Speech Impairment: in the news, in the booth, at some parties, and in situ

Yesterday’s New York Times had a story on sports figures with temporary vocal cord paralysis–announcers Joe Buck and Dick Vitale, and referee Mike Pereira. The piece more or less exactly describes my own difficulties. Here’s Pereira talking about himself and Buck:

“You have to reach more into your diaphragm to get the vocal cords to work,” he said. “When Joe reaches deeper, he has movement; he can get near his voice. I’d reach to my core to put out what people called a loud whisper. I remember being exhausted by the end of the day to get people to hear me.”

Buck, meanwhile, has to modulate his voice:

“Still, his voice strains when he becomes excited or tries to raise his volume quickly. When Prince Fielder and Adrian Gonzalez hit home runs at last month’s All-Star Game, Buck could barely be heard over the crowd. His call of a touchdown to the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Hines Ward during a N.F.L. preseason game last week was perfunctory, as if he were a quiet Pat Summerall.”

Although all the people in the story had recovered or expected to recover (I don’t), the problems are all too familiar. Where I used to be able to raise my voice, now my voice just cracks up if I push it too much. And there’s still a too much before “too much.” After Saturday’s two parties, and even with the speech amp around my neck, I was exhausted from simply trying to make myself heard. It sounds like I am speaking at normal volume, but inside, I’m yelling.

Part of it is on me, to let the excitement go and allow the amplifier to do the work. But I also find more and more that I avoid loud places when I can. Intellectually, I remain critical of the “noise is bad for us” line of argument, whether we are talking about public places, private homes, or aesthetics. But experientially a noisy room exerts a kind of weight on my vocal system. It does that to everyone, but to use a phrase from Tobin Seibers, my speech system–the voice, mouth, lungs, diaphragm–is considerably more tender. The air is thick with sound, and my speech swims more slowly, pulling my breath with it. I can literally talk so hard that I become light headed. I haven’t talked to the point of passing out since March 2010, when I was still learning, but I sometimes surprise myself by getting too close to the edge.

In any event, like the announcers, I worry about my voice as a significant source of my livelihood. I have been developing a kind of “rider” for talks I give, as experimentation has yielded some insights. But I wonder what it will be like to deliver lectures to big classes. Happily, this year I have seminars. And the mechanics of speech will be for another post or series of them.

In the meantime, and regardless of the game, you can bet I will be listening with interest to Buck’s first football call on the 11th.

[Insert reflexive comment about “why do we need celebrities to validate our disabilities?” here.]

2 replies on “Speech Impairment: in the news, in the booth, at some parties, and in situ”

  1. One difference is that I’m always interested in what you have to say, whereas it wouldn’t bother me at all if I never heard Joe Buck again.

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