I’ve just discovered April 16th is designated World Voice Day, an initiative to celebrate the most fundamental skill humans use to communicate. Everyday our voices are used to impart information and express thoughts and emotions, so when it goes wrong it’s a big issue. So any advice we can find on how to use the voice properly, giving it care, and knowing how to rehabilitate it correctly is essential, especially if you use your voice a lot professionally, or enjoy leisure pursuits such as singing.
Being married to a university lecturer, whilst doing hospital radio and football commentating myself as a volunteer, I’m only too well aware of the ravages the family vocals can suffer. Yet I know nothing about proper voice projection, nurse through the gremlins in an amateurish way and keep my fingers crossed. I’m hoping to pick up some tips online now I’m aware of this initiative.
Thinking about the voice, I was reminded of a wonderful free exhibition that was held in the British Library from late 2017-May 2018. This audio delight celebrated 140 Years of Recorded Sound and featured numerous examples from the earliest days of audio recording. These included a 1889 Ludwig Koch recording of the family pet a shama cage bird, an indigenous tribal song (late 1800s) and a 1911 acoustic /1927 electric recording of the same orchestral piece highlighting the development of recording techniques, and a Radio Caroline sample. You could sit in two or three record booths and listen to a large selection box of vocals through headphones. The ones I noted hearing: a ropey recording of Florence Nightingale from 1890; Suffrage of Women Christabel Pankhurst 1908; Empire Exhibition speech by George V 1924; a very faint Amelia Earhart 1932; Great 1935 Radio Luxemburg Cashmere Bouquet Trio with piano excerpts. More modern sounds I enjoyed were Tony Blackburn introducing Radio 1 in 1967 and LL Cool J from 1985.
Mediums used to enable the audio to be heard were also displayed, such as gramophones, boom boxes and mp3 players, as well as the formats used to store the audio such as tapes, records and discs, alongside some more unusual and innovative forms. I was surprised to see X-RAY FILM records used to make bootleg audio from the late 40s to early 60s in Russia, playable STAMPS from Bhutan 1972 and VOICE LETTERS from the war years. The size of the audio paraphernalia varied enormously, from a gigantic 20 inch Pathe disc weighing over 2kg used for loudness at outdoor venues, to a miniature gramophone designed for the Queen Mary dolls house, complete with a 34mm 78rpm disc with a 22 second recording of God Save The King sung by Peter Dawson. Apparently 35,000 of these tiny discs were created in 1924 as souvenirs at 6p each!
Going back to the idea of large sized gadgets guaranteeing loudness in outside venues, I was struck by the sheer scale of the Sharp GF-777 radio cassette from 1983. Weighing over 12kg and at nearly 73cm wide it certainly lived up to the description boom box, and made me think of the opening credits of the TV show “Fame” with music blasting down the streets from music systems as students danced. Colour was added to the displays with pictorial record sleeves and maybe the odd small poster too.
Another element to the exhibition was a small section dedicated to how we used to listen to the radio, for so long the main form of entertainment in households before TV was commonplace. I was interested to see old Radio Times editions and fascinated to read excerpts from Alfred Taylor’s audio log from the 1920s. You see I had an audio log myself from the mid 70s to very late 80s, for my short-wave radio listening. My husband followed this pursuit too as a child/teenager, and he still has some of his paperwork. Alas, my childhood logbook is long gone now, but I resumed the activity in adulthood. It was lovely to think that an interest in radio, the ultimate vocal medium, traversed the decades to bring Alfred, Rob and I together in shared delight.