When was the last time you thought “Ooooh, I like that voice”? Or maybe the opposite when you heard a voice that made you want to move on quickly or reach for the off switch? For a while I’ve been wondering if people notice voices much at all these days, but I was stuck on hold for ages recently, listening to music to go mad by.
Eventually, I got through to a real live human being. That was a bonus for a start, and when the woman started talking, I was so surprised that I almost forgot what I was calling about. What a voice! I could have listened to her all day. I complimented her, and she told me that a lot of people say how much they enjoy the way she speaks. I found that really encouraging, because like I mentioned, I’ve been wondering. What I didn’t tell her is that she’s now my superhero: Call-Centre Woman!
Of course, it wasn’t just her voice that was so captivating, it was her personality. She was warm and friendly, and sounded interested in what she was saying. If she’d had a nice voice but sounded like she didn’t care two hoots about me, I’d soon have lost interest. If she didn’t have an attractive voice but was helpful and friendly, that would have been alright. But she had the voice and the personality! One of my favourite sayings is that your voice can be your secret weapon… and the way you communicate can be your other one. And why are they secret? Because not many people put much thought into them. Having one can make you stand out. Having both is the ultimate., which can take you far down the road to success in most aspects of life… work; studies; your private life.
Just about all of my working life has been centred around voice. I think of myself as a vocal coach and singer now. Down the years, I’ve also been an actor, radio presenter, voiceover artist, compere, and wait for it… a ventriloquist. (I haven’t moved my lips once while writing this!) I’m passionate about voices – speaking and singing.
Inevitably, fashions change. That applies to voice just as much as anything else. 50-60 years ago, you’d be hard pressed to hear anything other than BBC-type voices on radio and television. That way of speaking is still known as received pronunciation – or RP. Nowadays, you can hear all sorts of accents in the media. I’m a big fan of them. But I think with the acceptance of all these different sounds, something is missing. The call for voice training is thought to be less than it used to be because fewer people need to learn RP in order to be broadcasters. Unfortunately, the baby has been thrown out with the bathwater. One of the benefits of the old-style RP training was that even if you disliked the accent, the tone of those voices was pleasant – like a well-tuned instrument. Nowadays a lot of the voices heard in the media, including the RP ones, are hard on the ear. And because radio and television have traditionally been where we’d find voices we might like to emulate, or that we might subconsciously absorb, our ears are becoming more and more accustomed to harsher sounds – which is why I was overjoyed to hear Call-Centre Woman.
I hardly ever listen to BBC Radio 3, but I did chance upon a podcast by a poet from Barnsley, Ian McMillan. He didn’t write the line ‘A thing of beauty is a joy forever’ (it was Keats, according to Google), but to my ear his broad Yorkshire voice is beautiful. It’s slightly bluff, and importantly, full and resonant. There’s little constriction in his throat. It’s a well-tuned instrument that, like Call-Centre Woman’s, I could listen to all day. And he’s a communicator. I don’t have any links for CC Woman, but you can find Ian McMillan here: Ian McMillan: I Saw A Star – YouTube