Hearing Lincoln

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Lila Gleitman wrote:

I now happen to be reading "Team of Rivals," basically a history of Lincoln's cabinet.  Anyhow, there is constant mention (and pix of venues) showing Lincoln talking to very large indoor and outdoor audiences (at least once 2000 is the number of listeners mentioned).   They say he had a slightly high clear voice that carried very well, but still I can hardly conceive that he, and others of those times who are mentioned as speaking outdoors to multitudes too, notably Douglas of course., could be heard without amplification.   You must know all about this.  Can you tell me? or tell me how to look this up?   It flummoxes me every time I read of these seemingly prodigious feats of speaking-listening, the authors don't even seem to remark on how astounding it seems (or seems to seem, to me).

I responded that Lila was treading in the conceptual footsteps of Benjamin Franklin, who wrote in his autobiography:

In 1739 arrived among us from Ireland the Reverend Mr. Whitefield, who had made himself remarkable there as an itinerant preacher. He was at first permitted to preach in some of our churches; but the clergy, taking a dislike to him, soon refus'd him their pulpits, and he was oblig'd to preach in the fields. The multitudes of all sects and denominations that attended his sermons were enormous, and it was matter of speculation to me, who was one of the number, to observe the extraordinary influence of his oratory on his hearers, and bow much they admir'd and respected him, notwithstanding his common abuse of them, by assuring them that they were naturally half beasts and half devils. […]

He had a loud and clear voice, and articulated his words and sentences so perfectly, that he might be heard and understood at a great distance, especially as his auditories, however numerous, observ'd the most exact silence. He preach'd one evening from the top of the Court-house steps, which are in the middle of Market-street, and on the west side of Second-street, which crosses it at right angles.

Both streets were fill'd with his hearers to a considerable distance. Being among the hindmost in Market-street, I had the curiosity to learn how far he could be heard, by retiring backwards down the street towards the river; and I found his voice distinct till I came near Front-street, when some noise in that street obscur'd it. Imagining then a semi-circle, of which my distance should be the radius, and that it were fill'd with auditors, to each of whom I allow'd two square feet, I computed that he might well be heard by more than thirty thousand. This reconcil'd me to the newspaper accounts of his having preach'd to twenty-five thousand people in the fields, and to the antient histories of generals haranguing whole armies, of which I had sometimes doubted.

I observed that

If you allow two square feet per person, as Ben did, then the semi-circle radius in question would only be

(pi*r^2)/2 = 2*25000
r = sqrt(4*25000/pi) = 178 feet

That's 59 yards. It's not a superhuman feat to stand on the goal line and speak so as to be heard by somebody on the opponents' 40 yard line — in a quiet stadium, anyhow.

On that allowance, the radius required for 2,000 people in a semi-circle would be


which is a bit more than 50 feet, or almost 17 yards — which seems easy.

But two square feet per person is rather squashed, at least by modern standards. According to the Jacobs Method

A loose crowd, one where each person is an arm's length from the body of his or her nearest neighbors, needs 10 square feet per person. A more tightly packed crowd fills 4.5 square feet per person. A truly scary mob of mosh-pit density would get about 2.5 square feet per person.

If we go to 4 square feet per person, we get a semicircle of radius

sqrt(2*4*2000/pi) = 71.4 feet

for an audience of 2,000; or at 6 square feet per person, it's still just 87.4 feet, or about 29 yards.

According to Google Maps, the distance from the west side of 2nd Street to Front Street along Market St. is 144.3 meters, which is about 473 feet. A semicircle of that size has an area of 702,865 square feet, which at 2 square feet per person would be more than 350,000 people; even at 10 square feet per person, it's more than 70,000 people.

So Ben might have been honest, but he wasn't all that good at either measurement or SAT-level calculation…

Lila wrote back:

fabulous — proves (a) they (especially, I guess, those professional speakers with careful training and ruly audiences) could have spoken to multitudes without amplification, (b) it's cosy to have the data from our local neighborhood where it can be checked centuries later, and (c) honesty isn't enough.

