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The spoken word, not the written word, is the real word. Written words are symbols, and are more adequate to express ideas, but modulations of the voice are natural signs which reveal feeling and manifest degrees of assimilation and the deepest phases of experience. Written words represent the concepts of the mind, but modulations directly manifest the action or processes of thinking or conditions of feeling.
To improve spoken English the teacher must, therefore, awaken the student to think and to feel. All the faculties of the mind must be made active so that the creative energies will dominate the rhythm of breathing and of voice conditions as well as cause the dramatic response of the body and modulation of the voice. In any art work, writing or speaking, painting or music, - the first step should always be the awakening of the artistic powers.
Vocal expression as a phase of artistic endeavor implies cause, means and effect. The cause is in the mind. It must be awakened. The means, that is, voice and body, must be rightly attuned so as immediately to respond to the actions or conditions of the mind. In the third place, the significance of the voice modulations must be understood and a vocabulary of delivery must be acquired.
Writing implies a mechanical means, such as pen, ink and paper. While a man must learn to write, that is, to make the letters properly, this mechanical work is not analogous to vocal training. The agents of speech belong to man's own body. They are parts of man's organism. They can be developed only according to natural laws. Control of thinking must be secured not by mere will, but only by awakening or stimulating imagination, thinking and feeling.
There are other peculiarities. Many of the voice modulations are but partly under the control of the will. Many of the highest and most exalted modulations, such as tone color, must be controlled indirectly. To bring the voice modulations directly under the control of will makes all speaking mechanical and artificial.
In order to write, imagination and feeling and the creative energies must be awakened. But the modulations of the voice and the actions of the body, which have been called the natural languages, require the spontaneous energies to be aroused. Though this awakening of the imagination and deeper life of the student be difficult, it is necessary if the student is really to improve. The aim of education, according to Fræbel, is to awaken selfactivity. Self-activity must be awakened if vocal expression is to be improved.
To awaken and to recognize the operation of this selfactivity must ever be the primary aim in all true education from the kindergarten to the university. Of all methods of awakening and testing spontaneous activity, vocal expression is best. It is the direct, natural manifestation of the activities of the student's faculties; as the teacher observes this he gets insight into the student's mind, and can detect weaknesses or lack of harmony. He can direct exercises to awaken any sluggish faculty; he can stimulate the imagination; he can develop feeling. He will not teach a play of Shakespeare in a way to kill all the student's love for it, but from the first will try to awaken the student's feeling and stimulate that which is more important than all criticism, a proper appreciation and love of great literature and art.
The book is founded upon the principle that impression and expression should always go together. Hence, nature study and observation are introduced or suggested at every step of the way. Impression and expression cannot be separated. One is cause, the other is effect. They are co-ordinated as the root of the plant with its stalk. They complement and imply each other. We do not know a thing until we are able to give it some kind of expression. The saying of anything tests the student's understanding. Writing tests accuracy and correctness. Speaking tests right feeling, the right attitude of being and the degree of assimilation. It shows how far the word has become a part of one's experience.
There is an endeavor in this book to avoid difficult technicalities, especially in vocal training. The development of the voice is an extremely complex subject. If taken, however, simply and naturally before there has been pernicious teaching there will be less difficulty. One of the most important steps is the correct method of breathing. Teachers should refer to the author's “ Mind and Voice" for further explanation.
The fundamental principle is to have a right action of the diaphragm, that is to say, sympathetic fulness in the middle of the body. A breath should be easily and sympathetically and harmoniously retained by the elastic activity of the diaphragm and other inspiratory muscles. Mere analysis of the actions of the diaphragm and of the correct method of breathing will not be so helpful to the young student as simple laughter and observation of the action of breathing and the throat. The tone should be supported freely at the diaphragm. There should be the feeling of a column of air in the middle of the mouth. The whole throat should be passive and relaxed and open. The right condition of the throat and tone passage can result only from the right retention of the breath, the coordination of activity, or an elastic sense of fulness in the middle of the body, with the right passivity of the throat. This causes large vowel chambers and free open tone and must be gained by the sympathetic rendering of exclamations repeated many times with an accentuation of the right preparatory conditions. This is the primary aim of all true vocal exercises.
The companion volume to this contains simple questions or problems arranged with short selections for inductive studies and more than three hundred complete poems and stories. The books contain no duplicate selections and the topics more or less correspond. Hence, teachers may use them together, or separately.
Work in vocal expression should be practical. The studies should be simple and direct, by question or assignment of various problems for the study and interpretation of literature by voice. Every form of vocal expression, conversation, reading and recitation should be adopted. Conversation must always be the basis. Students must be encouraged to talk about what they have studied. They should be encouraged to tell stories and to describe what they themselves have seen. In every way the teacher should stimulate students to unfold their own powers.