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Quality in speech is the inherent character of a tone whereby it may be distinguished from all other tones. If a person were to overhear two of his friends speaking in an adjoining room, although he may not have known previously that they were there, he would have no trouble in telling who the speakers were merely from the sound of their voices. Or if he were to attend a symphony concert and hear many instruments playing in unison, he would experience little difficulty in distinguishing the tones of the violins from those of the harps, or the sound of the bass viol from that of the kettledrum. Each instrument has a characteristic sound of its own, and this characteristic sound is known as its quality.
The foundation of vocal quality. We have seen how the stream of breath coming from the lungs passes between the vocal cords and is transformed into tone in very much the same manner as the stream of air from the bellows of the pipe organ is transformed into tone by passing between the reeds. But the tones of the pipe organ do not get their splendid quality so much from the reeds by which they are produced as from the long, hollow pipes through which they pass. These pipes, of various lengths and diameters, receive the tones sent forth from the reeds, and serve as resonators, that deflect the tone waves and cause them to vibrate throughout their entire length, thus producing tones of great richness and power. In the human voice the quality is dependent to some extent upon the mechanism of the voice box, where the initial tone is produced; but, as in the pipe organ, it is dependent chiefly upon those parts which serve as resonators, reënforcing the initial tone with so-called overtones, which give the voice its final character or quality.
Not only do different kinds of musical instruments vary greatly in quality, as in the case of the resonance produced by the sounding board of the piano as compared with that of the hollow pipe of the organ, but it is well known that instruments of the same class possess widely different powers of resonance. Some violins have a quality that is mellow and rich, while others are harsh and metallic, depending upon the size, shape, material, and workmanship of the box in which the tones are reënforced. In the human voice the conditions are exactly comparable. It is the cavities of the head, nose, and throat, together with the trachea and bronchi, that serve as the vocal resonators, which are chiefly responsible for the characteristic quality of one's speaking voice.
Vocal quality as affected by disease. Those afflicted with catarrh or throat and bronchial trouble rarely ever have a clear quality of voice. Any obstruction or roughness of the cavities upon which the voice depends for its resonance is likely to result in unpleasant tones of some kind. So we hear the speaker with the light, piping voice, due often to undeveloped or contracted resonance chambers; or the speaker with the nasal twang, resulting from a stoppage which prevents the free passage of the
tone through the cavities of the head; and speakers with many other unpleasant qualities due chiefly to imperfect conditions of resonance. Fortunate is he who is the possessor of a naturally clear and resonant speaking voice. It is one of the most enviable possessions of the public speaker, and is dependent upon a normal and healthy condition of all the parts that influence the quality of the speaker's tone.
In case the quality is poor because of malformation of the parts or as a result of disease, medical aid may be necessary. But if it is due merely to lax habits of speech, — to a lazy, nasal twang perhaps, because that requires less effort than the production of clear, resonant tones, — then the remedy should be vocal exercises and proper direction of the voice in reading and speaking.
The quality of the speaking voice is very different under conditions of robust health from that in sickness and disease. This may be observed by noting the quality of one's voice during a severe illness. At such times it is likely to be weak, thin, and rather hollow and piping; while the same voice under conditions of health may be rich and possessed of excellent resonance.
The value of right habits of living. The voice is also affected by irregular habits of living. One whose physical vigor is depleted through dissipation is not likely to have a good voice. Irregularity of diet is a very common source of vocal weakness. An overcrowded stomach does not generally contribute to a voice of strong and pleasing quality. These things, together with a person's general outlook upon life, influence to a very marked degree the character of the voice. The speaker who would make his voice an effective instrument will not neglect the laws of health, which are a most potent influence upon his vocal powers.
A great actress recently made the remark that few people realize the rigid discipline in correct diet, proper bathing, and exercise to which the actor must subject himself constantly during his months upon the road, in order to keep his voice in trim for the tremendous strain that is placed upon it. The person who misuses his body, and then cannot understand why his voice fails to serve him as it should, will do well to learn a lesson from those actors and public speakers who, although they are obliged to subject the voice constantly to tremendous strain, are wise enough in its use and care to guard against unfortunate consequences. It is well to remember that the kind of voice we have is due largely to what we make it, and that our voices tend to mirror the kind of lives we live.
The blind are said to possess a peculiar power of divining character merely from the quality of voice. Fanny Crosby, the blind song writer, used to remark of strangers that certain persons she did not care to know, because their voices bespoke an evil character, while the voices of others, equally strange to her, she said bespoke a noble character. There may be doubt as to how far the voice betrays the man, but no one will question that different modes of life develop voices that are crude or refined, harsh or mellow, just as many of the other physical features of the individual are affected in a similar way. The actor who is thoroughly skilled in his art portrays a given character no less by the quality of voice that he uses than by the costume that he wears, the poses that he assumes, or any of the accessories that he employs in carrying out his purpose. In short, quality of voice is a factor that goes a very long way to make or mar the final effect of speech, whether it be employed upon the stage, the public platform, or in conversation.
Vocal quality chiefly an emotional element. Quality is the most distinctly emotional-element of speech. It is affected constantly by ever-varying emotions. Let us suppose that a man is sitting by his fireside discussing with a friend some matter-of-fact occurrence of the day. He employs in his conversation just his natural speaking tone, or quality. Suddenly someone rushes in from the street and tells him that his child has been run over by an automobile. He jumps from his chair and rushes out, crying, “O my God, can it be possible that my child is dead!" His voice, under the stress of the shock and the emotions struggling within him, changes to a quality entirely different from that which it had as he sat calmly discussing the events of the day. Perhaps it sounds hoarse and hollow, the breath is short and labored, and it is with difficulty that he is able to speak at all. Now if we were to go into the causes of this change and analyze just what took place, we should find that the sudden announcement of the accident stirred him with most intense emotion, and that this, acting suddenly upon the vocal muscles and resonance chambers, caused them to contract and so change their shape, size, and tension that tones of an entirely different quality were produced.
Changes not unlike this are taking place constantly in speech. The muscles that have to do with voice