And later added:

… chatting with people after your analysis of crowds, amplification or lack thereof, and Franklin's and your calculated estimate of the distance X crowd limits, all thought this deserves a post on llog and I agree.   Doubtless this issue has crossed many people's minds and having Franklin laying out the space (albeit with imperfect calculations) from 2nd St to Front St, which still exists) would make such a piece particularly tasty.

Meanwhile I have continued reading "Team of Rivals" (Doris Kearns Goodwin) and found more information.   Concerning the Gettysburg address.  The crowd was estimated:  "Roughly nine thousand stretched away from the platform in a half circle."   And here's an interesting tidbit:  "George Gitt, a fifteen-year-old who had stationed himself beneath the speaker's stand, later remembered that the 'flutter and motion of the crowd ceased the moment the President was on his feet.   Such was the quiet that his footfalls, I remember very distinctly, woke echoes, and with the creaking of a the boards, it was as if some one were walking through the hallways of an empty house'."

I was particularly interested to read this because it had occured to me that even if you and Franklin are right about the possibility of projecting to so large a crowd (and though I might doubt Franklin a little, I am always sure of YOU), a further condition would have to be rather absolute crowd silence, and a lack of wind besides.    (the estimate and passage about Gitt are p. 585 of Goodwin's book, paperback edition).   Why don't you write a little post on this, including your and Franklin's calculations (and the quote from him) and perhaps some of this Gettysburg info.

Which I have done.


  1. jfruh said,

    June 23, 2012 @ 11:39 am

    I experienced a 21st century version of this at the Obama inauguration. We managed to get a spot on the Mall about halfway down, near the Washington Monument. Obviously it was too far from the Capitol to hear or even see anything. There were jumbotron-type screens and huge speakers set up intermittently, but even these were impossible to hear when we got there — we could hear some talk coming out of the speakers but it was impossible to understand. But when Obama started giving his speech, total silence descended on the crowd, and it was very easy to understand him. It was all the more striking because it wasn't as if the crowd were even particularly loud up until that point — there was just the murmur of people talking at normal conversational levels, which adds up when there are a million of you, but it doesn't register as noisy when you're in the middle of it. So Franklin's observation that the crowd "observ'd the most exact silence" was probably pretty important to his ability to hear.

  2. mike said,

    June 23, 2012 @ 11:49 am

    Two thots. One is that, per that last observation, there was apt to be a lot less ambient noise — find an outdoor space now that can accommodate thousands of people and you'll probably find a lot of road noise, etc. (Up here in the NW, of course, there's also all that rustling from the Gore-Tex. Haha.)

    Point two is that this word is _so awesome_:

    >his auditories

    [(myl) The OED sez that it means "An assembly of hearers, an audience", and gives examples like these:

    1548   H. Latimer Serm. Ploughers i. 68   Here is a learned auditory: yet for them that be unlearned I will expound it.
    a1715   Bp. G. Burnet Hist. Own Time (1724) I. 135   He chose to preach to small auditories.
    1855   T. B. Macaulay Hist. Eng. IV. 525   A loud moan of sorrow rose from the whole auditory.

  3. The Ridger said,

    June 23, 2012 @ 12:12 pm

    Russian has borrowed that word аудитория – auditoriya – meaning audience. My students have to remember that it's not the place, but the people.

  4. Kenny Easwaran said,

    June 23, 2012 @ 12:17 pm

    I was thinking that theaters normally allow people to speak to even larger crowds, but after a bit of googling I can't actually find a theater that holds more than about 4000 audience members.

  5. Andy Averill said,

    June 23, 2012 @ 12:33 pm

    @Kenny Eastman, Royal Albert Hall has a capacity of 5500, and Radio City Music Hall holds over 6000.

  6. Andy Averill said,

    June 23, 2012 @ 12:34 pm

    Sorry, that should be Kenny Easwaran of course.

