Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

Why We Teach (or, Taking It For Granite, Part 3)

For the next couple of days, instead of teaching children, I shall go to Boston and take classes about how to teach children. Sort of.

It’s our state music ed association’s annual professional development conference. Every year I look forward to going. Not so much for the extremely-early-morning drive from central Massachusetts to Boston, which this year will be made that much more exciting by the incoming winter weather. In the last few years, the conference organizers have assembled more and more interesting slates of workshops and clinics and lectures. A dozen years ago, I used to find two or three sessions on each of the days of the conference that I really wanted to attend, but not much more. So I spent a lot of time perusing the vendors’ and exhibitors’ areas. Lately, I’ve been finding at least two and sometimes as many as four interesting-sounding clinics available during each of the seven hour-long time blocks per day set aside for those sessions. I have to figure out exactly when I’m planning to eat lunch tomorrow. Hmm.

But one other thing that I go to All-State for … is the opportunity to see / chat with / hang out with my music teacher friends, some of whom I only get to see once all year: at All-State. Either we’re geographically separated, or – as is usually the case with us music teacher types – our schedules are just busy enough (but not with conveniently-aligned busy-ness) that All-State is pretty much it.

And, more rarely but still often enough that I look forward to it, All-State provides me with the opportunity to see teachers with whom I used to work, or teachers who advised me during my graduate school work or my student teaching experience, or – and this is the really fun part – people who were my music teachers. I enjoy these visits; those particular teachers probably experience that lurch that goes with the thought, “I taught him middle-school or high-school music how many years ago?!”

Fear not, my former teachers: I’ve been a teacher long enough to have experienced that lurch, myself.

But it’s a good lurch, and it’s one that I’ve been caused to think about pretty often lately.

For most of my teaching career, I’ve taught at the secondary-school level, so seeing the difference between what my former students look like now, compared with what they looked like when they were in my classes or ensembles isn’t quite as much of a shock as it would be if I’d known them in kindergarten. Still, quite a moment.

When I got onto Facebook a few years ago, I didn’t really intend to be connected as a Facebook-Friend with any of my former students, and certainly not any current students. The latter still do not (and will not) adorn my Friend list; but I did invent a rule for myself that supposed that if one of my former students is THIS many years out of high school and looks me up, I’ll be happy to Accept Their Friend Request. I don’t go tracking down former students. It’s not an ego thing; I just felt that actively tracking down formers was a bit much – no matter how much I wondered what and how they were doing.

So, seeing online the activities and careers of former students (whether they’ve become teachers or musicians, or anything else) has been a neat thing. Some play in local bands … some anchor the news in far-flung places … some are pretty intense advocates for (and examples of) military spouses … and several of them do (or soon will) hold down teaching jobs. And I’ve been invited to three of my former students’ weddings. In all cases, I’m pleased to think I got to be one of their teachers. They’re fine folks.

If one of them comes back and visits me at school, I quite seriously tell them, “as happy as you seem to be to see me, I am at least three times as happy to see you.” Because, of their own free will, they decided that their educational experience with me meant enough to them that they wanted to set aside time to re-connect. That’s a big deal. And it actually helps me understand why my teachers said that sort of thing when I’d go back to visit them.

When I was in high school, I’d occasionally organize trips down to the junior high school – friends of mine and I would get one of our parents to drive us over, and then we’d descend on the classrooms of favorite teachers. Let’s go find Mr. Tornrose! Mrs. Lowe! Mrs. Luther! Mr. Lamb! Mrs. Minarsky!

It would be something of a crapshoot: sometimes they’d be in meetings, or conducting help sessions … but most times they’d be sitting behind their desks, grading papers or attending to similar necessities; and as soon as we burst into the room, they’d drop everything and chat with us for a while. Interestingly, even half an hour or an hour after their school day had ended, rarely would they have left the building. (We probably didn’t realize how much of a good influence they were on us, just because of that alone.) And 20 minutes or half an hour or sometimes an hour later, we’d still be standing, talking, remembering, laughing.

And again, we thought we were the ones who were really excited about it all. We were sure they couldn’t be nearly as excited as we were. As it turns out … we had no idea.

