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Turn ‘that little voice’ into a roar

Speech arts specialist Jennifer Waldron (center) takes Sue Riddle (left) and Rand McDonald through a series of vocal exercises which, as shown, involve not just the mouth but the entire body.  - Brad Camp/Staff Photo
Speech arts specialist Jennifer Waldron (center) takes Sue Riddle (left) and Rand McDonald through a series of vocal exercises which, as shown, involve not just the mouth but the entire body.
— image credit: Brad Camp/Staff Photo

Voice coach Jennifer Waldron can bring out the inner orator.

Jennifer Waldron has a magnetic alto that flows expressively and melodiously, soothing and persuading her listener in a rhythmic cadence that’s nuanced and refined.

Then she says something funny. And spontaneously lets fly with a bawdy belly laugh that rocks her frame.

The vocal coach and speech arts specialist relishes the incongruity between her professional speaking voice and her no-holds-barred guffaw because it illustrates a point she tries to underscore with the clients who seek her assistance in presenting themselves to the world.

“The voice is not just the throat and the mouth,” she said. “The voice is the manifestation of who we are.”

A significant portion of the people who seek Waldron’s assistance spend time on camera and in the public eye – Seattle news anchor Kathi Goertzen and the late King County prosecutor Norm Maleng were clients – with livelihoods that depend on achieving a tone, pitch and style that are not only pleasing but natural and authentic.

Waldron holds a master’s degree in speech communication but says she really learned to teach “the talent” while working through her Ph.D at the University of Washington. There she honed in on rhetoric, public address and the performance of literature.

Through that work and 20 years of teaching speech at Everett Community College, Waldron developed a bag of tricks aimed at helping people move beyond the mere reading of a script.

Common speech pitfalls, Waldron says, include monotonous delivery and forgetting to blink, both of which instinctively lead a listener to know a person is reading.

Other problems relate to resonance, which refers to where and how the voice reverberates within the head, chest and throat cavities.

Too much in the nose may result in a “tinny and tense” voice like Edith Bunker’s of “All in the Family,” while too much in the throat may result in a phony-sounding boom like the one Ted Baxter broadcast on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”

Many of these tendencies, which can lead to self-consciousness, discomfort and negative feedback that do nothing but exacerbate the situation, are habitual.

“We learn it, and that’s the way we do it,” Waldron said.

Thus, much of her work involves helping people see and hear how they sound to others and then learn and practice new methods that help them more naturally convey what they need to say.

This approach also applies to the second arm of Waldron’s work, which is to help regular folks find their true Voices, with a capital “V.”

Take the man who feels he has lots to say but whom people are always admonishing to speak up; the man whose high, breathy voice has become a professional hindrance because it’s unintentionally provocative; or the woman whose parents told her repeatedly as a child to shut up.

Waldron says these clients are sometimes professionals in their 30s hitting stumbling blocks in their new careers and sometimes people in their 40s and 50s who simply feel they’ve lived with voices they don’t like for long enough.

Sometimes the first exercise Waldron has her clients perform is to raise their arms wide to their sides and say “Ahhhhh.”

That simple action, Waldron says, has been known to lead to tears.

“So much can be hidden inside,” she said. “It gets moved when you begin to make the sound.”

In addition to individual client work, Waldron has developed several group courses including a five-part workshop on beginning chanting.

She also created a chanting circle that meets twice per month.

Waldron’s interest in chanting – and she jokes that she has strong “woo woo” proclivities – began with training she received in 1998 at Bainbridge’s Open Ear Center, run by Pat Moffitt Cook.

She believes that sound and song, whether it’s a Christian hymn or a Buddhist chant, particularly helps people move toward own divine ideal – “whatever that is.”

“It’s the sound that moves us from the ordinary to the profound, into the place of spirit,” she said.

Waldron created a comprehensive website describing her services but says she’s something of a reluctant self-promoter; she gets a lot of her work through word of mouth.

While the majority of Waldron’s clients work with her for two to three sessions, she eventually hopes to start holding retreats that allow for deeper voice work and more extended stays.

She says she and husband John Kenning built their tucked-away house and studio to be a “sound spa” of sorts.

And she wants everyone to be able to speak their piece.

“I really believe in that beauty in everybody’s voice,” she said, “if they’d just let it happen.”

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Speak your piece

Speech arts specialist Jennifer Waldron offers private coaching and group sessions and this fall will offer two workshops, “Your Speaking Voice: Develop an Authentic Sound” and “Beginning Chanting.” Reach her at 855-1088 or online at www.jenniferwaldron.com.

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