What is a Stentorian Voice?
Classically-trained male actors, such as Laurence Olivier, Richard Harris and Richard Burton, were often encouraged to deliver their lines in a stentorian voice. This is generally considered the "voice of God" in performance circles — a powerful, booming vocal delivery meant to invoke authority and forcefulness. A narrator or master of ceremonies may also be asked to speak this way when announcing speakers or award winners. The ideal is both powerful and distinct, not simply loud or affected.
Actors and other performers who choose to speak in a stentorian voice should be careful not to exaggerate the effect. Audiences may become immune to the stereotypical booming voice used all too frequently in radio and television advertising. An authoritative or commanding voice may attract the listener's attention or add gravitas to the product, but an exaggerated one often comes across as disingenuous and shallow. The narrator should be able to communicate with his audience without affecting an artificial stentorian tone.
The term can be traced back to Homer's epic description of the Battle of Troy, the Iliad. One of the characters in the Iliad is a Greek warrior named Stentor, who was said to possess the voice of 50 men, and could be heard for many miles around. This skill proved to be very useful during battles, since he could deliver commands or report enemy movements without leaving the field. Stentor's name became synonymous with the use of a loud booming voice to issue pronouncements to a general audience.
Town criers during the Middle Ages were frequently required to use a stentorian voice in order to read royal proclamations or to announce the time. This practice was not always well-received by the younger generation of citizens, who routinely mocked the town crier's often stuffy and aristocratic tone. Even today, the use of a truly stentorian voice is generally limited to short announcements or narrations. Modern public address systems have virtually eliminated the need for such powerful vocal techniques.
I remember when I was a teenager I had an older friend who developed a very deep voice, but didn't like to use it much. One time we were all at a local movie theater, and several kids were acting up a few rows ahead of us. They were putting their feet on the backs of chairs and throwing popcorn and talking loudly.
My friend decided he had enough, so in his loudest Stentorian voice, he yelled "Put your feet down NOW!". It was like the voice of God. I never saw feet come off the back of theater chairs faster. It was just something about the tone in his voice that put the fear into them.
My wife and I attended a concert by a military orchestra a few weeks ago, and the narrator turned out to be the same officer who hosted the 2008 and 2012 presidential inaugurations. He had the deepest Stentorian voice I have ever heard. Even with a less-than-impressive PA system, his voice boomed out to the audience like a professional recording.
He later performed some songs as a bass vocalist, but it was his speaking voice that was so commanding.
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