Power of Human Voice – A return

Surgical Instrumentsphoto © 2007 Amazon CARES Amazon Community Animal Rescue, Education and Safety | more info (via: Wylio)This post sat for a while, and even though I know many people have already hear the story, I think it bears repeating.

Driving home from a session one evening, I was listening to NPR and this story caught my attention:

A surgical team in California on Thursday announced they had done something spectacular: They replaced the larynx of a 52-year-old woman who hadn’t been able to speak or breathe on her own for more than a decade.


Brenda Jensen, 52, damaged her own larynx so severely when heavily sedated back in 1999, that she had to use a voice synthesizer to speak. Her granddaughter had never heard her natural voice.

Read on:

During an 18-hour surgery last October at the University of California, Davis, Medical Center, doctors removed Jensen’s voice box, her thyroid gland and her trachea. Then, they put a donated organ — from an anonymous accident victim — back into her throat, reconnecting the intricate nerves and muscles needed to bring Jensen’s voice back to life.

This is absolutely astounding. A medical miracle. To have lost something as fundamental as one’s voice, then have it returned to you by the gift of an organ donor, is beyond incredible. Considering the complexity of our vocal instrument (pointed out in Pamela Vanderway’s post from a few weeks ago) and how little we know about how it works, I am overjoyed at the good fortune of Ms. Jensen.

I strongly encourage you to read or listen to the entire piece. Then consider being an organ donor, because it really can save a life. Or a voice.

It’s not about who deserves it

If you are in the voiceover industry (or watch the Today Show), you have probably heard all about it by now. 71 year old homeless man Ted Williams is recorded and put on YouTube demonstrating his “golden pipes.” And really, his voice is spectacular.

I, like many others, posted the video, commented on it. The post explodes on the Internet (7.5 million views as of this writing). And Ted’s story has a wonderful next step;  he has been offered gigs by the Cleveland Cavaliers, MTV, and others. Voices.com and others have offered training scholarships, and it looks as though he will have someplace to live.

The response from people in our industry to that has been…varied.

I have seen many truly happy responses, pleased to see that a man who has made mistakes in his life and been drawn away from a potential career by drugs and alcohol has been able to bounce back and virtually hit the jackpot in getting the opportunity of a lifetime. Others have thrown the cynical “heck, I’ll go write up a sign and get a gig.” Some, like my friend Mercedes Rose (@girlactor on Twitter)  has celebrated the fact that it throws a light on the somewhat hidden world of voiceover, and gives her a chance to point out that you can’t always hit the lottery like Ted, and if you want to get into voiceover, you have a lot of work to do (I used some of her stuff in my own how to get started post).

Ted, bless him, has gotten an opportunity many of us would give our eye teeth for. But I want to point out what he went through that put him in this position.

He had the chance to do this before, but had it derailed by alcohol and drugs.

He has been clean and sober for two years, but was living on the street panhandling for cash to stay alive.

David Houston (@DavidHoustonVO) said it best: “Memo to Haters: Dude is 71. Lots more days behind than ahead for him. Ease up, ‘kay?”

Ted’s story brings two things immediately to mind for me.

My father is just two years older than Ted. George Washington, Jr. is a man any of you would be proud to call your father, and am lucky enough to do so. He has a simply amazing vocal instrument, and I can only wish I had the depth and fullness he has.  He sings and speaks, and I have accused him of using his voice as a weapon to get his way in arguments and discussions at the county board he has served for so many years. Everything my voice is, I owe to him. And with the stubbornness, tenacity and willingness to do what it takes to keep his head above water, he and my mother still live in the house my brother and I grew up in, when he could have been in the same shoes as Ted. No, my father was never an alcoholic or drug user. But in this country (or almost any other), it doesn’t take too much to push a life over into disaster. Lose a job, get sick at the wrong time, and there you are. My father stood tall through all of the difficulties and struggles of his life, and I am proud, again, to say he is my father.

I then look at my life.

I lost my job about 16 months ago. Through the gift of my incredible wife, I have been able to make progress on a goal, a voiceover career, that I was only nibbling around the edges of for years. Now I am having to make some changes in what I do to accommodate a big change in my working life. But again…I was close enough to the edge that I could see where Ted is from where I was standing, at least in my head. And yes, there is a small pang of “I COULD DO THAT” that come up when I see the opportunities that are being thrown Ted’s way.

But I will make my way. I will keep working hard, and find my place. Do I deserve it? No more or less than Ted does. Opportunities come; sometimes when you are at the very bottom, sometimes when you are at the very top. Celebrate them and keep working, whether for you or someone like Ted.

It isn’t about who deserves it.

It’s about what you do with it when it comes.

Update: Super voice talent John Taylor points out that Ted is actually 53. This shifts a little of my points, but it also makes him closer to my age.

Power of Human Voice – Eddi Reader and the Scottish Parliament

Eddi Reader is one of my absolute favorite pop singers. Born and raised in Scotland, she was a member of the band Fairground Attraction before striking out on a solo career. One of the high points of her album output was 2003’s Sings the Songs of Robert Burns. Reader sets some of Scots poet Robert Burns’ poetry to music, including such old charms as “My Love is Like a Red Red Rose,” complete with her usually well hidden Scottish brogue.

The final track on the original release is the New Years chestnut “Auld Lang Syne.” But she sings it with a different melody than we in the States are used to hearing. Pardon the quality of the recording, but here is Eddi Reader performing “Auld Lang Syne” for the Scottish Parliament in 2004, where Burns is considered a national treasure.

And to all of my friends and colleagues, Happy New Year to you and yours!

The full lyrics to “Auld Lang Syne”

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot
and days of auld lang syne?

