Friday, May 23, 2008

The voice as accessory

One's voice is The Ultimate Accessory.

Recall the greats: the gin-and-cigarettes Bacall, the Helen Mirren DCI Jane Tennison, the Cate Blanchett Queen.


Young women ignore this aspect of their presentation, and older women worry about wrinkles but ignore their voices.

Your mother may have advised "modulation". There's some truth in that. I heard a gorgeous young woman in her mid-20's at a restaurant; she screeched, "I'll have a slice-a peetsa and a dye-utt Coke". She sounded like Minnie Mouse through a megagphone.

Duchesse wants to march them by their collars to a private spot and hiss: Pay attention to the instrument that is your voice!

To a certain extent you are stuck with what you're born with, but you can make your voice more resonant and compelling by paying attention and using it consciously. ("Shrill", a criticism made frequently about Hilary Clinton's voice, is only ever made against women.)

If you have voice mail on your phone, record yourself most days and listen. Notice your intonation and pitch range. Identify the emotion you want to convey (warmth, enthusiasm, authority, confidence, etc.) and put that into your voice.

Listen to great voices; observe how the professional uses breath and the pause. Breath is the gasoline of the voice.

Notice how she emphasizes key words and phrases. She will (unless speaking a dialect) pronounce every vowel and consonant that is supposed to be pronounced, in every word. She will never, ever use the rising intonation at the end of a declarative sentence, known as "upspeak".

I don't support purging an accent, whatever it may be, unless people squinch their faces when you speak. That means, in any culture, "I can't understand you."

14 comments:

greying pixie said...

It is my belief that substance rather style is at the basis of verbal communication; that it is not how you say something but what you say this is important. At the basis of this is education. It is education which allows us to maintain the charm of our regional accents. If you have something interesting say, you can drop your consonants, swallow vowels and 'upspeak' as much as you want, you will have my full attention.

The rest is snobbery in its most blatant form - the British class system has thrived on it for centuries!

cybill said...

Yes, yes and again YES! A poor speaking voice can be the reason why people aren't taken seriously, or thought of as sarcastic, or girly or many other things. Actual knowledge of the english language helps too. Over here the words 'somethink' and 'nothink' are very popular and it drives me nuts. Nothing to do with accents, we don't have identifiable regional accents in Australia or class. Just enunciate people.

greying pixie said...

cybill, one of my best Australian friends, now in her 60s, was sent to a private school as a child in Adelaide specifically to brought up to speak 'English'. She has a slight Aussie slur, but hardly noticeable. Of course there is class in Aus, it may be based on meritocracy, but class hierarchy is a natural human instinct and exists everywhere that humans live in communities.

cybill said...

Of course you are right greying pixie, there is class distinction of sorts here (and to be terribly honest I am an offender as I was brought up in the UK). I just prefer to choose my own realities sometimes.

Duchesse said...

I hope you've noticed that I am asking for attention to the tonal qualities of the voice- making the most of the instrument you were born with- not word choice or accent.

I am intolerant about accent only when it renders the person incomprehensible to his or her intended audience. I have seen this hinder the effectiveness of the speaker.

kmkat said...

Duchesse, I found your blog after reading your comment over at The Sartorialist saying that the half-tuck was the new popped collar. Perfect! After reading a few of your posts I feel I have [at last] found someone who cares about style/fashion without being shallow, someone who speaks honestly and with integrity. Thank you. (I have added you to my bloglines, so I'll be showing up here again.)

Duchesse said...

kmkat: Thank you very much, you've given me motivation to continue. Think you would also enjoy the blogs of various commenters here, they are on my blogroll. I do!

greying pixie said...

Well, duchesse, then I'm afraid we must agree to disagree on this one. I stand by my first posting.

greying pixie said...

cybill, I'm just as guilty of choosing my own realities, but as I meet and teach young women who have never enjoyed the privileges that I was (accidentally) born into and see them grow in confidence and stature through receiving an education I am acutely aware of the injustices in life and the prejudices it is so easy to unconciously adopt - speech being one of them.

BTW I LOVE Australia!

La Belette Rouge said...

There seems to be a new trend towards affecting a fake voice that is squeaky, childish, and cloying. When I hear that voice I want to scream, "grow up!"

Duchesse said...

Belette: Kelly Ripa, for example?

La Belette Rouge said...

Duchesse: Good example!

Deja Pseu said...

Oh yes, the little girl voice. The "I'm-not-a-threat-to-you-Mr.-Big-Strong-Man" voice. The voice of post-feminism. The voice of shallow celebutards. I hate that voice, especially when it's the affectation of a successful woman long out of her teens.

Paul Pincus said...

terrific post!