This past week, I saw one photo, posted online, that really got my attention. In it, an a cappella singing group full of graduate students (not even music majors!) was doing its thing, clearly having a blast. And when I looked closely, I realized that standing side-by-side were two of my former students – from two completely different parts of my teaching life. One had been a stalwart member of my first high school choral ensemble (and whom I was pleased to deliver to All-State Chorus rehearsals for two consecutive years, singing a different voice part each time). The other had marched with the college band that I directed a few years ago – I’d had no idea that she even liked to sing. And by some wonder of coincidence … perhaps! … they had ended up pursuing post-graduate study in the same education program at the same university (teachers! score!) and ended up within inches of each other, doing music for fun (again, score!).

They may not have any idea how big a grin that put onto my face.

So, another on the list of things never to take for granted: former students. Better than almost anything else, they’re a reminder of “why we teach”.

February 29, 2012 Posted by | education, Facebook, Internet, music, social media, teachers | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

First Impressions

Have you ever entertained visitors from out of town?

Suddenly you’re faced with an exciting opportunity to host people who may not have been to your part of the world, ever … but perhaps a limited amount of time in which to prepare.

You get to show off the place! … You look around and perhaps realize, holy smokes, the place is a wreck. Or maybe not; but to your eyes – oh my, lots to do.

So you desperately dust, mop, throw random scraps of paper (and other things) out, straighten all the pictures hanging on the wall … and perhaps realize there’s really no way on God’s green Earth that you will be able to make the place look like you want it to, i.e. museum-quality. But if you know the people well enough, perhaps you know that they’ll be excited to see you and they won’t focus so much on good LORD! the dust bunnies!!

The church where I do my church-giggin’ – certainly the musical people therein, and a number of other people who helped immensely – had this experience this week, or at least portions of it.

Roberts Wesleyan College is a Methodist-affiliated college in Rochester, New York. Their Chorale is currently undertaking a tour, as collegiate ensembles will do from time to time. Apparently, in planning this tour, their director went to the local Internet, typed “Methodist churches near Boston” into the search box, and conducted a tour of local church websites, to see if there might be one or two at which they might present concerts. He found us (our website made us look kinda active, apparently), and got in contact.

I will reveal a tiny fact about church musicians: every so often we get gentle eMails that say things like, “hey, our ensemble, chorus, praise band, trio, me!! (e.g. I’m a great Christian-music pianist!, although I’m not attaching any media files to prove it!), … whatever, I or we would like to come visit your church and present a Great and Inspiring and Spiritually Life-Changing program of music!”

I will confess that when I receive this sort of communication, my initial knee-jerk reaction isn’t that different from when I receive an eMail that seems to be from an exiled Nigerian prince with a lot of time and money on his hands.

It’s not fair, I know. Most of these people may well be very well-meaning, and in fact may have an entertaining and uplifting evening in them. Forgive me, but as I have chronicled occasionally, presenting Inspiring and Spiritual and Uplifting music in support of our worship program is my church gig’s main job, and I think we do it fairly well.

But it’s good to keep an open mind; and I would not want to be known as a person who thought he had all the answers, who thought that nothing about his musical program could possibly be improved upon, who thought that he or his ensemble couldn’t learn a little bit from some other person or ensemble.

So, when our church’s staff was presented with this communication from Dr. Jamie Spillane, the conductor of the Roberts Wesleyan College Chorale, we conducted a quick Internet research junket of our own, and based upon that and the experience and knowledge of our senior pastor, we decided to reply and see what could be set up.

The RWCC’s hope was to present a concert on the Saturday of their tour, stay overnight with some host families, and then the next morning they hoped to participate in our Sunday worship service.

To my knowledge, our church has never done this before. I can’t remember a time when another church choir (or related group) has provided all the musical content for one of our services. I don’t know whether this is because we’re relentlessly territorial, or we’ve just never been offered this sort of idea before, but my four decades of institutional memory don’t include anything like this.

