Monday, 20 January 2014

Christella

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.

4 comments:

  1. I can testify that you voice is indeed excellent. Next time we meet you must give me some hints on combining breathiness and power. Probably easier to do than to describe.

    My biggest problem is what my voice tutor calls 'legacy', which is lapsing into my old voice with people I know very well, as that's how I'd always spoken to them in the past. Do you get that problem?

    ReplyDelete
  2. No...probably because there are so very few people still around from my pre-transition life, and all of them have embraced Lucy, making it natural to use the 'new voice' to them.

    In any case, my post-transition voice has become a strong habit. I can't imagine speaking in any other way, at least not without some extreme stimulus. I know I'm proof against a sudden surprise, anyway.

    Lucy

    ReplyDelete
  3. I was always quiet in the past, not too masculine I have been told, but horrified what it might sound like ever since it changed late as a teenager. Everyone in the family remembers my insistence at not being recorded on our neighbours new fangled tape recorder in the late 50's. I remember a delicate child's voice complaining and that was all they got!

    I have long ago forgotten what I sounded like just a few years ago and would not know how to try and reproduce that but I do wish that I could hear what others hear to judge how I sound now...



    ReplyDelete
  4. I don't think I ever had a proper masculine voice though obviously it was in that range. I first learned to speak more femininely at the beginning of my transition when I discovered that I needed to expel air from my upper chest rather than from deeper down. It meant speaking with the air that was more or less in my mouth!. I agree with you on this Lucy in that it is all about breath. Added to that it was necessary to make a converted effort to speak softly at a higher pitch which I found a little difficult at first. However it soon became impossible to speak in my former voice and even painful if I tried. I have found no problems with anyone thinking my voice is anything other than female. Many of the women I have encountered over the years have voices that lean toward the masculine though obviously still feminine. I think I am more in that range. It isn't possible to change one's voice too much as it is dependent on the physical structure of our bodies but it can be trained sufficiently as you well know Lucy. I must say too that when we spoke all those months ago I thought your voice was most certainly feminine.

    Shirley Anne x

    ReplyDelete

This blog is public, and I expect comments from many sources and points of view. They will be welcome if sincere, well-expressed and add something worthwhile to the post. If not, they face removal.

Ideally I want to hear from bloggers, who, like myself, are knowable as real people and can be contacted. Anyone whose identity is questionable or impossible to verify may have their comments removed. Commercially-inspired comments will certainly be deleted - I do not allow free advertising.

Whoever you are, if you wish to make a private comment, rather than a public one, then do consider emailing me - see my Blogger Profile for the address.

Lucy Melford