  7. Tim Leonard said,

    June 23, 2012 @ 1:22 pm

    Let's go at it the other way. Franklin says 30,000 people would fit if they took two square feet each, so he thought the semicircle encompassed 60,000 square feet. A full circle encompassing 120,000 square feet is 195 feet in radius. That is much less than the distance from the Court House steps to "near Front Street." It is, however, plausibly half the distance he measured. Perhaps Franklin mistakenly calculated with diameter rather than radius.

    [(myl) An easy mistake to make in do-it-in-your head algebra. I'm persuaded.]

  8. Robert E. Harris said,

    June 23, 2012 @ 3:04 pm

    The Community of Christ Auditorium in Independence, Missouri seats about 6,000.

  9. Kevin said,

    June 23, 2012 @ 4:11 pm

    I'd note that "two square feet" can be ambiguous. I don't know when the firm distinction between "two square feet" (2 sqft, 1.4×1.4 feet if square) and "two feet square"/"two foot square" (4 sqft, 2×2 feet) developed. [I'm also not confident the distinction exists for the general public, but it seems rare to encounter that confusion among more educated (the white-collar professionals I interact with most).]

    Running the numbers at 4sqft per person, and assuming that only about 1/4 of the semicircle could be occupied (given the buildings), you would get 175,000 in an unobstructed semicircle to Front Street, or maybe 40,000 given the buildings.

    On the other hand, if Franklin assumed people would only be on the two streets directly adjacent to the speaker, you would have two streets of about 1000' x 30', or 60,000 sqft — 30,000 people at 2 sqft per person.

  10. Rubrick said,

    June 23, 2012 @ 4:59 pm

    I'm more inclined to believe an explanation like Kevin's than that Franklin was just being sloppy. While not a mathmetician per se, Franklin was a pretty meticulous scientist by the standards of the day. I find it hard to believe he'd confuse radius and diameter (and then commit the error to print!)

  11. marie-lucie said,

    June 23, 2012 @ 5:05 pm


    The French word this rare word seems to be based on is auditoire (m.) 'audience' (= gathering of listeners). French audience (f.) means literally 'hearing', as in a 'sitting' of judges during a trial, or a meeting (public or private) with the Pope or a similar figure.

  12. peterv said,

    June 23, 2012 @ 6:13 pm

    "Auditor" is still in common use for an audience-member undertaking assessment of university student presentations (London, UK). The word implies a role more active than "spectator".

  13. John Swindle said,

    June 23, 2012 @ 7:44 pm

    @peterv: In the USA a student who has been given permission to attend a course without taking examinations or receiving credit is "auditing" the course and is sometimes called an "auditor" in that context.

  14. EndlessWaves said,

    June 23, 2012 @ 7:58 pm

    It would be fascinating to know what the ambient noise level of a pre-industrial city was. Even discounting the cars there must be many more motors running for things like air conditioning units, computers and power systems.

    p.s. On the subject of large theatre-like venues the Manchester Arena has around 20,000 seats.

  15. Barbara Phillips Long said,

    June 23, 2012 @ 9:05 pm

    Were Lincoln and other speakers also talking at a more measured pace, exaggerating some vowels, consonants or word endings, or using other techniques for clarity, such as repetition? I don't see much repetition in the Gettysburg Address, but I haven't studied the work of other speakers at the time, and I've only read a couple of Lincoln's speeches.

    My understanding, based on the work of Garry Wills, is that the headline speaker in Gettysburg was someone else who spoke for a much longer time, and one result of the Gettysburg Address was the gradual preference for shorter public speeches.

    Do rhetorical texts at the time suggest any of tricks to help comprehension?

    Is there any information about behavior, sound transmission or heckling at the Lincoln-Douglas debates or some similar occasion?

    A crowd trained to silence in order to listen would also explain why instruments that I would call softer, such as a harpsichord, could be heard in larger concert venues, although I don't have any information about the history of concert-going to go on.

    It must have been easier for parents to tell their children to be quiet in such circumstances "because other people can't hear." I think that's a harder argument to make today with the prevalence of microphones — people don't quiet automatically for when the speaker or the music is about to begin. Franklin's research and the details about Lincoln at Gettysburg are interesting not just because of the details about the sound, but what they reveal about standards of public courtesy.