But we’re big kids, and we can play nicely with others, and we’re at least confident enough in our own musical groups and people that we didn’t feel threatened. And we didn’t think that our congregation was going to hear some other choir and demand that they stay forever and ever and that we disband our own choir. Just not very likely.

So, we made plans. One of our parishioners volunteered to organize a Saturday pre-concert supper and a Sunday post-service brunch for the college musicians (and also, crucially, found people who would be willing to host pairs and trios and quartets of them overnight). We eMailed back and forth with Dr. Spillane and found that he was amenable to having one of the Sunday morning musical offerings be a “combined forces”, Roberts-Wesleyan-and-our-choir-together anthem – luckily, we had some experience with a couple of the Roberts Wesleyan tour repertoire items. Very exciting! The RWCC plus our choir bringing forth “The Heavens Are Telling”, from Franz Joseph Haydn’s “The Creation” … this oughta be good. We canvassed our congregation’s instrumentalists, and found seven or eight who were willing to jump in and read down a little Baroque music.

So, last night and today, we pulled it off. (Actually the Roberts Wesleyan musicians did the lion’s share of the pulling. I should be honest.) The RWCC repertoire included Baroque anthems and spirituals, African noels and Mozart opera, contemporary Finnish composition and Hebrew love songs. They can sing, clearly, many different things. Our choir heard a couple of kinds of music that may not come naturally to us but which we thought we might like to try, now that we’ve heard it done very well.

[Because humans are humans, I was prepared to hear church members wonder aloud why our choir couldn’t do this sort of music, or that sort of music; hey, if college kids can do it, we should be able to, as well. I actually only heard one or two people say this sort of thing, and I gently noted that the Roberts Wesleyan musicians, as busy as their music major lives are (trust me, I get it!), don’t have: full-time jobs, kids, mortgages, other church and community meetings, etc etc etc. And your average church choir prepares a couple of new and different anthems every single week, rather than a dozen items over the course of a five-month semester. None of which diminishes either a church choir’s output or a collegiate chorale’s. It’s just the world that each ensemble lives in.]

On top of all that, Dr. Spillane and his charges just seemed to us like the kind of people whom we would like to have back whenever they’d like to come back, whether it’s on their next New England tour, or next year, or next week … Fun. Friendly. Fine musicians with something of a sense of humor.

But my musings about all this have only a bit to do with the actual music; perhaps a little more to do with the kind of fine people Roberts Wesleyan College sent our way; but a lot more to do with this: the kind of introspection and self-analysis and, well, okay, mild navel-gazing that comes with hosting out-of-town visitors.

Saturday afternoon I arrived at church, saw that the Roberts Wesleyan tour bus was parked neatly along the outskirts of our parking lot, noted that they were having supper in our fellowship hall, and headed to our choir room. And straightened up the rows of chairs, threw out random bits of paper, did all those frantic “neating up the living room” things that we do when we’re preparing our houses for guests. (The Chorale never actually formally used the choir room as a warmup area, but it was a worthy effort, I think. The room is clean.) Soon it was time for concertizing, and then the concert was over, and the host families collected their guests; and the next morning, we all converged on the church again and had ourselves a grand morning. (For the Haydn, Dr. Spillane conducted, which was entirely appropriate – the majority of singers were RWCC, at least slightly; and it allowed me the opportunity to play tympani, which I will shamelessly admit I was looking forward to, a tiny bit.) Afterward we exchanged very pleasant pleasantries. In an infinite universe anything is possible, but only some things are likely; yet some of those pleasantries seemed to suggest that our two institutions might yet collaborate musically again. Who knows?

But the very strong sense I got, over and over, this weekend, was a fresh and positive view of the church – the building and the people.

When we have houseguests, we tend to look at the kitchen, the bedrooms, dear Lord! the bathrooms, every corner of every room … differently. We look at them as if we were new to the place, too. And we have the opportunity to look at them hyper-critically, but we hope to be able to view them positively.

Indeed, I looked at our sanctuary … our fellowship hall … the hallways … the bathrooms! … the website! … and tried to imagine myself as a member of that visiting ensemble, and tried to imagine what I would think of it all. Not so much “do we look decent compared with other churches the group might visit?” but “do we look decent?”

