Lost Art:
The Wooden Dummy and Ventriloquist with Frozen Lips who Throws Voice

By Lee Dean

 

I adhere to a very strict definition of ventriloquist doing ventriloquism or ventriloquy, the art or skill of producing vocal sounds that seem to come from somewhere other than the speaker, as follows:
  1. One who recognizes and calls puppets as figures or mannequins (little men), or other appropriate names for personable wooden dummies, not inanimate, impersonal dummies, lending voice and hand to bring spirit puppets to life in wood form only, however sculpted, with few slots other than for head and mouth to honor history of the art form and well-made dummy as a work of art itself;
     
  2. One who recognizes and uses the right still lip and jaw method, namely does not clinch teeth which interferes with articulation and labials, mutes sound and forces undue pressure on the throat, but freezes the jaw by locking jaw, pulling jaw down and back for taut jaw muscles, and uses diaphragm for pressure voice and tongue tip to back of upper lip and teeth for labials; and,
     
  3. One who recognizes and performs both distant and double voice, and throat whistle, by controlled vocal disorders of ventricular phonation and diplophonia, including mimicry of birds, animals, or other sounds called polyphony, a word of art, interspersed in a simple routine of banter, patter and bits of business, not only jokes alone as done by comic vents not accomplished in the art.
     


W.S. Berger, ventriloquial historian, Frank Marshall, ventriloquial figure maker, and The Great Lester, vaudeville ventriloquist, all referred to "figure" in any serious discussion of the ventriloquist dummy and both Berger and Marshall deferred to "Lester method" for still lip and jaw and distant voice technique.

Ventriloquial sounds are best defined and explained from the standpoint of vocal disorders in speech. The distant voice is "ventricular phonation". The double voice is "diplophonia".

Ventriloquial mimicry of birds, animals and other sounds by common usage over 100 years or more came to be called "polyphony", that stemmed from music in the early Church, involving sounds not from a single source but multiple sources, and when harmony was at first considered pagan and demonic.

My freshman year in college and speech class professor called on me to do demonstration. I did distant voice, professor remarked "that's ventricular phonation", then did double voice, again remarked "that's diplophonia", and I never forgot these terms, my major being speech. I had learned distant voice from Harry Lester in 1955, missed seeing Fred Ketch the following year, but year after that was doing what is now called a walk-around for grand opening of Winn Dixie in Louisville. A man dressed in farm clothes walked up, said come here I want to show you something, took me aside and began singing in distant voice "When the Saints Go Marching In" song in double, triple, quadruple harmony. In driving home 2 hour trip I sang it and sang it over and over until throat was raw, but I figured it out, and in process found the throat whistle.

If you want to do the double voice and throat whistle, next time lifting something heavy with a grunt, try singing "When the Saints Go Marching In" song a la Satchmo with a growl, or better yet the drone sound of a buzzing bee or bees then raise the pitch level until you get a gnat sound. The bee or bees sound is from the vocal cords and gnat sound is from the false vocal cords or vocal folds. And there you have it, with a grunt and a growl one can achieve the double voice, and by practice reduce drones to a single drone, remove bee sound from gnat sound then increase the force level to achieve the throat whistle that is used in bird mimicry, very high pitched and modulating.