Wednesday, January 22, 2014


The following is a reposting of a blog entry that I originally posted to the Plum Tree Books blog.

Most composers write music with the intention and full expectation that it will ultimately be played aloud. Such performances represent the ultimate fruition of their art -- the notes in the score MUST be brought to life in this way, or else the artistic cycle is not complete! On the other hand, writers, while they may be cognizant of the possibility that the prose they are writing *might* at some point be read aloud to an audience, do not necessarily give predominant focus to the "oral readability" of their work as they write. (There are no doubt exceptions to this, particularly in genres like children's books, but I'm speaking in generalities here.) A wonderful and complete fruition of the writer’s art might lie simply in its being read by individuals in silent solitude -- the artistic cycle is complete without need of giving physical breath to the words on the page.

Thus, there is a significant body of perfectly wonderful prose that can (and DOES) prove quite a challenge to the audiobook narrator -- the challenge being to bring the words off of the page and deliver them to the reader’s ears in a way that is not only crystal clear in its meaning, but also aesthetically gratifying and stylistically appropriate. A good writer *does* have rhythm in mind, either consciously or unconsciously, as they write, but it is not necessarily a rhythm that is naturally and instantly amenable to expressive and effective *oral* reading. So in some cases I find that I have to really *work* with a text, being willing to try and fail, try and fail, try and fail, until I finally stumble upon a style and rhythm that *works*.

One of my most recent challenges in this regard was in creating a recording of Jack London’s iconic short story, TO BUILD A FIRE, for inclusion in my upcoming audiobook collection, CLASSIC TALES OF HOPE AND COURAGE (which will be coming soon to I ultimately had to make three complete recordings of the text before I finally fell into the “right rhythm” in the third recording. In my first misbegotten takes I was somehow missing the mark that London’s writing needed me to hit. But those initial takes, while sounding rather forced and stodgy to me, proved to be effective rehearsals that ultimately helped me find my way into the more naturalistic and understated reading that London’s prose demanded.

Here is a five minute excerpt from my final take, in which I found the rhythm I had been looking for. Below that is the recording of the complete short story, which will require slightly over 45 minutes of your time if you’d like to experience it.

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