I was told a few weeks ago that I “hadn’t really made friends with my voice”, and almost had to laugh in recognition of this incredibly obvious fact. The list of other aspects of myself, most of them physical, that I haven’t made friends with is pretty close to infinite. If I could be a brain in a jar that happened to control a properly responsive physical self I would be ecstatic! But it got me thinking about my voice in particular and how I don’t remember always disliking my voice or even thinking about it.
I remember being a very young child and being told that I spoke very clearly and sounded older than I was – this at around second grade, so age 7 or 8. Then when I made my first attempt at acting, at age ten, I was continually told that I spoke too quickly and sang too quietly. I never experienced anything resembling stage fright at that age, but I couldn’t figure out how to talk slower or sing louder. It wasn’t a choice I was making out of any anxiety; it was just how I spoke. Slow down? Why shouldn’t everyone else just speed up? I would try, but it never stuck. I’m still told I speak very quickly, and honestly, listening to myself on recordings, I speak much more quickly aloud than I do in my head. My internal sense of tempo runs fast. I’m not a big fan of my speaking voice, though on a good day I can recognize that it’s not actually objectionable.
On a bad day, well. I slur certain combinations of letters. I do speak too quickly. I don’t vary my pitch so much when I’m attempting to project – that, I have been picked on by directors for, and have tried to fix it. Part of why I signed up for voice lessons several years ago was to improve my speaking voice as much as to learn to sing. I had higher hopes for that than for the actual singing part. (For the record: it’s helped some, though I’m more aware of it when I compare old recordings of myself to current ones.) On a bad day I despise my speaking voice as much as I am frustrated by my singing voice. Since the songs I’m working on right now require a very speech-like quality, I’ve really had to address the fact that I honestly have to think about how I’m speaking, otherwise the end result is (in my opinion) sloppy and not what I’d intended. I still get frustrated that what I imagine saying, in my head, doesn’t always cooperate in performance settings. (In real life I barely think far enough ahead of my speech – because I do speak quickly, at approximately the same time as I’m thinking a given thought – to have that problem, though it lends itself to others, such as getting halfway through a sentence and realizing it’s grammatically awful.)
This is all a long-winded and rambling way of saying that my relationship to my voice has been messy and complex. I’ve been given an equal amount of compliments and criticisms on it that I honestly have no objective way of telling anything meaningful about it. I suspect that despite all of my perceived flaws, it’s totally normal and completely average. Which is comforting in some ways… until the part of my brain that despises being merely average kicks in and tells me that average is worse than hopeless. (Hopeless is interesting, you see!)
It’s a work in progress, like all the rest of it. I do wonder how many people who aren’t actors or singers actively think about their speaking voice. If this blog ever gets readers (unlikely, since I’m not sharing it with anyone I know so that I can protect my ability to ramble in over-confessional streams of consciousness with my anonymity intact), feel free to chime in!