Saturday, March 17, 2018

A Few Words About Voice Pitch and Speech ... Plus a Gorgeous Reading of Sonnet 130

Lauren Bacall apparently started out with a high nasal speaking voice (and a Brooklyn accent), Richard Burton with a light voice, Kenneth Branagh with his native Irish brogue.  Michael Caine, however, didn't alter his Cockney speech but cashed in on it.  As Sean Connery did with his Scottish.

As for the "perfect" male English-speaking voice, I've read that that would be a combination of Jeremy Irons and the late Alan Rickman.  With Judi Dench being among those with the "perfect" female voice.  Then there are those actors (such as Rupert Penry-Jones, Samuel West, and Jeremy Irons) who also do narration. Really listen to them sometime.  Each syllable is given its due. Their speech is slow, precise, crisp, beautifully articulated.  No slurring rush about any of it.  It's a pleasure to listen to.  The tone color and resonance of a voice is also highly important.  Sorry to say, I hear a lot of too-high, little girl voices by women (Americans, often) who, to my mind, might do well to re-see Singing in the Rain--which was all about using a well-modulated voice (Debbie Reynolds's) to dub over the story-line's leading lady's laughable pitch and pronunciation.

So (getting back to the subject) what did Lauren, Richard, and Kenneth do to deepen their voices or change their regional speech?  Or, what did their directors or voice coaches have them do?  For two--Lauren and Richard--the hills became alive with the sound of Shakespeare as they shouted out verses (it is said) for "hours at a time."  Whereas Kenneth turned to something called Received Pronunciation.  Or RP for short.  He was born Northern Irish but, at age 9, moved with his family to England where he is said to have acquired RP in order to stop being bullied about his accent.

So what is Received Pronunciation?  It's something like a BBC-tinted English-language pronunciation based on educated speech reflecting an upper middle-class status.  It is clear and precise.  Short vowels, not drawn-out drawls.  Enunciation.  Taking time to speak, not rushing it.  It is not "a royal accent" as the royals are said to have their own way of speaking. It is thought of as neutral, not reflecting the speaker's geographical origins. Anthony Hopkins, for instance, is a Welshman (as was Burton) but did not play Lear with a Welsh accent. He and other Shakespearean actors and actresses--unless, say, they were playing Dogberry in Much Ado About Nothing--used RP or something akin.  Dame Eileen Aitkens, who spoke with a Cockney accent as a child, switched to RP when beginning her work in the theater.  I read somewhere that she said that one's native regional accent would not do for the theater's great roles.

As for RP, I guess one could conclude by calling it something of an Oxbridge style.  It is also said to be Bond's accent, the 007 guy.

Getting back to the most pleasing English-speaking male voices, those would include Ronald Colman, Jack Hawkins, Pierce Brosnan, Burton, Hopkins, Irons, and Rickman.  Female speaking voices would include the great ladies: Julie, Maggie, Judi, and Helen.

Finally, speaking of Alan Rickman, listen to his reading of Shakespeare's Sonnet 130.  It's amazingly beautiful.  (If for some reason it does not come up here, Google it.)

click here

Monday, February 26, 2018

A Gallery of Photos: The Canyon Road Art Scene

"Outlook" by Jim Rennert.   (McLarry Modern)

Whenever I come to Santa Fe, I visit Canyon Road, said to be a mile long with a hundred art galleries.  It's a narrow road, mostly one-way, all in the town's pueblo-style architecture and featuring Native American pottery and silver, contemporary, abstract, figurative, and Western art, plus a goodly amount of indoor and outdoor sculpture. There are beautiful old cottonwood trees and tamarisk.  Ravens ... or are they crows? Shops selling clothing and textiles.  The Historic Santa Fe Foundation with a lovely garden in the summer.  A few casual eateries plus a couple of totally top-notch restaurants.

So it's always my pleasure to walk along Canyon Road during my visits and see what's new both inside and out.  Here are some photos of a few outdoor pieces.  (Gallery names are in parentheses.)

