Phonograph Monthly Review, Vol. 5, No. 9 (1931-06)

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June 1931, Vol. V. No. 9 263 Chevalier's Microphone Technique By GEORGE BRINTON BEAL A superb art created from apparently meager means T HE voice of Maurice Chevalier has an ar- resting quality that catches, and holds, at- tention, as no other voice since the broad- casting days of ex-president Calvin Coolidge. Not that M. Chevalier has a voice that in any way re- sembles, save in the attributes stated, that of the sage of Northampton. Examining it in some de- tail one must discount the fact of his amazing, and sometimes amusing, mangling of the English language. Great as this factor is as a considered asset of his success in the public ear, it is negli- gible in comparison to the fundamental charm of the man’s voice itself. His smile, which helps a lot in picture appear- ances and upon the stage, is of no great use either on recordings of his performances or over the radio. Yet, so cleverly does he manage to make his voice represent the emotion he is trying to con- vey, he can make that smile, once seen, a telling part of his purely vocal performance. The quality that is in the Chevalier voice has its principal ingredient in showmanship, that in- tangible something that makes great performers, great artists, even an occasional genius. It is what he makes that voice do for him that makes him the success that he unquestionably is. He possesses a rare sense of timing. He applies it in a curious jig-saw fashion to the misuse of spoken English. He uses Englsh words but French phrasing, a simple, and ever effective trick of showmanship. It can be done in the in- termixture of any language and has been, as the memory of any one familiar with most of the great comedians of the past will readily attest. Hoarse, and displeasing, were it not for the in- herent charm, this voice of Chevalier’s is capable of doing more tricks than a flea circus. Back of the vocal instrument of Maurice Chevalier stands a master director. He guides it along the way he wishes it to go with flawless ingenuity and tireless care. Every tone, every intonation, every phrase, is a carefully studied one. He is too great an art- ist to leave even the tiniest detail to chance. When he has mastered the details of what he is going to say, or sing, or both; then he puts his voice through its paces. He corrects and adds or sub- tracts as his showman’s ear advises. The finished, smooth-flowing, seemingly spontaneous perform- ance that you hear, is the result. Chevalier is a magnificent example of what can be done with a very little talent skillfully handled. His voice, effective as it is, has no great range. His lower tones are throaty, his higher ones bor- dering, to put it kindly, on the nasal. In between there is practically nothing to work with. Yet, master of his own powers, slight as they came to him, he works what is litle less than a miracle by means of them. His voice, in order to give complete satisfac- tion, must be heard at precisely the proper pitch. There is a tendency, unfortunately necessary in motion picture houses, to give it too great a vol- ume. Tuning in Chevalier on the radio, extreme care is necessary not to get him to high up the scale, or too low down, for real enjoyment. De- tuned above or below the proper phase, Chevalier becomes in one case a growling, rasping sort of creature; on the other an effeminate, high pitched vocal creation bordering on sheer idiocy. Few present day performers have succeeded in gathering to the skirts of their talent so great a following in three such differing mediums of ex- pression as the stage, the screen and the radio, not to include his great drawing power as a re- cording artist as in reality but a variation of the radio, from the standpoint of technical considera- tion. What makes an artist great is, and must ever remain, something of a mystery. Certainly there are few people now before the public who have less real talent, discounting only showmanship, than this same M. Chevalier, from the Paris mu- sic hall stage. Equally certain, the rich, sincere, flexibility of his voce, utilized as a means of con- veying emotion, and of awakening emotional re- sponse, practically at will, is without parallel in the lesser arts today. Chevalier is unquestion- ably the uncrowned king of the theatre of the voice. And he makes whatever he does worth hearing. Chevalier's Recordings C HEVALIER’S American recordings have been confined almost entirely to the hit-songs from his films. These are available in English versions in the Victor domestic catalogue, and in French in the Victor French supplement. The same records are listed also in the French II. M. V. catalogue. Before he came to America, however, he made a considerable series of the charming topical and semi-folk songs in French that he sings so delightfully and which re- veal his talents more characteristically the songs of American origin to which his repertory has been largely confined of late. These were recorded by the French Columbia Company and are available in this country through the leading importers, some of whom provide special albums for the complete series.