I’ve written before about the connection between music and voice-over. The key point of connection is the phrase.
A musical phrase is a portion of a musical piece. Each phrase has a distinct shape and character. The more complex the music, the greater the variety and kinds of phrases. So, a folk tune has a very limited number of phrases. A classical symphony or concerto, many more. An opera, more still. Hundreds, even thousands. The form of the musical piece (song, concerto, opera) both influences the number and variety of phrases, and is in turn shaped and informed by the phrases themselves, in a fashion that can probably only be explained by chaos theory.
To do justice to a piece of music, to truly interpret it as a performer, one must shape and connect the phrases in a manner that illuminates the entire line or arc of the piece as a whole. When you’re listening to music and the performance seems kind of mechanical or routine; most likely what you’re hearing is someone who is dealing with each phrase or set of phrases in isolation of the piece as a whole. This can be as true of a simple pop tune as of a large, complex classical number.
Don Volz, one of my vocal coaches back when I was studying to be an opera singer, would give this illustration: The music is already there, in motion, like a stream or river. When you begin singing, you’re stepping into the stream and following its course. When you stop singing, you’re stepping back out of the river.
So, in music, we’re always going somewhere. And while we’re singing or playing or conducting, we’re always in motion.
Just so with voice-over. We’re always going somewhere with the story we’re telling, with the role we’re playing. Unlike music, we don’t have notes on a staff to guide us where to go higher or lower. Where to get louder or softer. And so forth. But, we do have the text itself, and at least some of the time, access to the writer or producer or director.
When we know where we’re going, when we know what the point is, then we can perform in a way that illuminates the whole.