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Gender and the soprano voice

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Escamillo 09 Aug 00 - 10:08 PM
Escamillo 09 Aug 00 - 04:15 AM
Escamillo 09 Aug 00 - 02:09 AM
GUEST,Joerg 08 Aug 00 - 10:35 PM
WyoWoman 08 Aug 00 - 09:59 PM
GUEST,Joerg 08 Aug 00 - 09:28 PM
Escamillo 07 Aug 00 - 10:54 PM
GUEST,Joerg 07 Aug 00 - 09:51 PM
GUEST,Cat at covenhouse 07 Aug 00 - 08:12 PM
Gary T 07 Aug 00 - 08:03 PM
Peter K (Fionn) 07 Aug 00 - 07:32 PM
oggie 07 Aug 00 - 07:06 PM
AllisonA(Animaterra) 07 Aug 00 - 04:00 PM
Grab 07 Aug 00 - 02:13 PM
AllisonA(Animaterra) 07 Aug 00 - 01:01 PM
Peter K (Fionn) 07 Aug 00 - 12:12 PM
oggie 06 Aug 00 - 06:19 PM
P05139 06 Aug 00 - 03:27 PM
Peter K (Fionn) 06 Aug 00 - 03:20 PM
oggie 06 Aug 00 - 09:15 AM
GUEST,leeneia 05 Aug 00 - 11:52 PM
Escamillo 05 Aug 00 - 11:42 PM
Escamillo 05 Aug 00 - 11:41 PM
GUEST,Joerg 05 Aug 00 - 09:12 PM
DougR 05 Aug 00 - 08:42 PM
WyoWoman 05 Aug 00 - 11:21 AM
Peter K (Fionn) 05 Aug 00 - 10:46 AM
Alice 05 Aug 00 - 10:28 AM
Peter K (Fionn) 05 Aug 00 - 08:16 AM
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Subject: RE: Gender and the soprano voice
From: Escamillo
Date: 09 Aug 00 - 10:08 PM

oh..oh. Am I killing the thread ? Again ? (sigh)


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Subject: RE: Gender and the soprano voice
From: Escamillo
Date: 09 Aug 00 - 04:15 AM

In THIS LIST you will find a very interesting discussion among singers and teachers about head voice, falsetto, limits of the voice, etc. It is amazing how many different opinions we may find.
Un abrazo - Andrés


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Subject: RE: Gender and the soprano voice
From: Escamillo
Date: 09 Aug 00 - 02:09 AM

I understand that falsetto and "voice head" are different things. And most important, falsetto exists only in male voices. And "breaking your voice" is still another one. Let's try to explain:

- Voice head, as mentioned before, is the normal sound of the voice, male or female, in high notes, as the head resonance chambers get stimulated. The trained singer can force the bottom of that range two or three semitones up or down. This sound is not falsetto. This is the voice of tenors in the high notes (aprox. from F), and counter-tenors, and the female voices of alto and soprano, at their high range too (aprox.F, one octave above tenor). Male voice of bass have a range considered "head" too, aprox. from D.<>br>

- Falsetto in men: used by some singers (wrongly named counter-tenors, could be named more correctly "falsetteers") playing the part of female altos, this is still pretty common in English choirs which follow the "all-male" tradition. I personally don't like them. It is obtained by relaxing the position of the larynge and allow the nose resonators to take the most relevant part. Curiously, basses get the best falsettos, and many tenors can't obtain this sound. The sound seems (not surprinsingly) false, forced, not authentic. Some mexican singers use this as an ornament, and german singers from the Alps region use it in a fast alternation with head voice to obtain weird effects. Not used in classical music except the mentioned male-Alto parts. There is a technique called "reinforced falsetto" which some singers have learnt to master, with very good results, almost indistinguishable from counter-tenor voices, but I'm afraid it is dangerous for their vocal health.

- Falsetto in women: Many experts say that it does not exist, because the position of all muscles and cavities in women is already close to falsetto when using the head voice, also called a biphase-voice. Some authors consider falsetto as another sound beyond bi-phased and call it three-phased voice, however it is neither used in classical pieces, though we may find some effects in jazz and blues singers who use it as an ornament. Anyway, no serious vocal pieces are written for falsetto.

- Break of the voice: This is only allowed to the singer Shakira, and possibly others, because they are physically beautiful and generously show breasts and bellies (which is a respectable art too). I personally could attend to their show with good earplugs, if somebody else pays the bill. (Sorry, it's a joke - many people like them). Anyway, no classical teacher will allow you to even think in this technique (or lack of technique) because it breaks the melody, which is a fundamental part of any vocal piece.

- Yodeling : I know nothing about this.
- Escamillo's technique : any voice, but good anti-slippery shoes and black clothes, for a fast escape from the stage when necessary.
Un abrazo - Andrés


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Subject: RE: Gender and the soprano voice
From: GUEST,Joerg
Date: 08 Aug 00 - 10:35 PM

ww - to my knowledge there were always castrato sopranos. In the early times of course one aspect was the difficulty to get female or boy sopranos into monasteries. But later when public performances were done there also was a time when (few) male sopranos really could be compared with (much more) female ones. And I also have heard rumours that up to today the vatican has some hidden castrati for their own purposes (musical of course!).

Also very interesting: A man using his 'broken' voice (falsetto?) can nearly sing soprano. I never heard a female soprano doing something comparable (should sound like a steam pipe). But I do hear both of them yodeling.

Joerg


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Subject: RE: Gender and the soprano voice
From: WyoWoman
Date: 08 Aug 00 - 09:59 PM

Roy Orbison certainly ought to make the list...

Regarding the difference between falsetto and "head tone" or "head voice," I just dont' know how to evaluate that. I think they might be the same thing. But maybe different from counter-tenor? Escamillo and others, what say ye? I do know that when I learned to yodel, I had to learn to use my falsetto and I'm a soprano, so it's a different sounding tone from just plain vanilla soprano.

And Fionn, to my knowledge there weren't female soprani performing at the time of the castrati. That was the whole point of castrating the little dudes. Women couldn't perform publicly, or were severely limited in what they could do, and they most certainly couldn't sing sacred music. Sacrebleu! They were tainted by original sin, don'cha know, and not fit to participate in the official celebrations or ministrations of the Church. Thus, in service to that particular point of view, hundreds of little boys got mutilated, just as today, millions of women get themselves mutilated in service to the cultural notion that big breasts = better woman. Neither is particularly enlightened, but ... what fools we mortals be ...

ww


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Subject: RE: Gender and the soprano voice
From: GUEST,Joerg
Date: 08 Aug 00 - 09:28 PM

Thank you, Andrés, that is good information. Fortunately in the meantime there was another 'yodel' thread posted which helped me to express what I'm interested in.

What happens when your voice 'breaks' or you make it break? Some people refer to that as 'head voice' but this seems to be wrong. Is it what is called 'falsetto' or is that still something different? Does anybody know what is happening there, in either case? My own hypothesis is that the vocal cords are made vibrating in a higher harmonic mode (I suppose it's called the first harmonic but I'm not sure). Is that correct? You know there's second possibility: One can also obtain the first harmonic by filtering the basic frequency away, provided the original sound contains enough harmonics.

These are very interesting questions to a singer as well as to a physicist and maybe also to a physician (and I'm at least kind of a physicist in my other life), and better understanding (also understanding each other better) might be very useful to all of them.

Please help them all.

Joerg


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Subject: RE: Gender and the soprano voice
From: Escamillo
Date: 07 Aug 00 - 10:54 PM

Joerg, please let me explain briefly the first point, and leave the others to other participants, for brevity.

Body cavities act as resonance chambers for the sound coming from the vocal cords. These chambers react to different frequencies, best to certain range and less efficiently to others. As the frequency (pitch) raises, different resonance chambers are stimulated and others de-stimulated, producing the impression that the sound comes from chest first, then from head. So, it is the shape and size of the skeleton and consistency of soft tissues that determine the sound, rather than the singer's desire. Though a well trained singer can manage this to some extent, in general the result are dependent upon the physical characteristics of the individual.

