Big Voices

The other day, my wife, the professor of voice and opera at the local university, took her students to a collegiate state-level voice competition. When she returned, I asked her how it went. She said that it had gone close to what she expected, although she was initially surprised that one of her very best students hadn’t placed. I asked why, and her response was that, as sometimes happens, the judges in that division hadn’t seemed to judge the contestants so much on technique, diction, and musicality as on the size of their voices. For whatever reason, some judges highly reward the size of the voice, the sheer volume and projection, even if it results in impaired diction and a lesser degree of musicality than presented by other singers. In short, some supposed professionals reward volume over everything else.

I got to thinking, but only for a few instants, before it struck me that a certain segment of our electorate reacts in the same way. They like big-voiced and strident politicians, so much so that they ignore facts, context, unpleasant character traits, and outright lying. These people seem to think that volume equates to truth, that shouting makes something true, even when it’s not.

But it doesn’t stop with politicians. It’s why so often television commercials run at louder volume than the programs that they’re interrupting. It’s why men so often talk over and shout down women, especially those with whom they disagree… and why women often have difficulties in getting heard in political debates. It’s why companies place large advertisements in magazines or online.

The fact that so many human beings react favorably to volume, even in the world of classical vocal music, suggests the trait is at least partly hard-wired, at least in Caucasians, but I have to say that this response troubles me, especially at a time when we need to pay more attention to facts and quiet reason and not to loud appeals to emotional prejudice.

1 thought on “Big Voices”

  1. Tom says:

    Winning on the Merits: The Joint Effects of Content and Style on Debate Outcomes
    Lu Wang, Nick Beauchamp, Sarah Shugars, Kechen Qin
    Q17-1016 Volume:Transactions of the Association for Computational Linguistics, Volume 5, 2017.

    Indicates that a winner was most likely to present a logical argument as well as demonstrate linguistic skills. But their statistics showed that linguistic skills were valuable in more than 60% of the debates where the argument was considered equal.

    Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics
    January 2011, Volume 73, Issue 1, pp 189–208
    The temporal weighting of loudness: effects of the level profile
    Authors: Daniel Oberfeld, Tina Plank

    In terms of human hearing, loudness is the perception of the energy contained in sound over any given time period. It is the psychological characteristic of physical strength.

    Add to this, crowd or group dynamics and you have a the demagogue holding campaign rallies ad nauseum plus leading choruses of false statements. Hitler and Goebbels were very aware of these ‘strength’ features of loudness, repetitiveness, and rallies. Trumps base is said to be the 20-40 year non-college educated group of US citizens, so factual statements may not have any effect on the perceived (bullying) strength of loudness. Other politicians see the results and copy.

    It is a concern and I do not see that ‘education’ will change these dynamics. We do need a messiah – just not with Trump type values.

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