Tag Archives: voice

Maggie Gyllenhaal put in long hours on ‘Karenina’ audiobook

One of Maggie Gyllenhaal’s favorite books is “Anna Karenina.” So when she was asked to read the classic novel out loud for an audiobook, she didn’t hesitate.

“I thought, ‘This will be amazing. I’ll just sit in a room and re-read ‘Anna Karenina’ out loud,”” Gyllenhaal recalled. “I just loved the book so much I thought, ‘Yes, let’s try and do it.’”

Cold, hard reality set in after her first recording session. Leo Tolstoy’s masterpiece is over 1,000 pages and extremely complicated.

“A sentence will begin in one place and end really somewhere else. I couldn’t cold read it. It just wasn’t possible,” said the star of “Crazy Heart” and “The Dark Knight.”

So Gyllenhaal realized she’d have to do homework and put in long hours at the studio. The result is a moving and dramatic version, available Tuesday by audio seller and producer Audible Inc .

“It was amazing. I learned things about myself from reading the book in the way that I think a lot of people learn things about themselves from reading the book, whether its aloud or to yourself. And I learned different things about myself at 37 doing it than I learned when I was 25, which is also the mark of an amazing book.”

Gyllenhaal recorded the book in lower Manhattan over the winter while her husband, Peter Sarsgaard, was filming a movie in Paris. The plan originally was for 10 six-hour sessions, but it turned into more like 30 four-hour sessions.

She prepared for each one by reading a different translation of “Anna Karenina” the night before, trying to stay 50-100 pages ahead so she could anticipate what came next in the recording studio.

“There were days when I got behind, but very few, because I found it was not really possible. There was one part when I got ahead of myself and I was cold reading in the room. I remember gasping at something I hadn’t remembered.”

One thing Gyllenhaal refused to do was adopt Russian accents to enliven the masterpiece about love, betrayal and death among the elite in imperial Russia.

“My skill really is not doing voices. I don’t know how to do that. That seems silly to me. At the same time, of course, you want to create a world for people. But my skill is basically finding a deep kind of empathy for whomever I’m playing _ everything from their point of view. And ‘Anna Karenina’ is the perfect book for that.”

There was an added benefit: While she was reading the book, Gyllenhaal said she felt more engaged in life, going to three plays and an art exhibit.

“I found when I was reading the book that my brain was being exercised in the same way that when you’re running a lot you all of a sudden feel the strength in your body.”

Finding their voice: Speech clinic helps transgender clients

Sylvia Wojcik was making reservations for a beach getaway in Maine when the receptionist on the other end of the line called her “ma’am.” Nothing could have delighted her more.

Wojcik, 66, is transitioning from male to female. For her, that proof that she sounded like a woman was an important moment. 

“It felt like I had just been validated,” she said. “It just gave me a great sense of being at ease with myself.”

Wojcik has undergone several years of voice therapy, the past 18 months at the University of Connecticut’s Speech and Hearing Clinic, one of a growing number of clinics with programs to teach transgender people how to sound more like the gender with which they identify.

“You can be well kept, present well, but if your voice is masculine, you get pegged right away,” said Wojcik, of Enfield, north of Hartford. “I really didn’t start getting success with my voice until I came to UConn. And I’m sure glad I did, because it’s made all the difference.”

The program at UConn is in its fourth year, with about a dozen people participating at any one time. The typical participant will spend an hour a week in a group session, and another 11/2 hours working one on one with a speech pathologist.

They learn not only how to change the pitch of their voice, but also its resonance (males speak more from chest, females from the head) and delivery (males tend to be more staccato, females more fluid).

It involves a lot of voice exercises — humming to find an ideal pitch, naming five words that start with the letter “T.”

The idea is to condition and change the voice without harming the vocal chords, said Wendy Chase, the clinic’s director.

“Pitch up, shoulders back … whatever you’re doing wrong, she tends to help you correct it,” said 61-year-old Brianne Roberts, also of Enfield. “It really works.”

The majority of the transgender clients at the clinic are transitioning to female.

Hormone therapy will naturally cause a lowering in the voice of someone transitioning to male, Chase said. Many “F to Ms,” as they are sometimes called, need to learn the other subtleties.

