People often talk about the voice of a writer, and to some extent I think that can be problematic. Saying that a writer has one voice to use for all projects and genres is misleading. Look at Meryl Streep. Does she have a single voice? No. Instead she modulates her voice for every role she takes, making her one of the most flexible actors in film. On the other hand, one’s speaking voice is, in effect, oneself. People who know you will recognize your voice the moment you say “Hello” on the phone
For the musically inclined, this is even more true. If you hear one of Barbra Streisand’s long-held notes, even if you didn’t hear the way she pronounces whole words, you would know that it was her. This is one of the reasons I named this blog after the film and musical Victor/Victoria. In the film, when Julie Andrews was forty-seven, she had a five-octave voice, which is not a common phenomenon even among professional singers. In the musical, when Andrews was sixty, she had four octaves, also very impressive for a singer at that age.
The plot is simple: “A penniless soprano, named Victoria, colludes with a struggling gay impresario to disguise herself as a man named Victor, who entertains as a female impersonator known as ‘Victoria’ – and as a result becomes the toast of Paris. Complications arise when a Chicago mobster sees the act and finds himself attracted to the star” (“Victor/Victoria.”) So you can see why Andrews’ incredible voice is central to the plotline.
I did not give much thought to the movie when I saw it, as I was still in high school “singing low” and not really giving much thought to what that meant for me. In church at my confirmation, a classmate turned to me and said, “Sing like a girl!” as if that was a matter of choice. Later, in college, when the Christian Fellowship group split to sing men/women for different stanzas or harmony, I always sang with the men because I could do that cleanly and both loud/soft, whereas I did not have a whole lot of control over the small higher part of my voice. If people thought it odd, they didn’t say anything. Years later in church choir, I sang tenor. People looked at me a little bit sideways, and our choir director often found himself saying, “Women, do such and such. Men—er—Low voices, do the other thing.”
At this point I was in my thirties and I wanted to improve my voice so I could sound a bit more like the other singers in the choir. Luckily, I met a teacher named Kamal Scott. When I told him that I was a tenor, he sounded thrilled and told me that women who can sing that low can usually also sing equally high, eventually. After four years with him, I proved him right. So I could sing pretty much anything as a tenor, and a lot of things as a second soprano, but when I tried to sing in the middle of my voice, the alto part, I often sounded like a twelve-year-old boy on a bad day.
I spent ten years between voice teachers, but when I found my new teacher, I actually found someone who could smoothen out the crack in between my head voice and chest voice and teach me how to sound like a single human being. Around this time, I was learning about queer theology and gender identity/performance, and at some point I found the DVD of the only filmed performance of the Broadway version of Victor/Victoria, which they made for broadcasting in Japan, so I had a chance to compare the film and musical versions.
I got so excited that I bought a small version of the Broadway poster and put it up on a wall in my bedroom. I remember thinking, primarily in regard to my own voice, that this would remind me that we get to choose who we are, by choosing how to use what we are given. I still love the low part of my voice best, because when I sing low, I can feel the vibrations all throughout my body. When I sing high I can only feel a bit in my head and face; it’s not nearly as much fun. But I still get to choose where I want to sing, as at Christmas when I went to church with my dad. Singing “Angels We Have Heard on High” to a loudly played organ, I chose tenor. Singing “Silent Night” to a piano, I chose soprano. In a way I am both those things. It’s the best of both worlds.
“Victor/Victoria (musical).” Wikipedia. 27 Feb. 2016. Web. 7 Mar. 2016.