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Putting Wisconsin's Union Battle In Historical Context

In There is Power in a Union: The Epic Story of Labor in America, journalist Philip Dray follows the labor movement as it grew out of 19th century uprisings in textile mills. There are several parallels between those historical battles and what is currently going on in Wisconsin, he says.

20:50

Other segments from the episode on March 8, 2011

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, March 8, 2011: Interview with Philip Dray; Obituary for Sam Chwat; Review of Marcus Printup's album "A Time for Love."

Transcript

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Putting Wisconsin's Union Battle In Historical Context

TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Republicans in state legislatures of Wisconsin, Indiana and Ohio are trying to
cut back collective bargaining rights for workers in the public sector. A
recent New York Times article said labor experts describe these bills as the
largest assault on collective bargaining in recent memory, striking at the
heart of an American labor movement that has already atrophied.

We asked Philip Dray to take a look back at the labor movement. Dray is the
author of the book "There is Power in a Union: The Epic Story of Labor in
America." FRESH AIR book critic Maureen Corrigan listed it as one of her
favorite books of 2010.

She wrote: In the late 19th century, ordinary people - mill girls, garment
workers and miners - embraced the revolutionary idea that by joining together
they might better their lives. Philip Dray's spectacular narrative history of
the American labor movement reads like a novel, filled with dramatic acts of
barbarism and bravery.

Philip Dray, welcome back to FRESH AIR. Is there a chapter in labor history
that the current attempts to reduce the negotiating power of public employees
in Wisconsin and several other states, is there a chapter that this reminds you
of?

Mr. PHILIP DRAY (Author, "There is Power in a Union: The Epic Story of Labor in
America"): Well, one that comes to my mind is - almost seems like a bookend to
it - is the 1981 PATCO strike, in which President Reagan fired 11,000 air
traffic controllers.

The reason I say that is partly because at that time the labor movement overall
was sort of caught napping a bit. I give a little background: The air traffic
controllers had - most of their grievances had to with on-the-job pressures,
you know, just that they felt they wanted a better schedule, this type of
thing. It wasn't so much about wages.

And they had endorsed Reagan for president. They were one of the few unions to
do so. And their president had met with President-elect Reagan. They thought
they sort of had a, you know, kind of an understanding.

But when the first year of Reagan's term, when the air traffic controllers
union tried to press their case, Reagan rejected it, and basically said if you
- you know, if you aren't at work in 48 hours, you're all going to be fired.

And he called their bluff, and he did end up firing them. You know, presidents
historically had been sometimes hostile to unions, but no one had ever
decimated a union completely like that. And that strike, what Reagan
accomplished basically was to end the whole taboo against crossing a picket
line and scabbing, the idea being that he replaced them with non-union air
traffic controllers.

And it sort of set a precedent then for private industry in the coming years
that, well, if the president can do this, so can we.

GROSS: And the PATCO workers lost things in addition to their jobs. There were
post-job benefits that they lost.

Mr. DRAY: That's right. It was a kind of vicious thing because they - the
administration not only fired them and decertified the union but then went -
some of them were imprisoned, actually, and then they went after their
benefits, and a lot of the PATCO veterans, you know, it was a sad affair.

People lost their homes. It was a very, very upsetting predicament, really, for
many of them. I think they still have a website where they try to, you know, be
in touch with one another and this kind of thing.

But yeah, it was definitely a seminal moment, and the reason it makes me think
of what's happening now, I guess, is that now again you see labor issues thrust
- become a national issue. But this time around there's much greater kind of
unanimity among the labor activists and unions.

Everyone is sort of on a similar page, if not the same page, trying to resist
what they see as a direct assault on this important bastion of unionization,
being collective bargaining.

GROSS: Before the New Deal, and it was during the New Deal that there were laws
passed that legalized collective bargaining and mandated that company officials
had to meet with a union and recognize the union, what are some of the tactics
that companies used to break up strikes and to try to break unions?

Mr. DRAY: Well, the truth is, on a certain level America has never really been
fully comfortable with labor unions. The idea of a collective of workers
demanding salaries and various rights of one kind or another, there's always
been a lot of pushback, and it's taken various forms from - everything from
locking employees out, firing people who dared to come forward with grievances,
the use of labor spies.

This came out during the New Deal, when they had an investigation. You know,
they found that a lot of large corporations used hundreds of spies to kind of
unsettle union activity, not to mention, of course, just the hesitancy of the
government to take - assume a role.

In other words, for many years it was debated whether legislatures had the
right to pass worker safety laws, for instances, and the courts would often
decide that no, they don't have to do that. It's up to the employer and between
the employer and a worker.