  16. John McIntyre said,

    June 23, 2012 @ 10:41 pm

    For what it's worth, Harold Holzer says that Lincoln appears to have had a piercing tenor voice.

  17. John McIntyre said,

    June 23, 2012 @ 10:42 pm

    Sorry. Comment got away from me before I supplied the link:


  18. Victoria Simmons said,

    June 23, 2012 @ 11:53 pm

    I've always been fascinated by epic film accounts of the life of Jesus, such as "The Greatest Story Ever Told," in which the Sermon on the Mount is preached to vast multitudes in a fairly conversational tone of voice. Even projecting mightily would only help up to a point with such cast-of-thousands crowds.

    These days most performers in larger theaters–especially in musical plays–have headset microphones and speaker systems to help them out. Formerly, though, actors learned how to pitch their voices so that they would carry well, helped by the acoustics of the theater's design, while still sounding conversational in tone. It is said that Greek amphitheaters were designed so that if you stood in a certain spot on stage your voice would be amplified by the acoustics and carry to the top rows. There's a similar spot in the garden at the old Getty Museum in Malibu, California, where when you stand on one particular tile you can hear your own voice amplified by the wall and bench seat opposite you. A sign used to explain that the ancient Romans used these acoustic tricks in building their houses and gardens so that orators could practice how their speeches would sound to others.

    In ancient Greece and Rome, and also in 19th-century America, oratory was a great art form. Speakers were trained in enunciation, projection, and pitch, and audiences were practiced in listening to long speeches. Listening to lecturers on the Chautauqua circuit was a very popular form of entertainment in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Now we watch "Jersey Shore." Progress!

  19. marie-lucie said,

    June 24, 2012 @ 12:04 am

    instruments that I would call softer, such as a harpsichord, could be heard in larger concert venues

    At the time of the harpsichord (before the piano), there were no large concert venues. Musicians performed at courts and in the reception rooms of wealthy patrons. Large churches relied on the organ but also on choirs and orchestras to produce a sufficient volume of sound. The large concert hall dates from the 19th century when musicians were independent and needed to attract larger audiences, both through individual feats of virtuosity and through the loudness of their instruments. Instruments then were made to produce more sound. The piano became the quintessential solo instrument partly because of continued improvements in both tone and volume: the early pianos ("pianofortes") were much softer in sound than modern ones, with much less richness of tone.

  20. Jason said,

    June 24, 2012 @ 1:13 am

    I've always been fascinated by epic film accounts of the life of Jesus, such as "The Greatest Story Ever Told," in which the Sermon on the Mount is preached to vast multitudes in a fairly conversational tone of voice.

    Sent up in the inimitable "Life of Brian", of course.


  21. Janet Kwasniak said,

    June 24, 2012 @ 2:50 am

    I have read that the Primitive Methodist preachers in the north of England in the 1800s were known for their strong voices. They spoke to large crowds in the fields (having no churches) and preached long, long sermons. Their ability to speak was attributed to their very healthy lungs and their healthy lungs were attributed to the walking. They never used horses and walked a large circuit, averaging something like 9 miles a day.

  22. Catanea said,

    June 24, 2012 @ 4:07 am

    James Brabazonin his biography Dorothy L. Sayers says speaking about Dorothy's early childhood in Oxford The street was cobbled in those days, a circumstance which some people might find romantic, but which caused Dorothy to remark later, with her usual lack of sentimentality, that anyone who complained about the noise of traffic in the twentieth century had never heard metal shod wheels rattling over cobble-stones.

  23. peterv said,

    June 24, 2012 @ 4:38 am


    Even modern instruments may not reach all parts of a large hall equally well. And a good acoustic design for a hall for purely instrumental performances is generally not a good design for opera or theatre performances, and vice versa (since the sounds emanate in different ways). Thus, many modern large concert halls use amplification to eliminate or mitigate problems with the acoustics. This is true even for classical performances – for example, in the Royal Festival Hall in London's SouthBank complex.

