Yesterday in my poetry seminar we were discussing how poems communicate tone. Initially I noted that there was some confusion about what tone is, so I asked them to forget about poetry and just think about language and communication in general. That helped recenter the discussion. Perceiving tone in non-vocal contexts can be tricky. (After all, tone is a musical term and its etymology is related to the stretching of a string.) In any case, I suggested they consider email and text messaging, modes of communication which are notoriously bad for clarity of tone. (Was that message supposed to be ironic? What does that mean?, etc.) Later yesterday I received an email from a student that conveyed, I trust unintentionally, the wrong tone. And this morning I read an article in the Times about a major mess up at the Met that very probably could have been avoided had it not been for a very poor use of email. Instead of getting on the telephone, Met director Peter Gelb sent German director Peter Stein, an email that made a sensitive situation much, much worse. (Gelb certainly had a right to be irritated, but by exposing his impatience and irritation in an email he forced an outcome that he wanted to avoid.) Read the article here.

So watch your tone. Sing. (I may yet get my nerve up and take some voice lessons--wouldn't it be great to be able to sing?)

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