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Exactly what's a true contralto?

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dorareever 16 Oct 02 - 05:58 AM
greg stephens 16 Oct 02 - 06:29 AM
dorareever 16 Oct 02 - 06:39 AM
Alice 16 Oct 02 - 09:50 AM
Bonnie Shaljean 16 Oct 02 - 10:20 AM
Alice 16 Oct 02 - 10:26 AM
C-flat 16 Oct 02 - 11:08 AM
GUEST,leeneia 16 Oct 02 - 12:10 PM
KingBrilliant 16 Oct 02 - 12:22 PM
GUEST 16 Oct 02 - 01:39 PM
Don Firth 16 Oct 02 - 02:30 PM
Alice 16 Oct 02 - 02:44 PM
Alice 16 Oct 02 - 02:51 PM
GUEST,KingBrilliant 16 Oct 02 - 03:53 PM
lady penelope 16 Oct 02 - 04:43 PM
Gloredhel 16 Oct 02 - 05:02 PM
Don Firth 16 Oct 02 - 05:23 PM
Bonnie Shaljean 16 Oct 02 - 06:58 PM
Liz the Squeak 16 Oct 02 - 07:27 PM
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dorareever 17 Oct 02 - 03:41 AM
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Subject: Tech: Exactly what's a true contralto?
From: dorareever
Date: 16 Oct 02 - 05:58 AM

I keep reading all this stuff about "true contralto singers",like "she is one of the few true contraltos of this century" "true contralto voice is rare" blah blah...so what's exactly a true contralto,how it's different from another (untrue?false?fake?)contralto?
If someone can explain it to me I would be grateful.


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Subject: RE: Tech: Exactly what's a true contralto?
From: greg stephens
Date: 16 Oct 02 - 06:29 AM

The implication of "true contralto" seems to be that the singer's voice is naturally pitched in the contralto range( say from F below middle C up) and has a warm round tone to match. Those who dont earn the "true" adjective can sing down there but have extended their usable range down by training to a pitch where they are not operating so naturally, and never quite attain to the tone the critics are looking for.You'ld probaly find opera people who'ld get seriously into this sort of thing, but it's not a subject to excite folkies too much I would think.


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Subject: RE: Tech: Exactly what's a true contralto?
From: dorareever
Date: 16 Oct 02 - 06:39 AM

Yeah,I ask because I'm not an opera expert either,I was just wondering.Being a singer,even though not an opera singer (and don't plan to be ;)),sometimes I wonder what's all this "they aren't true contraltos anynomore" thing.By your definition I could be one and I don't feel exceptional at all,but again I don't sing opera,so I guess that in opera,women singing like this are more rare...maybe all true contraltos go to sing some different kind of music...;)that's why they're rare.


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Subject: RE: Tech: Exactly what's a true contralto?
From: Alice
Date: 16 Oct 02 - 09:50 AM

I don't know who is saying contraltos are rare..... seems like an odd statement, because contraltos are born just like sopranos and tenors and baritones and basses.... it's just the natural vocal range a person is born with. Your range is inborn, not contrived or created. You have what is physically shaped in your throat, just like you have your eye color. Maybe fewer women with contralto voices are seriously going into opera careers. Who made the statement that contraltos are rare?

In the Threads on the Singing Voice there is a link to a page that gives you the range that defines each type of voice. By the way, alto and contralto is the same thing. "Alto" meaning high, and contralto being the woman's voice that sings against the high woman's voice. There are roles in opera for each range of voice and for the quality of the range that relate to how a singer would be cast for a particular character in the story. From an earlier thread on what kind of range a singer has, Kris (King Brilliant) asked about her range. Later, Kris found a voice teacher and began learning singing technique, finding that she really is a mezzo soprano. Maybe she will weigh in on this thread and express how stuyding voice has expanded her folk music abilities and enjoyment. Here is a bit copied and pasted of what I posted on that old thread.

table of ranges, which actually is shortened from what people really sing in that range.
Click here

You have to realize that every voice is an individual voice, and these are only generalities about range. The vocal cords you were born with are going to develop as an adult into the range of your voice, but each person has unique qualities to the sound, and depending on how you learn to use your voice and how your health and daily 'workout' of the voice keeps it in shape, you can sing notes that go above and below these general ranges. Don't interpret that high and low notes the dictionary provides as the definite lowest and highest notes for each type of voice - although I am a soprano, I can sing to the LOWEST note they show for a TENOR! The point is, my vocal cords don't sound their best down that low, even though I can reach the low note. My voice has the best sound in the higher part of my range.

Here are more terms that apply to characteristics of voice.
Some definitions of terms below, fioritura= flowery, sobrette= somewhat of a comedy role, (like Despina), spinto= pushed (more powerful) lirico spinto= powerful voice with an edge to it.

---
Quote from vocalist.org --------------------
"Dear List -

Sobrette is NOT, I repeat NOT LIGHTER than lyric coloratura. It is broader, with less fioritura, and a warmer, meatier middle voice.