So every type of impediment - in addition, of course, sending in police,
soldiers. You know, federal soldiers would be sent in to put down labor
disputes.

A lot of these large - you know, every city in America has these large red
brick armories in the cities, and I know I always used to think that those were
there for soldiers to gather to go abroad or something. But those were built in
an era when people wanted government - authorities wanted a place where
soldiers could gather to put down local labor unrest.

And so the spirit of contention between labor and industry was at a very high
level for a long time, and it was that which collective bargaining was really
meant to address.

GROSS: How did workers win the legal right to collective bargaining during the
FDR administration?

Mr. DRAY: It came about really - it was something that had kind of been in the
air for quite a long time. It came out of what's known as the progressive era,
when a lot of people like Louis Brandeis, a future justice on the Supreme
Court, and others saw that too much damage was being done from labor strife.

And oddly enough, even, say, the Pullman strike of 1894, in which President
Cleveland sent in the federal troops to put down the rioters in Chicago, his
own commission then afterwards recommended a different approach was needed,
essentially setting the table for these type of reforms, that we can't just
have go on. This is no good for industry. It's no good for workers to have this
sense of constant confrontation, et cetera, burning of buildings, this kind of
thing, or whatever that had gone on in Chicago.

And so there began to be this kind of impetus for what they called industrial
democracy, the idea that these issues would best be negotiated and resolved so
everyone could move on in a productive way.

GROSS: And what's the legislation that actually put collective bargaining in
the law books?

Mr. DRAY: It was the National Labor Relations Act of 1935, also known as the
Wagner Act, after Senator Robert Wagner of New York, who was its chief
advocate.

But it was very much - you know, I think it's important to note these things
were moving along for decades, the sort of momentum for them. It just, it took
the economic, the sharp economic hardship of the Depression to finally convince
enough people, Congress, that this was - type of thing was essential, an
essential reform.

GROSS: So after the pro-union legislation that was passed during the New Deal,
in 1947 the Taft-Hartley bill is passed. It's vetoed by President Truman, but
his veto is overrode in Congress.

So what rights that the unions had won did Taft-Hartley pull back?

Mr. DRAY: Well, it sort of - what it really did was - I mean, for one thing,
Taft-Hartley was meant to be just the first step in rolling back a lot of the
New Deal reforms. But basically what it did is it allowed individual states to
pass anti-labor laws of their own, most significantly the right to work laws,
which meant that union membership would not be required as a condition of
employment.

What that does is it undermines the closed shop, which is sort of the basis of
a lot of union strength, when you have a workplace where everyone belongs to
the same union.

It forbade industry-wide collective bargaining, which of course could be, or
was, an effective way for unions to really exert their power – say, across even
different companies.

It also meant employers could sue unions over what they called secondary
boycotts - in other words, if unions encouraged their members not to purchase
goods from a certain manufacturer, that kind of thing.

And perhaps most symbolically, it demanded that leaders of the leading, the big
unions, sign an affidavit that they were not members of the Communist Party,
which set about kind of a disruption within organized labor itself because
there was disagreement about whether this was the right thing to do or not.

And this whole problem of radicals within the labor movement, communists,
should they be here, should we expel them, sort of became then kind of an
obsession in the labor movement for several years.

GROSS: Now, let me quote a couple statistics that you have in your book. You
say overall union membership has shrunk to about a fifth of the percentage of
U.S. workers it had in the mid-1950s. Only 12.3 percent of workers belong to a
labor union: 7.9 million people belong to public-sector worker unions; 7.4
million belong to private-sector unions.

So now public-sector unions outnumber the people in private-sector unions,
which is pretty interesting.

Mr. DRAY: That's right.

GROSS: Yeah. What do you attribute that to?

Mr. DRAY: Well, I think it's partly because of the loss of - you know, you see
the loss of manufacturing jobs in America. You know, the thing about public-
service workers and their jobs is that, you know, you can't export the New York
subway system to China. But you can take the manufacturing jobs from upstate
New York and send them there.

And so that's why - you know, partly that's why you see this decline in the
private sector that you just don't see in the public sector, I think.

GROSS: What are some of the other reasons you think that private unions have
shrunk so much since the 1950s?

Mr. DRAY: I think there's a lot of reasons: the decentralization of labor. You
don't have these areas, cities like Pittsburgh, Detroit or Cleveland or
Chicago, where you had these very tightly massed, you know, dense industrial
areas where organizing, frankly, was easier because you had hundreds and
hundreds of workers not only working in one place but living there and maybe
going to the union hall in the evening, this kind of thing.

