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Powerful Voices February 15, 2011

Posted by jayocallahan in Uncategorized.

Elizabeth Bradford, one of the great figures in Marshfield, Massachusetts lived to be over a hundred. She had a deep powerful voice and I imagine it had the resource of Samuel Johnson’s.

I like to think of the unusual voices I’ve heard through my life. My mother had a ringing voice. She used the rhythms of language in an extraordinary way. She would lift up her hand and a single word would be like the beginning of an opera. My father’s voice was a charcoal voice. My dad’s handwriting was precise and elegant and he used words in the same way, but his voice was more dramatic than his writing. He was a natural actor.

I’ll never forget President Kennedy’s inaugural address. It was on a cold winter day. Kennedy looked so young and vigorous and his cut into that cold air in a thrilling way. Kennedy, like my parents, had the sense of the drama of language. As Kennedy gave the speech there was a sense that he loved doing it, he loved the drama of being President, of being in front of a great crowd. Beginning. In a sense this was his music.

I remember reading that before Kennedy’s great Berlin speech, he was saying to the general that the speech he was giving was dull. In the short time before arriving Kennedy had changed the speech. After he gave the Berlin speech he said to Kenny O’Donnell, “We’ll never have another day like this.”

Martin Luther King’s words ring out through our lives. He of course came from a tradition of black preachers. He reminded us that words can lift us up. In the case of both Kennedy and King they were in a sense political opera at its best. Both of those speeches were given out in the open. There was no opera house to contain them. Instead the ceiling was the sky, which seemed so right. Both of them calling us to go beyond the ordinary, to be daring, to laugh, to be open, to be alive.

Ah the voices that ring out through our lives.



1. Lauretta Phillips - February 15, 2011

Many voices, many extraordinary voices in my life. Sounds like the laughter of a brook and the fingernails on the black board. One of my favorites was loud an booming and gentle and kind. A man either you feared or loved. My adopted dad Jess had that laugh that would tickle anyone’s fancy and that boom that would shake you to your core. I can think of many more. My grandfather who told stories and had a very calm voice. I never heard him raise his voice not even when I was helping and cut down his favorite rose bush. Well, I wanted to trim trees like he was. Lots of voices. Lots of powerful words.

2. Ann Danenberg - February 15, 2011

Voices… timbre, rhythm. This post brought these vividly to mind as well as more personal voices. My mother’s quiet, Downeast voice for one. We often remember faces, but seldom voices.

3. Henry Wasserman - February 15, 2011


4. Robert Bacon - February 15, 2011

I really enjoyed this. Thank you

5. Linda Heyse-Highland - February 21, 2011

Jay–Even your posts have heart. Good for you to turn an uncomfortable situation into an awesome one.

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