Now, if you ever doubt the sound of you voice, let me tell you all you have to do is practice. And when I was worrying about that moment I am going to call my Central Hall of shame because it was, what I remembered was the story of a guy in Ancient Greece called Demosthenes. Now, that’s a bit of a big old name, so we’re going to call him the Greek dude from now on, which actually is also a bit of a big word, so we might just call him Dave, I think.
Now Dave was speaking at the Assembly which is like the O2. We have Simon in the room. It’s like the Brixton Academy of the Ancient Greek world. And he was feeling pretty nervous, he wanted to be an orator. Orators were the rock stars of their day. And so he geared himself up for this big moment at the assembly and you know what? He bombed. They said he was uncouth in his speaking, and that he stammered.
And so the audience jeered at him and they threw stuff. Please don’t do that to me! And he left that stage feeling so downcast when he got a bit of advice from an actor. I’m sure Greek actors were pretty much the same as they are now. And I am sure that acting was a bit like this, but what he said to him is, “You need more expression in your voice. You’re just not giving enough welly, enough energy. And you also need to believe in yourself because the message is good.”
So Demosthenes takes himself back home and he goes for it. This is his rocky moment. He builds himself an underground cellar. He shaves his head, half of his head so that he can’t leave the house for three months and then he practices for three months solid in front of a big shield that is polished like a mirror.
And when he is ready, when he is up there, he goes out. He goes to the sea and he speaks over the waves. So his voice has to boom out over the waves. And then he goes back. He goes back to the Assembly. And he speaks again and he becomes known as one of the greatest orators of his day. So what does that tell you? It tells you about practice. The power of practice.
Now, you may not want to shave half of your head; you may not build an underground cellar because the councilman may have words, but what you can do is practice. And the simplest way to practice is to sing. You don’t have to do a big mamamamahh voice coach warm up unless you want to. But what I really recommend is to everyday sing somewhere: sing in the shower, sing in the car, sing on the tube if you feel brave.
I was at Saint Thomas Hospital for a blood test about two weeks ago and there were two women singing in this place where the blood test was happening which was lovely. So I recommend it. Singing is the way to a great voice. Practice is the way to a great instrument. So that’s lesson one.
And we have another drawer which we’re going to open in a moment, but before we get there I’ve got a question. Say you walk into a room, OK? You don’t know anybody. Some of you may have had that feeling this morning. How do you know who the most powerful person in the room is? The person with the most confidence. That inner confidence is what we are going for here. How can you tell? How they carry themselves. That’s lovely. You are in the same space, aren’t you? Because you are a singer. It is that how they carry themselves. And actually an actor will tell you that it is about the breath. The most powerful person in the room has the most relaxed breathing pattern.
And there is a well known scientist called Paul Ekman who looks into emotion. And he said — which would make actors love because it seems so straightforward to them that maybe it isn’t a science — that he couldn’t understand why breath matters for a long time and he in his research explored it. Until he started to understand that the unconscious system, you know I can’t control my spleen. It is just doing its own thing. But I can control my breathing. And if I get into my breathing, I get into the unconscious. I calm myself down.
So what’s within you is the key to this relaxed confident power. Actors know this because when actors are playing king, the king stays really still. Everybody moves around the king, and that’s how you know the king is in charge. The next time you feel nervous about something, try that, try getting still.
Now within your body is something that is really the king of the body. It’s what the Greeks called the center of all expression. And I bet that 50% of this room have never thought about it. Would you like to see what it is? Thank you. My still handsome friend.
OK, we’ve got our lungs, haven’t we? We’ve got this which is probably not an anatomical representation of a heart, but it is nice. But what’s down here? What’s this?
[Audience: The diaphragm]
Thank you very much! Diaphragm. It is indeed your diaphragm. Now put your hands up if you have thought about your diaphragm recently. Put your hands up if you thought about your diaphragm today. Thank you singers in the room, or actors, or saxophonists. Put your hands up if you haven’t yet thought about your diaphragm today. Yeah, that is quite a large percentage.