Secondly, of course, you have technology, which has changed the nature of work
itself, you know, eliminating jobs. Globalization, of course, is a huge factor
that people mention all the time, the idea that now the unions - you know,
again, they don't have leverage because they're competing with workers in
Indonesia or in places where non-unionized or low-paid workers are available.

So really that's kind of a big challenge for labor right now. It's trying to -
you know, labor has always kind of come tripping along a little after capital,
throughout American history. That's what it has to do. When the economy sort of
nationalized after the Civil War, labor did too. It created national
federations. Now that's kind of where it's at a little bit. It's trying to deal
with the fact of these sort of multinational corporation.

And you see that a little bit already, like U.S. unions working in
collaboration with unions abroad, working also with human rights groups, anti-
sweat-shop leagues, that kind of thing.

GROSS: Since there are so fewer members of unions now, do you think it's
breeding a resentment of workers who are unionized and who do have, you know,
nice pension plans and benefits, particularly plans that were negotiated a few
years ago, before the economic crisis?

Mr. DRAY: It probably does, but I think it's a shame because of course
traditionally - you know, at one time I think a lot of people who weren't in
unions were nonetheless grateful to them because people understood that the
unions had fought for - you know, no one ever gave the unions anything. They
always had to fight for everything they had attained, whether it was the eight-
hour day or, you know, fire escapes on factory buildings, this kind of thing.
It was always a struggle.

And so I think there was a time when non-union workers had some respect and
admiration. So I'm sad to see that development.

You know, on the other hand, I think it's also duplicitous of people to, in a
certain way, resent generous pension or health benefits that public service
workers have attained, because a lot of these things were negotiated in good
faith, and you know, a lot of people gave up short-term gains in wages or what
have you because they were promised generous benefits and retirement.

So in a way, it's sad, I think, to see this kind of - whatever it is, whether
it's resentment - as private-sector benefits have gone down, public-sector
benefits have stayed higher, and I think it's inevitable that there would be
some envy there.

GROSS: My guest is Philip Dray, author of "There is Power in a Union: The Epic
Story of Labor in America." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is Philip Dray. He's a historian. We're talking about his book,
"There is Power in a Union: The Epic Story of Labor in America."

One of the things that we take for granted now is, like, the eight-hour
workday, 9:00 to 5:00. But 9:00 to 5:00, the eight-hour workday, that was an
innovation of unions. And I'm wondering why eight hours. Like, who came up with
eight hours?

Mr. DRAY: Well, of course they whittled it down. They started - in the mid-19th
century, the campaign was for the 10-hour day. You know, let me go back a
little and say, you know, when industrialization came to America, first of all,
you know, the founders weren't quite sure they wanted it.

They had seen its effects in Europe and England, and they didn't think it had
been very positive. People like Alexander Hamilton were for it. Someone like
Thomas Jefferson had grave doubts about it.

When it did first come here, there was a kind of golden era, what they called
the Lowell miracle, after Lowell, Massachusetts, where a lot of the early
textile mills were - where the idea was that we would - America could do it
better. We would have - you know, workers would be treated well, profits would
be made.

But you know, the original hours, in fact, a lot of these - the workers came
off the farm. And so the employers thought, well, dawn to dusk. Those are the
hours of work.

It wasn't - so this was a - that was the beginning and ever since, of course,
you know, throughout the 19th century, workers were trying to whittle this
back, saying: We don't have time to buy the products we're making. We don't
have time to even become citizens. We don't have time to read the Bible.

And so these, of course - it became a very compelling argument. And the hours
argument was one that unions always did sort of fairly well with, even though
it took many years to realize these things, get them in the law books. But it
was an argument that was sort of hard to refute, that you couldn't keep people
working, you know, 12, 13 hours a day and expect them to really function in
society.

Both campaigns began in the 1840s and carried all the way through to the New
Deal.

GROSS: In your book, "There is Power in a Union: The Epic Story of Labor in
America," you reprint the lyrics to a union song, advocating for an eight-hour
workday. And because I think the lyrics are kind of revealing, I just want to
quote them here: We mean to make things over. We're tired of toil for naught
but bare enough to live on, never an hour for thought. We want to feel the
sunshine. We want to smell the flowers. We're sure that God has willed it, and
we mean to have eight hours. We're summoning our forces from shipyard, shop and
mill: eight hours for work, eight hours for rest, eight hours for what we will.

I think that's really interesting, those last two lines: eight hours for work,
eight hours for rest, eight hours for what we will. So it's a song that's
asking for the freedom to have free time.