  24. J.W. Brewer said,

    June 24, 2012 @ 7:52 am

    I cannot quickly find a headcount for the audience at the 1896 Democratic convention for Wm Jennings Bryan's "Cross of Gold" speech, but wikipedia says the same venue on other occasions held crowds of up to 12,000 for athletic events. I would think there would be surviving audio recordings from the first half of the 20th century of famous politicians, preachers, and other orators who had learned the knack of addressing large crowds in the pre-microphone era, from which one might be able to do an analysis of anything distinctive in their delivery. Presumably indoors and outdoors audiences aren't directly comparable in terms of the challenges of being heard (plus an indoors venue may have one or more balconies, adding to some extent the third dimension and increasing the number of total listeners who can be within X feet of the speaker), but e.g. the Metropolitan Opera House holds about 4,000, does not use amplication for the singers, and the singers need to be heard over the orchestra. One might also consider large churches from the pre-microphone era. St. Paul's Cathedral in London, for example, holds approx 3,500, although I don't know if a good unamplified preacher can/could be clearly heard by the entirety of that number. However, about a dozen years ago I attended a service being conducted by Bishop Chartres of London (whose "home base" is St. Paul's) in a quite small chapel, and His Grace seemed oddly "too loud" in how he recited the prayers. It struck me at the time that perhaps he had trained himself to be heard without amplification all the way to the back pews in large spaces and couldn't dial it down for a more intimate setting.

  25. languagehat said,

    June 24, 2012 @ 9:00 am

    I will repeat my remark from the previous Reverend Whitefield thread, because I think it's interesting: His name is pronounced WHIT-field, showing the same vowel shortening as in Christmas and Michaelmas.

  26. peterv said,

    June 24, 2012 @ 10:07 am

    J.W. Brewer said (June 24, 2012 @ 7:52 am):

    "e.g. the Metropolitan Opera House holds about 4,000, does not use amplication for the singers, and the singers need to be heard over the orchestra."

    This is only true of those singers onstage. The Met normally uses amplification for singers, choruses, and musicians performing off-stage.

  27. Anthony said,

    June 24, 2012 @ 10:13 am

    "Their ability to speak was attributed to their very healthy lungs and their healthy lungs were attributed to the walking."

    There is a specific learnable skill of projecting one's voice, where anyone not naturally already projecting can learn to be heard significantly further away than they can be heard by yelling (and with less effort than yelling). I have received bare rudiments of such training, and *when I want to* can be heard quite far over moderate crowd noise. Someone with more training and practice should be able to do much better than I can.

    I don't know if that skill was more common in Ye Olde Days, or if the learning of it was mostly done by people who would have need of it, but it is credible to me that many public speakers could reach audiences of tens of thousands.

  28. peterv said,

    June 24, 2012 @ 10:32 am

    And the New York City Opera, when it was based in the Koch Theater at the Lincoln Centre, routinely used amplification to enhance perceived sound quality. The Koch Theater had been designed for drama and ballet, which have very different acoustic requirements to opera.

  29. GeorgeW said,

    June 24, 2012 @ 10:44 am

    Then, these days, there are those damn TV commercials that are broadcast loudly enough to be heard even through a closed door, over a flushing toilets, and with running water.

  30. marie-lucie said,

    June 24, 2012 @ 2:00 pm

    Anthony: I too learned the bare rudiments of voice projection, while singing in a choir, and although I am out of practice I am still occasionally able to breathe in a way as to make my normally soft voice sound much louder and more powerful. I have sometimes had to make a short speech in public and concentrating on my breathing not only makes my voice more audible but cuts down on my nervousness.

  31. Mudge said,

    June 24, 2012 @ 2:18 pm

    Quite aside from vocal skill (very atheletic in the case of opera singers) and crowds that STFU, there's also a chance that people had better hearing in a world that didn't have as much constant loud noise as ours.

