News Alert: Oscar screams like a woman

Oscar Pistorius-court roomSO here we are: a defence for the Oscar Pistorius trial is that he actually screams like a woman! I am not here to question the innocence or otherwise of the defendant in this tragic case, although I should offer the following health warning: my son’s orthodontist – a South African called ‘Big Steve’ – said when he was younger, he went drinking until the early hours. When he arrived home, he opened the door, to have a gun put on his temple. It was his father thinking there was an intruder, and people have guns at home to protect themselves. So this defence is not as absurd as you would imagine.

However, what I do find quite difficult to comprehend, is the defence line that the screams heard after gunfire, were actually from Oscar Pistorius, rather than the victim. In other words, he was screaming in a way that sounded like a woman.

SO, let’s take this claim apart. When men reach puberty, their vocal folds (cords) become much thicker, hence their voices becoming lower. Oscar Pistorius speaks with a ‘broken’ or changed voice, so I can deduce he has gone through puberty and also his speaking voice is that of an adult man. Watch and listen to Oscar speaking here.

Screaming has similarities to singing – and in particular operatic singing, where the pitch of singing is pushed to the extremes of the human vocal range. For men to ‘sound’ like women, they produce a sound that is called ‘falsetto’. The counter tenor will singing in this way – a “false” voice, producing a sound that is an octave higher than a normal male range (like a woman’s). Listen to a counter tenor here. It is a beautiful, clear sound, if perfected. BUT the sound is not very strong live. (The recording will have been made with a microphone and fiddled with a sound engineer).

The ONLY males that sound like a female, that also have the power are the castrati; the tragic boys/men who underwent horrific ‘surgery’ in order to preserve their treble voices. They continued growing in height after the age of puberty but their voices didn’t break. I recommend reading Anne Rice’s novel Cry to Heaven. Their voices were incredibly powerful and versatile. Listen to a recording of the last castrato. This was their natural voice and range – like that of a woman, and it was equally powerful. It is believed the modern operatic mezzo soprano is the closest sound to the castrati, but NOT the counter tenor, which although it is a beautiful sound, is not as powerful and does not carry in a theatre as effectively as the mezzo soprano, because it doesn’t have the same harmonics in the voice. In other words, mixtures of very high pitched sound waves that make the voice very audible. A baby or child has this mix of sound, which makes their cries audible.

So, if we get back to South Africa, in the middle of the night, a female voice would be more likely to carry in the night air, than a male voice, screaming in falsetto. #justsaying

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About the author

Susan Heaton Wright is a former opera singer who works with successful individuals and teams to make an impact with their voices and physical presence. Using her experience in using the voice and performing on stage, she works with people to improve their performances in a range of business situations; from meeting skills and on the telephone, to public speaking, presentations and appearing on the media.

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