Mr. DRAY: Yes, it is, and that's a very – that is, you know, was a very
powerful argument, really, because it's one thing that any human being can
relate to. And that's why the unions often pushed those campaigns, first of 10
hours, then for eight hours. You saw in the 1880s that even disparate groups,
anarchists, more conservative, you know, business unionists, all coming
together - because eight hours a day, no one really could dispute it. And so it
was something that people could rally around.

GROSS: Because there are fewer people who belong to unions now, there are fewer
young people who grew up in a union family. And I wonder how you think that is
changing the kind of larger American feeling about the labor movement.

In other words, I think a lot of people are growing up feeling not connected to
it at all.

Mr. DRAY: I think that's very true. In fact, that was why I commenced writing
this book, because I'm old enough to remember when unions were, you know,
written about in a way that was very respectful, and when labor leaders would
come on the radio or on TV, George Meany or whoever it was, Walter Reuther, you
would consider them people worth listening to.

And so I was kind of surprised in recent years that the image of the labor
movement was not only sort of uninterested, but people actually felt - held a
lot of negative feelings toward them. And I felt that something was being
missed. The labor movement was this incredible social movement in America that
involved millions of people: our grandparents and grandparents and so on.

And so to me it seemed like, you know, heartbreaking in a way that all this
history would be lost.

In terms of what people feel going forward, I for one have been really cheered
by the fact that there's this reaction to kind of defend collective bargaining.
You know, I'm sure you're familiar too, and maybe a lot of your listeners are
too, of these recent polls that have come out showing that even people who
don't like labor unions are still willing to say hands off collective
bargaining. People recognize it as a kind of essential right.

GROSS: So you're a writer. You're not on the staff, the full-time staff of a
magazine or newspaper. So you're on your own, writing. Do you or have you ever
belonged to a union?

Mr. DRAY: I have, actually. And I've had sort of, I think, this same kind of
mixture of experiences that a lot of people have. I remember belonging to,
like, a restaurant workers union when I was young, which was great.

They took your dues out of your paycheck. You never had to - there was no muss
or fuss. They defended you if there was any problem with your boss. They would
step in. They theoretically looked out for you if you wanted to hang around and
be part of the pension plan, that kind of thing.

On the other hand, I was also part of a musicians union once where they came to
the membership to boycott a Harlem Globetrotters game because the Harlem
Globetrotters had decided they didn't need an eight-piece orchestra to play
"Sweet Georgia Brown." They wanted to use a tape recording.

And of course the older members of the union were offended. They wanted to
mobilize the local to get out and protest this. And I was one of the younger
members. And of course to us, my friends and I, we thought, well, this is
ridiculous. Why shouldn't they use a tape recording? You don't need an eight-
piece orchestra to play this song.

But anyway, that was typical of a kind of - you know, unions, they get -
sometimes they can be stodgy. They hate - they don't want to move ahead. So
there's both good and bad. And I think probably a lot of union members in
America would admit they've complained about their own union from time to time.

It just - so anyway, yeah, I mean I think, you know, that's been my experience.
I think it's probably shared by a lot of people.

GROSS: Well, Philip Dray, I want to thank you very much for talking with us.

Mr. DRAY: Oh, well, thanks for having me.

GROSS: Philip Dray is the author of "There is Power in a Union: The Epic Story
of Labor in America." I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.
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Sam Chwat, Dialect Coach To The Stars (And To Us)

(Soundbite of music)

TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

When Robert De Niro needed to learn an Appalachian accent for his role in
Martin Scorsese's 1991 film "Cape Fear," he was coached by Sam Chwat, a speech
therapist who specialized in helping actors learn or lose regional accents for
their roles. Chwat's clients included: Julia Roberts, Kathleen Turner, Willem
Dafoe, Andie MacDowell, Danny Glover and Tony Danza. Chwat also worked with
immigrants who wanted to lose their accents.

Sam Chwat died Thursday of lymphoma. He was 57. We're going to listen back to
an interview I recorded with him in 1994, after the publication of his book
"Speak Up," about his accent elimination program. Chwat founded and ran a
speech center in Manhattan. He grew up in Brooklyn but he lost his accent. I
asked him to describe the weather just so we could listen to him speak.

Mr. SAM CHWAT (Speech therapist; Dialect coach): Well, the weather today is
relatively humid and muggy, and the sun is out but it's rather damp outside.

GROSS: So how did you used to speak?

Mr. CHWAT: Well, I would say that it's more humid and it was more muggy and it
wasn't, it's not so comfortable outside, if you know what I mean.

