It’s certainly no mistake that I became a musician. Ever since I was a little girl I’ve been fascinated with sounds, their nuances and details, how some sounds made me feel different things and others gave me information about what I was hearing. For instance, I used to collect different kinds of paper because I liked the sound each piece made when I crinkled and played with it. My favorite paper was the soft thin tissue paper sheet that was wrapped around stockings when you bought several pair and they came in a box. It made the most delicious gentle swishing sound and it felt comforting to touch with my fingers. (I’ve never known anyone else who likes the sound of paper. But now that I think about it, it’s not something I usually talk about so how would I know?)
In the 1950s I listened to my sisters’ 45 records. I know I’m really dating myself here. I would put a stack of 45s on our little black and white record player, hang pot lids and frying pans from hangars on a chair and hit them with wooden kitchen spoons to create different rhythms and all sort of sounds that went with the music on the records. It was endlessly entertaining and I could go on for hours. (Ever heard of a wonderfully creative show called “Stomp” that uses garbage can lids and brooms to make music? (Check it out: http://stomponline.com) My mother finally bought me a child size drum set that consisted of one tiny cymbal, a small side drum and a little bass drum with a picture of a cowboy riding a horse on the front of it. Yeehah! I was cool then ;+)
When I first moved to California I got interested in percussion and experimented with wood of different lengths and varying degrees of hardness and width to produce a variety of pitches by hitting them with a mallet. Wine glasses filled with different amounts of water made beautiful sounds too when I rubbed the rim lightly in a circular motion with one finger. (Here’s an example, although I was never this good at it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GkPrH-dz9LU) Then I discovered that rebar (a thin steel bar used to reinforced concrete structures) made wonderful tones when placed on soft foam and struck with a mallet. I hauled all this stuff around to various improvisational dance groups and provided music that was the inspiration for their rehearsals and concerts.
To this day I pay a lot of attention to sounds and am intrigued and often delighted by what I hear around me. But let’s face it, some sounds can be annoying, like the beeping of a garbage truck with it’s backing up. Let me turn to one vocal habit I often hear that has become widespread: it’s called “upspeak,” also called “uptalk” or (my personal favorite) “moronic interrogative.” In some Asian languages changing inflection can actually give a word an entirely new meaning. As we all know, in English an upward pitch at the end of a sentence is supposed to indicate a question, but in upspeak you make the pitch go up at the end of any phrase or statement causing it to sound like it’s a question—when it’s not. (Here’s an example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pPZMy_JWsOU)
Though no one knows for sure, upspeak seems to have started in Southern California (some call it “Valleyspeak”) but it’s also a common way of speaking in Australia, New Zealand and Britain. It used to be associated with young girls but now it has become such a “thing to do” that it’s not associated with any particular gender, age, socioeconomic level or area of the USA. Most of the time those who talk this way are not even aware they are doing it. After all, we often learn by imitation and “normal” means you’re just doing the same thing as everyone around you.
There are some practical uses for talking this way, such as confirming that the person listening is following what you’re saying, or indicating when you’re speaking that you have more to say so please don’t interrupt yet (also called “floor holding”). However, to my ears when it’s not used for one of these reasons, it makes the person who’s talking sound like they are not sure of anything they are saying and that they’re constantly needing someone to validate everything they say. (as in “I have no idea what I’m saying. Am I making any sense at all?”)
I teach group singing classes and generally start each class by asking my students to say their names. It helps everyone get to know each other’s names a little quicker (and me too) and gives each person a moment to be recognized before we start singing. As we go around invariably someone will say their name in upspeak and sure enough, everyone after that will do the very same thing sounding like they aren’t sure if it’s really their name and someone should verify it for them. (“My name is Ellen?”)
Now that I’ve turned you on to this habit you may begin noticing it just about everywhere. Warning: it may begin to drive you a little nuts, especially if you discover the person who is doing it is you! So if you have something to say and it’s not a question and you’re not in the middle of a sentence, please make a statement.