My first degree, a bachelor's
in Speech Education from Bob Jones University, was definitely for
love and not for money. My freshman year of college I had not a clue
of what I wanted to major in. Or maybe it was that I wanted to major
in everything, except, possibly, calculus. Not that it mattered much.
Freshman all had to take the same courses anyway. One of them to my
chagrin was Speech. I had never taken a speech class and that was
intentional. Our teacher was a beautiful, gracious young woman named
Joy. She wore lovely clothes. Her hair was perfect. Her eyes were
luminous. She had grace and poise. In short, the perfect role model.
But the real clincher came when I attended Barb Strawley's senior
speech recital. Freshman were required to attend three of these. I
didn't know what to expect. Barb did a cutting from The Yearling by
Marjorie Rawlings. It was the most moving thing I'd ever heard - and
when she was done, I knew that I wanted to learn how to do what she
So my sophomore year, I
switched to the School of Fine Arts to major in speech, much to the
chagrin of my scientist parents who probably wondered what the heck
kind of college education they were paying for! But I immediately
found other things to worry about. After
I performed my very first poem in Oral Interp, Mrs. Harris, who was
substituting that day for our regular teacher Mrs. Edwards, called
me to her desk and told me my voice was too nasal and that I probably
wouldn't pass my sophomore platform!
Let me explain. Sophomore
speech majors took two main courses - Oral Interpretation (poetry
one semester and narrative literature the next) and two semesters
of Voice and Diction in preparation for their sophomore platform in
front of the Speech faculty at the end of the year. All speech majors
had to pass their sophomore platform to be admitted into the Speech
program. I was crushed. I had finally found something I really wanted
to do and now this! Joy had taped us at the beginning of our freshman
year. She told us we would be surprised how much our voices improved
by the end of the year, and by golly, she was right. Our voices were
stronger. But no one ever mentioned anything about my nasality. I
didn't even know I had a nasal voice. Turns out it was because of
a short palate - what is termed a submucoid cleft palate - but I didn't
even know I had one of those!
When I told Barb Strawley,
now a graduate student, my troubles, she told me to go to Mr. Pratt,
my Voice and Diction teacher. If anyone could help me, he could. So
with some trepidation, I made an appointment to speak with him. His
Voice and Diction course was the most dreaded course in the department
I think. But I need not have worried. Mr. Pratt was a very dedicated
teacher as well as the perfect performer, director ... although he
wouldn't claim to be perfect. He wore many hats in the department.
He met with me one on one throughout the semester and gave me various
exercises to improve my voice. Some of them were really odd and initially
I had trouble keeping a straight face, but then Voice and Diction
class could be kind of odd sometimes, and we all had trouble keeping
straight faces as we rolled our heads and flopped over like rag dolls
from the waist down, looking at one another through our legs doing
various relaxation and breathing exercises. Mr. Pratt obviously was
quite used to it and to our reactions. He kept us intoning and chanting
and breathing and enunciating. We also did phonetic transcription.
One of his missions in life seemed to be to ensure that any student
who walked through his classroom doors spoke Standard Broadcast English
when they left. Southern accents, New England Accents, and Brooklyn
I worked very hard on my
voice because I so badly wanted to succeed in the Speech program.
And eight weeks into the semester, after performing my first long
poem Renascence by Edna St. Vincent Millay, Mrs. Edwards told
me she was amazed at my improvement.
Every Sunday BJU put on
a one hour Vespers program on their professional stage that had been
purchased from some theater on the east coast and moved to 2000-seat
Rodeheaver Auditorium. A stage shop was located underneath the stage
which had several revolving platforms, an amazing array of sheer and
velvet curtains that draped the sets in sundry arrangements, an orchestra
pit and a green room off to the side. The Vespers program consisted
of choral and musical pieces, solos, readings and scenes and was beautifully
lighted and staged. The Fine Arts Faculty took turns producing these
programs and the student body was required to attend. I about fell
over one day after class when Mrs. Edwards asked me to read a poem
for her vespers program. Sophomores usually didn't do solo pieces
on Vespers, and to be up on that stage with all those upper classmen
and faculty - well the world could have ended right after that and
my life would have been complete. Almost. I could think of a few other
things I wanted to do before the end of the world.
Thanks largely to Mr. Pratt,
I passed my sophomore platform at the end of the year. I stayed for
summer school and took private (singing) lessons from Dr. Grace Levinson
of the Music Faculty on the recommendation of my speech teachers.
Dr. Levinson's class could also get a little odd. One of the charter
faculty members of BJU's music department, she was an intense blue-eyed,
white-haired, stooped little lady whose opera career had been side-lined
by a terrible car accident. In her seventies at least, she used to
swing me around the room as I sang hymns to get me to loosen up.
I did get many opportunities
to participate in drama and music at Bob Jones and on this page are
some of the 'artifacts' from my experiences there and after.