Before I correct her LC list, let me remind those of you who have not heard me say this ad nauseum before, that the classification of roles is done by the demand on the singer (what she has to sing with and against as far as instrumentation and the remainder of the cast). Just because one LC has sung a role (especially if its Sutherland) does not mean that role is in the LC fach. It usually means (especially if its Sutherland, again) that particular singer had/has qualities of another fach in their voice that allow them to sing the role SAFELY.

Now, on with the corrections:

Barbarina (soubrette, albeit a young one, a future Susanna)
Frau Fluth (full lyric with fioratura or Dramatic Coloratura)
Elena - Mephistopheles (lirco spinto or dramatic)
Pousette - Manon (lyric mezzo)
Sandman/Dew Fairy -Full Lyric
Anne (Rakes) - (full lyric)
Blanche (Dialogues) - lyric or lyric mezzo
Governess (Screw) - FULL lyric
Lauretta (Schicchi) - light to full lyric
Musetta - full to heavy lyric
Sophie (Rosenkavalier) - soubrette with secure height
Vixen - light lyric
Zerlina - soubrette
Alice Ford (Verdi) - lirico spinto
Donna Elvira - heavy lyric
Donna Anna - Dramatic Coloratura, full lyric with flexibility
Esclarmonde - FULL lyric
Juliette - light to full lyric
Marguerite (Huegenots) - lirico spinto
Medea - dramatic coloratura or DRAMATIC
Norma -drmatic coloratura or DRAMATIC
Poppea - full lyric
Rosalinda -Full lyric or DC
Selika - full lyric or DC
Violetta - any voice past light lyric

If anyone has questions about WHY these are the way they are, I'd be happy to explain. Its most often an issue of instrumentation, length, ensemble size and the practicalities of the theater and casting.

Best Regards -
Ron
ronland@geocities.com "
------- end of quote from vocalist. org

So, as you see, the ranges of the kind of voice you were born with have names, but so do the characteristics of a voice for portraying types of roles.

Here is more on the history of singing
Click here

Alice


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Subject: RE: Tech: Exactly what's a true contralto?
From: Bonnie Shaljean
Date: 16 Oct 02 - 10:20 AM

Wow, Alice, thanks for all that useful info! I've saved it to disc for reference. In fact I feel happiest and most natural (and sound best) singing in the tenor range, which just seems to come easily to me, though it means pitching songs lower than women usually like to. Obviously, we're not talking opera here, though I've put in time filling out the tenor sections of various choirs, which suits me FAR better than the alto line.


I always thought I was a bit of a freak until I heard the (???)Johnny Cash song, "Papa Sang Bass, Mama Sang Tenor".


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Subject: RE: Tech: Exactly what's a true contralto?
From: Alice
Date: 16 Oct 02 - 10:26 AM

Bonnie, maybe you are one of those "true contraltos" that someone thinks is so rare, and the altos are really mezzo sopranos without training ;-)
Have fun singing.

Alice (a light lyric soprano who was put in the choir alto section)


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Subject: RE: Tech: Exactly what's a true contralto?
From: C-flat
Date: 16 Oct 02 - 11:08 AM

My partner has just started singing lessons, a birthday gift (her suggestion. She has never sung before and at 42 has no ambitions to do anything more than be able to join in at get-togethers.
After her first lesson, a couple of weeks ago, she breezed in, looking very pleased with herself, and announced "I'm a Contralto!"
I won't say what I said.
Just finding out that she has any kind of voice has been a revelation to her and she now sings constantly around the house with her new-found Contralto voice!
Last week she gave me a list of songs to work out on the guitar in suitable keys. Mostly Burt Bacharach tunes with beautifully complex chords so I'll have my work cut out transposing those!


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Subject: RE: Tech: Exactly what's a true contralto?
From: GUEST,leeneia
Date: 16 Oct 02 - 12:10 PM

Guys, "true contralto" is probably something that exists only in the minds of critics and public-relations people. They have to create the impression that certain opera stars are extraordinary singers in order to get people to pay those high prices to attend.

The world of opera is rigid and ritualized. The contralto is the one who's not going to get the guy. She has to sing low and sing dark. She gets years of training so she can sound like every other contralto. When she does, the critics can tell she's "good."

Maybe newly-written operas are different.


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Subject: RE: Tech: Exactly what's a true contralto?
From: KingBrilliant
Date: 16 Oct 02 - 12:22 PM

Hi all - just about to go home, so have to be quick & unproofread..