For example, a tenor will find that some notes are definitely "chest" and others definitely "head", with a small interval in between, called the "passage", which may be from E to G in the upper lines of the staff . As my teacher says (he's a professional opera singer), DON'T worry about where your passage is. Just keep improving quality across the full range.

Un abrazo - Andrés (in Buenos Aires)


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Subject: RE: Gender and the soprano voice
From: GUEST,Joerg
Date: 07 Aug 00 - 09:51 PM

Can anybody really explain what a 'head voice', a 'chest voice' and a 'falsetto' are. I suppose if I ever had attended some singing lessons I would know the difference - depending on what my teacher knew, and I'm a little biased here.

I can also use my 'head voice' (or am I singing 'falsetto' when I do?) but not loudly and I also can't do smooth transitions to/from my normal ('chest'?) voice. But I think that's simply a matter of enough hard practising (plus talent), and so I have some great respect for everybody who really can sing that way.

I DO NOT understand how the difference between boy and girl sopranos should be the difference between head voice and chest voice. On the other hand it is VERY easy for me to understand how mixing two voices singing at the same pitch but with different vibrato frequencies can yield VERY strange results.

And - there's the aspect of castrati. As leeneia said the sheer size of what is producing the sound in question matters - men simply become larger, also when castrated. Second: If a boy is to undergo that procedure he must be a real talent anyway. Third - once he's done with it: What should prevent him from concentrating on what he's living for? (Irony? Yes, very bitter irony.)

So the third aspect might simply be the amount of practise spent at some age when it really has an effect. Just imagine the difference between a girl of 18 trying to become a soprano star and a castrato a the same age... (no joking intended). I wouldn't be astonished if it turned out that castrato sopranos really WERE better than female ones, especially as soloists (solists?)

But - hehe - to imagine that ability (aquired by supported (argh! in this case) talent plus hard work where others are ... whatever ...) is more likely to make you a star than sexual ... whatever ... is also some charming idea to me.

May you all never be 'supported' that way! (What's that in irish?)

Joerg


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Subject: RE: Gender and the soprano voice
From: GUEST,Cat at covenhouse
Date: 07 Aug 00 - 08:12 PM

Some women can and do use a head voice and a chest voice. My head voice is an alto, but I can fake contralto, and my chest voice is a tenor.

I wanted to submit a suggestion for you to listen to: Andrew Ratshin, formerly of Uncle Bonsai, seems to have a natural soprano, and he is an adult male. Check his amazing voice out on the Bonsai website.

Cheers, Cat


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Subject: RE: Gender and the soprano voice
From: Gary T
Date: 07 Aug 00 - 08:03 PM

Frankie Vallee was the lead singer for the Four Seasons, who had quite a string of chart hits in the early-to-mid 60's (Silence is Golden [the original hit], Rag Doll, Dawn, Let's Hang On [to What We've Got], and probably a dozen others I can't think of right now). He went on to a solo career which included a hit version of "Can't Take My Eyes Off of You".

I would include some Bee Gees songs as examples of being sung in falsetto.


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Subject: RE: Gender and the soprano voice
From: Peter K (Fionn)
Date: 07 Aug 00 - 07:32 PM

Animaterra, I'm stuck on the Frankee Vallee reference - show's how young I am. Unless - long shot - you meant Frankie Lymon ("Why am I a teenager in love?" or something like that.) And Grab, might the dreaded Bee Gees be another example?


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Subject: RE: Gender and the soprano voice
From: oggie
Date: 07 Aug 00 - 07:06 PM

The adult male 'Falsetto' is technically called a 'Counter-Tenor' and was traditionally a baritone's head voice. In the church choral tradition the adult male line is usually a bass, a baritone, a tenor and a countr-tenor on each side with music for each voice. In a trained counter-tenor the tone will be full (and usually loud) unlike most of us who can sing falsetto but have little volumne.