GROSS: Now, did you work at changing your accent or did it naturally evolve?

Mr. CHWAT: No, I had to work at it consistently. I found that some of my
clients were picking up absolutely the wrong cues from me and they were walking
out with a New York accent when I needed them to have no accent at all - what I
call a standard American accent.

GROSS: Now, I noticed when you first gave us the weather report you said humid.

Mr. CHWAT: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: And when you did in New York style it was umid.

Mr. CHWAT: That's very clever of you. That's right. In this area, that H
disappears before the Y sound. So instead of humid and humor and humidity and
human, we have uman and umor and umidity and umanity.

GROSS: Some of your clients are actors and actresses who need to learn dialects
or accents for roles they have to play.

Mr. CHWAT: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: Perhaps the most celebrated example of this was Robert De Niro who
needed to I guess lose his New York accent and pick up an Appalachian one for
"Cape Fear."

Mr. CHWAT: That's right. We worked very, very hard and long on that one, and he
did beautifully in that in "Cape Fear." And I also worked with Kathleen Turner
and Isabella Rossellini and Tony Danza. And Julia Roberts and Andie MacDowell
both lost their Southern accents with me before their movie careers took off.

GROSS: Now I'd like to play a clip from "Cape Fear" in which we'll hear Robert
De Niro and Nick Nolte. And this is early on in the movie where Robert De Niro
has come back to haunt Nick Nolte, who was his former lawyer. Robert De Niro
has just gotten out of prison.

Mr. CHWAT: OK.

(Soundbite of movie, "Cape Fear")

Mr. ROBERT DE NIRO (Actor): (as Max Cady) What is the formula for compensation,
sir?

Mr. NICK NOLTE (Actor): (as Sam Bowden) How about $10,000 in cash?

Mr. DE NIRO: (as Max Cady) Do I – well, let's just break that down.

Mr. NOLTE: (as Sam Bowden) No. No wait. Wait, now wait a minute.

Mr. DE NIRO: (as Max Cady) Well, let's just break it down.

Mr. NOLTE: (as Sam Bowden) You see, that figure just came to the top of my
head.

Mr. DE NIRO: (as Max Cady) Yeah. Sure. Well...

Mr. NOLTE: (as Sam Bowden) Let's just say for argument's sake, let's say
$20,000. Let's say $30,000.

Mr. DE NIRO: (as Max Cady) You see, I'll tell you what, let's say $50,000 -
$50,000 to 14 years. Fourteen years times 365 days is about, I'd say about
5,000 days. Now you divide that by $50,000 and that's like $10 a day.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DE NIRO: (as Max Cady) That's not even minimum wage. To say nothing about
the family that I lost, the respect that I lost. I don't think you really,
really understand what we're talking about here. Fourteen years.

GROSS: That's Robert De Niro and Nick Nolte in "Cape Fear." So what are we
listening to there when we hear Robert De Niro speaking that's different from
how he'd speak normally?

Mr. CHWAT: Well, what you're hearing is mostly vowels that are changed. For
example, instead of family or as he might say family, family, you are hearing
the more nasal quality to the A in family, family. Instead of the vowel lost,
which is what he would do for l-o-s-t, you are hearing more of a lost, lost,
lost. Instead of the vowel I, which never exists in any part of the South, you
have ah, ah. The family that I lost. The family that I lost. Instead of what I
would say, the family that I lost. Or what he would say, the family that I
lost. The family that I lost.

There's also very deep-chested vowels that come in there and disappearing L's
after vowels. Tell you what. Tell you what. Tell you what. Instead of tell you
what. Tell you what. And the forced R's in the formuler. The formuler. And
additional R's as at the end of that word, the formuler for compensation, sir.
The formuler for compensation, sir. Instead of what he might normally do, the
formula for compensation, suh. The formula for compensation, suh. So these are
some of the changes that we went through, word for word, through the script and
all through the shooting in Fort Lauderdale at the time.

GROSS: Now listening back, do you think any New York-isms still seep into his
Southern dialogue?

Mr. CHWAT: Well, actually, yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CHWAT: I was sorry you brought that up. But when he says here and years,
he's dropping those R's. Whereas, someone from Appalachia would force those R's
and would say here and years – here and years. But that's about the only fluke
in that passage. And he's so consistent through those lines that I don't think
anybody would take him for anything but an Appalachian southerner.

GROSS: How did you find the right accent for him, as you often point out,
Southern accents vary from region to region?

