Moving Voices

Alexandra and Roger Pierce

 



The goal of Moving Voices is to reveal a poem’s meaning and evoke a vivid experience of poetry by integrating speech, gesture, movement, and music. We have performed and conducted workshops and classes in universities across the US and Canada, including Stanford, Cal Arts, UCLA, San Diego State, Indiana University, York University (Toronto), and Bucknell University. We have performed in museums, libraries, and churches.


The  programs offered are meaningful in today's world, and are accessible to audiences with limited experience reading poetry. Each lasts a little less than an hour. Two of our recent favorites are:


When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd, Walt Whitman's elegy for Abraham Lincoln. The poem transforms a tribute to Lincoln into an appreciation of the "varied and ample" American landscape and of death itself. 


Brute Beauty: Caring for Animals weaves together a collection of poems and tales on the mysterious grace of the animals, and on awakening, or reawakening, our response to them. The program includes works from Genesis to Milton, Blake, Hopkins, William Carlos Williams, and a rich collection of 20th century poetry. 
 

The Ensemble’s Approach

We delve into a poem until we are confident of its meanings and clear as to phrase shapes and how each part relates to the whole. This includes catching repeating images, ideas, and sounds. 


Attention to structure guides vocal inflection and variations in tone, pace, and dynamics. The poem's rhythmic patterns are clarified and then rehearsed until they are crisp and alive. Capturing a poem's musical qualities gives a sharpness of outline and a glow of felt significance to performances. 

We have been performing poetry for 15 years, blending Alexandra's musical and Roger's theatrical backgrounds with our study of human movement to develop a distinct performance style. The result is not just an ornamenting of the poem, but a deepening into its meaning and musical qualities so that, as Robert Frost put it, the poem "begins in delight and ends in wisdom." 

Our gestural and movement language heightens the power of spoken poems. A subtle play of hands, arms, head, face, and trunk gives presence to the imagery. When a word or idea is repeated in the poem, repeated gestures aid recall; when a word has several meanings that play off against each other, accompanying gestures catch the variations. One audience member commented, "You really made the poem come alive; through your gestures we could picture the gray bird, the sky, the long train, everything. It all became more meaningful to me than it had ever been before." 

Music, composed by Alexandra and played by her on the piano, sometimes underlies the spoken text; or it provides interludes that give the audience opportunity to absorb and reflect on the poetry. If a piano is not available, we use recordings of the music. 


Moving Voices Programs


2002Brute Beauty: Caring for Animals, performances at University of Redlands, Impact Presbyterian Church (Redlands), Rocky Mountain National Park Visitor Center, Loveland Museum (Loveland, CO).

2001The Adventuring Soul: poetry of Wordsworth, Tennyson, Hardy, and Milton Miller, performances at University of Redlands, Impact Presbyterian Church (Redlands), UCLA, Riverside Public Library, San Bernardino Public Library.

2000Walt Whitman’s When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d, performances at University of Redlands, Impact Presbyterian Church (Redlands), Borders Books (Montclair, CA), YMCA of the Rockies, Loveland Museum (Loveland, CO), Northern Colorado State University at Pingree Park, Duquesne University (PA), Bucknell University, Writers’ House at the University of Pennsylvania, UCLA.


1998Walt Whitman’s Crossing Brooklyn Ferry, performances at University of Redlands, Impact Presbyterian Church (Redlands), University of Toronto.

1993Walt Whitman’s Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking, performances (with Paul Melzer) at the Municipal Theater of San Bernardino, Memorial Chapel of University of Redlands, Glenn Wallichs Theatre (University of Redlands), Plymouth Village (Redlands), Unitarian/Universalist Church (Riverside, CA).

1992An Evening of Music and Poetry by Women, performance (with Paul Melzer) at University of Redlands.

1990Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner, performances (with Paul Melzer) at Glenn Wallichs Theatre (University of Redlands), Plymouth Village (Redlands), Eliot Pope School (Idyllwild, CA), Mind-Body Institute (Los Angeles).


