an equal speaking
Beyond our small patch of pasture and the newly-
I enjoy preaching here even though the front pews are so uncomfortable hardly anyone sits in the first nine rows. What I particularly treasure is the absence of a public address system. Mikes are anathema to me. When I was at St. John-
We took a Japanese visitor to Midnight Mass at Wells Cathedral. Preacher, celebrant, and even lesser luminaries, sported radio mikes. The juxtaposition of medieval masonry and contemporary gizmo was surreal. In my modest anarchic way I saw a window of opportunity for latter-
Foundations poorer than a cathedral and with audio electronic ambitions may have to make do with only one radio mike. Here the congregation is likely to be treated to a novel addition to ritual: Transference of the Mike, a delicate and arcane rite involving pins, wires and straps. It won’t be long before clerical catalogues are offering albs with transmitter pockets, ‘double lined and neatly concealed so that only you will know you are carrying one.’
Why consign the mike to Room 101 you may well ask? I am no Shylock, who can give no reason ‘More than a lodged hate and a certain loathing’ for, unlike him, I can contain my urine ‘when the bagpipe sings i’th’ nose’ and I know why I like cats. I do have my reason.
In primo, it is that, despite manufacturers’ claims, the mike and loudspeakers distort the voice. They may be ultra high frequency but they incorporate filters. When we listen to someone speaking we subconsciously pick up subtleties that tell far more than the words, raw and written, or even read to a mike, do. It is no accident that most classical actors and musicians eschew artificial amplification. Projection is a necessary and prized technique. The effort required to speak to the back row of the balcony energizes the communication.
Secundo, the microphone is anti-
Tertio, it encourages a false tone of intimacy, a schmaltzy wooing and cooing. (‘Input gain control for optimum modulation.’) It has dealt, if not a death blow to oratory, at least a life-
It is a commonplace that The King James version was written to be read aloud, and so its phrases roll off the tongue. I have been reminded of the power of its prose in the reading of a biography of William Tyndale, whose own translation makes up 84% of the King James. Simple phrases such as ‘Axe and it shal be given you. Seke and ye shall fynd. Knocke and it shal be opened unto you’ are clear, a joy to proclaim and a pleasure to remember.
So, for its part in the blanding of biblical prose alone, the mike must go.
You may care to argue, for the other side, that the need to fill large empty spaces led to the development of the clerical voice, the voice that Alan Bennett sent up in his Beyond the Fringe sermon sketch, in which the mountaineer climbs higher and higher, vomiting at the peak. It may well be so, and that is a price to pay. But the need probably led also to the development of plainsong and the intoning of prayers, so gain outweighs loss.
We do not need to make a noise to be listened to. It is in the still small voice that the truth is to be heard. I was reminded of this by an interview with a member of the Modern Jazz Quartet. When they started they were playing to audiences that were noisy and rude. Instead of turning up their own volume, as most other groups did, they turned it down: people had to make an effort to hear. It worked.
The same goes for school. Shouting at unruly kids only adds to the general mayhem. Asking questions in a quiet voice brings down the excitement far more quickly than barking orders like a sergeant-
Before WW II, French was the language of diplomats, business was conducted in Spanish and any half-
English is not yet the perfect vehicle for diplomacy. A Russian government official told the BBC that his boss and Tony Blair would be having a ‘brainwashing session’ at the President’s hunting lodge.
The mike has a lot to answer for.