And also, how does our congregation come off? Friendly? Reserved? Over-ebullient to the point that it’s a bit unnerving? Helpful? Cloying? Bunch of dorks? Cool people to know? If “I am the church, you are the church, we are the church together; if the church is not a building, the church is not a steeple, the church is not a resting place, the church is a people” … then as much as visitors are checking out the digs, they’re checking out the people who populate the place.

I was pleased to note that the rooms looked in good shape … no cracks in the walls, no shoddy painting jobs, no floor tiles out of place … and our sanctuary is indeed a beautiful room with some pretty good, live acoustics going on. I was (just a bit territorially) pleased that we were able to augment the Haydn anthem with flute, violin, clarinet, bassoon, horn, trumpet, and alto recorder, all played by members of our congregation; no ringers. (We can do a little music!)

Just as pleasingly, I saw lots of church members making a point to be a welcoming bunch. It wasn’t just that the congregation clapped loudly after the Roberts Wesleyans sang William Dawson’s arrangement of the spiritual “Ain’-a That Good News” at postlude time (and hit it out of the park) … but it was also that afterward, our guests couldn’t take five steps in any direction without some congregation member running at them (gently!) and thanking them for coming, admiring their musicianship, asking how the tour was going, all those good things.

Sometimes I think it might be possible to make the world a better place than it is, if we only did this and this and this. For a stretch of not quite 24 hours this weekend, this and this and this were fully on display. And I just smiled, and smiled, and smiled: it was one of those days that you know is special, and you know you’re going to remember it for a long time, as it’s happening.

It’s been said that you never get a second chance to make a first impression. This weekend, I think we had a winner: some pretty fine first impressions were flying back and forth, in both directions.

February 19, 2012 Posted by | choir, music, Starred Thoughts, SUMC | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Language Barrier

[Ed. Note: The Management apologizes in advance for the approximately thirty-seven dozen references in this blog post, both in print and via hyperlinks, to “Star Trek” and “Star Wars”. This blog’s author is a nerd.]


This week, I spotted an online question: what’s your favorite English accent? Half the responders thought the questioner meant “what’s your favorite accent from the British Isles?” and the other half thought he meant “what’s your favorite accent in which to hear English spoken?”  So I got thinking about both. What are my favorite accents, and why?


It comes to pass oft that a terrible oath, with a swaggering accent sharply twanged off, gives manhood more approbation than ever proof itself would have earned him.” –William Shakespeare

A great actor is independent of the poet, because the supreme essence of feeling does not reside in prose or in verse, but in the accent with which it is delivered.” -Lee Strasberg, acting instructor

I personally am not conscious of my accent.” -Jared Diamond, American author and scientist

I live in New England, so I probably have a touch of New England in me, but I try to downplay it. If I catch myself pronouncing “there” as “thay-uh”, I stop and think, “no, no, no, no, no.” Why do I do that? Because I hate the New England accent? Hardly. But I try to be careful. Hmmmm.

Background: my standard line is, “my mother grew up in New Jersey, my father grew up in England; we moved to Massachusetts when I was a year and a half old: I got nothin’.” It’s mostly true, possibly thanks to the amount of time I’ve spend amongst people other than New Englanders.

Historically, I’ve been an accent sponge. My favorite story about this comes from my senior year in high school: our music ensembles traveled from Massachusetts to Quebec in the first half of a “home-and-home” exchange trip with high school musicians from Rosemere, a suburb of Montreal. We lived with the families of many of the Rosemere musicians, so for three days we were immersed in the accent of the area. Upon our return home, we jumped off the buses and were met by our parents… and after I spoke exactly five words to my parents, they were chuckling at me. “What?” I said. “You’ve been in Canada,” they said. “Well, yes,” I said, “what’s your point?”

In a really flat and nasal version of a Canadian accent, my Dad said, “You sound just like a hockey coach, eh?”

Oh fine. Guilty as charged. So I’ve got a pretty good ear… ease off!


