“You should be on the radio,” was what was said. What was heard by my 16-year-old ego was, “You shouldn’t be on TV.”
The compliment was first given to me when I was a kid, when my voice suddenly and without the typical teenager’s pitch shifts and volume wobbles—the “Peter’s voice is changing, this week on a very special episode of ‘The Brady Bunch'”-type changes—deepened and thickened to its present baritone/bass.
In the past, I blamed this on my starting theater in junior high school, as that school did not have a stage and my high school theater did not have a sound system, so I learned at a young age how to project my voice and fill a big room without sounding like I am yelling or being operated on without anesthetic.
I now realize that this theory, like so many of my theories about me and my life, makes absolutely no sense.
“You should be on the radio.”
A woman behind me on line at a store said it to me recently. She did not even start with “Hello.” This is usually how the moment transpires: A stranger hears me speak and tells me that I sound like an announcer. Some ask if they have heard me on the radio. (This is possible, remotely possible, but not likely.) Some suggest I send a recording to a radio station. When I first published this column in July, with a sample of my voice at 16, some readers—very kindly!—made the same suggestion.
It is always a compliment and I appreciate it. Period.
There is no “but” to follow that sentence, even though it probably sounded like I was about to turn it into a complaint. Compliments are nothing to complain about.
When I was younger, I did not know how to take compliments for things I have no responsibility for, like my voice or my height, any more than I knew how to accept insults for things I have no responsibility for, like my voice or my height. Perhaps I receive fewer compliments or insults now, or I am simply more grateful for any human contact at all.
In 2014, I discovered that there are videos online of a high school production from 1985 that I was in. I was 16 that year. (The fact that the onstage star, my high school acquaintance, is currently the husband of Rachael Ray, a famous television personality, is I think why these particular six clips are online, as he is the only person in all of them.) It is a production of Frank Loesser’s “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,” which is a musical that must be performed by every high school in the United States once each decade for the school to retain accreditation. (It’s the l-a-w!)
Because I can not sing, deep voice or not, whenever my school was producing a musical I had to find any available non-singing roles and make them mine. In clip below, I am the offstage voice of the book that young Finch is reading. I am not seen in the clip. (In one of the other videos, in which our director takes a bow, I can be glimpsed for under two seconds goofing around on stage with a cast mate.)
I was 16 and already sounded like, well, like someone who should be on the radio or someone who should be announcing subway stops. Or someone whose job is recording outgoing messages for funeral parlors—that young me sounds so serious, and it is not, I promise, NOT because of anything the “role” required. I was indeed, sadly, that serious. Well, that is how I remember me at 16. I had a lot on my mind.
My voice now sounds a bit more lived-in. Thinner. Living will do that. I have a little more control over it. But my girlfriend tells me that she knows when something has my “alpha male” riled up: She says I sound like a radio announcer or the voice of a book when I feel like I need to make my point in a debate. (Not with her: Jen established a long time ago with me that she sees through a lot of my quirks and will ignore those that are unimportant. This is but one of a thousand-plus reasons she is the right woman for me.) She said I sounded like the voice of a book before she knew I had played the voice of a book on stage.
So now when someone at the grocery store tells me that I ought to be on the radio, I refrain from making wisecracks about how adults, unlike children, should be heard but not seen, or I twist it into an insult about how I am being told I have a face for radio. A compliment is a gift, period.
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This is an edit of a piece from 2015.
The WordPress Daily Prompt for March 30 asks us to reflect on the word, “Voice.”
The WordPress Daily Prompt for January 19 asks, “What do you find more unbearable: watching a video of yourself, or listening to a recording of your voice? Why?”
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