"Crowcado" by John Knox.  (McLarry Fine Art)

"September Song" by J. G. Moore.  (McLarry Fine Art)

Not identified.  (La Mesa of Santa Fe)

"Poppies of Oz" by Craig Mitchell Smith.  (Canyon Road Contemporary)
"Making a Wish" by Craig Mitchell Smith.  (Canyon Road Contemporary)

Not identified.  (Pippin Contemporary)

Not identified.  (Pippin Contemporary)

Not identified.  (Selby Fleetwood Gallery)
Not identified.  (New Concept Gallery)

By Allan Houser.  (Courtesy of the Houser Estate and Zaplin Lampert Gallery)

Monday, February 12, 2018

A Gallery of Photos: Santa Fe in February

So, yes, I'm spending the month of February in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where the temperatures are decent, the skies generally clear, and the air fresh.  But as much as my part of the country--New England--is experiencing a heavy winter, the folks here speak of having had no winter at all.  Barely any precipitation.  Practically no snow, no skiing.   A reduced tourist population.

But otherwise, much seems as usual.  Several stores are gone.  With new ones (mostly) taking their place.  Cashmere shawls are in the three figures. A gallery featuring silver jewelry is closing.  A Danish string quartet is performing a concert featuring Haydn, Mozart, and Brahms.  A favorite local author, Natalie Goldberg, is doing a reading.  Chile powder is being sold at the farmers' market in hot, medium, and mild strengths. Local Native American artisans still sit out under the portal at the 17th century Palace of the Governors just off the Plaza and sell their pottery, turquoise, and silver as they have for decades.  Restaurants feature plates of enchiladas, sopapillas, posole, tacos, with a choice of green or red chile. Plus margaritas, my favorite being on-the-rocks with salt around the rim.

A sign near the Plaza in the center of town

A food cart on the Plaza

The Sanctuario de Guadalupe with the oldest extant shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe in the United States

Morning shadow on pueblo-style house

Persian lunch at a Canyon Road restaurant featuring grilled chicken marinated in lemon juice and herbs

Guan Yin, Goddess of Compassion, outside the entrance to  Project Tibet on Canyon Road

Project Tibet is through the yellow doorway.  In the foreground is Wiford Gallery and a small part of its extensive wind sculpture garden.

Chile powder choices at the Saturday farmers' market

Looking across town ...

... then toward the Sangre de Cristo mountains in the opposite direction

Window display in a shop on the Plaza

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

A Gallery of Photos: Out the Train Window

Amtrak's La Junta, Colorado, fresh air stop

It's that time of year.  Another winter, another trip outta here.  And, with it, an excuse to return to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where I am now staying for a month in a rented casita, a small but comfortable abode fashioned from a 100-year-old adobe with foot-thick walls and one of those kiva fireplaces built in the southwestern pueblo style that some people call "beehive." They're small, intimate, charming, distinctive, and aromatic, especially when burning the incense-like wood of this northern New Mexico region. Heaven, in other words.

My 3-day, 2-night trip from the East Coast via Chicago to New Mexico involved day and night tooting at each and every level-crossing, bouncing and rattling over tracks that could probably use some repair, and the realization that the dining car now features paper and plastic where it once took pride in using china coffee cups, freshly-ironed white tablecloths (and napkins) and metal cutlery.  (Ever try to cut up your chicken with a plastic knife?)  Everything is now dispensable except the glass salt and pepper shakers.  Everything is also in little packets--honey, mustard, salad dressings, butter, jam, "cream."  As well:  no toast, no fried eggs, no ice cream.

I spent my hours looking out the window and taking "snaps" (as we used to call them), jiggly focus and all.  Here are a few.




Next morning, Kansas

 Colorado:  range-style water tank and windmill

New Mexico.  This stretch of  highway follows the old Santa Fe Trail.

Raton, New Mexico

Five minutes away from my arrival  point

Friday, January 26, 2018

A Gallery of Photos: Winter Up Close and Personal

The outside temperature

Well, I've got to admit:  winter is like that around here.  That's January for you.  We had one day recently when the highest it got was zero.  Then day after day when the temperatures were single digits or sub-zero.  And one night when the wind-chills were down to minus 30.  My furnace was working hard, chugging away.  There it was, doing its best to keep things toasty, even as I bundled up in layers, warm socks, wool scarf, shawl, and a good warm hand-knit wool blanket.  Of course, I stayed indoors as best I could despite feeling house-bound.  But in trying to go out in such temperatures, even breathing through a scarf, I found myself edging toward getting asthma one day when it was 8 degrees.  I didn't want to collapse as I was putting money in the parking meter so I concentrated on staying upright, made my way to the bakery, got my bread, cancelled my other errands, and went home!!  Enough of that!

The beauty of the rising sun on trees out my window ...