So. Thinking about the various accents that have crashed down on me throughout my life…

[] The Boston Accent. Stereotypically, we pahk the cah in Hah-vid Yahd, but there are other elements to the thing that make it both charming and irritating. Depending on the speaker, the thing can make a person sound either dashingly Kennedy-politician-esque or as dopey as, well, Mayor Quimby of the Simpsons’ city of Springfield. I get a grand kick out of the “Car Talk” guys, but others may not. A college friend of mine from Pittsfield, out in the far west of Massachusetts, had (to my ear) very little of an accent, except that if she was talking about one-fourth of something, she referred to it as a “quotter”.

Well okay, I guess we’re working our way east to west in the United States, so…

[] The New York Accent. Or at least the New York City-centered one. If it’s a Brooklyn accent, to me it just makes everything sound funnier. Thanks, probably, to a combination of Bugs Bunny cartoons, the Marx Brothers and the Abbott and Costello “Who’s On First?” routine. As for the 1010-WINS radio news reader accent, the cultured Manhattan thing … that is a different thing altogether. Until Los Angeles became the entertainment production capital of the United States, a New York accent was the sound of entertainment. (Ever heard an World War II-era newsreel narrator? Check out the opening 20 seconds of any episode of the animated “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” shows for an attempt at the modern equivalent.)

As a close cousin geographically and sonically of the New York accent, the New Jersey Accent has no better proponent than my mother. Born and raised in New Jersey, she has taken no end of abuse from New Englanders (who ought to exercise caution when mocking accents) for her pronunciation of certain words. Because man’s best friend is in fact a Doo-awg.

[] The Pennsylvania Accent. I never knew there was such a thing until I experienced the work of a particular couple of band instructors in college. Then I figured it out, and then some. I still can’t reproduce it on cue myself, but every so often a hint of it slips out and I think, “oh – Pennsylvania.” Not to mention the Philadelphia schtick of a certain summer colleague of mine (which I suspect is a touch over-the-top… then I wonder if perhaps it’s not).

[] The Min-ne-SO’-ta Accent. If for some reason you think either the movie “Fargo” or Garrison Keillor’s “Prairie Home Companion” crew are overexaggerating it, you need only listen to listen to national talk radio shows and hear “Ken from Minneapolis” … and holy smokes, it turns out they’re soft-pedaling it. Extra-credit proof: Michele Bachmann. In general, the generic Midwestern accent gets spoofed quite a bit … and some of that treatment might be at least a touch accurate. There are moments when a Midwesterner’s nasal, flat, wide “o lemme tell ya ’bout dat” is indeed as wide and flat as the Plains. Now, how is it that a Chicago native says “God” and a Bostonian says “guard” and they sound the same?!


I used to say that whenever people heard my Southern accent, they always wanted to deduct 100 IQ points.” -Jeff Foxworthy, comedian

[] The Southern Accent. I take a risk by being a New Englander and commenting at all on the Deep Southern Drawl, I recognize that. Save your cards and letters for a more important issue, please. I like listening to Jeff Foxworthy’s stand-up act, and Minnie Pearl always cracked me up! When I make my voice into the southern college football referee – “we have holding! (holding! holding!) on th’ dee-faynse! (dee-faynse! dee-faynse!) Fifteen yards an’ an automatic firs’ down! (firs’ down! firs’ down!)” it’s out of a wish that all referees could sound that way.

But for every example of the Georgia-and-environs drawl that may cause its purveyors to sound less than fully connected with human intelligence, I would offer any speech by Roy Blount Jr. It’s more than just “ah do declare” and “frankly, Scah-lett, Ah don’t give a damn”. When one wishes to make a pungent point, there might be no better accent in which to do it.

[] The Texas Accent. Maybe the best one in which to exude swagger. As a political observer, I have had lots of opportunity to check out this version of English expression. To my ears, for every Molly Ivins, adding three layers of smart and funny to a phrase, there’s a Rick Perry adding three layers of dim. And then, for three added layers of greed and evil, watch the documentary “The Smartest Guys in the Room”, about “Kenny Boy” Lay and the other corrupt sons of guns of the Enron scandal, based in Houston. Phew. Swagger firmly on display, earned or not.


