Find Your Voice – If You Can Find It

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When I was very young, way before I even had a thought of doing voice-overs, I’d take a tape recorder, insert a blank cassette tape and either just make up a story or read a book or script, while using my records as background music and/or sound effects.  At some point, I’d get a few friends in school to join in as part of my repertory group, even though (A) they were reluctant to participate, and (B) they were wondering why it was necessary to sing the lyrics that were relevant to the story I’d written.

Then one Saturday morning in 1979 (at the age of 11), when cartoon-viewing was the absolute thing at the time, my younger uncle, who was just as much a kid at heart as I still am, was watching “SuperFriends”.  But I had a question to ask him while it was still fresh in my mind.

“Uncle Eric…..?”

“Shhh……”

(One thing a kid should never do was to interrupt anyone who’s watching a TV show while it was still playing.  Especially, in this case, if it was “SuperFriends”.)  So I waited until the commercials started.

During the whole time, though, I noticed that there was an intense look on his face.  So the question then was not so much as “Why did you shush me?”, but rather “What are you doing?”

“I’m listening to the voices.”

Right then and there I understood exactly what he meant; he was listening to the actors behind the characters.  So when “SuperFriends” resumed, I sat down with him and tried to listen to the voices for myself.  The original question I was going to ask had already left my brain.

Over the years through television, radio, countless records and tapes did I listen intently to the voices and tried to emulate their diction, phrasing and interpretation; one of my ultimate goals is to go into voice-over (forget the animation section for the time being – nowadays you’d have to be a big-time celebrity for those “big-time” projects).  To further increase my “professionalism”, I even used Morgan Freeman’s voice for inspiration (through an LP children’s album called “Spidey Super Stories”, back when he was part of the original cast of PBS’ “The Electric Company”.  Freeman narrated all the stories as well as voiced several characters along with the cast).  His diction was flawless and so precise that no matter how hard I tried to emulate it, for some reason I always fell short.

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Years later still, after all the practices, taking workshops, singing in several groups and whatever exercises necessary, I felt that I was ready for prime time.  I signed up for Voice123, a website that enables agents to hire voice-over artists for various projects as well as having the artists submit their demos and the people at the site connects them with a voice casting service for the projects.  Needless to say, the demos I had sent were not quite well-received by a couple of agents who had heard them.  One even went so far as to tell me that I should never, ever, consider a career as a voice-over artist.

I then talked it over with the other agent, and he practically pinpointed the overall problem I long thought I had conquered years before:

I had a speech impediment.

‘How is that possible?’ I kept asking myself over and over.  Yes, I’ve had the problem all through childhood, and what with the many times I have recorded myself, going to recording studios, reading several books and ads and just about anything within my reach, the notion that I had outgrown the “problem” and that it was long behind me proved to be anything but.  So after talking with the second agent (who turned out to be a voice-over artist in his own right and teaches the craft to those looking to pursue the career), I gave it a long thought, which came down to two choices: give up and quit, or do something about it.

The decision was the latter.

I decided to look up, and eventually found, a speech-language pathologist at a hospital in Arlington, VA.  After a brief assessment, we had discovered that my tongue was laying flat in my mouth instead of it arched upward touching the roof of the mouth.  This would lead to a series of tongue exercises to strengthen the muscle and improve my speaking, as well as eating and swallowing (another story).

One such example of tongue exercises is what they call a “tongue thrust”.  Here you make the tongue clicking noise until the tongue becomes very tired. To make the click, push the tongue tip and blade tightly against the roof of the mouth and drop the tongue with a clicking sound, almost like a “pop”, without touching the teeth.

After the sessions with the pathologist, I then looked up a vocal coach in the D.C. area.  I found that while my singing voice is in good form, it was my oral reading fluency and overall speaking that needed improvement, not to mention the articulateness of the “r”, “th” and “s” sounds.   With the help of several exercises, form and practice, I eventually got better.  Granted, I still have ways to go, but my speech has never been better and, truth be told, heightened my self-confidence as well.

So, now you’re probably wondering: am I now an official voice-over artist?  Yes and no.  While my speech has greatly improved over the past few years, and I have developed a couple of good vocal effects in the process, I’m not out there making connections or taking courses on the subject.  At least not yet; however, I’m still working on it.  The main thing is, I will get there.  It’s never too late.

Happy New Year….3 Years Later?

I noticed that it has been three years since I last posted a blog.  Three.  Years.  Let’s say a lot has happened since then and I have not been able to put up my thoughts at the time.  Or times.  Nevertheless, I’m back and I hope to be able to continue to post all that I’d like to share and say.  And hopefully, you’ll like (and maybe even understand) all that I have to say.

So for now, Happy New Year!

To Dream the Impossible Dream…

It has been said at one point or another “anything is possible”.

It has also been said that “your dreams are what you make of it”.

A line from a famous song declared that “if your heart is in your dream, no request is too extreme”.

Where am I going with those?  Just this: everyone has a dream.  To fulfill their lives with something that they’ve so long wanting to do.  To be able to share their talents with the world.  To help others see their potential and inspire them along the way.

Such is the case with myself.  The only problem in this case is this particular dream is considered unorthodox in the digital age.

My lifelong dream is to create a line of children’s records.

(Cue the sound effects of crickets chirping, followed by a crowd bursting with laughter)

Okay, I know what you’re thinking: why?  Children’s music is so passè; nobody buys vinyl anymore; everybody’s downloading nowadays; etcetera, etcetera, etcetera…

I look at those remarks and say “Why not?”