For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne,
We’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet
For auld lang syne

We twa hae run aboot the braes
And pou’d the gowans fine;
we’ve wander’d mony a weary foot
Sin’ auld lang syne

We two hae paidled i’ the burn,
Frae mornin’ sun till dine;
But seas between us braid hae roar’d
Sin’ auld lang syne

And here’s a hand, my trusty friend,
And gie’s a hand o’ thine;
We’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet
For auld lang syne

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot
and days of auld lang syne?

For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne,
We’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet
For auld lang syne

Christmas Eve Music

My wife Katherine and I were asked to sing at St. Mark’s ELCA Church here in Charlotte for Christmas Eve, and since we have not gotten many opportunities to sing in the same room recently (we have to work on this!), we gladly accepted. I am waiting for the videographer to post her stunning rendition of “Gesu Bambino” by Pietro Yon, but I will share my “O Holy Night” and “Some Children See Him.”

My own beliefs have changed over the years, but Christmas music still holds a special place in my heart. Hope you enjoy them, and I will definitely post her video as soon as I have it! Thank you to Les Ackerman for inviting us to join the wonderful men and women of the choir to sing with them on a special night.

Vocal Rest from Dialect 411

Dialect Coach Pamela Vanderway of Dialect 411

Dialect Coach Pamela Vanderway of Dialect 411

My friend Pamela Vanderway, aside from being an outstanding dialect coach in Los Angeles, is also a fountain of ideas. On her blog Dialect 411, Pamela wrote about a topic that every person who uses their voice for a living should read and take to heart about vocal rest.

Singers often know about the concept, but people who talk for a living may not, unless they have had a shoot or session that required a lot of shouting or screaming. Pamela goes in depth about what it is, the reasons for vocal rest, and the best ways  to achieve it. Even if you never stress your voice in this manner, you will learn a lot about the vocal mechanism and how to take care of it.

But don’t just take my word for it. Go read her post right now,  and subscribe to her blog. You are missing out on a great person and a wonderful resource if you don’t.

Sound editing help via sticker?

Apple Keyboard Macrophoto © 2007 Declan Jewell | more info (via: Wylio)Using your DAW (digital audio workstation) of choice can be made easier by learning the shortcut keys that all of them offer to help you speed through your recording and edit process. But there are as many key combinations out there as you can come up with by pressing your CTRL and ALT keys (or Command and Apple keys for the Mac fans). That’s a lot of shortcuts…how do you remember them all?

Well, according to EditorsKeys, you don’t. With their keyboard sticker sets, you can have the entire set of shortcuts your program offers right at your….erm, fingertips. For $15.99, there are sticker sets for the following products:

  • Ableton Live
  • Cubase
  • Logic/Logic Express
  • Pro Tools
  • Reason
  • Sibelius
  • Sonar
  • Sound Forge

And if you really want a dedicated keyboard, they also sell keyboards with the shortcuts already labeled for Pro Tools, Cubase, and Logic. These same keyboards and sticker sets are offered for graphic editors and video editors as well. They also sell one of my favorite pieces of editing hardware, the Contour ShuttlePRO v2. Finally, they have a regular newsletter with audio editing tips and tricks you can sign up for.

Becoming fluent in your audio editing tool of choice is critical in your progress as a voice artist, because speed from recording to finished product is something you absolutely must have. These tools can help you get your editing “up to speed” for not a lot of money. And that helps you get auditions and production projects out faster. Who can argue with that?

Power of Human Voice – Your Gifts

The last few weeks I have posted a “Power of the Human Voice” post, spotlighting some vocalists and performers that I thought I wanted to to share. This week, I’m going to take a slightly different tack.

One of the many things I see suggested to beginning voice talent is that they volunteer to read for the blind. Organizations like RFB&D help create and distribute content to those who cannot read or struggle to do so through no fault of their own. For the voice artist, it give you the chance to work on your chops, your characterization and your endurance, as well as giving you a chance to give back to the greater community.

I have not done this, but I wanted to let people know that what you do can have an enormous impact on people you don’t even know. This came to mind after an event I have been involved in the last few years. Here in the Charlotte area, The Havens, an Alzheimer’s and dementia home for the elderly, has asked me to come in and sing Christmas songs for the residents for the past 4 or 5 years. If you haven’t experienced what being around Alzheimer’s patients is like, it can be heartbreaking. Many times they move around in their own haze, or not at all. Even with the caring staff around them, they can be unresponsive. Those who are responsive often struggle to make sense of things around them, and comments can come out of the blue. One year I sang there, a little lady very earnestly discussed her little dog with me for 3 minutes, and abruptly turned away to speak on some new topic with a neighbor.

However off-putting it may seem to be, I try to make sure to do it every year. Because for those few minutes  that I sing for them, I can see the impact for many almost immediately. Some sing along lustily, some merely murmur the words. And some just cry.

When I sing for them, I have learned that the most important choices I make for music are the ones that bring them memories. No unique Christmas tunes here: “White Christmas” never fails for the good people in the Havens. “Winter Wonderland,” “O Come All Ye Faithful,” and more of the all time favorites are the way to go. And I hear it from the families who come year after year that they appreciate having Mom or Dad hear those old songs at this time of year.

This is the impact you and your voice can have on those who need it the most. As a voice artist, you are already used to not having people leap to their feet in applause after your finest performance. Keep in mind that sometimes what you do with your voice affects people in very small, but still very important ways. Reading for those who cannot, singing for those who need it most, using your gift in the finest way possible. Especially this time of year.

So go ahead and start doing some reading or singing. For you, because it is always good for your soul. And for the people who need your gifts. Even those who cannot tell you they need it.