Now. As long as I had an English father, I figure that’s my qualification for examining accents from across the Pond – or perhaps my excuse. And I will limit myself to that. I truly would love to hold forth on things like the French accent (my first exposure: Inspector Clouseau!), the German accent (I first heard it up close from my Dad, while he was creating different voices for bedtime story characters: Dennis the Dachsund was from Munich, no doubt!), and the Russian accent (Ensign Chekov; did you really have to guess?) … I’m not knowledgeable enough. But the British Commonwealth nations? Them, I can talk about…


Americans like the British kind of quirkiness and the strange accent. They find it kind of cute or something, with a certain charm.” -Nick Park, co-creator of “Wallace and Gromit”

If you were from England, and you spoke briefly with my Dad, he could tell where you came from to within about 20 miles. And apparently this is not uncommon.


I learned to change my accent; in England, your accent identifies you very strongly with a class, and I did not want to be held back.” -Sting, lead singer/bassist, “The Police”

Well, heck!: “My Fair Lady” is a whole Broadway musical about how what you sound like can affect your public image, your prospects for career advancement, your economic status, almost everything about you, in England at least.

[] Many many English Accents, therefore: the Upper-Crust… the Cockney accent… the Midlands (the Beatles)… Ian Darke’s soccer calls… and a remarkable number of extremely local variants of each, and more. And that’s just within the borders of England, never mind the rest of the United Kingdom.

I always thought that “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” was just funny stuff; the more I look at it, the more I realize that those gentlemen’s ability to mimic regional accents did as much to sell their satirical commentaries on British life as the actual dialogue did. (Thanks to their “Holy Grail” bit about the Holy Hand Grenade, I cannot listen to the annual radio broadcast of the Christmas Eve service from King’s College without chuckling.) Although I must say that along with Peter Sellers’ Goon Show work, the Pythons made sure that I grew up thinking that anything spoken with any British accent was automatically funnier, too.


I shouldn’t be saying this – high treason, really – but I sometimes wonder if Americans aren’t fooled by our accent into detecting brilliance that may not really be there.” -Stephen Fry, comedian

I love my accent, I thought it was useful in Gone In 60 Seconds because the standard villain is upper class or Cockney. My Northern accent would be an odd clash opposite Nic Cage.” -Christopher Eccleston, actor

True fact: all the members of the Imperial military in “Star Wars” (the bad guys) spoke in English accents (except Darth Vader, of course). All the Rebels (the good guys) spoke like Californians. Eddie Izzard has commented very expertly on this. Some of the “Star Wars” hardcover fiction writers have actually come up with a cover story to explain this: the accent of a native of the planet Coruscant — the capital of the Old Republic and then the Empire — is basically that of the House of Windsor. The accent is very cultured, very refined (English!). The Emperor apparently had a spectacular anti-alien bias (i.e. anybody not human), therefore the Imperial Navy officer corps is dominated by humans, therefore all the officers are from Coruscant, therefore they all sound like that. Clever reverse-engineering.

Also: for one single scene in Episode IV, Princess Leia adopted an English accent. The rest of the movie, she was regular ol’ Carrie Fisher, and many of us out here in Audience Land assumed it was a mistake. One “Star Wars” novel has deftly suggested that Princess Leia was doing this to mock Grand Moff Tarkin (played by Peter Cushing, owner of one of the ULTIMATE upper-class British accents of all time). Imagine! Mocking the chief Imperial Governor, possibly the third most powerful man in the entire Empire, to his face! –Ah, but his revenge? He blew up her planet. Think before you impersonate, folks.

[] The Irish Accent. I know very well that there is more than one sort of Irish brogue. But the Irish accent that I am familiar with just might be the most musical, melodic accent I know. It seems to me that Irish-inflected speech can’t be done in a monotone.

