Hey You Phonation Phenom—
I stopped listening to NPR.
It wasn’t the news coverage.
Or the bi-annual fund-drive tote-bag coffee-mug guilt.
It wasn’t the hipstertastic voice overs describing misfits riding banana seat bikes with handlebar ribbons along the LA River wash interspersed with polytonal marimba music.
It was none of those things.
It was the vocal fry.
It was the vocal fry coupled with sibilant [s] sounds.
It was the vocal fry, sibilant [s] sounds, and dry-mouth saliva crackles.
But really, it was the fry.
I been curious why this lackadaisical vocal fold bubbling that’s come to represent aloof millennial intellectual distance irritates the dookie outa me.
(I’m not forgetting its constant presence in places like Kardashiania, but I’m coming for you now, NPR.)
I’ve percolated on this question (why I’m super bugged by this phonatory pattern), and I have a theory.
Vocal fry is un-generous.
That’s the best word I can come up with.
This is porque.
Some rill quick anatomy and physiology for you—
🙌Phonation = vocal folds come close together.
👏Then, exhaled air moves through and sucks them together, completing the closure.
📄(If you hold two pieces of paper a few inches apart and then blow between them, they’ll come together.)
✈️It’s also what makes airplanes fly.
When you move the bare minimum of air through those folds, they bubble and pop like Rice Crispies in skim milk, and you get this phenomenon we call fry. 🥓
And, like, I can’t even.
It says, “I don’t think I can exert this teensy bit of energy from my transverse abdominals and obliques to move a tad more breath through my folds so that they vibrate in mellifluous tones of energetic communication.
Nope, I’m gonna lay back, scrooge mcduck my exhale, and just let these puppies pop like a couple of desiccated junk drawer rubber bands.
My frustration stems from my need to be a bridge builder. Not out of altruism or character but because it’s how my psyche learned to survive in the world.
I reach out. I connect.
And if I sense you don’t like me, oh it’s ON. You’re gonna like me, dermmit. The hours of sleep I lose over it are gonna be worth it when I finally win you over.
Even if I realize you’re a certified asshat, and I’ve wasted precious emotional/spiritual resources earning your good favor, I will do my best Effie on your Curtis, and you’re gonna loo-oo—oo—ooooove, gasp inhale, MEEEEEEEEEE!
So there you go. We all need to connect. Just like I like to connect.
😬Then the world will be happy, and we’ll all be speaking to each other in clear, resonant, generously supported tones that say, hey, I give a sheet about communicating with you.
(I’m thinking about my deaf friends now, and I’m wondering what the sign language equivalent to vocal fry would be.)
It’s about the impulse and intention to communicate.
In my experience, vocal fry has no interest in going beyond the speaker’s throat. There’s no enthusiasm or passion to translate the heart.
Have you watched those Chef’s Table documentaries on Netflix? Beautiful.
I can’t think of one chef from any country on that series who talks about their food with any hint of vocal fry. MAYBE the owner of Milk Bar in NYC (?)—I can’t remember her name.
Or imagine if Amanda Gorman got up at the inauguration in her yellow fabulousness and vocal fried green tomatoed her way through that amazing poem.
See? It’s disinterest. It’s ennui. It’s stuck.
Move your air. Bridge it out. See if that makes a change in your internal and external environment if you’re an avid fryer.
(Not to be confused with an air fryer. Those things are legit. Thanks, Mama.)
The very first solo I sang at the Woodville Baptist Church was a hymn called “Freely Freely,” though my five-year-old self insisted the pronunciation was “free-uh-ly.”
It was in a catchy three-four, so I had to bring out the dotted rhythm with a little lyrical styling. 🎶
The hymn’s a quote from the gospels when Jesus says, “Freely you have received; freely give.”
That’s breath. That’s singing. We freely receive the oxygen. We freely give the carbon dioxide that we get to vibrate and turn into music.
Percolate on that in your heart for a lil mo. ☕️❤️
The very substance of the spirit, the breath we breathe, that’s the stuff we turn into music.
It fills up around our heart and squishes on top of our guts, and then we get to sculpt it into songs.
It’s the material of the soul, and it’s a gift to share and hear.
So, that’s the reason I want to scream at the radio when these serious journalists fry, spit crackle, and press their tongues too far forward behind their teeth on their [s]s.
With all the love of Jesus that’s in my heart, I wanna yell, “Free-ah-lee you have received! Free-ah-lee GIVE!”
My boys always respond well when I lose my junk, so these folks will be no exception.
That’s the love for you this week.
It’s a joy to sit right down and write you this letter. It’s a privilege to connect with you, and I hope you can feel my generously supported breath flow when I remind you—
There’s just one you, and folks need to hear the story that only you can sing.
ps Are you overwhelmed by the headlines this week? I’m overwhelmed by the headlines this week. Here are three places you can do something—
If we each pick up a starfish and throw it back in the ocean, that’s a lot of starfish.
🙏 Hope for Haiti is already mobilizing practical aid to the area in southern Haiti that was struck by the 7.5 magnitude earthquake with both short- and long-term plans for recovery aid. You can donate from their home page.
🙏 Your donation to Women for Women will get a 2X match to provide emergency support for Afghan women.
🙏 And here’s a helpful article—20 ways to support nurses and healthcare workers on the COVID front lines.
pps and for some uplift, do yourself a favor and watch CODA. Terrific film, terrific storytelling, and check out the ASL 🤟virtuosity from Troy Kotsur.
I had the privilege of collaborating with Troy, providing the voice for hearing folk in Deaf West’s Pippin, and his work left an indelible print on me.
I also fell victim to many of his sign language tutorials.
It’s set in Gloucester, Mass, where we were this very week, and it features a Berklee School of Music storyline, too—
Here’re some shots from Gloucester Day—It was hawt
pps Here are the links to other things mentioned: