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Voice and Pitch

The Rev. Daniel R. Heischman, D.D.
January 30, 2012
I am blessed to receive a large number of school magazines, alumni bulletins, and annual reports, on a daily basis, and I try hard to look through all of them. As much as one publication might seem to resemble another, there is always something unique and compelling that comes through about each school in all of those volumes that load up my “to read” pile!

In the most recent issue of the St. Timothy’s School (MD) magazine,* an alum of the school, Maisie Houghton, talks about her recently published memoir, Pitch Uncertain: A Mid-Century Middle Daughter Finds Her Voice. In the interview, Ms. Houghton refers to the impact a girls’ school, such as St. Timothy’s, can have on young women, most importantly that it can model how women, “can be good at things on their own.” She goes on to say that the larger purpose of her memoir is, “to share a sense of the greater concept of ‘voice’ with my readers.” Then she adds an interesting twist on the concept of voice: “I am still working on finding my proper voice, my certain pitch. Am I too strident or too timid?”

Reading the interview, I was struck not only by her reference to voice, but also to pitch. Many independent schools speak of helping students find their voice, and that is a most worthy, indeed urgent goal. Ms. Houghton goes on, however, to speak of pitch—what I interpret to be the how of that voice: how it is expressed, how that voice connects or does not connect with others, how that voice can best be heard. While the reference to voice focuses largely on the self, the notion of pitch involves not only the speaker but the listener, and how the voice that speaks can connect with those who are hearing this voice.

This distinction strikes me as an important example of what we are trying to do with students in Episcopal schools, at all ages and grade levels. We seek not only to help them find their voice, but discover a pitch that honors the listener. Voice may refer to self-expression, but pitch begins to touch on the quality and integrity of that voice, how it welcomes in others who will be privileged to hear that voice. Its focus on the how of speaking reminds us that the entire process, of which Ms. Houghton and all of our schools point to in valuing the finding of one’s voice, ends up being an intensely ethical process. The alternative would be simply be a plethora of disconnected voices, with important words, in the words of the Bible, “falling to the ground.” (I Sam. 3:19)

*See, “In Good Voice,” in Verité Sans Peur (St. Timothy’s School, Autumn 2011), 17-21.