  32. bfwebster said,

    June 24, 2012 @ 2:22 pm

    The Latter-day Saint (Mormon) Conference Center in Salt Lake City (UT) seats 21,000 people in a arc-shaped hall with no intervening pillars. It would be interesting to see how well the acoustics work in a full hall with no amplification from the podium.

  33. maidhc said,

    June 24, 2012 @ 7:19 pm

    I've read that Daniel O'Connell at his “monster meetings” had people stationed in the crowd who would repeat his words in a loud voice for the benefit of the people in the back. This led to a particular style of oratory in which each sentence had to stand by itself, because there would have to be a long pause between each one for the repeaters to do their work.

    [(myl) This seems recently to have been ritualized in the "human microphone" method, as exemplified here or here.]

    Apparently this was not uncommon in the 19th century when speaking to large crowds outdoors. But it wouldn't be necessary indoors for a properly trained orator.

    I've noticed that the old Spanish missions were built with a little balcony in the exact ideal spot for the priest to speak from. You could whisper from there and be heard anywhere in the church. But in those missions that are still used as churches they use microphones nowadays.

  34. maidhc said,

    June 25, 2012 @ 3:02 am

    I will add this additional fact about O'Connell that I found just now:

    "The meeting at Tara, Co. Meath in the summer of 1843, is now estimated to have been attended by 750,000 people."

    I imagine that possibly several levels of repeaters would be necessary for a crowd that size.

    I have attended music festivals with audiences of 50,000 people or so, with modern sound equipment. It's hard to imagine something more than 10 times the size with no amplification at all.

    "Blessed are the cheese-makers" would only be the beginning of the problem.

  35. Ken D said,

    June 25, 2012 @ 4:53 am

    Re exaggerating vowels for pre-microphone speeches: there's a Kottke post which features some recordings purportedly of Gladstone speechifying (although not publicly) in which this seems to be happening. "Myy deeeaaaar Miiister Edison!"

  36. Rod Johnson said,

    June 25, 2012 @ 8:52 am

    GeorgeW: Then, these days, there are those damn TV commercials that are broadcast loudly enough to be heard even through a closed door, over a flushing toilets, and with running water.

    It's complicated, but for the most part, those commercials are actually not actually louder than the programming, but they're perceived as louder because they have a smaller dynamic range. That is, they're compressed so that the quieter parts are louder–which makes me wonder whether a kind of natural compression might be at work in the oratorical techniques discussed here.

  37. Ellen K. said,

    June 25, 2012 @ 9:30 am

    Rod, I would call that being louder than the programming. The average volume of the commericals is louder than that of the programming.

  38. Rod Johnson said,

    June 25, 2012 @ 10:59 am

    The data is mixed on this. If you measure the RMS value of the signal, it's not, typically. There are pretty strict standards on how "hot" signals can be, and engineers push pretty hard against them. Perceptually, it's true, of course. I guess that's my point—you can raise the perceived loudness of a signal without necessarily increasing the actual energy. Which seems similar to the idea that practiced speakers can "project" (perceived loudness) without yelling (increased energy).

  39. Rod Johnson said,

    June 25, 2012 @ 11:06 am

    Googling suggests that I'm not always correct about RMS levels. But it's complicated by a few factors–for instance, shows that are mostly dialog have most of their sound concentrated in a relatively small region of the spectrum, and when you go from that to a commercial things might be louder in other regions without being louder overall. The claim that "commercials are louder" is one of those things that has been debated for a long time without a definitive answer.

  40. peterv said,

    June 25, 2012 @ 12:37 pm

    Rod Johnson:

    "but for the most part, those commercials are actually not actually louder than the programming, but they're perceived as louder because they have a smaller dynamic range."

    If the engineering measurements don't detect the difference in perceived loudness, then they are not measuring loudness, but something else.

