As any loyal reader of this blog ought to know, I am a big fan of music. By extension, I’m a big fan of anything which has anything to do with sound, though I specialize in esthetically pleasing ones. As such, I’m an avid music fan, both actively and passively. Which means that if you happen to come across me walking, I will probably be wearing my headphones, passively enjoying the dulcet tunes of my favorite artist; actively, I have been known to participate in a karaoke event or two, apart from which I like singing any time I can get away with it (usually when I am alone). Because while I deeply appreciate instrumental music, I am also a lover of the human voice. Or, as I shall now call it, a philanthrophoniac. Neologism for this post: check.
‘Canorous’ is marked as ‘rare’ by my dictionary, and is used in reference to ‘song or speech’, meaning that it is ‘melodious or resonant’. The word arrived in English in the mid 17th century, and derives from the Latin verb ‘canere’ (‘to sing’), added to which was the common suffix ‘-ous’. I find this a particularly delightful word, because whereas I don’t listen to songs unless they are canorous, in my daily business with people I have met a wide variety of timbres, pitches, accents and inflections, and since I can’t choose to only talk to those with particularly canorous voices, I appreciate them all the better.
But what is there so enchanting about a (esthetically pleasing) human voice? It is not the first thing you remember when you think about a person, is it? The first thing that usually jumps to mind when someone calls a name is physical appearance. But this is exactly what I find so fascinating about voice: it is usually overlooked. To me, however, it is very important for various reasons. Admittedly, some voices are more remarkable, memorable and/or canorous than others, but to me knowing what a person sounds like is an essential part of knowing that person. This might creep some people out (though on the whole I find it not that strange), but I have mental conversations with my friends sometimes, and I have discovered that I cannot do that if I don’t know (or if I only have a vague memory of) what your voice sounds like. Until I find out what your voice sounds like, in other words, I cannot, despite all rational arguments, consider you a close friend.
Which does not mean that you’re a bad friend if you don’t call me regularly so I can hear your voice; for me it has more to do with level of intimacy. In the digital age, I communicate with many of my friends over chat or email, but with my sister, for instance, I have frequent phone conversations (mainly because she doesn’t have much time for anything else). And the fact that I feel closer to her than to most of my friends (even though I have technically less contact with her than I do with most of my friends) has at least as much to do, I think, with the fact that I hear her voice more often, as with the fact that we’re siblings. Also delightful about my sister is that she is a trained radio presenter, so her voice always sounds wonderfully canorous (though most of that gets lost over the phone, sadly).
This is very personal, of course. I like knowing someone’s voice because that little detail about them makes our acquaintance a lot more personal an intimate to me than my contact with several of my online acquaintances. I don’t know many people who pay lots of attention to voice, however, let alone find it so important. But I am not the only one who is influenced by voice. Research has shown that voice can influence us, in our perceptions and attractions, in ways that are usually unconscious. Did you know, for example, that familiar voices automatically jump out to you in the middle of the hubbub? What’s more, people find familiar voices easier to understand than strange ones, even if the stranger speaks perfect English. What’s even more, it appears that people with foreign accents are generally considered less trustworthy, which has nothing (or little) to do with prejudice, but everything with the fact that foreign accents are more difficult for the brain to process. And unfortunately our minds seem to apply a simple rule: if it’s more difficult to understand, it’s less likely to be true. However, in order to counteract that, people with two different accents tend to unconsciously imitate the other’s accent to make it easier to understand. Isn’t that funky?
In the spectrum of human attraction there are the known facts: heterosexual (it irks me that articles always forget to mention this) women are more attracted to deeper voices, and heterosexual men are more attracted to higher voices (but not too high-pitched and squeaky). Which is actually how you can identify the stereotypical gay male: the ‘gay accent’, as it is called, is different from the speech pattern of heterosexual males, because gay males use more intonation in their speech, whereas straight males usually have a more monotonous way of speaking. Gays are more canorous, in other words. Yay for gays!
Voices, accents, intonations, inflections and speech patterns continue to fascinate me. For a long time unconsciously, but lately I actively started paying attention to it. In fact, it’s the direction my academic career seems to be taking, since this year I will be writing my bachelor paper on Under Milk Wood, which is tellingly subtitled ‘a play for voices’. It’s my plan to analyze those voices, not mainly looking at the text, but listening to the voices the way they were recorded decades ago by Dylan Thomas himself (and what a canorous voice he has; since I heard him read I have no respect for writers who can’t read their own work—yet sadly, reading poetry properly is an art few seemed to have mastered). Considering how much of a nerd yours truly is, I am particularly looking forward to this. Spending my time researching such canorous poetry makes my heart skippy. You see, since I stopped my musical education the amount of music in my life ostensibly seems to have lessened, but since then I have become fortunately aware of other, more subtler forms of music. The cadence of a sentence. The symphony of dialogue. The merry ring of a resonant laugh. Bliss.