Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

Finding Your Voice (or, Taking It For Granite, Part 5)

I lost my voice this week.

Yes: compared with the plight of, say, the folks who are still getting their lives back together after Hurricane Sandy, for example, losing your voice is not exactly cause to set the auto-destruct sequence. But it’s still, so to speak, a pain in the neck.

Monday, my teaching day featured a freakishly large number of times where I raised my voice in exasperation at one of my general music classes.

A not-so-brief aside about the lifting-up of voices: I try not to do it if I don’t have to. In part, it’s a reaction to the relatively few teachers I had who shouted at their classes. My mother has noted that when one of my teachers was shouting at a subset of a class that had it coming, I had seemed to think that I was also being shouted at. Therefore I didn’t like it. Therefore I try not to go there.

(Also, I’m not that good at it. I can either create a coherent sentence, or shout, but usually not both, and more often than not I end up sounding like a yahoo anyway.)

In high school, I sang in the chorus during my senior year, and as much as we all thought highly of our director, we were aware of the fact that he was capable of some pretty high-quality, high-volume blowups. Usually about once a week. And with such regularity that, sadly, you could see most of his singers putting up their invisible “deflector shields”, waiting for the storm to blow over, and it was debatable how much of the blowup was being listened to for actual content.

And when I taught at my favorite summer arts day camp, I witnessed the hugely effective teaching techniques of a couple of my colleagues, which included great expertise, great good humor, and exactly one shout per 18-day camp session. Usually that shout came with about two rehearsal days to go, when the student cast wasn’t remembering lines, or blocking, or where they left their costumes. “Hey!” the shout would usually go, “you do know that in 48 hours your parents will watch you flop around on stage and want their money back, don’t you?” Actually, that was the implication of the shout, not the literal words, but the idea was, git your acts together, gang. And so on performance day the kids would routinely get their acts together, and “hit it out of the park.” The parents would double over laughing and applaud madly when the kids took their final bows, and they’d probably imagine that all the rehearsals had been exactly as great as the performance. Meanwhile, we staff folk would look at each other and roll our eyes ruefully. This is how we do it, all right …

But the shout was effective – everyone’s head snapped back a little, because Rob never shouts; this must be a serious situation. So for philosophical and personal reasons, I keep the yelling and screaming to a minimum, mostly to heighten the effect.

(In fact, I say to my students, I take after my dad, who only ever shouted at his kids if there was a safety issue involved. When he’d bellow, “oi!!” – we stopped in our tracks – partly from surprise, and partly because we knew we were about to step on a rake, off a ledge, into traffic, etc., and he wanted to keep us from harm. This was fine with us.)

Back to the main narrative, now, finally:

At about 2:30 Tuesday morning, I drifted awake, and made my usual half-awake comment to the air about, “ah, good: three hours till the alarm goes off.” Except that my voice sounded like an anvil being dragged across a parking lot. Two wakeful hours later, it had not improved, and I couldn’t imagine trying to instruct anyone with it. I called in sick, and wondered if the substitute-teacher coordinator would have any clue what my phone message meant.

Wednesday morning? Same deal. Not good.

Wednesday afternoon, I thought I might be able to be understood if for some reason I had to call 911. On Thursday morning, I arose, cleared my throat (which, I am told, is not that great for one’s vocal health, but oh well), and attended to my teaching duties. Sadly, my Thursday schedule is usually conducted on a dead run: teach two general music classes, change buildings, teach beginner trumpet group lessons, change buildings, teach two more general music classes, change buildings, conduct a beginner-band rehearsal (talk about not-good-for-your-voice). Then in the evening, I ran a church choir rehearsal – and unfortunately, I have this bad habit of trying to sing lots of choral parts along with the choristers, as if that would actually help any of them.

Friday morning: croaksville again. I could get some semblance of speaking done, but it felt like someone had tied my necktie a bit too snugly around my collar. I went in to school anyway, since I’m not a big fan of being out sick three days in a week. I’m not even a fan of being out for one. I think I get that from some of my former teachers, too. So I taught my classes with the aid of a lot of video clips and a voice from the depths of Hades. One of my students said to me, “Mr. H, you sound like Darth Vader.” Okay, I can handle that, I guess. “Naw,” said another, “he sounds like the movie trailer guy.”

In A World Where People Lose Their Voices … … actually I thought I was coming off as Evil Kermit the Frog, but if my kids hear James Earl Jones, who am I to argue?

This morning, thanks to the Interwebs, many variations on the honey-lemon tea recipe were experimented with; although I still have more in the way of woofer than tweeter, I have been impressed at the effectiveness of a couple of those variations. I may actually be able to communicate with people tomorrow morning at the pre-service choir warmup.

But, in the spirit of “don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone” … I miss not needing to consciously plan out how to achieve my next utterance.

Ah well. From the perspective of the public school music teacher and church musician: better now than two weeks from now.


December 1, 2012 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , ,


  1. “like an anvil being dragged across a parking lot” = perfect.

    Comment by amandaroederwrites | December 1, 2012 | Reply

  2. You know, maybe you should get that movie trailer voice back; I bet you could make quite a bit of money on the side!! (Meanwhile, I’ll try to picture Evil Kermit the Frog… “It’s not easy stealin’ your green…”)

    Comment by Kristin | December 2, 2012 | Reply

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