Charlie Bertsch (cbertsch) wrote,
Charlie Bertsch

Voice Training

I'm embarking on what may prove a quixotic venture, an attempt to change the way I speak. Being around my father so much in the past few months, I've been reminded of the fact that he can make the most innocuous question or comment sound agitated simply by the pitch of his voice. Mind you, he is worked up a good portion of the time and often over little things. But even when he is in a state of Zen-like contemplation, his voice can still make people think that he's angry or upset.

When I was a child, Honeymooners reruns were still running on a semi-regular basis on New York television. I found them unsettling, not only because of their appearance -- I Love Lucy looked HD by comparison -- but because the way the characters talked reminded me too much of the way my father and his family did. More recently, that same mode of conversation reappeared on Seinfeld as the default setting for George Costanza and his parents. By then I'd learned to laugh at the excess of agitation, perfectly distilled into the way his father would declaim, "Serenity now!"

The truth of the matter, though, is that I was really laughing at my own family and, by extension, myself. These days, however, that laughter rings false. I've spent over two decades with someone who, even though she enjoyed Seinfeld as much as I did, hears in my tone of voice the same tension I perceive in my father's. Even when I'm relatively calm, she thinks I'm upset or angry. And the same, increasingly, goes for my daughter.

That's why I'm undertaking the very difficult task of developing a "radio voice" for use around the house, one that projects confidence and ease. It will require incorporating the equivalent of the brief delay television networks use to catch slip-ups that will run afoul of the censor. I'm going to have to build a pause into my manner of speaking. But I'm willing to make the effort, not only because I need to reduce the level of anxiety around the house, but because I've never really liked my English-language speaking voice anyway. Ideally, I'll be able to borrow from the deeper, slower approach I developed when I learned German as an exchange student, one which led my friends there to discern in me a heretofore imperceptible mellowness.
Tags: autobiography, everyday, health, relationship
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