push, the more sound you can make.

Now try singing the attention-getting phrase using the diaphragmatic breathing that you practiced. Take a deep breath, making sure your rib-cage is expanding. On the note that is most comfortable, sing out the phrase. Push with your diaphragm on each syllable. Concentrate on feeling that column of air rising from your center to your throat and on out.

Start softly at first, then see how loud you can make it. (Don't worry about the neighbors hearing! if you've been in the SCA any length of time, they already know you're crazy.) With a little practice you'll be amazed at how much sound you can generate.

As I said, your attention-getting phrase is the only one that actually needs to be sung. Nevertheless, you can apply the same principles of proper breathing and projection to the rest of the spoken message. Try to think out ahead of time exactly what you are going to say. Break the message into three or four word phrases, with spaces for breathing. Concentrate on opening up the vowels, and push from the diaphragm on each syllable.

If you pay proper attention to your breathing now, you will find that it becomes automatic very quickly and the benefits are apparent from the start.

Happy Heralding!