 

 

To schedule a performance or a Speaking Poetry workshop, 
or for more information, call or write to: Roger Pierce
2513  24
th Ave. Longmont Co 80503; (303) 651-9248; arpierce1@mac.com


Audience Comments


Robert Hatten 
Professor of Music, Indiana University 
When Walt Whitman promised to be present for future generations, he could not have imagined how appropriately the Pierces would embody that desire. Through musically and gesturally choreographed oral delivery, framed by piano music composed and performed by Alexandra, this "poet of the body" comes to life before our eyes and ears. The result is by turns heroic, playful, electrifying, and deeply moving. 
 

Tom Katsimpalis
Curator of Interpretation, Loveland (Colorado) Museum/Gallery
The audience was mesmerized by the Pierces' moving presentation of "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd." The breadth and spirit of Whitman's tribute to Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War dead was brought to life.
 

Janet Hopper
Movement Educator, Santa Monica, California 
Experiencing Whitman was, for me, like a deep drink after a long time in a parched desert. Section 14 is a masterpiece all on its own. I was so taken with Alexandra's music, Roger's movement and vocal leaps in and out of chanting and singing and the interplay between you two and the rhythms and the myriad of art forms all at once.
 

Robert Innis
Professor of English, University of Massachusetts
A wonderful bodying forth of the poem. 
 

David Lidov
Professor of Music, York University
Alexandra and Roger Pierce illuminate our heritage in a new light. It seemed as if we could reach out our hands and touch the poetry taking form before us. 
 

Dominique Piana
Harpist, Pleasanton, California
Let me tell you how immensely I appreciate the path you are treading. Can you imagine what the world would be like without efforts like yours? The realm of the Spirit needs its own expression and I am delighted that you are bringing it to the fore. The "inheritance" must be shared. Your integrity and clarity of purpose shine through your language of movement, very personal, highly sophisticated yet accessible. May the spark inside of you light many secret (or did I mean sacred) fires in your audiences.
 

JoAnn Damron Rodriguez
Professor of Sociology, UCLA
The essence of the performance of Whitman's work lingers--the sense that what is most everyday is perhaps the most eternal.
 

Laura Vroman 
Secretary, Redlands, California
Your Moving Voices was "moving" indeed. I was enthralled! Every word was crystal clear, and you moved with consummate grace. It was a beautiful rendition of a beautiful poem. The audience was spellbound. You really made the poem come alive; through your gestures we could picture the gray bird, the sky, the long train, everything. It all became more meaningful to me than it had ever been before. I shall never think of it again without remembering your ethereal, spiritual performance. Your interspersed piano compositions were perfect. 

Arthur Svenson 
Professor of Government, University of Redlands; Orchestral Violinist
Yours was such an extraordinary performance Tuesday last. Extraordinarily beautiful was the music, your movements were compelling and expressive, and such a fit between word and movement you managed to create. I was amazed at your creation, and as is so often the case, for me at least, in front of great art time simply disappears. I feel honored to have been there and to have shared in your art.
 

John Vernon
Novelist, Binghamton, New York
The Pierces sculpt Whitman; they give his words shape, volume, and dimension. And like Galatea, the poem comes to life; it breathes, moves and speaks. What exhilaration!
 

David King
Composer, Fort Collins, Colorado
The Whitman performance is wonderful. The dramatic integrity and elegant passion illuminated the poem for me. Experiencing the poem on musical, visual and theatrical levels is a deeply satisfying pleasure.
 

Milton Miller
Professor of English, University of California, Riverside 
I think you have solidly crafted "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry" out of your experience with "Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking" and have made its performance a multi-leveled success. It certainly brought the poem to Darline and me in a direct yet multi-faceted way that we had never experienced before. 
 

Gayle Brandeis
Poet and Writer, Riverside, California

Your work is absolutely gorgeous--so articulate (in every sense of the word!) and resonant. 


Letter from Vivian Darroch-Lozowski



Ontario Institute for Studies in Education

of the University of Toronto

252 Bloor Street West

Toronto, Ontario

Canada M55 1Y6

Telephone: (416) 923-6441

Late Autumn, 1999

To Whom it May Concern:

Re The work of Alexandra Pierce and Roger Pierce.