Mr. CHWAT: Well, they say that accents change every 50 miles because of the
isolation of communities, historically. There's been some leavening of that
issue of accents overall with people's mobility over time and the influence of
radio and television. But the way we identified this accent was we sat down and
analyzed the videotapes of Southern prisoners, people who were put in
Appalachian prisons for extremely violent crimes, men of about his age, white
men of about his age, and we listened to them until he said that's the guy I
want to sound like – that one right there. And we analyzed his – this guy's
accent and saw how far De Niro's New York accent was from this, and we worked
on sound replacements where he would do one thing and I expect another, that's
where we drilled for it.

GROSS: Do you have any idea of why Southern accents differ so much from say,
New York accents?

Mr. CHWAT: Oh, absolutely. They all derive from the original colonial patterns
of speech. Depending on where those colonial immigrants came from, that's what
caused the genesis of these accents. For example, in New York, Southern English
people, say from the London area, settled and they drop R's after vowels. So
whereas a modern Southern English speaker would drop an R after a vowel in
words such as here, there and more and New York; the same pattern developed in
New York where we also drop R's after vowels as in here, there, more and New
York.

In parts of the deep South, parts of Appalachian South, there was a Scottish-
based influence where the bird R, became diluted into more of a forced R that
remains today. As opposed to the rest of the South, which borrowed from
Southern England, and those R's after vowels dropped in different ways, as in
here, there and more and New York.

GROSS: We're listening back to a 1994 interview with speech therapist and
dialect coach Sam Chwat. He died of lymphoma Thursday at the age of 57.

We'll here more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: We're listening back to a 1994 interview with speech therapist and
dialect coach Sam Chwat. He died Thursday of lymphoma at the age of 57. He
coached many actors including Robert De Niro.

When you listen to say news anchors on television, do you find that most of
them have a very standard American way of speaking or can you detect
regionalism in their voices?

Mr. CHWAT: Well, you can always hear Peter Jennings' Canadianisms come out. But
by and large, those people are chosen because they have pretty much
unremarkable ways of speech. You wind up to listening to what they're saying
and not to how they're saying it. And they're very good actors for the limited
type of acting that they do. But the most important thing about those people or
people who aspire to those jobs is that they have accents that don't reveal
where they're from; their accents are identifiably American, very easy to
understand, and you listen to their content and not to their style.

GROSS: I used to live in Buffalo, New York and listen to Canadian radio a lot
while I was there.

Mr. CHWAT: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: And picked up what I think is a Canadian O, like instead of about,
aboot.

Mr. CHWAT: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: Is it typical for people when they live in a place with a different
accent than the one they were brought up in that they'll just pick up
haphazardly on certain things, whether, you know, whether they realize it or
not?

Mr. CHWAT: Well, people are adaptable to different degrees. One fact that I'm
sure of is that the bulk of your accent does develop between the ages of three
years and seven years and it's based on where you grow up and among which peers
you grow up, as opposed to your parents and what accents they speak. You can
think about people in your family or people in your past who were brought up in
Europe and have identifiably European ways of speech. And if their children
were brought up here, between the ages of years, and seven years their accents
are resemble the, reflect the community they grow up in rather than their
parents' accents. People are adaptable after that age, and there is some
plasticity, some changeability in people depending on how adaptable they are
and how long they're in a particular place - and how much they're resisting or
trying to blend into the area.

GROSS: You know, a lot of women now, especially I think younger women, have the
problem of speaking in a kind of high uncertain voice. And going along with
that is often that the end of sentences end as if they were questions.

Mr. CHWAT: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: I'm wondering if a lot of women come into your office asking you to help
them deepen their voices or sound more assertive.

Mr. CHWAT: Mm-hmm. We do hear this rising sort of inflection that goes up as if
they're questioning everything that they were saying and can be talked out of
it. We are hearing habitual uses of higher parts of their ranges and people do
want deeper pitches which are held to sound more assertive.

GROSS: Are there exercises that you give people who want to deepen their voice
and take it out of the nasal cavity and bring it back down into the diaphragm?

Mr. CHWAT: Oh, sure. In the tapes we have all sorts of tonal exercises which
will help you explore your overall range. We help you understand that all of
your range should be used, but that some parts should be used more habitually
than others and we have exercises that put you in touch with your lower
pitches.

GROSS: Can you like give me a sample of one of those exercises - help me kind
of place my voice deeper down?

Mr. CHWAT: We can help you identify the more nasal range of your voice by
speaking more through your nose, by forcing your speech more through your nose
and by comparing it with the most open mouth posture type of speech you can
come out with. So for example, instead of saying my name is Sam and I'm at New
York Speech Improvement Services, more we have you contrast that with...

