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Tim Monich on teaching accents


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  • Tim Monich on teaching accents

    Tim Monich is a Hollywood dialect coach who helps actors develop accents for movie roles. He's profiled in the latest New Yorker, and I think I can apply this lesson to my songwriting efforts:

    "With an actor who has no facility at all for accents, Monich tries to teach simple things to keep him from sounding ridiculous. 'What you would do with anyone untalented,' he said. 'Try to protect them from mistakes. Give them some confidence'"

    -Alec Wilkinson, The New Yorker
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  • #2
    I've been working on some old English folk songs and the temptation to sing something like "Jack Tarr, the Sailor" or "She Moved Through the Fair" in faux 18th century Brit accent is almost irresistible. I'd earlier confronted the same temptation (and pretty much lost) with one of my own songs done in a sort of chanty style. While I can sometimes get some Brit regional/class accents, it's a mixed bag. (Still, I was recently complimented by a young upper class English woman who was visiting friends in Cali when I unconsciously slipped into my take on one of my old UK co-workers at one company; she said something like, Everybody here feels compelled to try out their British accents on me but that was one of the two I've heard that actually worked. Trust me, it was a lucky shot. )

    I've tried to take a similar approach as Monich's hard case tack, try to keep things toned down and more hint at the accent.

    I actually consciously used, as a model, the performance of American society girl turned character actress, Hillary Brooke (who nearly perfected the classy dame role she did in scores of comedies and mysteries -- including a regular spot in the troupe of the old Abbot and Costello TV show), using her role as a British classy dame with a heart of pure evil, the right hand of Professor Moriarty in the Sherlock Holmes flick, The Woman in Green. Her accent is vague and muted and works well with the similarly constrained natural accents of the British actors. (It's a mix of Brits and Americans in the cast. You hear more than a couple of stock movie accents, to be sure. But I'll say it was still better than some of the movies based in the Old South I've seen where everyone talks with a different, sometimes mixed-up and often laughably bad regional accent.) [Mind you, I also came up with a fairly bad faux antique Brit accent a while back in an attempt at folk style storytelling that I posted for a few hours here and then pulled off the internets. I tried to learn from that. ]

    I imagine, Ram, that you have a pretty good ear for accents, living as you do in the general Washington, D.C., area and having family from the UK and beyond.

    I think the lesson for us as songwriters is that, as in so many things, in storytelling and character development, less is often more.


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    • #3
      'What you would do with anyone untalented,' he said. 'Try to protect them from mistakes. Give them some confidence'"

      this rings true with me ... i try to keep my melodies simple, don't challenge my voice at all ...

      still, it doesn't sound all that great ... it's not so much confidence as getting used to it and not cringing
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      • #4
        .........to keep ... from sounding ridiculous.

        If I achieve this, I'm happy