... and of a tree covered in ice
(Another view)
It looks like the Antarctic, but in the summer, this is all green grass

The picnic table
Two neighborhood furnaces working at high speed

Where deer sometimes sleep

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Best Fiction Reads of 2017

Of the 28 books of fiction that I read this past year, in alphabetical order by author, here are 18 that I especially enjoyed ... including 3 trilogies.  (Non-fiction was listed last time.)

1.  Jo Baker, A Country Road, A Tree.  The title comes from the stage directions for Samuel Beckett's play, Waiting for Godot. This book is a fictional but seemingly accurate account of Beckett's life in France during World War II when he joined the Resistance movement.  He was an introvert, appreciated silence but liked people, too.  He and his future wife were nearly caught in Paris but left very quickly after discovering they'd been outed to the Gestapo by a priest, subsequently making their way to what was then the Free Zone in the south of France but which was soon taken over as well.  Beckett preferred staying in France during the war where he had friends and could be of help rather than staying home in Ireland, a neutral country, where he had culture shock upon finding there was such a thing as cream and real coffee.

2.  Bruce Chatwin, On the Black Hill.  Identical Welsh twins live on their parents' farm all their lives, on the boundary of England and Wales.  The story covers 80-plus years.  It's likely among the last of this sort of descriptive late 19th and 20th century prose in the style of Hardy and Lawrence--the hard family life with few amenities.  The book ends around 1980 when video games are now part of the culture and cell phones are about to make an entrance.  A lot of real characters here.  Lots of angst and self-appraisal.  It was published in 1988 just months before Chatwin died.

3.  Miles Franklin, My Brilliant Career.  Her full name was Stella Maria Sarah Miles Franklin, and she lived from 1879 to 1954.  This book, her own fictionalized treatment of a memoir, was made into a movie of the same name starring a young Judy Davis and Sam Neill.  It is autobiographical fiction of a teen in 1890's Australia who longs for a brilliant career that taps her imagination, intellect, and ability to work hard.

4.  Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea.  Or, what about The Old Man and the Marlin?  A rather amazing story of how old Santiago, in only a skiff, caught an 18-foot marlin far out to sea from Cuba.  A novella, it received a Pulitzer in 1953.

5.  Penelope Lively, The Purple Swamp Hen and Other Stories.  Fresh topics, good irony and wit, intelligent, her newest book.  One of my favorite contemporary authors.

6. - 11.  Olivia Manning.  The following 2 trilogies comprise Manning's work called Fortunes of War which was made into a TV mini-series starring Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson.  (They met while filming it.)  It begins with the start of World War II and though fictionalized follows the author and her husband's route from Europe to the Middle East as the Germans kept advancing.  Lots of local color.  An abundance of well-defined characters.  I found all six books totally engrossing.
          The Balkan Trilogy:
                    Book #1.  The Great Fortune.  Set in Rumania from September
                         1939 to June 1940.
                    Book #2.  The Spoilt City.  Set as the characters are forced out of
                         Rumania and leave for Athens.
                    Book #3.  Friends and Heroes.  Set in Athens, then as they are
                          forced out of Greece to Cairo.
          The Levant Trilogy:
                    Book #4.  The Danger Tree.  Set in Cairo and Alexandria as the
                         Germans are advancing.
                    Book #5.  The Battle Lost and Won.  Describes the battle of
                          Alamein.  Otherwise, set mostly in Cairo.
                    Book #6.  The Sum of Things.  Set in Cairo and the Levant as the
                           war then ends.

12.  Alan Paton, Cry, the Beloved Country.  Excellent, South Africa 1946, a black family and a white family ... and their shared tragedy.  Beautifully written.

13.  Kenneth Roberts, Oliver Wiswell.  A splendid historical novel published in 1940 about the Revolutionary War from the viewpoint of the Loyalists, taking the reader from 1775-1783.  A lot of material that I didn't know.  Quite enthralling.  Highly recommended.  (A gift from a college friend who called it one of the best books she'd ever read.)

14.  John Steinbeck, Cannery Row.  Amusing, precise, poetic.  The Chinese grocer, the bordello's madam, the flophouse guys, the marine biologist, all in a sardine canning section of Monterey, California in the 1930's.

15. - 17.  Katherine Towler, Snow Island Trilogy.  Chronicles the lives of those in a small, tight community on a fictitious island in Narragansett Bay. The time frame is World War II to the Gulf War.  Though each book can be taken separately, they are better as a unit. 
                    Book #1.  Snow Island.
                    Book #2.  Evening Ferry.
                    Book #3.  Island Light.