[] The Scottish Accent. When this accent is done right (by a faker) or done at all (by a native speaker), it is unmistakeable, and to my ears, makes every word more funny, or passionate, or sarcastic, or heroic, –just MORE. My first exposure to a Scots accent, obviously, was James Doohan as Scotty in “Star Trek”. Clearly that was not the best way to start a meaningful relationship with a brogue: the rolled R’s, and the use of the word “aye” without “sir” behind it, were nearly all he got right, sadly. The practitioners that I’ve since experienced have been, well, Scottish: therefore clearly a bit more authentic. Folk singer Jean Redpath… comedian Billy Connolly… and Simon Pegg as Scotty in the 2009 re-boot of “Trek”, which has potential to re-define the character!


I played a lot of leaders, autocratic sorts; perhaps it was my Canadian accent.” -Leslie Nielsen, actor

[] The Canadian Accent. I have Canadian relatives. When they visited my house when I was 13, that was when I really focused for the first time on how Canadians aren’t just far-northern Americans. My cousins were all full of those constricted vowels, and indeed, whenever I hear a hockey coach interviewed, I think fondly of them. Beyond the stereotyped yet ever-present “eh”, there are all kinds of curious and to my ear very flattened sounding things about a Canadian accent. One can forgive Mike Myers, or the fine SCTV gentlemen who brought you Bob and Doug MacKenzie, since they, um, are Canadian.

[] The Australian Accent. Oh my Lord. Isolate British citizens on a Pacific island for a century or two, and you end up with curious speech patterns like: the “ay” vowel sound has become an “eye” (G’day!); and an “ee” vowel sound has been tacked onto the end of every word which in print would otherwise appear to end in an “oh” sound. “Hello(-ee), is there a pho(-ee)ne boath neeah’-boy, do you know(-ee)?” Amazing. And Crocodile Dundee is just the tip of the iceberg. (“Oys-beug.”) It sounds like an English accent and a Boston Brahmin accent had a head-on collision.


But I just know from experience that accent wise, even if you’re an accent genius, crossing the Atlantic is the hardest thing in the world either way.” -Hugh Grant, actor

By the way: we all think that our particular accents are neutral, because we’re around them so much. Therefore, as an American, I find it amazing that British, Scottish, Irish actors can adopt an American accent. To me, it’s as if they had to sand down what they start life with … into nothingness; like temporarily sandpapering the rough edges off a block of wood. So okay: actor Ewan MacGregor (Scotsman) can adjust his accent to sound like Sir Alec Guinness (not a Scotsman). But he can also adjust his accent to sound like an American fellow?! And Hugh Jackman is as Aussie as they come, but when he’s Wolverine in the “X-Men” movies, he’s definitely North American. How does that happen?

Well, obviously it does…


I think it’s sort of a rite of passage for a British actor to try and get the American accent and have a good crack at doing that.” -Orlando Bloom, actor

I think most British people who say they can do an American accent are so bad at it. I find it excruciating. I find it excruciating the other way around, too.” -Eileen Atkins, actress

One example of this is a BBC recreation of a Marx Brothers half-hour radio comedy show. British actors got close to decent impersonations of Groucho and Chico Marx, but not quite close enough. No blame, no shame: one of the great things about the Marx Brothers is that to imitate them well looks easy, and is very hard indeed. No doubt the British feel just the same way about Americans desperately trying to sound English (Kevin Costner and Christian Slater attempting the feat in 1991’s “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves”).


Anyway. If you’re looking for a slam-bang ending, full of philosophy and wise musings and clever ways to tie together toss-off phrases (a/k/a loose ends) from throughout this post … sorry. No such luck. I guess I’m just continually amazed by how many different-sounding ways there are to pronounce words from one single language. It’s a wonder anyone can learn English to start with (all the different version of plural noun forms alone would be off-putting… “you mean it’s mouse/mice, but house/houses? Box/boxes, but ox/oxen? Hell with this, I’ll go back to speaking Spanish”), and then on top of that, how many different accents and brogues are out there, lurking, waiting to confuse not merely the “English as a second language” contingent but people from our very own US of A?

Makes my head hurt. Meanwhile, I gotta go make some suppah, before I siddown and watch the Broons play hawkey.

February 17, 2012 Posted by | entertainment, Facebook, film, language, media, movies, npr, radio, religion, science fiction, social media, television | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments