The Pittsburgh Press (September 13, 1941)
I DARE SAY —
One touch of nature
By Florence Fisher Parry
I’d just love to write today about the President’s speech; or Wendell Willkie’s show at that Senate hearing over the movies; but I’m not going to. All my betters will be doing that, and far more ably than I. I’m going, instead, to close my eyes, count eenie-meenie-miney-mo, open them again, and write about the first thing they light on.
So – I pick up the telephone and call Western Union. I say:
I’d like to send a telegram.
(It’s David’s birthday, I might as well kill two birds with one stone).
And what do I hear but a live, human voice coming back at me with:
Is that you, Mrs. Parry? Have you found a girl wet, or are you still keeping house as you like it?
Now what could be nicer? It seems I have a reader! So we get to talking about this and that, and I find that she likes “My Day” and its author and wishes I did too; and then comes the familiar sentence:
Of course I don’t always agree with you, Mrs. Parry.
…which, of course, is music to my ears, knowing as I do that when “I Dare Say” stops being controversial and making lively enemies, it’s done for. And when I press her for reasons, she confesses that what she likes are up home columns, personal columns, sentimental columns ("all about death and love and dogs and things) and funny columns.
I sat with utter dejection:
Funny columns? But I’m not a funny person! Besides, such terribly unfunny things keep happening!
That’s just the reason we like to read about the things that keep ON happening regardless, like losing your girl or being on a diet or taking a walk on a pretty day. You know, things that could be happening to me too, even if I’m not a columnist.
The human touch
Every once in awhile something delightful happens on the telephone. You call up long distance and maybe by some luck the supervisor is looking the other way, for a lovely voice will say:
Tell me, Mrs. Parry, was that really SO, what you wrote about today? And is your son flying, and why don’t you get another picture in the paper, the one that’s there looks so meek and mild to be you!
And then just as we swing into a nice chat all at once I’ll hear, out of a clear sky:
“I-am-sorry-but-we-are-not-permitted-to-give-that-information,” or “One-minute-please-I-will-try-to-get-the-number-for-you,” and I will know that dame supervisor is back on her job again, and my charming new and unknown friend has had to relapse into anonymity again!
O the human touch! How it lifts, how it cures, how it makes life all over! Especially when it comes floating over the wires of a telephone! I just love to call up my bank, because when I do I can say to the operator, just as I’ve done for 27 years:
Is that you, Bessie?.. Is that you Nellie?
…and I feel better every time I call the Press and that voice sings back at me:
HEL-lo, Mrs. Parry, and how are you this bright and happy morning?
Who so craven as to admit he feels rotten after such a salutation?
It’s one of the prime miracles of course, just the quality of the VOICE as a medium of communication. In it are contained all the reaches of the human spirit, its profundities, its exaltations, its humor and its pain. This being so, it is extraordinary, isn’t it, that so little attention is paid to its care; that it should be allowed to fall into wretched habits of slovenliness and discord.
Yesterday I sat down at a café table beside a lovely looking young girl. I asked:
Do you mind if I sit here?
…and was delighted to hear a beautifully modulated low voice spring into welcome. She said:
Of course not!
I should not have had to be so surprised. But I was. Her courtesy and her lovely voice singled her out from her generation; for it is lamentable but true that young girls of today do not as a rule speak with grace or charm or melody. Their voices are high, thin and petulant: spoiled voices, I’d call them. It is a pity, for they come in such lovely “cases.”
The new method
I wonder that more stress is not out upon voice control and voice production, ion our schools – especially our “private” schools and “finishing” schools. Young girls are so imitative that they quickly take on each other’s accent, and in most cosmopolitan accent is quickly acquired.
I do not recommend “voice” lessons too early; for girls’ voices undergo much the same kind of physical change that boys’ do, and the whole quality undergoes a complete readjustment. But after 18, too much attention cannot be given this most vital asset. Then the strain and congestion of badly placed voice production can be taken in hand, and miracles can be wrought.
I was immensely interested in a theory propounded to me by Mrs. Lewando, the wife of our Press music critic. She was talking, naturally, of the singing voice, but what would apply to a singing voice would surely apply to a speaking voice as well. We agreed, of course, that a totally effortless tone production was imperative. I asked:
But how artificially to produce effortlessness?
She told me her secret.
Say “Z-Z-Z-Z-Z-Z” softly through the teeth, let the breath carry it. Now, if you produce all vocal sound thus, you will find that you have accomplished effortlessness.
Easy? Of course! All fundamental truths are.