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Thread: Public address in times without electronics?

  1. #1 Public address in times without electronics? 
    Forum Ph.D. Leszek Luchowski's Avatar
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    The question occurred to me while reading the Bible, but is perfectly secular in nature, so please do not turn this thread into another (anti-)religious flame war. Thank you.

    In the Bible, you can find many accounts of dialogue between a single person and a large group, like "He said unto them: ..... , and they said unto him: ....". The "he" (and perhaps occasionally "she") being various key persons from Abraham to Pontius Pilate to some of the the Apostles, and the "them" being sometimes a whole city or even a tribe. In some cases, the dialogue occurs in a very tense situation, with the "he" being in serious danger of getting killed by "them". I will look up some specific examples if you wish.

    I suppose similar scenes can be found in other old texts, it's just that the Bible is what I am familiar with.

    Now my question is this: how was it possible for a single person to make himself heard by so many, when they were not even favourably disposed to listen to him, at a time when amplifiers and loudspeakers weren't even being dreamed of?


    Leszek. Pronounced [LEH-sheck]. The wondering Slav.
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    Forum Cosmic Wizard i_feel_tiredsleepy's Avatar
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    I think this is more an issue of form. It's very reminiscent of Greek theatre where an individual will speak to the chorus and the Choragos will speak as an embodiment of the crowd.

    My guess would be in a real situation someone would just have to shout.


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    You don't need to go to the bible. In the nineteenth century USA, public speakers gave appearences all over the country to large audiences, usually, but not always, indoors. There were crowds at the Lincoln-Douglas debates, also a crowd at the Gettysburg address.
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    Forum Ph.D. Leszek Luchowski's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mathman
    There were crowds at the Lincoln-Douglas debates, also a crowd at the Gettysburg address.
    Great, but can you tell me how the speakers managed to make themselves heard? And if (as is the case in some instances in the Bible) the crowds replied, how did they manage to speak with one voice?
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    It is a different skill and a different technique.

    Today, many opera singers do not use sound systems. They are able to project their voices a long way. I do not quite know how they do it, but it is not just a matter of 'shouting'.

    Part of this is training. Just as lifting weights can make your arms stronger, practicing loud oratory can make your voice louder, and with this practise you can orate loudly for long periods without stressing your larynx.

    In times past, people had very strong larynxes!
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    Quote Originally Posted by skeptic
    It is a different skill and a different technique.

    Today, many opera singers do not use sound systems. They are able to project their voices a long way. I do not quite know how they do it, but it is not just a matter of 'shouting'.

    Part of this is training. Just as lifting weights can make your arms stronger, practicing loud oratory can make your voice louder, and with this practise you can orate loudly for long periods without stressing your larynx.

    In times past, people had very strong larynxes!
    I thought it was the design of the opera house that made the voice carry. If i'm correct, it's usually designed to amplify the voice. They use acoustic enhancement in opera houses.
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    Veracity Vigilante inow's Avatar
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    Which is what makes the question in the OP so difficult to answer... I t assumes a single location and/or topography yet doesn't describe it. Were they addressing the people in a valley? Were they atop a hill? Were they in an open field? Were they in an amphitheater? Was there a town crier repeating what they said over and over again like they did in Rome? Was the message passed to people through the verbal tradition of song?

    There was no "one" way of disseminating the information, of that I'm relatively confident. However, the question does keep reminding me of this:


    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XiDmMBIyfsU
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    Quote Originally Posted by inow
    Which is what makes the question in the OP so difficult to answer... I t assumes a single location and/or topography yet doesn't describe it. Were the in a valley? Were they in an open field? Were they in an ampetheater? Was there a town crier? Was the message passed to people through the verbal tradition of song?

    There was no "one" way, of that I'm relatively confident. However, the question does keep reminding me of this:


    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XiDmMBIyfsU
    Hahah, that's how I envision it too. It could just be Hollywood making it dramatic, but that's the basic idea.
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    This is my two cents.

    I picture it as creative writing in which the author had to make the scripture dramatic, something not farfetched in play writing. It could have just been one man speaking to twenty gullible town villagers at once, in which they asked him questions. I see it as the word of God and all of the events that happened only became powerful or meaningful years later when the entire document of the bible was written down on flimsy paper to an even greater gullible audience that never witnessed the accounts.
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    Forum Cosmic Wizard i_feel_tiredsleepy's Avatar
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    I really just think it's a matter of literary form. It's not meant to be taken literally. I think early readers of the Bible would have understood that the voice of the city or the group was just a representation of the opinion of that group not an actual unified voice. Just as viewers of Oedipus Rex understood the lines of the Choragos to be the embodiment of the opinions of the chorus in one voice, just as the chorus is representative of the opinions of the people of Thebes.
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    both skeptic and korben have provided part of the answer to the OP ...

    >> skeptic - yes, it is vocal training, still in use today ... and the vocal style is popularly known as "stage voice" ... you may have heard people described as "having a voice that carries"? or the advice: "learn to project when speaking to an audience" ?

    many professional singers, actors, sports coaches, military and similar officers, and executives (particularly those involved in heavy industries), have had such training in one form or another ...

    in earlier times, town criers, travelling actors etc (troupes), political leaders and aspirants, and philosophers (and other teachers), developed their "stage voice" as a natural part of their skill set ...