But clients transitioning either way need to work on articulation and patterns associated with male and female speech, even how to use their hands differently to gesture and touch during communication.

“There is tremendous irony in the fact that we use information based on stereotype to make people feel better about themselves,” said Chase. “But that’s what we do.”

The clinic also has served some people who are not transgender, such as men who wish to sound less effeminate. And some clients, including people who are only considering a change in gender, want a voice that is more neutral, Chase said.

Literature in the field dates back 50 years, but until the past 20 years only a handful of people were doing voice work with transgender people, and the work is still in its infancy, Chase said.

Richard Adler, who retired this month from Minnesota State University-Moorhead, was one of those pioneers. The field has been growing exponentially and internationally, he said, as the world has become more accepting of transgender people and people like Caitlyn Jenner have shared their stories.

“There are still people opposed to the work we do,” he said. “We still get hate mail, but it’s less and less.”

UConn charges clients $192 for a voice evaluation to determine what needs to be changed. It’s then $10 per session for individual treatment and $25 per semester for the group sessions. 

Some insurance companies may pick up some or all the cost if a doctor gives a diagnosis of gender dysphoria. But Chase said that it is still rare.

A typical patient will spend about 18 months in therapy, Chase said, but the number of sessions varies widely.

Roberts, a freelance copywriter, has been attending sessions since February. She expects to participate for at least another semester.

Before the transitioning process, Roberts was a radio personality, voiceover artist and actor. She is now returning to the stage as an actress and doesn’t want her voice to impede her winning roles. 

“For me, passing is important,” she said. “But, in some cases it’s a matter of survival. There are some places where you do not want to be read as being anything other than female. It’s dangerous.”

The sessions also help in other ways, Roberts said. She’s able to talk to other people going through the same experience about progress and problems. And the environment is supportive and respectful, something Roberts said affirms her decision to transition.

As for Wojcik, she is just happy to be able to order sliced bologna at the deli without getting a strange look.

“I want to just be one of the girls,” she said. “I just want to blend in with the woodwork and people not notice that I’m trans.”

Review: George Michael in fine voice on live album

George Michael, “Symphonica” (Islands)

Forget about the health issues and personal problems – George Michael sounds just fine, super in fact, on his first new album in seven years, recorded live during his 2011-2012 “Symphonica” tour in Europe.

Time has not taken a toll on Michael’s voice, which if anything sounds more supple and emotive than during his earlier pop incarnations. Gone is the swagger and blatant “come and get it” sexuality, replaced by a more subtle singer happy to pay homage to Nina Simone, Marvin Gaye and other giants as the album unfolds. He strikes a wistful tone, lamenting lost youth, in “John and Elvis Are Dead,” and captures the yearning and loss at the heart of the old standard “Wild Is the Wind.” There’s a jazzy feel, with some swing, to his cover of the timeless “My Baby Just Cares for Me,” and he captures perfectly, without overdoing it, the pathos of the American depression-era classic “Brother Can You Spare a Dime.”

Michael avoids a number of traps on this album, which was produced by the late Phil Ramone, who also teamed with the singer in 1999 on “Songs From the Last Century.” Michael deserves credit for moving deftly into big band and orchestral territory without in any way trying to imitate the master, Frank Sinatra, or taking on the vocal tics of the many other artists who have turned to American standards as a mid-career tonic. The style and phrasings are all his own, confident and understated, and the sparse arrangements allow ample room for his hypnotic voice to soar. By instinct, he shies way from self-dramatizing vocal pyrotechnics, letting the melodies and lyrics carry the day.

There is a simple clarity to this approach, but it also means the new release can seem a bit slow in places. The beat is too subdued, the tempo too languid, and the production too lush at times. The collection could use a showstopper, a hint of R&B, a touch of cruelty or anger to set off its mellow tone. It would benefit from a bit more tension, more of a climax toward the end.

But the quality of the singing puts Michael head and shoulders ahead of the other middle-aged and older English rockers looking to the Great American Songbook for inspiration. Michael sounds effortless and free, as if he could do this for decades to come.