Speech, Music, and Drama


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Richard the Third
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Gounod's Faust
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The Merry Widow

Readers Theater

Nobody likes a Quitter


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 did.

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 Accents begone!

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.


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