  41. Rod Johnson said,

    June 25, 2012 @ 1:46 pm

    Correct. Sorry for the sloppy phrasing. Loudness is a subjective measurement, which is correlated with but not equivalent to sound pressure levels, watts per square meter, etc., and which is affected by the duration and spectral profile of the sound, among other things. And not all listeners respond the same way. All of which is why it's difficult to demonstrate this effect conclusively.

  42. GeorgeW said,

    June 25, 2012 @ 2:13 pm

    @Rod Johnson: I suspect there is some way to measure loudness of the commercials relative to the program. I would be astounded to learn that they have the same physical quality and my perception is just subjective. But, I am open and would be interested to know if that is the case.

  43. Sili said,

    June 25, 2012 @ 2:48 pm

    Makes Jesus sound like a piker, reaching only some 5000 people.

    This reconcil'd me to the newspaper accounts of his having preach'd to twenty-five thousand people in the fields, and to the antient histories of generals haranguing whole armies, of which I had sometimes doubted.

    One would wish that modern reporters showed as much sound skepticism and simple application of the scientific method.

  44. Ken Brown said,

    June 25, 2012 @ 3:22 pm

    I have visited the famous ancient theatre at Epidavros in Greece, and seen two plays performed there. We could clearly hear unamplified actors from the back of the theatre, which seats well over ten thousand people.

    Before the performance it was, just about, possible to hear normal conversation from the stage. The stories about "perfect acoustics" are true.

    I have myself read the Evening Prayer service in Rochester Cathedral in Kent in England – as a congregation of one with one cleric presiding. Even quiet speech at much less than normal converational volume is clearly audible all over the main worship space – nothing like the size of a large theatre but big enough for several hundreds.

  45. marie-lucie said,

    June 25, 2012 @ 4:35 pm

    maidhc: I've noticed that the old Spanish missions were built with a little balcony in the exact ideal spot for the priest to speak from. You could whisper from there and be heard anywhere in the church.

    This must be the equivalent of the pulpit, built of wood and accessible by stairs, for the priest to stand in to preach to the congregation. The pulpit is also placed strategically.

  46. ohwilleke said,

    June 26, 2012 @ 1:41 am

    The distinctive features of opera singing, which was in its heyday right around the time that Lincoln and Douglas were making their orations, almost all derive from the need to be heard, unamplified, at a distance.

    Some biopics on Elvis portray one of his really important insights being the discovery that with amplification one can get away with dispensing with a lot of old school singing style conventions and very different, more minimal sets of instrumental backups, even with a large audience (Gospel and Blues were played to smaller audiences, Big Band had many more, louder instruments in addition to microphoned lead singers).

    So, the notion that oratory at the time involved sonic devices that speakers learned to employ (probably by imitation) that were similar to opera (and equally unnatural to modern ears) in order to expand the range at which it could be heard, isn't implausible.

  47. ProudToBeAMammal said,

    June 26, 2012 @ 2:54 pm

    @The Ridger

    аудитория – auditoriya has two meanings- either the place or the people.

    And the first one is more common.
    See http://ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/%D0%90%D1%83%D0%B4%D0%B8%D1%82%D0%BE%D1%80%D0%B8%D1%8F

  48. Mary Kuhner said,

    June 27, 2012 @ 3:13 pm

    Technique makes a huge difference. I used to amuse myself by sitting at the far back of an auditorium seating 200, and when the professor was hard to hear even with amplification I would say "You need to speak up, Professor X" in such a way that everyone would hear me without amplification. It drove Professor X crazy.

    You can learn the rudiments of this by finding a large empty room with decent acoustics and trying to bounce your voice off the back wall. It's important to be physically relaxed and standing with good posture, shoulders back. Think of filling space rather than making a loud sound–at least, that helps me.

    I can teach in the 200-student auditorium without amplification (though, oddly, this can't be taped successfully, so I have to use a mike for taping). I haven't tried the 800-student ones. The huge med-school auditorium has awful acoustics and even a mike doesn't help. Setting matters a lot.

    Berkeley's replica Greek theater allows a murmured conversation at 30-40 foot separation. You can do even better with a pair of parabolic reflectors, as found at many science museums.

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