Monday, December 12, 2005

A Woman's Voice Cannot Be Heard?

The good news is that the family is on its road to recovery. We ventured out on Saturday night for at least part of the Christmas Dinner at church. Because E still had a fever, we skipped the dinner part of the festivity and only went for the entertainment part. I had been responsible for helping to get the Logos kids ready for singing Silent Night. And D performed a reprise of Who's On First with our pastor, G. (They had done the sketch once earlier in the Fall for Logos.). They did a fabulous job. I have a digital video of it and am waiting for "approval" from Google video to post it.

My dad called with the news about Uncle Bob about an hour before we had to leave for church yesterday morning. Of course, the news was heavy for me. As the worship leader, I was a bit distracted and made some mistakes here and there. When G realized I was struggling a bit, I could feel his support of me throughout the service. I don't know how to explain it, really. He just "checked in" several times with eye contact, making sure I knew what was next. I needed the extra support and appreciated it tremendously. Where I did make mistakes, I felt the space forgiving. When worship breaks: it's an article I need to write someday.

After the service, I had a conversation with one of the members of the congregation which has raised some questions for me. He is a man in his eighties, a former seminary professor. He approached me and said, "May I offer a suggestion?" When I told him he could, he said, "When you are speaking without the microphone, keep your regular tone. Do not raise your voice so that the tone and pitch of your voice go up, too. Just speak regularly."

"Okay," I responded a bit cautiously. "And why is that?"

"When you raise the tone of your voice, it enters into the upper registry. And for those of us who are older, we lose this range of a woman's voice first. When you are speaking in that range, it fuzzes out for me. I only catch half of what you're saying. And, I'm sure you've noticed, most of our congregation is in their sixties, seventies, and eighties."

I thanked him for his advice as I consciously disciplined myself to be truly open to it. I'm sure he sensed my struggle a bit, because he added, "I am telling you this because you will be in ministry for a long time." This felt like his way of affirming me, while also offering the critique.

I do not doubt that what he is saying is true. My mother and grandmother both are hearing impaired. They both needed hearing aids by the time they were forty or so. I also struggle with my hearing a bit and have always expected that I would follow in their footsteps, as I do in so many ways.

Nonetheless, it is, in some ways, an especially difficult critique to receive precisely because the language of "a woman's voice" is so freighted. I can feel my tendency to turn it into a metaphor--women's voices cannot be heard in church. And yet, it may have absolutely nothing to do with that at all, you see?

It is also a challenging critique to receive because most often, when I am without a mic, it is because I am praying in a different part of the sanctuary than usual--for instance, the prayer of thanksgiving after receiving the offering. Therefore, the voice I am using is my praying voice. It is not an assumed voice, but the voice I have to lead us in prayer. Is one's voice separate from the prayer itself?

These are some of the questions that were raised for me yesterday. I'm really interested in anyone else's input about this in the comment section.


cyen said...

Interesting about the difficulty the gentleman had in hearing women's voices. I tried to find "evidence" to support this...
I found this paragraph on the wiki page for hearing disabilities...
"Many people with hearing loss have better hearing in the lower frequency ranges (low tones), and cannot hear as well or at all in the higher frequencies. Some people may merely find it difficult to differentiate between words that begin with consonantal sounds such as the fricatives or sibilants, z, or th, or the plosives d, t, b, or p. They may be unable to hear thin, high-pitched or metallic noises, such as birds chirping or singing, clocks ticking, etc. Often, they are able to hear and understand men's voices better than women's."

I can also say that on a first hand basis, I sometimes have difficulty hearing our female pastor in the church that I've been attending recently. They do have a PA system, but the microphones are not properly placed, and do not pick up her voice well. I consider myself to have decent hearing, and I struggle at times to hear her. I compare this to a guest pastor that spoke, and not only did he have a louder "booming" voice, but the PA system picked him up better (not sure where the microphones were placed).
On another note here, I've been seeing a recent study that's being quoted on the internet about how women's voices vary in pitch much more than men's and therefore use a different part of the brain (the same part used to listen to music). Because of the various pitches us men have to "think harder" just to listen. (Insert jokes here).
I've been unable to locate the original study, but I found a description of it on the discovery website:
There also may be some physics involved here too... Low Freq sounds have a larger wave and are more multi directional (with home sound systems you can hide the subwoofer), whereas the higher freqs. have shorter waves and are more directional, so that by going to another part of the sanctuary, you may not be talking "at" certain members in the congregation. This is also why you can hear the low "thumps" of a car stereo from far away (or through walls).
My advice? God is pretty old... Assume he's hard of hearing and speak up, then the rest of the congregation should be able to hear also :)

JWD said...

Cyen, my dear brother, THANK YOU! What an excellent and helpful comment on so many levels. I feel the issue is complex and your comment affirms that for me. I'll check out your links and continue to reflect on it.

Anonymous said...

Speaking as "one who knows" (i.e.: hearing impaired person) is exactly as Cyen noted. Without knowing anything about the "studies" noted above, I can tell you from first-hand experience that women's voices are much more difficult to hear than men's. In addition to the pitch variance, many women by nature have softer (volume) voices than men. Even WITH my hearing aids in place, I still struggle sometimes to hear every word that a female says to me--the consonants especially. (I must admit I have never heard of fricatives or sibilants! Are they characters in the Harry Potter movies???)

JWD said...

Thank you, Anon, for your input. It is really helpful for me to "hear", no pun intended. Aware of the volume issue, I intentionally do raise my voice when I am without a mic, but this apparently also raises my pitch. So pitch seems to counteract volume. Fricative and Sibilant as HP characters! That's excellent. In fact, I believe they are the consonant sounds you mention as being especially difficult to hear. :) Peace to you, Anon. Thanks again for your comment.

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