Gayle Beveridge is a past winner of the Boroondara Literary Awards and her work has appeared in Award Winning Australian Writing. Gayle is passionate about family, writing, photography, and with Victoria’s beautiful Bass Coast which she now calls home.
Published January 16th 2021
What is an intriguing voice? Does it spike interest, arouse curiosity, fascinate, or soothe. Does it evoke emotions, gain trust, or inspire? Does it energise or call to action? I imagine it does all of those things, and that more than being a natural asset acquired at birth, it is employed as a means to an end, by speakers following their agenda of choice. We find this in our daily lives, but it is most apparent amongst celebrities and high stakes players on the world stage and it can take many forms. Who then, has the most intriguing voice?
Who could ever forget the now famous words from the rather longer speech Winston Churchill delivered to the British House of Commons on the 4th June in 1940. Churchill, who had the unenviable job of British Prime Minister during the Second World War, said,
"We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender,…"
Charged with a call to action in a time of despair, Churchill needed Britain to understand the threat of invasion, to be appropriately fearful of it without succumbing to that fear and to believe in the face of, what must have seemed to many to be insurmountable odds, that victory was possible.
Sir Winston Churchill - Image by Yousuf Karsh, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
The speech was carefully written, but as key as the words themselves was the delivery. Churchill spoke with the clipped tones of an outrage with which the people could identify. He introduced a punctuated cadence, the slow and defined pace of which marked the words as important. With each point his voice rose and then dropped, offering a reassurance to temper the battle to come. It was as if having led the listener to a clifftop, he then saved them from the fall.
Churchill was possessed of a strong voice with a sharp edge, his was an intriguing voice in a time of intrigue, a response to the horrors of war as they happened. But a softer voice too, can be strong. Such is the voice of natural historian, David Attenborough; many might say the very voice of nature itself. Now in his nineties, and having graced our television screens since the 1950s, Attenborough's narrative carries with it the weight of a well-earned credence.
David Attenborough at Great Barrier Reef - Image by Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade website – www.dfat.gov.au, CC BY 3.0 AU , via Wikimedia Commons
His speech, although clear, is laced with a huskiness often delivered in whispers which suggest the sharing of a secret and the listener is captivated. He is a story-teller whose even tones give equal weight to both the beauty and the stark savagery of nature. Attenborough paces his speech to build suspense, he finds no need for excitable shouting, has not succumbed to the modern world's passion for overstatement, and so the listener's journey is one of calm and comfort.
Contrast then, the passionately angry voice of young climate activist Greta Thunberg. The teenage instigator of the School Strike for Climate movement rose to world notoriety on the 23rd of September in 2019, when she coupled aggressive looks and body language with an angry voice in delivering an emotional and accusatory speech to the United Nations Climate Action Summit.
Greta Thunberg - ImEuropean Parliament, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commonsage by
Thunberg is a product of her time, a child born and raised in the Age of Outrage. She is not the only person delivering the climate message, but she has understood that voice alone is inadequate, her shock and awe approach requires so much more. At the Summit she shot her words from her mouth like a finger stabbing the air. Her speech began,
"My message is that we'll be watching you. This is all wrong. I shouldn't be up here. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean. Yet you all come to us young people for hope. How dare you!
You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. And yet I'm one of the lucky ones. People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!"
Thunberg added the staccato of upset to her voice and played it to the beat of looks of disgust. Each intake of breath was a ragged gasp, a suggestion that at any moment she might break down and sob her despair. If her voice and this accompanying theatre alone were insufficient to capture the interest of the masses, strong words like failing, betrayal, evil and a repetition of 'how dare you,' filled the gap. Was her voice intriguing; did it arouse curiosity and interest? The audience applauded, and other speakers nodded their affirmation. The School Strike for Climate movement quickly expanded across the globe. Many condemned her as rude and disrespectful, but like her or hate her, hers is the voice that roused many people across the planet.
Nigella Lawson - Image by Brian Minkoff-London Pixels, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
On a lighter note then, let us explore the soothing voice of celebrity cook and author of How to be a Domestic Goddess, Nigella Lawson. Her sing-song voice matched with soft rounded cheeks, a hint of a smile and furtive, perhaps even flirtatious, glances to camera, project a calm demeanour that makes cooking seem easy even to the culinary-challenged.
Lawson's voice could be that of a neighbour who called by for a cuppa and a chat. It evokes a sense of normalcy, of the suburban every day spruced up with a dash of fun. You might say it is nothing special and that is its charm. She captures the listener's interest because she is them and they are her, or at least they would like to be.
So there we have it. An intriguing voice is not a solo act. It is part of a toolkit alongside facial expressions, stance and posture, choice of language, the culture of the times, and the targeted listener. If it was a character, it would not be standing alone in an open space, it would be about its work, with friends at its side and its tools within easy reach. Who do you think employs these tools to best advantage? Who do you think has the most intriguing voice?
Thanks for posing the question Gayle. I am nominating Joanna Lumley as I am sure she could recite the phone book and I would be enthralled. It is that soft terribly British tone, not unlike Nigella that I love.