All the best

Steve


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Subject: RE: Gender and the soprano voice
From: AllisonA(Animaterra)
Date: 07 Aug 00 - 04:00 PM

If you're doing it correctly, in your head and not your throat, it shouldn't hurt your voice at all. Yes, a cappella is what I was thinking about- then there's the King's Singers, Chanticleer, and other tonier groups like that.


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Subject: RE: Gender and the soprano voice
From: Grab
Date: 07 Aug 00 - 02:13 PM

Animaterra, also in the surf-music category too (Beach Boys are a prime example). Isn't this more from the a capella style of singing (or 'barbershop quartet' style too)? More recently, Jimmy Somerville and Michael Jackson sing the same way.

I sing like that sometimes for backing/harmony - WyoWoman, is this likely to be damaging my voice? (I won't ask, "Should I stop?", bcos anyone who's heard me may be biased... ;-)

Grab.


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Subject: RE: Gender and the soprano voice
From: AllisonA(Animaterra)
Date: 07 Aug 00 - 01:01 PM

There are also male adult singers who sing in a well-developed falsetto called a "contralto"- some choirs of men and boys use them and they were a hit in a lot of guy-groups in the 50's and 60's (Frankee Vallee, anyone?). Not a castrato among them, as far as I know.


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Subject: RE: Gender and the soprano voice
From: Peter K (Fionn)
Date: 07 Aug 00 - 12:12 PM

Thanks Steve. I go to Lincoln several times a year. Southwell is the nearest to me, and is now the better bet for organ recitals. (Two organs. I know, it's ridiculous.)


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Subject: RE: Gender and the soprano voice
From: oggie
Date: 06 Aug 00 - 06:19 PM

Fionn,

Girls do not seem to have a usable head voice - the voice they use is a chest voice even at a young age and while it may deepen with age or even break it is not the extreme break of a boys voice when the vocal chords drop.

Cathedral choirmasters are an odd breed (as are Precentors). Some argue that the music was written for a particular (boy's treble) voice and so it should be sung by them. Others are more enlightened but there is an attitude problem with members of the church hierarchy. ther are also practical problems - most Cathedrals have a choir school of some description attached to them with subsidised places for choristers, as the voices don't mix it entails running to choits which is very expensive. Also to achieve the high standard of the choirs requires a lot of singing and performance, if this is split across two choirs you can end with neither doing enough. The plus side is that with two choirs the boys do at least get the odd weekend off and are better able to cope with academic pressure.

To put that into context - my son is a chorister at Lincoln. His normal week involves:Monday-Friday 8.00am practice til 8.50am then school;4.00pm practice til 5.00pm except wednesday; evensong Tues&Fri: Saturday 3.00pm practice followed by evensong; Sunday 9.00am practice followed be Eucharist, Matins,lunch, practice and Evensong! The girls choir at Lincoln does one Sunday in three and Tues/Thurs Evensong. Christmas and Easter are worse!

The positive side is a superb musical education, loads of performance experience and bags of confidence and some superb music!

All the best

Steve


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Subject: RE: Gender and the soprano voice
From: P05139
Date: 06 Aug 00 - 03:27 PM

The reason trebles are able to sing that high is because their vocal chords are not fully developed. Shorter vocal chords mean that the notes produced are higher.

In relation to "oggie"'s comment that boys who force their voices as they get older and their voices begin to break, I was in the school choir for five years and I knew a boy called Harry who insisted on singing soprano and got extremely upset when his voice broke. Before too long he had more or less lost his voice (which had become a fabulous tenor). Mind you, I didn't give him any sympathy!

Hope that's helped.

Kat


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Subject: RE: Gender and the soprano voice
From: Peter K (Fionn)
Date: 06 Aug 00 - 03:20 PM

Thanks Steve and others. The risk of differing vibrati generating a pulse or "beat" would seem to explain why boys and women singing together doesn't work. But is there a problem with girls and boys singing together? The cathedral choirmasters would seem to think so but I'm still not sure what the problem would be here. (Presumably, Steve, boys and girls both have "head voices?)


