Thursday, January 19, 2012

My Heart At Thy Sweet Voice

Back in the days when I actually studied singing (all the way through high school and my first year of university), my singing teachers used to record pieces and exercises on cassette tapes for me to practice with. Occasionally they would also record me practicing with them, sometimes as a harsh lesson in making me practice more often, and sometimes just because they left the tape running. I’ve also heard my singing voice on other recordings over the years – more professional ones, that is. Some of them with really, really good singers. And hearing them at the time and afterwards always makes me feel like a schmuck.

I’ve had a couple of people ask me about my singing lately. The truth is I don’t think about it anymore – I made the decision not to pursue singing professionally so long ago it’s not something that’s at the top of my brain very often. Now I just try and earn back some of the money I spent on my training by singing at weddings.

The truth is I’m pretty good and used to be better. At a certain point in your training (and mine was as a classical singer) you have to decide whether or not to do it professionally. For me that time came at 19, at the beginning of my second year of university. I probably could have done it, gone professional, either with Opera Australia or other organisations. But I just didn’t love performing enough, it really was as simple as that. It’s a decision I have never regretted and particularly given my illness and anxiety problems, it was absolutely the right one.  Every now and again I’ll sing with really good people and think ‘what if?’ but that’s just my competitive edge talking. I’m really glad I don’t have to hear myself sing though, most of the time. It’s torture.

Of course, there is something worse than this. It’s hearing yourself talk.

The mentor likes to communicate via Skype while we’re on holidays. He actually lives in another city, even during semester (he flies back and forth between Melbourne and Sydney every week), and Skype is his preferred mode of communication. So I got an account last week.

Anyone who uses Skype (you know, anyone under 50 and breathing with a friend or relative who lives anywhere other than their own house) has probably used the Echo/Sound Test Service, whereby you speak and make sure that you can hear yourself played back to you via message.

Now I’ve heard my speaking voice before. I’ve recorded voice mail messages and the odd oral presentation I was required to submit at school. And I worked in market research with a very reputable company for two years and was often told how well-spoken I was. I even occasionally have people ask me if I’m English, which is code for ‘you speak really posh’*. But I swear my voice on Skype sounds truly, absolutely appalling. It’s partly a pitch thing – my voice either seems too high or too low – and partly that it just grates.

I am not a terribly vain person. Actually I am not vain at all, as evidenced by the fact that I haven’t been putting on a bra to go outside and meet the delivery guy of late. (And I really have to wear a bra, it’s kind of compulsory for girls like me. They probably go back and tell the guys in the kitchen about the girl with the saggy boobs.) But ‘A Reading of my Voice according to Skype’ sounds so terrible I want to never speak again. Not ever. And I talk a lot.

This is a problem. I cringe at the sound of my own voice. Now I understand why my friends don’t like me. Especially people I had classes with over the years. This can’t be how I sound! If I had to listen to me speak I would want to claw my ears out! Now I understand all those people who said they were eating dinner and really just didn’t want to listen to me ask them questions! Or the judges who didn’t give me first place in debating or public speaking competitions! It’s my not so dulcet tones.

 It’s a good thing that I am not having to defend myself in a court of law they would condemn me based on my voice alone. Even if that’s illegal.

Are politicians and actors and people who work in TV and radio just people who don’t care that they sound terrible? Is this what separates them from us, a lack of vanity?

I’ve had two Skype calls, one with someone who doesn’t speak English as a first language and thinks I sound awesome, and one with an American friend who is beautifully spoken and likes my accent. I don’t think they’re the best people to ask, somehow.

I also don’t know what to do about this, as I think I am too old for elocution lessons. It probably is a good thing that I am talking less but I have enough crippling anxiety without this too. Or is this just the return of vanity now that I am getting better?

Does anyone else feel this way too? Please tell me I am not alone in having this very first world, very selfish sounding problem?**

Spill it. But type it, don’t tell me. You probably speak really badly too.

P.S. – The song from which the blog title is derived is probably one of the most famous arias ever written for a mezzo. Problem is I can’t find a good recording on youtube for you all.
P.P.S. - I was offered two law school places last night. So even if I crash and burn this year I have some options come February 2013.

*It’s no coincidence that the British have more words to abuse people based on how they speak than any other culture I have ever encountered.

**Other very first world, selfish sounding problem: the third book in the Hunger Games Trilogy that I bought online has a massive misprinting problem and essentially is a second copy of the first book. Majorly pissed. I want to know how it ends!


  1. I'm not particularly fond of my voice either but I doubt anyone is. I promise you it's not as bad as you think it is! When I first started doing radio I was horrified by the sound of my own voice. As time went on I became more accustomed to it because I'd heard it played back so many times and worked on making it sound better for radio. My pseudo "radio voice" has long since gone though.. it's back to the default setting.

    1. I do have what I call my 'interview voice'. I'll have to make sure I use it when I speak with the mentor on Monday.

    2. I didn't know Skully has done radio!!! Go you!!

      I think most people hate their voice.

      Is there any word for "beyond hate"? That would be my case. I heard my voice a couple of times and I hate hate it!!! I sound posh, I think if I heard someone talk like I do I wouldn't be able to like her or be friends with her (it's a she because I hope I sound like a girl ;))

      Having said that, I still think you sound great, I like your accent.

      I haven't heard myself talking in English that definitely would be too much!!! haha EPIC FAIL!

  2. My voice is terrible. Awful. It sounds too low and monotonous. I kinda talk with mushmouth and that doesn't help things. If I concentrate really hard I can bring my voice up higher and inflect more, and then it doesn't sound SO awful. My lands, though. I hate talking to people for this reason.

  3. This is the one and only reason that I insisted we NOT have a wedding video.


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