Those of you who follow this blog regularly understand that I see voice as an aspect of spirituality. You know that I see the totality of being human as being connected to having a voice, being heard in your world, having your opinion count, speaking out and speaking up for your point of view, and raising your voice in all manner of human expression.
I value human sound, animal sound, natural sound. I value the sound of birds, cats, dogs, cayotes, sheep, whales, ocean waves, trees swaying in the breeze, thunder booms, and hard rainfall. I value crying, laughing, shouting and whispering. I value giggles, baby gurgles, hilarious laughter and the sound of little children playing. In fact, I appreciate sound as a true blessing of being alive.
If you have normal hearing you are the same as most other human beings. If you have a normal larynx, that is also true. Nearly everyone has two ears and a larynx with two vocal folds. If we are sound makers, coming in with a breath or a cry and going out with a rattle and a sigh, we are part of humanity. In this, everything and everyone is the same. Universally, if we are alive, sound accompanies us throughout our life journey.
It is also true, however, that each voice is as unique as a fingerprint. Each voice has its own acoustic fingerprint of formant frequencies. Each sound spectrum is ours and ours alone. You might sound something like another person but the machinery that analyzes voices will tell you that the small differences are there, even between identical twins. Forensic science can help identify the voice of one individual from another in order to help solve a case. In this, everything is different, everyone is different.
It is also true that all music is music. And, in fact, if you are familiar with the works of people like John Cage and some of his contemporaries, the line between that which is music and that which is not can be very arbitrary and blurred. Cage once did an entire concert that had no sound at all. To him, all sound and all silence was music.
So, where are the boundaries?
The boundaries are where we set them. Different people have different ideas but within each style there is some kind of consensus or there wouldn’t be a recognizable style. I know jazz when I hear it and I don’t confuse it with metal rock. I know a country singer when I hear one but I can distinguish her from someone singing gospel or blues. I can certainly hear the difference between a pop diva and a traditional Broadway star. I know what roots or folk music sounds like and I know that it isn’t the same as a song by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein.
Yes, of course, there is all kinds of overlap and many of today’s styles do not fit snugly into just one style. There are so many influences on music today, and things change so rapidly, that a style remaining unchanged is nearly impossible. Still, there are recognizable if subtle characteristics that need to be present or the style just “doesn’t sound right” to those who are experts in it. There isn’t anything worse than an opera singer doing a rock song in her “opera voice”.
Why it is that so many people who deal with singing cannot take this in, I don’t know. But they are out there. Unfortunately.