I have a friend who is a trained crisis negotiator. I don’t like to think about all the whys and whens of her being needed to act in that capacity. But I’m glad she’s there. The first thing you notice about her is the quietness of her voice. The calm of it. It’s authentic and carries a touch of good humor just below the surface. And whatever she says seems to make good sense and is true and can be trusted. It’s all in there – in just the sound of her voice.
I have also recently seen video footage of a school football coach born without arms or legs. A coach who mentors and leads and directs and connects with his team; he encourages and instructs, and empowers others to victories in life and in sport – all by just the sound of his voice. It is wonderfully enthusiastic and compelling – the sound of his voice.
And long ago I remember hearing one, perfectly poignant use of the human voice – relative to the deep space probe Voyager 1, launched in 1977. Embedded on its “golden record” are music and mathematics, art and science, photographs and written words and spoken thoughts, about earth and its inhabitants, animals and plants, daily life and future dreams – all in a blind and expectant effort to reach potential life – unknown, beyond our universe – to tell them who we are; or as a recording to our future selves of who we were. And tucked within it is the voice of a child saying simply: “Greetings from the children of earth.” Somehow, all the vulnerability and hope and possibilities of humanity are in the sound of that one, small, human voice.
I have been thinking a great deal lately about the mystery and power of the human voice. And, more specifically, I am intrigued with understanding how it can interpret and transform the written word – when it is read out loud.
Maya Angelou shared this: “Words mean more than what is set down on paper. It takes the human voice to infuse them with deeper meaning.” Perhaps the human voice brings more to written words than mere nuance and tone and emphasis and pace. Perhaps it can open another dimension. It can imply and inform the words with emotions of witness and empathy; and etch textures into the story and shape context around it. Perhaps it could even be said that the human voice can bring the literal “breath of life” to a writing.
It might be that the human voice somehow engages a collective human memory – a memory that reaches so far back in our human experience that we formed it listening to stories told in the backs of caves, crouched around fires, watching shadows on stone walls. And something in us is still listening for those remnant echoes. Or perhaps it goes no farther back in time than to our own childhoods, when we were read to from books by human voices that loved us.
I confess to rather enjoying the experience of reading my work to groups who ask me to speak to them. I admit to being delighted when told that hearing my stories in my own voice brings a different interpretation to them.
And yet, what I still love best is writing my stories in printed words on paper to be read with the reader’s own eyes. Because, in the end, I am a great believer in the relationship created between a writer and the reader of the printed words. I am convinced that the “theater of the mind” we create in our own imaginations as we read the words is wonderfully unique. The experience is personal, and ours alone. And the story can sound however we want it to sound. Every story can be heard in whatever voice we choose to imagine.
There is a sure and wondrous power to the sound of the human voice. But there is also a powerful impression the written word makes directly onto the human heart. I suspect it’s best to value and protect and practice them both.