Friday, July 23, 2010


by Madeleine Kando

They are all around us, those voices. They permeate every minute of our waking hours. Radio, tv, friends, family.. voices, voices everywhere. A voice is the medium, what you say is the message. A voice has a personality of it’s own. Why do I like Obama’s voice so much? MyGod, he could say: ‘Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall’ and it would sound like the most intelligent thing I’ve heard that day. On the other hand, ever since I heard Bush talk about ‘nukalar’, the hair on the back of my neck stands up just at the sound of his voice.

In our family we have what my husband has baptised the ‘Kando voice’. My mother perfected the ‘Kando voice’ throughout her life. She started using it whenever she needed our help. Voices are very useful, you see. They can be seductive, threatening, authoritative, fearful.. you name it and a voice can become a weapon of choice. My mom’s weapon of choice is her baby voice, the ‘Kando voice’. Now that she is 96 and she is dependent on others twenty four seven, her normal voice has all but disappeared.

I am unfortunate enough to have a neighbor in the building where I work who is a former opera singer. Her voice sounds worse than a bluejay in heat. She is so in love with her own voice that I sometimes wear earplugs at work so I won’t go totally insane.

The problem with voices is that you cannot hear your own voice the way others hear it. My husband’s voice is loud. ‘It’s because I grew up with three loud brothers’, he explains. ‘It was a matter of survival’. He often dominates the conversation by the sheer volume of his voice. When we go out to dinner with friends I subtly encourage him to sit at the far end of the table.

A voice can make up for other things: a small, inconspicuous looking person can have a beautiful barritone of a voice. Radio personalities are a good example of how voices don’t always match the appearance of the owner. I hear Tom Ashbrook on talk radio and I imagine a bit of a heavyset intellectual with glasses and a beard, holding a pipe in his hand. I am sure he looks nothing like that, but I don’t want to find out. I learnt my lesson in that regard when I stumbled upon a photograph of Terry Gross. When it comes to radio personalities our imagination is better left alone if we don’t want to be disappointed.

For some obscure reason, big, sturdy Dutch women have high feminine voices. Happy, exaggeratedly upbeat. As if they just had a refreshing bath and are now clean and free of depressing thoughts. I cannot compete with that. When I speak with my Dutch friends, I am so conscious of my own morose sounding voice. I sound chronicly depressed. That’s why I don’t like to speak Dutch. I prefer to talk back in English so I don’t have to sound so happy.

Watching Japanese samurai movies is a lesson in how looooow a barritone voice can possibly go. In those movies the females have to counteract the barritones by sounding like little crickets, ready to be crushed at the slightest provocation.

And let’s not forget the part that air plays in a person’s voice. You can tell when you hear a heavy smoker talk: raspy, worn-out, trying to finish a sentence with their poor destroyed lungs. But having strong lungs can sometimes be too much of a good thing: I have this American Indian CD where the singer doesn’t take a single breath until the whole bloody song is finished. Listening to him perform his three-mintute warrior song makes me hyperventilate. 

Voices are so incredibly diverse. That’s what makes them so fascinating. If I were to loose any part of me, my voice would be one of the last things I would want to give up. It is so much part of who I am. Voices are complex, mysterious, unanalyzable. They are probably one of the most unique parts of a human being. The lucky few who can harness the power of their own voice have the world at their feet. It is up to them to put that power to good use. leave comment here