ARTHUR LESSAC’S LEGACY: A Democratic Philosophy of Voice Training by Sue Ann Park
It was a year ago today, April 7th that Arthur left us, but he also left us a rich legacy. I believe that Arthur’s greatest legacy is--- that in his dedication to foster peace in the world between individuals, countries, races and religions, he created what I think is the only voice, speech, and singing training that is truly “democratic”, as befits our nation.
Lessac “Kinesensic training” is democratic in its principles because no students are asked to improve their speech by imitating the speech of another social class, another race, another region, or another country.
Arthur never talked about how to teach Kinesensics, but the very first edition of “The Use and Training of the Human Voice” contained this sentence about teaching Kinesensics.
“…..we eschew inspiration, ear training, imitation, external imagery, and rote drill.”
That sentence became my guide to teaching Arthur’s work. I have never added anything to my teaching that could be considered one of those things he “eschewed”. (I think “eschewed” is why I remembered the sentence.)
I came to realized that each of those very common, but eschewed, teaching tools requires is a form of imitation, which Arthur regards as an anesthetic to learning and creativity:
“Inspiration” too often takes the form of enthusiastic exhortation to “work hard”, “Practice more”. I think of this as “cheerleading”, which leads students to imitate the energy of teacher and to trying to please the teacher instead of learning to enjoying the pleasurable sensations of their own voices. “Cheerleading” distracts students from focusing attention on their own internal sensory awareness so that they can teach themselves. Even when Arthur was teaching body work to 35 students, on the mats or in a classroom, he would speak in a quiet Ybuzz range but using all the dynamics of Consonant NRG and with quiet low calls for needed emphasis.
“Ear training” is obviously an imitation of what one is hearing.
“External Images”: Arthur eschews these because imitating an external image requires thinking about it in the logical left brain before it can be used by the right brain; an external image cannot become an instantaneous, physical instruction to action.
“Rote Drill” Arthur regarded as “self-imitation”, also an anesthetic
Our own speech has to be learned by imitating our parents’ manner of speaking and is a familiar part of our personal culture. Being asked to change or “improve” our speech by imitating that of another class, race, religion, or nationality, is received quite generally as an implication that we are “not good enough” and we are angered, often to the point of resistance. If we do manage to imitate successfully, we feel “affected” and unsure of ourselves, which is not conducive to more effective communication between any two people or all peoples.
In the 1940’s, when someone first tried to teach me “Standard Stage Speech” which was IPA taught and was a British based pronunciation, I would immediate break down in tears and be unable to continue. I finally managed to learn it in grad school as a dialect needed for British plays.
Marth Munroe made the “democratic” values of Kinesensic training very real in her presentation at the Memphis Lessac Conference. Teaching in South Africa, Marth has to be able to teach in seven different languages, as I understand it-- English, Africans and many native languages. She teaches many groups of people who have had violent conflicts with each other.*When members of these various groups speak English to each other in the accents of an enemy, it tends to perpetuate conflict.
I understood Marth to say that when conflicted groups learn to speak English in our “Tono-sensory” standard of speech, it makes their ability to communicate with each other for mutual good much easier.
In the early years, when I was first teaching Arthur’s work in at The Goodman School of Drama at the Art Institute of Chicago, many people would ask me where I was from but they never could identify it. They would say “well, you’re not from Chicago, or the South or the East—I can’t tell where you’re from.” In England, people have always told me “You don’t sound American.”
When we taught in an Iowa College, the staff of the Xeroxing room knew I was teaching speech. They all spoke in what I recognized as “Mid-Western” speech, but they wouldn’t believe me when I told them I came from Up-state New York. They said “You don’t have that awful flat “A” that people from there have. You talk just like us!” My Tono-sensory speech didn’t sound distractingly different or offensive to them and they were willing to do a lot of extra, rushed Xeroxing for me!
I want to repeat what I have written to Lessac Friends before: Arthur never criticized or even mentioned any student’s original manner of speaking.
Arthur Lessac brought Democracy to voice, speech and singing training.
I miss him every day.
Sue Ann Park, Arthur’s pupil alway