Getting to know Janet Metzger is like learning to solve a Rubik’s Cube—aligning the puzzle’s edge pieces, corner pieces, and center pieces to form the finished pattern. And, after hours of twisting and turning, looking at her from one angle then another, setting her down, and picking her up again, I am only now beginning to see the person that is Janet.
When we first met, I knew little more about Janet than that she narrated books. It wasn’t until months later when we sat down to talk by phone that I noticed her voice. Despite having to travel from satellite to satellite and down the line, her words arrived as they had begun, warm, unaccented, and full of expression. It is a voice eminently suited to narration.
During our conversation, I met the other Janets, the ones on the other pieces of the cube: Janet Metzger the Actor, Professor, Producer, Jazz and Cabaret Singer, Vocalist, Comedienne, and Plate Spinner.
Her website, where she promotes her book narration enterprise, proclaims, “It’s all about the story.” As a writer, I agree, as far as books are concerned, the story is all important. And though no voice can make a poorly written story a bestseller, a well-written book read by a voice like Janet’s, with proper elocution, dialect, intonation, and passion, can be magical.
Janet did not start her career as a book narrator, though. Her journey through life has been a long and winding road, but always a road paved with sound, whether words in a book, bars on a sheet music, or dialog on a stage.
She remembers receiving a tape recorder as a gift from her father. Young Janet lost no time in capturing the sound of everything around her, from birds outside her window, to leaves rustling in the wind, to the voices of everyone she knew and some she didn’t. She explored each of these sounds, internalizing them, absorbing their tone and timbre, and learning to shape her voice.
Janet studied music and though classically trained in French and Italian “art” songs and German lieder, she also sings in Russian, Portuguese, and Spanish as well as eastern European languages. She became a vocalist, singing cabaret and jazz. (Listen to a clip from her performance “Janet Live at Churchill Grounds” here.)
It was natural for Janet to turn to the theater. But acting alone was not enough for Janet. As an early feminist, she was frustrated by finding few plays written by women. And so, Janet launched a theater company to produce plays by women. What’s more, Janet made it to television and the big screen. (View a clip of Janet performing alongside Jeff Foxworthy and Denzel Washington here.)
Janet’s experience in the theater brought her to teaching and law school. Today, as Adjunct Professor at Emory University School of Law, Janet Metzger teaches courses for budding lawyers on Courtroom Persuasion.
Lawyers must be masters of communication to hold a judge’s attention and to mold and motivate a jury. Often, at least at the outset, it’s a matter of helping students conquer their nerves. Janet counsels them to embrace their nerves, to understand that butterflies and sweaty palms are normal and to connect with the audience by watching their faces for signals of what is working.
Janet’s advice applies to authors as well as lawyers. Authors need well-developed communication skills to pitch literary agents, do book readings, and speak to book clubs. And for an author considering narration, Janet says, narration is much more than reading, it’s giving life to a writer’s words.
Janet knows. She’s won an “Earphones Award” by Audiophile for her narration of As Close to Us as Breathing, a novel by Elizabeth Poliner. And she has narrated books for emerging authors and a number of noted authors, including Claire Cook and James Patterson, to name two.
As our conversation came to a close, I asked Janet if we’d omitted anything important. She thought for a moment, and then added she also bakes a mean pie. With that, I realize I have a new piece to fit in the cube. And I suspect, if we had more time, I’d discover others.
Read more about Janet Metzger on her website at: janetmetzger.com