    >> korben - yes, the use of acoustics (long before the science of acoustics was defined) was, and remains, integral to public speaking ...

    key to this was "line of sight" - you'll notice that constructed and natural amphitheatres, arenas, etc provide a fair "line of sight" across as much of the audience as possible ... if necessary, a raised platform - or stage - is used (speakers' corners everywhere would commonly include a crate - or soapbox) ...

    the reason it works is that line of sight also means unobstructed soundwaves - row upon row of people (like trees, or any other regularly spaced protuberances) makes an excellent baffle ...

    purpose-built theatres (etc) were able to improve on what was discovered when addressing crowds in large caverns and halls - and that is certain smoothed and angled surfaces will deflect sound without distorting it too much; some materials will conduct sound (allow for the transmission of the wave energy) further, and often faster than air (calm water is an example) ...

    so, such events as "the sermon on the mount", "speaking on the temple steps", and "addressing the crowd ashore from the boat", were not simply plausible, but used by many public speakers then, and since ...
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    Quote Originally Posted by Leszek Luchowski
    Quote Originally Posted by mathman
    There were crowds at the Lincoln-Douglas debates, also a crowd at the Gettysburg address.
    Great, but can you tell me how the speakers managed to make themselves heard? And if (as is the case in some instances in the Bible) the crowds replied, how did they manage to speak with one voice?
    Having a good speaking voice would have been a favorable trait in leaders (just like how singers used to need to have loud voices.) For example, when the Bible talks about Moses not being "strong in speaking" that might just mean that his voice was too quiet, rather than suggesting that he was shy or socially awkward. Anytime the Bible mentions Moses saying something to an audience, it's almost certain that it was really Aaron his brother who spoke it on his behalf.

    I don't think Bible writers made much of a distinction between talking through a proxy and talking directly.
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    Forum Ph.D. Leszek Luchowski's Avatar
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    Thanks for all the answers. I have had some vocal training myself (in a university choir), but addressing a crowd is not my dream pastime.

    The point about literary form is neat; yes I guess the "they said unto him" part is most probably the writer's summary of the attitude of the "them", not an actual statement made by the crowd, or even by its representative.

    One correction to the point about water: when you speak from a boat, or from the opposite shore of a narrow lake, on a summer evening, you can indeed make yourself heard very well. But it's not the water itself that transmits your voice; it's the layer of air just above the water, which is kept warm by the heat capacity of the water, while the upper layers are already chilly. It creates a kind of acoustic waveguide.

    Cheers -L.
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    I'll buy that ...

    was probably confusing it with sound moving through water - different thing ...
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  16. #15  
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    Quote Originally Posted by kojax
    I don't think Bible writers made much of a distinction between talking through a proxy and talking directly.
    As well they must have accepted rumour as the only source of news. We should bear that in mind. Messages most conducive to rumour would tend to spread, and become established fact. Messages embarrassing, uncomfortable, underwhelming, or otherwise difficult to convey, would be lost. Certainly some facts of the times were built on nothing but mistaken communications i.e. rumours gone wild.
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  17. #16  
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    Quote Originally Posted by Pong
    Quote Originally Posted by kojax
    I don't think Bible writers made much of a distinction between talking through a proxy and talking directly.
    As well they must have accepted rumour as the only source of news. We should bear that in mind. Messages most conducive to rumour would tend to spread, and become established fact. Messages embarrassing, uncomfortable, underwhelming, or otherwise difficult to convey, would be lost. Certainly some facts of the times were built on nothing but mistaken communications i.e. rumours gone wild.
    Have you ever watched Monty Python's "Life of Brian"? I love the part where they're at one of these gatherings, but they're in the back row trying to listen to what the speaker is saying. It's great.


    Here's a link to it on U-Tube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XiDmMBIyfsU
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  18. #17  
    Veracity Vigilante inow's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by kojax
    Have you ever watched Monty Python's "Life of Brian"? I love the part where they're at one of these gatherings, but they're in the back row trying to listen to what the speaker is saying. It's great.


    Here's a link to it on U-Tube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XiDmMBIyfsU
    From the 7th post in this thread:

    Quote Originally Posted by inow
    However, the question does keep reminding me of this:


    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XiDmMBIyfsU
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    I have examined some ancient texts, it seems to me that the dialogue is mere likely a device used by the authors of the book to illustrate a point of his own, typically a moral lesson. As for the authenticity of the story, it was never a major concern either for the author or for the readers.
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  20. #19  
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    Quote Originally Posted by inow
    Quote Originally Posted by kojax
    Have you ever watched Monty Python's "Life of Brian"? I love the part where they're at one of these gatherings, but they're in the back row trying to listen to what the speaker is saying. It's great.


    Here's a link to it on U-Tube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XiDmMBIyfsU
    From the 7th post in this thread:

    Quote Originally Posted by inow
    However, the question does keep reminding me of this:


    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XiDmMBIyfsU

    Lol.... I can't believe I missed that!!!! At least this demonstrates that I'm not the only one who sees the parallel, ..... or even the first....

    Good work I-Now. And, good link.
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