Monday, December 19, 2005

# 88 HOW LOW CAN YOU GO?

One of our poster-boys for today’s discussion is Louis Armstrong for his rendition of "Hello Dolly" and "Blueberry Hill". And our other poster-boy, or mascot, is "Eeyore", that little Donkey of Winnie-the-Pooh fame for his rich basement-bass voice muttering something about the rain.

The reason I have chosen these two celebrities is because of their deep rich voices. I love a low voice and tone. I love the sound of a tuba, a bassoon, a monster cello, bass drums, and rumbling low-whining motors. I even prefer the low bay of a basset hound to the sharp soprano yip of other dogs. And despite the threat, I smile with enjoyment when I hear the bumbling low-toned buzz of monster bumblebees. And when it comes to birds, you can have your peepers and twitterers. As for me, I revel in the low-pitched macho sound of an owl’s unabashed demand to know ‘Whoo?’ is walking in his domain.

I’ve always loved bass sounds. When I was a kid, the ‘Pied-Piper’ that could have easily led me out of town was any boy or man with a deep voice. Bass voices had such magnetism I wanted to follow them to the ends of the earth whether I heard them in the street, the church, or the train or bus station. And the few performances I attended of men’s quartet or choirs, before the evening was out, I was madly in love with that tiny fringe on the left of the group that sang the basement notes. I think the whole appeal of some of the singers and actors of the 60’s and 70’s was their deep throaty voices. Dean Martin had a low voice and Man, could he purr. I mean pu-ur-rr.

It just seems to me that high notes rattle the soul and the psyche like a jack-hammer. But those bass tones massage the heart, sooth the soul, and nudge the hammer against the anvil in my inner ear as softly as an erotic whisper. And that is scientifically understandable because low notes have a much slower rate of vibration than high notes.

Now just hold those thoughts while I tell you what this week’s project has been. With the election debates and the numerous voices on radio and TV involved in those debates I became quite bored with content or lack of content and amused myself by tracking the sounds of voices. Also this week I tracked the voices of newsmen, sportscasters, and other TV personalities. And what I discovered from this tracking is that the sentimental void I am feeling is caused by a lack of the purring, slow-massaging sound of phenomenally low basement-baritone male voices. The best I could find in my hunt was the voice of the narrator on "City Confidential" and Larry King’s mid-range baritone voice.

That’s when I realized that something is happening here that we need to pay attention to. That’s when it came to me that when I was a kid, one in every four males had a deep bass voice. That is certainly not the case anymore. I am frightened when I realize how close to extinction bass voices are. Of the many voices I monitored this week – all those callers on the phone, all those television personalities – most had pitchy soprano voices. So following this exercise, I formed theories that might account for why this is happening. These are my theories:

1. Years ago, when the macho-chauvinist image was cool, boys and men concentrated on developing bass-sounding voices. It was fundamental to their image. But that is no longer the case. Where swaggering men with caveman growls were once sexy, now only sensitivity is sexy. And sensitivity is a soprano-toned communication. There is a harsh conflict between caveman bass-toned grunts and growls and the soprano tones of sensitivity. You can no more make the roar of a lion or growl of a wolf sensitive-sounding than make males with macho bass voices sound sensitive. So boys and men are deliberately changing their voices from the attractive purr of bass tones for the sake of sensitivity.


2. Or perhaps today’s phenomenon is caused by too many growth hormones in the food. Hormones that are affecting the tone of men’s voices. Hormones that are causing a gradual evolvement from 'basso profundo' to 'castrato'.


3. Or maybe, just maybe, men need to wear looser underwear.

Whether my theories have substance or not, it is a critical problem that we need to pay attention to. I am sad, close to broken-hearted, to think that sometime in the not-too-distant future, the sounds of this world will be nothing but one high pitched soprano wail.

But the irony all this is that in the midst of the eminent danger of losing our Eeyores and Louis-Armstrong male voices, I see droves of women singers and actors trying to forcibly make their crystal soprano voices sound coarse, husky, dusky, harsh, macho, and insensitive. So what’s with that?

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