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Subject: RE: Gender and the soprano voice
From: oggie
Date: 06 Aug 00 - 09:15 AM

The boy chorister treble (soprano) is a 'head' voice which is supported by pushing lots of breath through short vocal chords. It is (for church music) very pure and free from vibrato. (this also leads to conflicts with singing teachers who tend to want vibrato for exam purposes) The girls soprano is a 'chest' voice which gives it a different timbre (different part of body vibrating or similar). If the two voices sing in unison then you can get a phasing sound as they meet. There are some pieces (mainly modern) where two choirs are used, one boys, one girls, but in most cathedrals it will be one or the other supplemented by men OR the boys will take one side and the girls the other and sing different lines.

There is also some debate as to whether girls voices should be trained so young before their bodies have developed to support the voice. In the case of boys the problems seem to arise if they keep forcing their voices when they start to break.

Choral evensong is one of the glories of music, available for free, performed at most of our Cathedrals most days. Well worth attending, even for non-christians. The standard is almost always high and the music varied.

All the best

Steve


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Subject: RE: Gender and the soprano voice
From: GUEST,leeneia
Date: 05 Aug 00 - 11:52 PM

To get back to the original question, which was "Why the difference between male and female soprano voices," a lot of it must have to do with size. A woman is bigger than a young boy in many ways. She has bigger lungs, bigger throat, bigger sinuses. Her voice will be bigger and richer than a child's.

Although people think boy sopranos are very traditional/cute I have noticed one disadvantage they have. They get tired fast and go flat. I have noticed this on more than one professional recording.

One of the reasons that Europeans flooded into the New World was so they wouldn't have to listen to boy sopranos in church.


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Subject: RE: Gender and the soprano voice
From: Escamillo
Date: 05 Aug 00 - 11:42 PM

Correction: "not higher than B flat, please" !


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Subject: RE: Gender and the soprano voice
From: Escamillo
Date: 05 Aug 00 - 11:41 PM

Agreeing with Wyo, there´s an important difference between a male soprano (more properly boy sopranos, since there are no "castrati") whose voice is plane, with no vibrato, suggesting innocence and purity, and a female soprano, whose voice is adult, and who can suggest innocence and purity too, but can express a much wider range of emotions including drama, anger, passion, mother's love, and everything a woman can feel.
There are very few vocal works written for boys and ladies to sing simultaneously. One example could be Carl Orff's CARMINA BURANA where the children play an important but short part. Haendel's The Messiah includes a choir of children too, but not mixed with adults. Many Operas have a role for childrens choirs, neither mixed with adults.
Back to castrati (which is a pretty different thing) I personally don't think that they were in general better singers than good sopranos. Simply there were extraordinary castrati as well as there were fantastic sopranos, tenors and basses. And the good castrati were STARS of their times, deserving many master vocal works written especially for them. Let's take into consideration that a castrato voice was something very special, (as a bass woman could be) and very attractive, with all the expression of a man (because they were not effeminate at all) and the brightness of a female voice!
And back to the question, I don't see why a conductor would want ladies and boys singing the same part. Giving the part of children to women is much more common, when and only when that part was not written specifically for "white voices". Having the two voices, when needed, is the best solution, but never mixed.
Un abrazo - Andrés (not higher than E flat, please) ;)


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Subject: RE: Gender and the soprano voice
From: GUEST,Joerg
Date: 05 Aug 00 - 09:12 PM

Hey, my dictionary is throwing the towel. Does anybody who knows german and english also know an english translation for

1. 'Stimmbruch': The change of voice males are subjected to during adolescence.

2. 'verklemmt': 'blocked', 'jammed' - has some special meaning I can't translate (that's why I'm interested in a translation).