I am writing with strong support and appreciation of the work of Alexandra Pierce and Roger Pierce. I was delighted to be present at a performance of the Pierces in Pittsburgh earlier this fall, a performance that was exact and breathtaking for me. After their performance I was filled with hope and encouragement. Since then, I have been in communication with them and have read their writings in their book Expressive Movement.

What stood out in their performance and I believe would stand out in their workshops with others, is that the Pierces accept bodies and voices and poetry with absolute, generous compassion. With exactness, they portray that the rhythm of bodies, the sound and syntax of voice and of what is said is one. And it is whole. They do this by demonstrating the inherent and clear spaces of the poems they perform and speak about. Listening to them we are filled with recognizing that our bodies and voices could be more. The Pierces' writings show that they have thought and conceptualized deeply about their work. Further, their work as practical models for us returns us very naturally to what we have forgotten. We remember our graceful postures, our poetry---the poetry of our simple, everyday languages---the sounds of our voices, our breaths, and how each of us needs to express and communicate our own "voice of existence" as it arises and issues out of what our body knows.

The value of this kind of work, work that is not directly functional, is that it helps open us into a widened awareness. This is awareness beyond drawing us back into enjoying poetry. It shows us how we can understand and respond better to all voices of life, including our own. When this happens, we remember that we, ourselves as poetic and sensitive beings, are the places wherein hope must live. And we remember that significant differences can be made, in the societal/cultural circumstances in which we live, when we do attend to the task of living poetically and sensitively.

Because this is an open letter I wish to place it in context. My own work has been investigations and writings into the relationship of language with body. My own seeking has been to find practical ways toward what I call a "poetics of the future" that could assist us all (I include myself) to become saner and more humane. The Pierces' work supports and inspires me toward this goal and I believe it could not help but inspire others, too. If I can assist by responding to any questions that you may have about their work, please feel free to contact me.

Yours truly,

/s/ Vivian Darroch-Lozowski, Ph.D.
Professor of Holistic and Aesthetic Education



To schedule a performance or a Speaking Poetry workshop,
or for more information write to: Roger Pierce
at
arpierce1@mac.com




Speaking Poetry Workshops


A speaking poetry workshop encourages a participant to develop understanding and rich connection with a chosen poem (perhaps one by yourself) so that when you say its words, they are full of the poem’s meaning—simply and fully expressed. No previous experience reading or reciting poetry is needed, and individual approaches are welcome. The energy can vary from quiet and reflective to bubbly and vigorous. Sometimes the group (usually of 6-10) works all together, sometimes in pairs or small collections. 

A 2-4 hour workshop might focus on vocal resonance, clarity of diction, vocal melody, and speaking the meaning. Especially in longer workshops, movement is an important guide to delivery. Stepping, swinging, swaying, and gesturing to music are fun, build group energy, ease tension, and lead to surprising insights. A simple series of daily exercises for physical balance, flexibility, and vocal power is often taught.


Poetry workshops for children, usually in small groups ages 8-11, inspire poem writing and reciting with easy, playful suggestions that stimulate an imaginative response.



Capsule Biographies

:

        Roger Pierce, Ph.D., author of the novel Your Valvèd Voice (2008), taught acting, directing, and dramatic literature at Stanford and the University of California. He trained extensively with Dr. Ida Rolf and with Judith Aston, participated in establishing Rolf Movement Education, and with Alexandra co-founded The Center of Balance in Redlands, California, where they conducted a professional movement and bodywork training program. Roger gives movement workshops and teaches movement privately.


Alexandra Pierce, Ph.D., is a pianist, composer, music theorist, movement educator, Professor of Music and Movement, and presently Emerita Research Professor at the University of Redlands, California. In addition to the recent book Deepening Musical Performance through Movement: The Theory and Practice of Embodied Interpretation (Indiana University Press, 2007), she and Roger have co-authored two books on enhancing human movement: Expressive Movement: Posture and Action in Daily Life, Sports, and the Performing Arts (Da Capo Press, 1989) and Generous Movement (Center of Balance Press, 1991).