(Soundbite of exaggerated speech)

Mr. CHWAT: My name is Sam and I am at – and we have you compare and contrast
the feel and the sound of it. Usually what happens is that the feel is
incredibly odd to the person as he's doing it. It does sound distorted but
we're looking for the greatest variation from your normal way of speech.
Ironically, the nasal way, for people who speak nasally, usually feels best but
sounds worse, especially when you're comparing it on a tape recording. And we
have exercises that help you narrow the gap between the two so that you wind up
with a comfortable way of speaking intelligibly with a non-nasal way of speech.

GROSS: Say you were doing that exercise, how do you find the nasal part of the
voice and how do you find the deep part?

Mr. CHWAT: The nasal voice is achieved by speaking with the mouth in as closed
a position as possible, by keeping your teeth locked, gritted, and your lips
parted to the smallest degree possible that will allow intelligible speech.

(Soundbite of talking with gritted teeth)

Mr. CHWAT: So you could almost feel that my teeth are grit now and that I'm
forcing my voice out through my nose.

The voice, remember, has only two routes out through the body. It could come
out of the mouth or it could come out of the nose. It would rather come out of
the mouth because that's the closer exit point from the voice box from the
voice box's perspective. The other voice is achieved by keeping your mouth in
as open a position as possible and you can even augment the sensation by
putting your fingers on your sternum - your breastbone – and feeling that
vibrate. It won't vibrate as much or it won't vibrate at all while you're doing
your nasal speech. And, in fact, if you put your finger on your nose while
you're doing that you will feel more nasal vibration. So the goal is to have no
nasal vibration and as much chest vibration as possible. It's what's called the
difference between nasal voice and chest voice.

GROSS: You have another interesting exercise to find the nasal versus the chest
voice. And one is to keep your mouth closed and go mmm.

Mr. CHWAT: Mm-hmm. Which is the most nasal sound you can produce.

GROSS: Because everything's coming through your nose. All the air is coming
through your nose.

Mr. CHWAT: Correct.

GROSS: And then your nose really vibrates when you do that.

Mr. CHWAT: Right.

GROSS: How can you figure out what's coming - how to get a chest tone?

Mr. CHWAT: Well, you can do the vowel ah with your tongue as flat in your mouth
as possible, your mouth as vertically oval as possible and your jaw as low as
possible. We call it the dental valve because it's the one that the dentist
wants you to use. To say ah is about as non-nasal as you can get.

GROSS: Good. So that should be useful in just helping people to locate their
voice.

You know, one thing I learned reading through your material is that you'd think
I would have thought of before but I actually hadn't is that whether you're
smiling or frowning will affect the way you sound. As you put it in your
booklet, you can tell on the radio when somebody's smiling because their voice
sounds different.

Mr. CHWAT: Oh, and they absolutely are smiling. There's a peculiar brain
mechanism that's actually traceable to a part of the brain that controls vocal
emotion and it's right next door to those cells in the deep brain which account
for facial expression. So if you manipulate your face frequently your voice
will change.

One funny exercise that we have is we have people grin while reading into a
tape recorder a bloody, bloody story, a really grotesquely bloody story from a
tabloid newspaper and then play it back. It's not even their language. And all
they were doing was grinning while they were reading the story and they will
sound like the most psychotic thing going as a result on the playback.

The purpose of these exercises in helping you use your face while you're
speaking is so that you can reduce the monotone effect that some people have
where their voice is very, very flat; you can be sure that their faces are not
being used much at all. And if we help them throw in a smile or some facial
flexibility their voices will sound more colorful and more interesting and more
pleasing to listen to.

GROSS: You know how some people have a phony smile?

Mr. CHWAT: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: Is there a phony voice that accompanies that kind of phony smile?

Mr. CHWAT: Sure. Because if the smile looks non-genuine there's almost a
sarcastic edge to the voice. As much as you can hear me sort of falsely smiling
now while I'm speaking, there's a false pleasantness that comes into the voice
as a result. And people who overcompensate by using those types of facial
expressions while they speak, those people are also coached by us to look more
natural and to sound more natural.

GROSS: I know a lot of immigrants come to you wanting to pick up English
accents or to improve their English accents. Is there a group that you're
seeing most of now?

Mr. CHWAT: We see – well, being New York, we see lots of people with Spanish
accents, Indian accents. Russian accents are on the rise. These are people who
are trying very difficult - with great difficulty to assimilate into American
society. They want to sound like Americans and they have a very firm idea about
what American accents should sound like and they want to be taken as Americans
rather than as an immigrant group.

