Fred Newman has an unusual occupation. He is a sound actor. This means he makes a living by making all kinds of sound effects using essentially his mouth, nose, and throat. If you have ever listened to Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion, then you have heard him in the background supplying the sound effects for the various stories Keillor and his creative team enact.
You could say that Newman began his career while still in elementary school where he sometimes entertained the
other kids in his class by making funny sounds. We probably all remember the kid who did this in our class—usually a boy. (Sorry, Gentlemen, but it’s true.) Newman, however, went on to hone this innate talent and today he is known as a “one-man sound effects machine.” At least that’s what journalist Jane Pauley dubbed him when she interviewed him. Newman does all kinds of voices too, mostly cartoon characters.
What kind of sounds does he make? Here’s a list of just a few of them: dripping water, a flock of starlings, talking dolphins, a herd of cows, ocean waves, computers, barking dogs, angry cats, raging fires, laser printers, hurricanes, honking traffic, and (my personal favorite) a helicopter coming in for a landing. (Whenever I listen to a skit on Prairie, I always hope that it will include a whirling helicopter.)
Newman has won numerous awards. He has also written several books including MouthSounds which contains directions for making 200 sounds. Newman writes, “Sound-making, like life, requires a playful, fearless spirit.” In other words, you have to be willing to look and sound pretty silly. He underscores the importance of sounds in daily life when he says, “Information is in the words, but all the emotion is in sound.”
Listening to Newman evokes in me a greater appreciation of sound in my personal life. Sound gives comfort (rain gently falling on the roof, a mother humming a lullaby, coffee brewing, the opening strains of a favorite song). Sound alerts us (a siren blaring, a baby crying, a doorbell ringing, a teakettle whistling). Sound amazes us (the honking of geese as they fly southward, the buzzing of bees as they flit from clover to clover, the chirping of birds at the crack of dawn, the roaring of waves as they crash against the rocks). Anyone who is hearing-impaired knows firsthand the deprivation of not being able to hear sounds well. But even those of us with good hearing often miss some of the beautiful sounds around us because we are simply inattentive. (We can’t pay attention to everything we hear, of course. Without some sort of filtering, all those sounds that bombard us every day would be too much to bear.)
Today, let’s give thanks for sound. We can begin by being attentive to them—especially those that give us comfort or amaze us. And let us pray these simple words… these simple sounds:
Creator of all Sound, I thank you for the gift of sound. Help me to appreciate the many sounds that guide and enrich my daily life: The words I hear or speak… the songs I listen to or sing… a ticking clock… the smooth running of a car engine… a chirping bird… the rain pattering against the window… the opening of a garage door… the beeping of a truck backing up… the babbling of a brook…the toast popping up in the toaster… a loved one speaking my name. I give thanks today for the gift of hearing. Let me never take it for granted. And I ask that I may be more sensitive to those who are hearing impaired. I pray for these graces through Jesus who spoke so eloquently, and through the power of the Spirit who came on Pentecost like the sound of a mighty wind. Amen.
I am offering two videos today. The first one is the song “Word of God Speak” by MercyMe. It reminds us to listen to all the ways God speaks in our lives–including sounds and silence. The second video is Jane Pauley’s interview with Fred Newman entitled “Mouthing Off.” It’s about 8 minutes long. It’s fun! You might enjoy it. I did.
“Word of God Speak”:
Interview with Fred Newman:
Do you have any comments you’d like to share on Fred Newman, sounds, or either of the videos?