A Message from the Music Minister

Hello Everyone! I feel like New Year’s Day was still just a few days ago…hard to believe January has already come and gone! I wanted to share something that really moved me recently. I was listening to the Ted Radio Hour podcast, and heard a story about synthetic voices. This was particularly interesting to me as a singer because the voice plays a key role in vocal production, and is such a big part of our identity whether we think of ourselves as singers or not.

This talk was given by speech scientist Rupal Patel, and she is passionate about giving people who are not able to speak their own individual voice. You are probably familiar with Stephen Hawking and the robotic voice program he used to communicate. It turns out that there a lot of people of varying ages and varying genders that use that exact same voice/program.

Rupal Patel thought it odd that all of these people without the ability to produce speech on their own should be given the exact same voice, thinking about how much a voice is connected to the identity of a naturally speaking person. So she developed a program where people who have the ability to produce speech record a series of sentences to create all the necessary consonants and vowels the speech program needs. On top of that she recorded any vocalizations that the person who will use the synthetic voice was able to produce. This could be a moan, a mumble, or maybe a single word.

The amazing part of this is that Rupal Patel uses characteristics of the produced sound such as the timbre and the general pitch range to infuse the speakers natural voice with the recorded voice from the “voice donor”. This than becomes the new synthetic voice that is fed into the voice program and replaces the standard male robotic voice.

Rupal Patel has a few interviews on this podcast with people who received their new voice, and for the first time felt like they had their own true voice. It was so moving, and really made me think about how much of the ability to speak we take for granted.

Click here to listen to the full podcast episode!