GROSS: Let's look at the Spanish accent that you see a lot of. Are there
particular sounds that people from Spanish-speaking countries have trouble
saying?

Mr. CHWAT: Oh, absolutely. One of the sounds is the th. Statistically, of all
the sounds in this language - the one that comes up more than any other is the
th. If you distort this one you sound different. And Spanish frequently
substitutes a D or a T for these th's.

For example, instead of saying these, this, them, those, they're more likely to
say dese, dis, dem, dose. The Z sound does not occur in Spanish at all and we
have it quite frequently in words such as is, was, has, always, goes, please
which they pronounce routinely as an S. So they may say es, was, has, always,
goes, please.

We have a different kind of L from Spanish. So whereas I would say all and
he'll and I'll, they're more likely to say all, he'll, I'll and they will give
a very nasal L to what we do quite non-nasally.

GROSS: How do you teach somebody to change the L or change the th, just
repetition?

Mr. CHWAT: It's a matter of teaching them to hear the difference, showing them
how to produce the difference, showing them how it varies in different
spellings, drilling them in phrases and drilling them quite intensively in
conversational speech, or teaching them how to self-monitor in conversational
speech so that every time they hear it they can self-correct. They know exactly
what they're going for, exactly what they should be doing and the more they
learn to self-correct the more they can re-habituate the way that they speak.

GROSS: Well, I want to thank you very much for talking with us.

Mr. CHWAT: Thank you. You've made it very easy today.

GROSS: Speech therapist Sam Chwat, recorded in 1994. He died Thursday at the
age of 57. He founded the Sam Chwat Speech Center in Manhattan.

Coming up, Kevin Whitehead reviews trumpeter Marcus Printup's new album.

This is FRESH AIR.
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Angels Play The Harp, Printup Plays The Trumpet

(Soundbite of music)

TERRY GROSS, host:

Trumpeter Marcus Printup came up in the 1990s, playing alongside Wynton
Marsalis in the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, and recording with pianist
Marcus Roberts and Eric Reed. More recently, Printup has made a series of his
own albums covering a range of styles from boogaloo two ballads.

Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead says Printup's latest recordings spotlights an
instrument heard too little in jazz.

(Soundbite of music)

KEVIN WHITEHEAD: Marcus Printup on trumpet with Riza Hequibal on harp on
Printup's new CD "A Time for Love." Angels play the harp - except Gabriel, who
blew trumpet, so it's a resonant combination. Printup's not the first trumpeter
to combine them. Harpist Betty Glamman played on half of Kenny Dorham's "Jazz
Contrasts" in 1957. Printup tips his hat by opening his album with Dorham's
most famous tune, "Blue Bossa."

(Soundbite of song, "Blue Bossa")

WHITEHEAD: Harpist Riza Hequibal. Some folks say harp is ill-suited to jazz,
but its deep bass, ringing long notes and spiky percussive attack aren't
exactly liabilities.

Jazz harpists have never been common, but there have been some very good ones:
Caspar Reardon and Adele Girard played swing harp in the 1930s, followed by
Ruth Berman in the '40s and queen of the harp Dorothy Ashby in the 1950s; it
was an instrument where jazz women could make their mark.

A few modern harpists have recorded good jazz, including Deborah Henson-Conant
and Park Stickney. Riza Hequibal sounds like she's still growing into jazz:
She's not the heaviest swinger, but bassist Kengo Nakamura is on hand to
buttress the rhythm. And harp and bass effectively frame Marcus Printup's
lovely trumpet, his tones juicy as a bowl of cherries. The program is all
ballads, which keeps his formidable technique in check and let him revel in
nice melodies. This is "Besame Mucho."

(Soundbite of song, "Besame Mucho")

WHITEHEAD: Marcus Printup's album "A Time for Love" is casual almost to a
fault; except for the Filipino fave "Dahil Sa'yo," the tunes are all jazz
standbys, unencumbered by fancy arrangements and taken at an easy clip.

Not that there's anything wrong with that. Jazz is often informal, and fans
cherish recordings made on the fly in hotel rooms and noisy bars. Since the
trumpeter and harpist married not long after the recording - she now goes by
Riza Printup - you could look at this as a kind of domestic music: quiet and
cozy, but never dull. It's their little slice of heaven.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: Kevin Whitehead is jazz columnist for eMusic.com and the author of the
new book "Why Jazz: A Concise Guide." He reviewed "A Time for Love" by
trumpeter Marcus Printup.

You can download podcasts of our show on our website, freshair.npr.org.

I'm Terry Gross.
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Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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