Dear Ambrose

 I have a difficult time hearing the readings at my parish.  This is not because I’m deaf!  The readers read too quickly and sometimes the sound is distorted by the microphone.  Any suggestions?

– Frustrated

Dear Frustrated: This is frustrating. In our liturgies the readings from Holy Scripture are meant to be heard and understood. Here are a few tips for readers:

  • Practice, practice, practice! 

Now is not the time to sight read. You need to check for hard to pronounce names and places and if you’re not sure how to pronounce them either ask the priest or look it up. Here is a resource:

William O. Walker, The HarperCollins Bible Pronunciation Guide (New York: HarperCollins, 1989) available on Amazon. In addition to pronouncing difficult names and places, you need to watch for phrasing. The letters of Paul can sometimes read like a Faulkner novel and proper phrasing and breathing is important for the passage to make sense.

  • Talk to your musician about good vocal techniques

We’re not talking about singing here! Breathing from the diaphragm is key.

  • Speak slowly

If you think you’re speaking too slowly you’re probably doing it just right!

  • Ask your rector to consider engaging a professional to hold a master class.

I know of several congregations who bring in an actor to help with the public reading of scripture. This does not mean that reading scripture should be done dramatically. Someone who understands the use of the voice can give good feed back for readers. 

  • Take care with the microphone!

The microphone can be your friend or your worst enemy. It is important to learn how far your mouth should be from the microphone. Too far – the congregation can’t hear. Too close – the sound is distorted. Readers with high pitched voices should take care not to speak too loudly into the microphone as it comes out like screaming. 

Another resource for readers of scripture is: Clayton J. Schmit, Public Reading of Scripture: A Handbook (Nashville: Abingdon, 2002), also available on Amazon. 

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