Is it because of (2) that nobody seems to understand Fionn or am I misunderstanding him? As I understand his question:

I also was told ('relata refero', maybe also due to (2)) that the difference between a male (castrated) soprano and a female one is 'go home, ladies'. Of course this only will work if the castration is done before (1) occurs. There was some practice of doing this not too many centuries ago: I also once was told that Haendl - being an excellent singer as a boy - was only prevented from being 'sopranized' (only Spaw is gifted to handle that sarcasm) by intervention of his father.

So please you mudcatters, this is a musical topic in my eyes - give up your (2) so we can discuss it. No need to feel offended, I suppose. If you're living in a country where such is forbidden by law - that's an excuse, of course.

Love!

Joerg


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Subject: RE: Gender and the soprano voice
From: DougR
Date: 05 Aug 00 - 08:42 PM

Great comments from the Mudcat's classically trained resident pros. You said it all WyoWoman! DougR


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Subject: RE: Gender and the soprano voice
From: WyoWoman
Date: 05 Aug 00 - 11:21 AM

As I've never heard a choir that mixed pre-adolescent boys and adult women, I can't really address this specific issue. However, I do know, as a soprano myself, that I've sometimes done works for which the conductor requested that we use a "clear boy-soprano" voice. Meaning without any vibrato.

Part of what makes an adult woman's voice rich is SOME vibrato (too much and we all know how odious that can get). But some works, particularly the earlier sacred works, were written for boys' voices and the quality of the music is better if the soprani, of whichever gender, keep their voices as clear and without vibration as possible. For singers with good vocal control, this isn't all that difficult, providing they're not in their senior years (although my mother sang in an excellent choir until her late 70s and it wasn't until she was 76 or so that she had to go down to second soprano because her voice quality was diminishing...)

It may be that the conductor simply hasn't asked the soprani to sing the works that way, or that they don't know any better.

I have been in choirs in which the conductor auditioned us according to whom we would stand beside. Within the section you can have two singers with beautiful voices (male or female), but if they sing beside each other the vibrato in their voices compete and the sound isn't great (imagine radio waves at intervals vastly different from each other). Place those same voices beside someone different and the problem is solved. This is how the best conductors achieve "blend," and I'm amazed at how few seem to know about this technique.

And some of us singers who've been at this for a while get pretty adept at listening to the quality of voices we're singing with and tailoring our singing to blend in automatically. If, God forbid, I was plunked down next to a boy soprano and told to sing a Gregorian chant with him, it would be a pretty big challenge. Not impossible, but it would require eternal vigilance to keep my voice as straight as a string.

Hope that helps -- and I'm relieved you weren't saying that women singing in ANY combination bring down the quality of the music. You'd probably feel a great bit of wrath from the Mudcateers over that one...

WyoWoman


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Subject: RE: Gender and the soprano voice
From: Peter K (Fionn)
Date: 05 Aug 00 - 10:46 AM

No, I don't have a problem with men and women singing together, say SATB style. I did mean male and female sopranos, but I realise that the only male sopranos these days will be pre-adolescent boys.


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Subject: RE: Gender and the soprano voice
From: Alice
Date: 05 Aug 00 - 10:28 AM

Fionn, there are not too many men who sing soprano, now that we don't have castrati. Are you talking about men's voices and women's voices together in a choir, not "male and female soprano voices"?


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Subject: Gender and the soprano voice
From: Peter K (Fionn)
Date: 05 Aug 00 - 08:16 AM

Can anyone give a tekkie/clinical explanation for the difference in quality (I am being tactful) between the male and female soprano voices? And why do the two generally not blend well together?

Bliss is it to hear choral evensong in one of the great English cathedrals. To be a Christian to boot must be very heaven. And it's free. But around this time of year one is likely to discover that the incumbent choir is taking a break and some visiting choir is doing the honours. And such visiting choirs sometimes include female voices.

I believe one or two cathedral choirs themselves now include female voices - perhaps in an aim to be politically correct of to avoid falling foul of sex discrimination legislation. But I gather that the sexes are segregated, at least for singing purposes.


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