Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Stained Glass Voice

You can't fake a great voice - you can, I suppose, try to find an old fashioned elocution teacher and work on the one you've got. But in general, you've got it or you don't.

So why do so many pastors, of every persuasion, attempt the Stained Glass Voice? In the handshake line they sound just fine - but once that invocation hits it's all Gaaawwwd and jee-ZUHS, etc.

I think the problem is that they know they should be chanting the liturgy - at least I notice this problem more among those who eschew chant. The words of Christian worship are special words. They call for a special presentation. Just talking in your normal voice for these words just seems...too plain. But those who miss out on the Church's method for meeting this need for reverence are left with the Preacher's Voice Syndrome to fill the gap. Seems to me that most guys who chant are then more free to just use their normal voices in sermons - and it comes off better.

The American Evangelicals (including those in Lutheranism) have their own version of the Stained Glass Voice - but it's not the old school Billy Graham-D. James Kennedy vibe - nor the David-Niven-in-The-Bishop's-Wife thing (which is what I wish I had been born with) - but something much more terrible: Rob Bell.

Does anyone else find that sort of elocution....phony? repulsive? slimy? used car salesman? insurance agent cold call?

When I start to feel myself slipping into fakey-preacher voice I remember Rob Bell and try to repent.



  1. How dare you denigrate used car salesmen!

  2. I have never heard of Rob Bell and I can't follow what is distinctive about his voice to be imitated. I do, however, agree with Fr. Curtis and have found myself too often also slipping into a preaching voice. The appeal to do so is strange. I don't know where it comes from. I try to resist. Really. I d.

    I also know that Fr. Curtis has a peculiar ear for these things also being able to distinguish the breathy graduate school voice and other affectations.

  3. I have the worst time deciding whether to speak like my parents with a Virginian drawl, like where I grew up with a Maryland "o", or like where I went to school with the New Yorker accent. Or around here with "O Lard, open my lips." Or something of them altogether...

  4. Fr. Petersen,

    It involves intentional halting pauses with repeated pronouns and particles ("Today we..we're going to...to be learning..."), a clenching at the back of the throat, and over emphasis of emphasized syllables in tone not only in accent. I could go on: but just watch this:

    PS: Your favorite grad-school voice journalist had an awesome interview with that NY Times reporter held hostage by the Taliban last week.

  5. I checked that last thing out (Cross Point Community Church), and it occurs to me that this is a topic which is rather like Jell-o, hard to nail down. We all know that the guy is using an affectation, but how do we know that? If we can come up with a good answer, we'd have something quite valuable to say to aspiring preachers, it seems to me. Kudos, Fr. Curtis.

  6. Re: Rob Bell's affection

    What, you don't like the sound of a grown man constantly on the verge of breaking down into a blithering heap of tears?

    Don't know about you but I hate feeling manipulated. I'm a big boy, just give it to me straight, Rob.

  7. "It involves intentional halting pauses with repeated pronouns and particles" Kinda like Captain Kirk?

    I have so far avoided the pulpit tones, but I do confess (and repent) of a certain jealousy for those baritone brothers voices compared to my screechy 1st Tenor voice. There are certain natural voices, often low toned, that just beg to be listened to.

    Speaking of pulpit tones - there is another type to avoid and that is the shouter. I have had a few vacationing members run into Lutheran versions of this often baptist style.

  8. I suspect these fellows (and ladies) don't trust the word they are preaching will actually do what it says so they have to help it along. Those who chant, usually do trust that the Word works! So it doesn't need their helping, pleading vocal tones.

  9. She is a good interviewer.

    I listened to a few minutes of the CrossPoint video. I just don't have your ear. Having had it pointed out, however, I can recognize the similarity and the fake conversational/"I am excited and happy" style.


  10. Maybe the smarm is easier to hear when it's parodied


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