In my last blog, I recounted how my love for children’s music (and in all aspects, children’s records) came to be.  Now we’re coming down to the heart of the matter.

Since I was 8 years old, I was so much in love with the medium and the genre, that I wanted to have a line of my own.  I was determined to write the stories, the songs, and the music, illustrate the covers, have my own logo and design the label.  I went so far as to Scotch-tape two pieces of letter-size paper together, write the name of the label in bold letters at the top and at the bottom draw little boxes in three rows and just doodle in each one.  (This would indicate the albums that were “available”).

I started collecting children’s records at 13.  Over the years I’ve come across a number of labels, from Golden, Peter Pan and Disneyland to Kid Stuff, Mr. Pickwick and even Hanna-Barbera, and I’ve noticed (even earlier on) that each label have their own versions of many familiar stories and songs, as well as original material, of course, and I’ve come to appreciate a majority of them.  However, what stirred my passion even more is that while listening to the music, I would often sing and speak along with the vocalists as if I was among them at the recording booth and contributing my talents, and just wished that I was actually there.  The feelings that the music then (especially the ’60′s and early ’70′s) is considered irrelevant, and in some cases politically incorrect, have not been lost on me.

Nevertheless, I still want to do it.

I want to get a bunch of people together…vocalists and instrumentalists (real instruments, folks!) alike and say “Come on!  Let’s go down to the studio and cut a record!” Yes, this would mean a great deal of money, but that’s another story.  I want to do “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”.  I want to do “Puff the Magic Dragon”.  I want to do “Sesame Street” songs.  “The Wizard of Oz”.  Heck, even “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”!

I want the line to be on par with all those labels that have long since disappeared , but have remained in the minds of so many people in my generation.

It has been reported that vinyl is making a resurgence into the mainstream, as if it had ever left the mainstream altogether (it didn’t), and that younger people have expressed interest in the format, even in the 21st century.  Still, there are no guarantees that children’s records in particular would be as popular as most of the other genres out there.   I get that.  I understand that.  On the other hand, I would love more than ever to give it a shot.

So Why Do You Listen to Children’s Music?

Throughout most of my life, I’ve been asked that question.  Not so much out of interest, but more of incredulousness: “You listen to what? And you’re how old…?

Well, one wouldn’t think that a 40-ish-year-old guy would spend most of his evenings listening to stuff like Mother Goose, Sesame Street and “Puff the Magic Dragon”, but then, everyone marches to the beat of a different drum, and truth be told, I like listening to children’s records.

It didn’t start out that way, though.  I have a very large family, and back when I was at a very young age, the house was full of music: jazz, gospel, R&B, pop, reggae…through the record collection of my mother, aunts, uncles, cousins and grandmother.  I’d even sit and listen to the music while observing the cover(s) and the spinning label(s).  Even at a young age, I’ve had a deep appreciation of the vinyl format.

Then one day, I went to kindergarten.  They had vinyl records, too.

But these were different.

Like a moth to a flame, I was instantly drawn to the uniquely illustrated covers of the LP and 45′s and those with read along books.  (“‘Peter Pan’?  ‘Pinocchio’?  ‘Sesame Street Songs’?  Wow!!”  Well, what can I say?  That was my initial reaction to them.)  While the other kids went about playing games, toys and yelling and screaming at each other, I sat right next to the record player and observed the covers and watching the labels spin.  To this day, I can still tell you what records they had at that time…not that anyone would care, but the point here is that you never forget your first experience.

Cut to 38 years later, with a collection over 1,600 (and counting), the interest has never waned.  As to why I still listen to the music, I can provide the following reasons:

1.  It’s just plain fun.

2.  Despite what one might think, the music is not all just simplistic, twinkly melodies that instantly make you think that fairies have entered the room and sprinkled you with dust that make you fly.  Some albums have a little bit of everything: rock, jazz, classical, pop, blues…yes, even disco (which isn’t all that bad).  Some might even have material that’s considered cheesy, but that’s part of the charm.  I like the cheese.  I embrace the cheese.  The cheesier, the better. (Okay, the last part was a bit much, even for me.  I don’t even like to eat cheese, but that’s another story.)

3.  Whenever I get into a blue funk, I could put on “The Wonderful Thing about Tiggers” and it would all be okay again.

4.  The graphics, the labels, the catalog numbers etched on the dead wax, the liner notes, the list of the “available” titles…the whole thing.

And the main reason includes the following story:

A couple of years before my mother passed away, she had expressed her exasperation toward my interest with one of the nurses at a dialysis clinic.  She went on to say that she loved me, but had often wished that I would grow up and listen to more suitable tastes like R&B, jazz, country…anything but children’s music.

The nurse, listening to my mother’s concern, then asked her a question that ultimately made her come around:

“But does it make him happy?”

Allow Me to Introduce Myself

As my blog name implies, I really am a big kid. I would have named myself “young at heart” but the name was already taken.

My name is Brian. I’m 43, I live in Northern Virginia, and I love writing and listening to children’s stories and music. For the most part, I’ve been writing children’s stories nearly all my life, and one can say that I’ve been greatly influenced by a great many number of writers like Dr. Seuss, Syd Hoff, and J.K. Rowling (that is, if one knows me at all), and artists…well, there’s a lot to mention, but I’ll talk about at least two who have been highly influential in my later blogs.

As for children’s music, well, that’s a long story too, and I’ll tell that one in my next blog. It’s an interesting story to be sure, so stay tuned, as they used to say in the good era of television. :>)