Vocalization in Declamation

Analysis and interpretation may be the tools necessary to figure out what the purpose of a speech and its parts are, but it is through the use of vocals that the energy expended from analysis meets fruition. Vocals, when paired with physicality of course, is the device through which a speaker can convey their interpretation of the speech. Vocals allow for tactics and emotions to be shown, and without planed vocals an almost flat recital is what a Declamation could become. Thus, after deciding the why and what behind the words, vocals are there to offer a how to share these interpretations.

Avoid Imitation

One of the first and more vital aspects of Declamation is to realize that this event is NOT meant to be an impersonation. In fact, impersonation of the original speaker might result in disqualification in certain leagues. Further more, impersonation, while a fantastic talent in certain realms, is a sign of a lazy and uninspired Declamation. Approach the source material like a re-imagining of a previous speech. Consider how to tackle this piece from a personal level. Connect with the words, and strive to retell them in a way that mirrors this personalized vision.

Create Builds

After the analysis and interpretation of a piece, finding the builds of the text should be nearly effortless. At this stage the speaker already knows most of the more emotional or comical moments of the piece. They should know the climax. They should have previously analyzed the structure and punctuation of the piece and explored how these components influence the whole. That said, all that remains to be done is creating the builds that lead up to the major climax and the mini ones scattered throughout. Note, the piece’s true climax should be given the largest build so it is memorable and powerful. Remember, a piece that does not move anywhere is boring.

Vocal Tactics and Variation

To create spectacular builds, and a vocally intriguing piece, the following vocal tactics should be used: dynamics (loudness and softness of voice), change in tempo, rhythm (influenced through punctuation and built in rhythm schemes in more poetic pieces), tone alteration, and silence. Changing how dynamics, tempo, rhythm, tone, and silence are used makes for an even more effective speech as well.

For dynamics, the speaker has the full range of levels of anything from a whisper to a loud voice (refrain from yelling unless the speech specifically requests it). And dynamics are not meant to be purely one-dimensional. Dynamics have the ability to crescendo and decrescendo. A crescendo is the gradual shift from soft to loud. A decrescendo is the gradual change from loud to soft. Generally, the use of a crescendo/decrescendo is the easiest way to create a build; a sudden volume change the quickest to capture the audience's attention.

Tempo, or the change in pace, can be anything from a sudden swiftness or slowness of speed OR a steady shift from slow to fast or fast to slow. Typically, attaching a steady temp change to a steady volume dynamic change is a safe method towards boosting the effectiveness of creating a build. Imagine listening to a speech where the speed is getting faster while the volume is slowly rising--it is glorious for approaching an explosive climax.

Rhythm is a variation that for most Declamations will mean little as speeches typically are rarely poetic. However, if a speech contains a poem, lyrics, or particularly flowery language pay attention to the punctuation of the piece. As the lines are being said aloud listen for shifts in rhythm and ponder if they should be accentuated slightly with purpose. Generally, adhere to pauses expressed by punctuation.

Tone will be highly prevalent throughout the piece as it is tone which is the voice for emotion. Most speakers tend to have a standard “speaking” tone which is used to relay the text while captivating an audience. However, there will be moments when an emotion will be heard in the tone to vocalize the interpretation of that moment. For example, there may be a paragraph that sounds foreboding and mysterious in a humorous commencement speech. In that same speech there might be a section that exudes pride for the graduating class. Pay attention to the type of tone the interpretation hints; a Declamation in a monotone, emotionless voice is dull. Also, switching tones to mimic the feel of the build can be a successful way to add variety and help the build grow.

A speaker’s most potent vocal tool is that of silence, ironically. The act of not speaking during an emotional moment, or pausing immediately after a rather intense climax, offers a way for the audience and speaker to let that moment fade and dissolve itself into minds of the audience. A pause after a crucial bit of information is a non-verbal clue that that line was important. Pauses are more or less accents for a piece. Pauses and silence should not be overdone or they will lose their effect (actually, this is true of anything). However, if done minimally and at the opportune part, then silence can be highly efficacious on the audience.

Good Speaking Practices

Finally, practicing good speaking behaviors is the most certain method towards earning solid marks in a round. Working on projection and articulation, and perfecting them, is the best safeguard for performing well. Even if a speaker has done the analysis, thought of interpretations, crafted speaking tactics to be used at specific instances, and actually thought out distinct builds NONE of that matters if the audience cannot hear or understand what a speaker is saying. Once an audience cannot make out words or must struggle to listen, the audience is lost. Why try to understand what is being said when daydreaming for the next six minutes is more agreeable? Further, while an audience might be forgiving towards a performer they cannot comprehend because they can pretend to listen, a judge is required to strain so they can make comments. It is almost guaranteed a judge will not be pleased, and this will reflect on the ballot.

Vocalization of a Declamation is not overly challenging once the initial step of analysis and interpretation has begun. Which is logical, for once a person understands the why behind something the how to vocalize these opinions often closely follows--if not simultaneously evolving with the interpretation. It is merely a matter of practicing, polishing, and exploring the vocalization which best captures the speaker’s direction to perform a noteworthy piece.