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The 'Mature Voice' Has A Richer Bank
Account Of Knowledge And Experience

January 20, 2015

By Elaine Singer
Voice Actor

When I was in my 40s my hairdresser announced he had found a few gray hairs and then immediately reassured me that he could take care of it.

I warned him that if he dared touch one gray hair on my head he would lose his fingers. After all, I earned every one of them. Why would I want to disguise them?
"They’re not gray hairs. They’re wisdom highlights.”
- Author Unknown

Well, now I’m older than 40 and have quite a few more gray hairs and I’m fine with that.

But what I’m not particularly fine with are the assumptions associated with aging. I am a voice actor with what is known as a ‘mature’ voice.


I have to admit I do get a bit of a chuckle when I see a script asking for a ‘mature’ voice, around 30 years old. No wonder when you get a script asking for a 60 year old they are expecting a frail, breaking voice.

Now, I’m not going to argue with the producer or director; but have you talked to your grandmother or older neighbor recently? (If you haven’t you should, you don’t know what you’re missing.)

I am particularly bemused when they give the age I am supposed to be portraying as my actual age or younger and expect this type of sound. But I don’t talk like that, none of my friends and relatives my age or older talk like that - so why portray us that way?

It’s called ‘stereotyping’ (an oversimplified generalization about a person or group of people without regard for individual differences, which leads to prejudicial thinking and discriminatory acts) and it is alienating - and discriminatory - in so many ways.

And it contributes to this incredible fear people have of getting older. Folks, really, think of what the alternative is!!!


I love this Doris Lessing quote:
"The great secret that all old people share is that you really haven’t changed in 70 or 80 years. Your body changes, but you don’t change at all.”
And this one from Betty Friedan:
"Aging is not lost youth but a new stage of opportunity and strength.”
And Melissa Etheridge (at the ripe ‘old’ age of 53!):
"The reason that they make us all youth-oriented and vain and try to think that if we get old we are of no use anymore is because we get wiser, and they know that. And when I say ‘they’ I mean those who are fearful of change. We are getting older, and we are getting wiser, and we are getting freer. And when you get the wisdom and the truth, then you get the freedom and you get power, and then look out. Look out.”
Most of the quotes I found on aging are from women. Probably because this stereotyping applies more to aging women than to men. But here’s a wonderful quote from William Holden:
"Aging is an inevitable process. I surely wouldn’t want to grow younger. The older you become, the more you know; your bank account of knowledge is much richer.”
Yes indeed, our bank account of knowledge, and experience, is much, much richer.
Elaine Singer is a voice actor with 10 years of experience. Her voice evokes maturity, warmth, authenticity and ... quirkiness. Or, from Nurture to Nutty! She has gone from being that 'warm older woman grateful for her new hearing aids,' to the spunky grandma telling it like it is, to the grocery store clerk rapping over the store PA system.


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Comments (4)
Sarianna Gregg
3/18/2015 at 4:23 PM
Great article, Elaine! I always have a little smile when told my voice is "dusky" or "mature." It's the exact same voice it was when I was eighteen, and calling myself into school sick! (Just kidding, Mom.) I guess it boils down to this: maturity is in the ear of the beholder, right?
Arlene Tannis
1/21/2015 at 1:04 PM
"Adult woman" can mean just about anything, and who knows what "older" sounds like? In her 20's Kathleen Turner had that low, husky voice in "Body Heat", while someone like Catherine Ross in "The Graduate" had a clear, medium toned voice. They've kept the same basic tones through their 30s, 40s, 50s and now into their 60s (or 70s?) I loved the smoke and growl in Eartha Kitt's middle aged voice... she kept that too! Listen to Betty White! Her voice doesn't show that she's 93. Maybe folks should start requesting "rich," "wise," "deep" and "smart" instead of "mature" or "older." Like many VO people out there, I can do 35 as well as 65, and I'm not either... but I'm closer to one than the other!
Peter K O'Connell
1/20/2015 at 5:43 PM

Your insight and experience are spot on and is offered with not a trace of anger or indignation but humor and goodwill. As we all live longer (hopefully) casting directors and marketers MUST reconsider how they cast older people and (as regards VO) how older people sound. I think it's a reasonable topic for discussion that's well presented here. Thanks pal.

Best always,
- Peter
Elizabeth Holmes
1/20/2015 at 11:41 AM
Thank you for this perspective, Elaine! It's important to bust stereotypes. When I encounter voice-related ageism, I always think of Ella Fitzgerald. I had the privilege of hearing her perform live when she was in her 70s. Her voice gained nuance and depth as the years went by. The quavering and vocal fry that we associate with elders is often a symptom of more serious problems. Surprisingly, I'm hearing those characteristics more and more often in my younger friends (30s)! Maybe that's part of what's driving this trend.
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