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The sweet sound of a familiar voice

Updated: Sep 8

Friendline volunteer Margaret Mackay writes about the power of the human voice and of human interaction


The robotic voice scolds me: unexpected item in the bagging area. I lift up the olive oil with annoyance. It’s a hot afternoon with only one supermarket worker trying to stack the shelves. I turn back to the checkout’s steely surface and resent the lack of human interaction.

The kind-hearted assistant limps over to my rescue. We agree that August is tiring and start to chat. I ask again about her foot. The doctor says it’s a slow process. She hopes to walk in the park soon under the Retiro’s shady chestnut trees. I pack my bag and walk home, appreciating this spontaneous conversation.

Human voices can delight us by their musical reach. Here a smoky Andalusian accent booms, while there a purring voice grabs my attention. When I joined a choir, I was intrigued by how we develop our vocal range. Would I pass the audition? Songs by Gustav Holst and Antonio Rosetti’s Missa in G looked a daunting programme. Fortunately, the choir director believed in learning to sing in chorus. We warmed our voices on scales and swung our bodies to sea shanties. We stretched our lips around tongue twisters like ‘wicked cricket critics’. I stayed afloat on the basses as I found my alto pitch below the sopranos among colleagues, university students and the community. We became a happy band who encouraged each other to find harmony.

The voice of a loved one is precious, distinct as a signature. I miss the deep reassuring sound of my father’s mahogany tones. His voice had developed from practice on a military parade ground. Still, in a faint whisper he could hush our giddy chatter bursting across the church pews. My mother’s voice was a gentle caress of Connemara rain which could also swell to a torrent in defence of her family. I remember the night I fell in love with a voice of chocolatey warmth on the phone. Now I hear this same voice, of my husband, mingle with the exuberant sounds of my daughter.

Technology has opened possibilities for digital connections that enrich our lives. But a droning machine is no substitute for the natural colour of our voices. Human voices can express a vibrant range of mood, feeling and energy. Our voices are remarkable instruments for us to cherish.

I am a volunteer on the Age in Spain’s Friendline Project which offers the pleasure of hearing a friendly voice every week. We make a phone call to any older English speaker across Spain who would like to enjoy a regular chat. This is an opportunity to share news, stories or recollections of times past. Hearing a familiar voice is a simple rhythm of friendships which can transform my day. Perhaps hearing a sympathetic voice will change your day too?


Margaret Mackay

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