A week ago I attended my cousin Kristin’s wedding near Seattle…well, I attended the reception anyway…but let’s not talk about that. Many of the cousins on my mother’s side of the family attended, most of whom are in college currently. I hadn’t seen any of them in over 5 years. It was fun to hear what they were studying: Vocal Performance, Philosophy, Photojournalism…I learned that I have a cousin in grad school (Gonzaga) who coordinates university speakers on the controversial subject of science & religion. She was originally enrolled in cosmology and switched majors to Philosophy. We all had a lot in common and had a great time catching up.
Most of the people on my mother’s side of the family are talented singers. I’m not a great performer, but I have a decent voice and a good ear, and I’ve participated in many school, church, and traveling choirs, even directed a church choir. Anyway, my cousin Rachel, who is studying vocal performance, mentioned to me that her voice professor has been encouraging her to speak in a higher tone of voice. This was very interesting to me.
The theory goes that speaking in lower tones is harder on the vocal chords, and that women naturally have higher voices, but tend to speak in lower tones if their childhood playmates or siblings were mostly boys. I thought about my childhood as a dead-set tomboy, and about all the women that work in the male-dominated oil industry, and sure enough, I had trouble picturing even one woman I work with that uses a higher, more feminine voice at work. So, of course, this led to a brief social experiment.
My brother and I took a ferry and met the mother & father of the bride the day after the wedding to hike Hurricane Ridge (pictured). I told my brother on the trip over that I was going to speak in a higher tone for the entire day and take mental note of what I observed. The first thing I noticed was how nice I sounded….nice, as in not-mean. It was almost the register of the voice a mother would use to greet an infant or young child. And just speaking that way made me want to be nicer. Also, I found it difficult to speak crudely in that tone of voice. Not that I am usually a vulgar person, but it was almost impossible to say anything vulgar in that tone of voice – it just didn’t sound right.
The first thing I noticed about other’s reactions to me was my brother. I am definitely the dominant personality around him, and I tend to speak more often or pick on him when we talk, but I think he liked me better in the higher tone of voice. It wasn’t assertive, loud, or condescending in any way, and I think it put him more at ease.
It was an interesting experiment, and hard to gauge stranger’s reactions to it. I think in general, people just thought I was a nicer person–definitely less-threatening. That doesn’t mean I will abandon my usual tone of voice. It comes in handy whenever an assertive, in-charge projection is needed. But I learned a little sweetness goes a long way.