Quavering and quivering, sometimes off-key, sometimes really off-key: this was the nature of the noise passing through my voice box in the middle to late 1960s. I never could figure out how it was that I was technically a baritone and yet somehow was still shrill: at a couple of points on the scale, I was downright squeaky, and when I was crazed enough to try out for the choir at St. Austin's, I was somewhere between unclassifiable and unlistenable. I took this as a sign from the Almighty, and didn't sing again in public for more than three decades. (Those few who witnessed the event surely have forgotten by now, or so I hope.)

For some reason — presumably the dreaded Old Age — I've started to change again: a little lower in pitch, a little higher in grain. Actually, I think I sound like I gargled with a half-cup of gravel. I have asked a few people who have known me for years, and they don't report any major differences, which could mean that it's all my imagination — or that there's been a gradual, imperceptible change going on for all those years.

Reasonable explanations:

  • A change in laryngeal muscle tone;

  • Altered (presumably lowered) lung capacity;

  • Maybe it's the ears.

I can't blame it on smoking, because I've never smoked; I might be able to blame it on singing, since I do a lot of that, albeit never within anyone's earshot. Were I completely rational, I suppose I could dismiss it as Just One of Those Things. But I keep thinking about Mark Twain's Hank Morgan, the Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's court:

Presently his fingers began to pick busily at the coverlet, and by that sign I knew that his end was at hand. With the first suggestion of the death rattle in his throat he started up slightly, and seemed to listen; then he said:

"A bugle? ... It is the king! The drawbridge, there! Man the battlements! — turn out the —"

He was getting up his last "effect"; but he never finished it.

I read this story when I was about nine. Half a century later, it gains additional resonance for me, since like Hank Morgan, I seem to be spending a lot of time outside of my time and place these days. (Hank had the Demoiselle Alisande a la Carteloise; I have Twilight Sparkle. Sort of.) Sometimes I hear the sound of my voice, and wonder how I can reliably distinguish its rasp from the onset of the death rattle.

And while I may sing a lot in my solitude, I seldom have any reason to talk, so I have to wonder if there's anything to that use-it-or-lose-it stuff. I'd imagine that the singing is actually more of a workout, but I've been wrong before. Perhaps I'm hoping for a fresh voice actor:

Halfway through the 20-year run of the The Lone Ranger radio serial, Earle Graser, who played the Ranger, died in a car crash, mandating a quick replacement. The producers covered up the voice change by having the Lone Ranger get shot in the neck by an arrow, requiring Tonto to speak on his behalf for several weeks, until Brace Beemer was chosen as the new Ranger.

Nowadays, of course, they'd have the Ranger take an arrow in the knee.

The Vent

  25 January 2013

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