I’d like to hear from any members of the clergy (or ordinands) who are happy to discuss their voices, whether anonymously or under their own name. I’m beginning a small research project looking at the importance of the voice in people’s role as clergy. The voice is so physically a part of us and how others recognise us, whilst also subject to a range of training and influences and a tool used to carry out official duties – a fascinating intersection of the body, the private self and the institutional life.
I’m particularly interested in the ways in which people feel their “clerical” voice is different from their “normal” speaking voice, how they developed a public voice and whether they consciously worked on it, through training or by emulating other people. But I’d also love to hear about how clergy feel about their voices more broadly: are they comfortable with it, how it fits with their image of themselves, how they use it in their ministry, the fulfilment or anxiety they feel using it in the liturgy or leading services, and so on.
The areas I expect I’ll be writing about include the extent to which voices are socially constructed and how we shape our own public identities by reference to ideas of how those identities “should” sound and what resources we draw on to shape them. This obviously intersects with issues of gender and sex: how female clergy “find” their own voice, and negotiate with the pre-existing images which don’t always represent their experience of themselves. I’d also like to extend this eventually into more basic questions about the gap between the voice and the words spoken in a service, and the religious and institutional meanings which become visible in that tension.
But before all that, I’d really appreciate hearing from members of the clergy and ordinands. Anything would be great: a quick couple of lines, a few hundred words, a telling anecdote, or a longer interview by email. I’ve put some prompt questions below which might be useful, but please do talk any other aspect which is important to you. If people don’t wish to have their name attached to the eventual publication of the research, I will maintain their confidentiality and remove any details necessary to keep their identity obscure. And now I shall curb one of the temptations for any academic, and stop listening to the sound of my own voice, whilst I wait to hear about yours…
I can be contacted at jem[dot]bloomfield[at]hotmail.co.uk
1. Training and development. What, if any, voice training did you receive as an ordinand? What impact did it have on you? Were there any individuals or groups that you feel influenced the way you use your voice or how it sounds? Was there an older member of the clergy that you modelled yourself on, or perhaps a group of your contemporaries?
2. The “clerical” voice and image. Do you feel you have a specific voice you use for the various functions you carry out – a “preaching” or “liturgical” voice, or one you find yourself adopting in pastoral situations? Does that feel comfortable? Is it a necessary and useful part of your role, or do you find the gap between it and your “natural” voice disconcerting?
3. Physical conditions. Are there any particular conditions that affect your voice and how it works (and doesn’t) to best effect? The need to work whilst suffering from a sore throat? A draughty church? The vocal range hymns and chants tends to be pitched? An awareness that the radio mic could phase out suddenly?
4. Fulfilment and pleasure. What do you really enjoy about using your voice in your ministry? What are your favourite moments, when does it just feel “right”? Has this surprised you, or are they the parts of your role that always attracted you?
5. Liturgy and tradition. How does your voice and using it fit with your experience of being part of a particular tradition? Does it connect you to those who have come before you, or do you find it difficult to negotiate between the existing patterns and your own voice? How might that differ if you were part of another tradition, or would it not? How is your personal experience of your own voice part of your identity within the church?