“Whether We Know It or Not, We’re Always Singing”

One of my resolutions for 2022 was to put a dent in my backlog of New Yorkers; the same backlog that every subscriber has. I have “caught up” to being only 37 months behind (or 157 weeks if you prefer), currently enjoying the February 11, 2019 issue.

Along with an analysis of Trump’s government shutdown over funding his wall, a Shouts & Murmurs titled “Signs That Something Might Be Going Around the Office” (just wait 2019 readers), and a profile of Pamela Adlon, is Burkhard Beiger’s piece on the vocal group Roomful of Teeth (note: all New Yorker links are behind a paywall). Highlighting how speech and music relate, Beiger writes:

We use minor thirds when telling sad stories and major thirds when telling happy ones. We match pitches with those we admire and expect the same of those who admire us. We harmonize when we agree—starting our sentences a perfect fifth or an octave from where the last sentence left off—and grow dissonant when we disagree. Our arguments are full of tritones.

Beiger quotes the group’s conductor, Brad Wells: “Whether we know it or not, we’re always singing.”

For decades, I have been coaching my media and presentation training clients to use their voices to ensure the audience knows how they feel about what they are saying. Good news should sound “good;” usually involving raising the pitch and the volume. Bad news should sound “bad,” usually by lowering both pitch and volume. I tell them that a viewer or listener should know how the speaker feels about every sentence in a talk or interview, even if that viewer or listener doesn’t understand a word of the language being spoken.

Now I know there’s an identifiable musical quality to it. I don’t anticipate telling a client “you’re announcing an unexpected profit—take it up a major third!” anytime soon, unless I’m training the president of a music school or arts association. But, I will be listening for the music in my conversations and when watching or listening or broadcast interviews and speeches.

And, anyone who’s heard me attempt karaoke will be relieved to hear, I won’t be singing my own speeches anytime soon.

One thought on ““Whether We Know It or Not, We’re Always Singing”

  1. leslie gottlieb says:

    This is fascinating Ken. You learn something new….Thanks for sharing and for your insights.

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