Monday, 23 May 2011

Imagining Voices

Me me me meeee! Yes, indeed, I have started taking voice lessons. For the spoken word (not singing), the vehicle of my strange thoughts in the absence of pen, paper and keyboard. When I mentioned this exciting little piece of news to a colleague she quipped: "I never thought you had a speech impediment!" I swiftly and somewhat filled her in on the difference between speech therapy and voice lessons, growing more and more conscious of my glottis and its motions as I went along. It's a bit like learning a new type of dance at this stage: at some point I will start stumbling for no reason whatsoever... and hopefully, at some stage, the fruit of my croaks will improve my everyday delivery of delightful tidbits of wisdom as well as smoothen my presentation of conference papers.
His Master's Voice Print by Michael Sowa
Available at an Amazon near you (whence this image originates)

But back to the issue of voices and control over the same: in my initial session I already learned a lot about physiology, the connection between breath, speech organs, brain and 'what-I-sound-like', and about the inadvertent sneaking of emotion into every aspect of voice production. It's this very connection between emotion and voice which creates forensic linguists' daily bread when they analyse the voices in distress calls and or nuisance callers. It's fascinating stuff. And too intricate to be repeated here, right now, when I should really be opening the windows, do a bit of a tai chi exercise and then shout "Baaaaahhhhhh!" at the blustery windy world out there.

One point bears mentioning, though, since I noticed a connection of my interest in the voice to my own daily keep, writing history. I don't know if everyone does this, but I often wonder what type of voice my historical protagonists had. Bess of Hardwick seems to come in at a comfortable alto, while her husband George evokes a thin yet raspy baritone. And wouldn't it be weird if John Dee had a lispy falsetto? In many cases we will never know - lucky is the historian who finds a contemporary commentary on a historical person's voice!
John Dee, image (as so often on this blog) sourced from Wikipedia

But I think I can be a little more confident about the impact of all of the abovementioneds' voices: Bess, George and Johnny were all charismatic, influential personalities, as witnessed by their careers, their fans and even their enemies. There was no one, it seems, who did not have a connection and an impression of their personalities upon meeting them. They made themselves heard, which must have reinforced their confidence, their style of writing and their overall impact, even now, when all that remains is an impression of their tone in their written words.

I had not previously appreciated the connections between voice, confidence, physical composure and personality, and can't wait to find out more. And even if (ok, I'll admit it) I cannot draw any strong conclusions about the voices of historical characters - I suspect this is just as it is tricky (and often dodgy) as is the search for someone's character traits in his or her handwriting - it'll be even more fun now to orchestrate historical conversations in my mind.

To finish, a little recipe (this, too, no rocket science and probably seen in many incarnations elsewhere - but indulge me in thinking I invented it) for a beverage that promotes wonderful voiceness (and here I speak from experience, in a beautiful, melodious contralto) ((who sniggered there?)):

Grate some fresh ginger into a mug and top with boiling hot water. Let steep for several minutes. Add a spritz of freshly squeezed lemon juice, some honey and a sprig of mint. Sip slowly while reciting alchemical poetry.

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