Yesterday afternoon I had another voice session with the London voice therapist Christella Antoni, who had booked a room at the Thistle Hotel in Brighton.
For me, it was an annual checkup. Well, roughly annual! The last session (again in Brighton) was actually on 30 November 2012. I'd done well then, achieving a mean pitch of 193Hz, with a range of 134 to 243Hz. Christella had said that my speaking voice was warm and nicely nuanced, and she'd noticed that I had a natural high-pitched laugh. My voice hadn't been faultless: I needed to control some breathiness, as if I was doing a Marilyn Monroe, and I needed to put more power in my delivery - that is, give my voice more strength - to improve its depth and richness.
So, since November 2012, I had been working on those things, and this time they were no longer a problem.
In fact there was very little for her to criticise. Nothing came up in general conversation, nor in any of the exercises she set me. I stumbled only with the rather difficult reading passage, which was awkwardly punctuated and had some unfamiliar foreign placenames in it. It needed fiendish concentration. I let my voice drop too much at the end of sentences, probably because I was trying so hard to understand the sense of what I was reading.
It was about an athlete who had heard of the death of his sister just before an important race. Feeling devastated, he could not bear the prospect of winning, and so he had thrown the race. But now he was back, the mental block overcome, and he was doing his utmost for his lovely baby daughter (who bore his dead sister's name). He triumphed. But, concentrating on the difficulties of the passage, I'd not put in the emotion that it deserved. I needed to pay attention to that.
Indeed I did: with the prospect of more babies and young children coming into my life during the years ahead, the ability to read in a thrilling way to a child was rather important!
On the whole, though, I'd 'passed my MOT' and should be pleased.
But I knew that retaining a high-level female voice took unremitting work. It was so easy to get to a comfortable level, where the voice was good for every normal purpose, including phone calls, and stop there. Or never even get that far, being lazily content with a voice that simply wasn't right, just so long as most of the time it was 'good enough'. It was dangerous if one's social life was centred around people who were very tolerant of imperfections, such as trans women. I assured Christella that when socialising with a group of trans women in (say) a Brighton pub, I always spoke exactly as I would to any natal woman. Even if I seemed to be the only one using a high-pitched and nuanced voice on the table.
At least I hoped that was true. How you speak does tend to depend on who you are with. And I really don't think my voice sounds perfect, whatever its pitch. But then what does it really sound like? It must resonate in my skull as I speak in such a way that I can never hear it as someone else does! And all recordings sound strange, not as I hear myself at all, which may be down to defective hearing.
The best evidence must be natal women's reactions. The most I've ever heard said by other natal women about my voice is that I have a strange accent that they can't place. An accent? That's not the same thing as too thin a voice, or too low a voice, or a monotonous male delivery. When I explain they are probably detecting a residual Welshness, overlaid by tones and rhythms picked up in Hampshire, London and Sussex, the subject is always dropped, and we move on to much more interesting things. And I never get 'sirred' over the phone.
That then is my chief evidence that all is well. But I continue to strive for something better still. The practicing never stops.