18.  Anne Tyler, Digging to America.  Two Baltimore families, one Iranian and one American, each adopt a Korean child on the same day and become friends as a result.  Good descriptions of their lives as family members and as representatives of their cultures ... with a nice mixture of the two told in an appealing way.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Best Non-Fiction Reads of 2017

My book reading for this past year pretty well matched other years in terms of the number read.  48 in all.  20 non-fiction, 28 fiction.

In alphabetical order by author, here are the non-fiction titles I liked best.  (Fiction will be listed next time.)

1.  Bill Bryson, I'm a Stranger Here Myself, Notes on Returning to America After Twenty Years.  A chuckle-out-loud book describing his life back in the U.S. after living in Britain.  Though at the end, he and his family return to England.

2.  Annie Dillard, An American Childhood.  Dillard-quality writing about her rather privileged life growing up in Pittsburgh.

3.  Vicki Constantine Croke, Elephant Company, An Inspiring Story of an Unlikely Hero and the Animals Who Helped Him Save Lives in World War II.  The setting is Burma 1920-1946.  The "unlikely hero" is James Howard Williams who worked for a British teak company and was in charge of their working elephants throughout a wide area, finding them courageous, loyal, and truly wonderful beings.  Then after the Japanese invaded and the British left, Williams and the elephants led two amazing evacuations over treacherous trails to India--one for refugees, the other for the elephants themselves so that they wouldn't fall to the Japanese.  Some amazing tales here.

4.  Eric Larson, Dead Wake, The Last Crossing of the Lusitania.  In May 1915, a single torpedo destroyed the Lusitania, Britain's fastest, most beautiful passenger liner, sinking it in only 18 minutes and killing more than a thousand people some dozen miles from the Irish coast.  There were plenty of life boats, but because the ship could not be stopped and because of its tilt and the fact that it sank immediately, only 6 were used.  In addition, after daily drills to familiarize themselves with how to release the life boats, those crew members were instantly killed when the torpedo struck when they were below-decks taking out passengers' luggage for arrival next morning in Liverpool.  It wasn't until another two years when the Germans said that any ship was fair game to submarine attack (including those of neutral nations and passenger ships) that the U.S. entered the war.  Grim and gripping.

5.  Lois Pryce, Lois on the Loose, One Woman, One Motorbike, 20,000 miles across the Americas.  A well-written tale describing the gutsy adventures of an English woman who traveled solo on her motorbike.  This relates her first attempt at such a venture, here from Anchorage to the tip of Argentina during which she encountered terrible winds, terrible roads, sudden snows, hours in customs, totally bare landscape, a prima donna riding companion part way, and oil leaks.  But great chutzpah.

6.  Lois Pryce, Revolutionary Ride, On the Road in Search of the Real Iran. Here in 2013 is our heroine again, riding her motorbike alone through Iran, wearing required hijab and proper Islamic Republic dress.  She had already traveled solo through the Americas (see #5) as well as from London to Cape Town, South Africa.  This book details her experience through Iran plus a good overview of contemporary Iranian history.  She liked the place well enough to return the following year only to find that the rules had changed and those from the U.K. and U.S. could not travel the country alone, only in a group.

7.  Katherine Towler, The Penny Poet of Portsmouth, A Memoir of Place, Solitude, and Friendship.  A fellow-writer and resident of Portsmouth, the author finds herself filling the niche of "family member" and unwitting caretaker for Robert Dunn, once New Hampshire's poet laureate and a man who valued his independence but who found himself needing support as he followed the unwritten road to death.  An honest, well-written account.

8.  Harriet Welty-Rochefort, French Toast, An American in Paris Celebrates the Maddening Mysteries of the French.  Funny, concise, enlightening.  We want to be nice; they want to be logical, witty, no matter whether it tramples on someone or not.  We want to have fun; they aren't so concerned with fun.  We spread ourselves wide, new friends, etc; they look to their family.  We smile thinking we'll be liked; they don't take anyone who smiles seriously.  When writing this she'd been married to a Frenchman and living in Paris for 20 years.

9.  Meik Wiking, The Little Book of Hygge, Danish Secrets to Happy Living.  A sweet rendering of the way Danes attain a happy life, especially since their winters are rather dour.  By being cozy with candles, hot drinks, friends, board games, and things that are simple, natural, and homey.