I was convinced I was contralto - but in fact I'm mezzo-soprano.
Alice's excellent posts are what convinced me to try a singing teacher - and I was lucky to find a really fantastic teacher who has made a phenomenal difference to my voice in a couple of years worth of lessons.
I had always sung very loud & very low - which meant that I had a disproportionately developed chest-voice, and only really knew how to belt it out. I still like singing in that low range (especially for blues) - but the operatic singing in my real range is like flying. And the benefits of learning operatic techniques spill over into my other styles - eg a bit of subtlety for a change....
My teacher took a while to decide whether I was soprano or mezzo, and I understand that a big indicator is where the "breaks" occur. I should point out that the voice moves around a bit, and the breaks move too - hence the confusion. It is quite strange when your voice "moves" and suddenly the quality notes are in a slightly different place. Sometimes disconcerting when you suddenly have a problem with notes you used to sing fine - messes up the repertoire a bit! I'm told that you can lose a bit of range temporarily whilst learning - but it does come back - so you have nothing to lose.
Another weird effect is that as the good quality notes spread, it can make the rest of the voice sound really crap! much like painting one room in your house makes the rest look shoddy. All evens out in the end though.
Sorry - am rambling & threadcreeping a bit - also evangelising about getting a proper teacher .........
As to true contralto - no idea why rare - will ask my teacher for an opinion next week. However - definitely I agree with Alice's suggestion that alto's can be untrained mezzos - I was....

Cheers

Kris


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Subject: RE: Tech: Exactly what's a true contralto?
From: GUEST
Date: 16 Oct 02 - 01:39 PM

If someone remarks that so-an'-so is a true contralto, I would take it that the singer has a voice that falls in that range. But if that person adds "which is rare" or one of the few, I know that the speaker is talking about personal preferences.
"One of the best" is a permissible statement, but "THE best" is a statement of opinion that may be quarreled with; the speaker's opinions are lightweight.


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Subject: RE: Tech: Exactly what's a true contralto?
From: Don Firth
Date: 16 Oct 02 - 02:30 PM

GUEST, I agree that "best" should not be tossed about indiscriminately. Rarity, on the other hand, is not necessarily a matter of personal preference. There are voices that are unique—strictly one of a kind. For example:—

Although she is often listed as a mezzo-soprano, Marilyn Horne is a "true contralto." Her voice is extraordinary! Rich and flowing, and amazingly flexible for a low voice. And her type of voice is quite rare.

Opera is not as rigid and ritualized as you seem to think, leeneia. And the contralto often gets the guy. Many of the ingénue parts in Rossini's operas (e.g., Rosina in The Barber of Seville) were written for a low mezzo or contralto, but because of the demanding runs and trills and such, not all that many of the lower female voices are sufficiently flexible to manage it, so the roles are often sung (transposed) by sopranos with light, flexible voices, such as coloraturas. But:—
Marilyn Horne (b. 1934), the greatest coloratura mezzo-soprano of the post-World War II period, has tremendous control over her voice. With an impressive range, power and awesome technical control, her low chest tones and floating high notes wow the audiences. Horne's voice type is extremely flexible and the color of her voice is always mezzo-soprano or even contralto rather than soprano. Her voice's size could also fill the largest opera houses easily. Horne's acting ability is also considerable, especially in comic roles like Rosina in The Barber of Seville.
In Saint-Saëns' opera Samson and Delilah, the role of Delilah is written for contralto. And she gets the guy in a number of ways (of course in the end, he drops the temple on her head, but she does make a pretty effective vamp; that's her job). If you really want to hear a contralto at work, listen to a recording of Marilyn Horne singing Mon cœur s'ouvre à ta voix from Samson and Delilah. Her voice is like spun honey. She could give me a haircut anytime!

Another extraordinary voice that is often listed as mezzo-soprano, but sounds more contralto—and has the flexibility to handle Rossini roles—is Cecilia Bartoli. She can also be one helluva clown when she's on stage and it's appropriate to the role. I can't really think of all that many singers with that particular voice quality. Give these two voices a listen, and see if you don't think they are pretty unusual (i.e., rare).

"Rigid and ritualized?" Not these days.

Alice, I love your posts!

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: Tech: Exactly what's a true contralto?
From: Alice
Date: 16 Oct 02 - 02:44 PM

Kris, have you had any feedback from people who listened to you sing before lessons and now after? What have people said to you as they hear your singing change? I know you were singing folk songs with people before lessons, so it would be interesting to know what their opinion is of your "new sound".

Alice


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Subject: RE: Tech: Exactly what's a true contralto?
From: Alice
Date: 16 Oct 02 - 02:51 PM

Don, I watched a tv broadcast of Cecilia Bartoli in the role of Despina, and I think she stole the whole show. After that broadcast she was on radio in the role of Juliet, and her Juliet's Waltz was delightful. She's greatly versatile and unique, which is what makes a top performer in any field, really. The same, as you say, with Marilyn Horne. I think that is one thing that is so exciting about singing. Every voice is unique, not like something taken off the shelf. It's also the reason people need to nurture their own voice and not imitate someone else, let their own unique qualities come out.


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Subject: RE: Tech: Exactly what's a true contralto?
From: GUEST,KingBrilliant
Date: 16 Oct 02 - 03:53 PM

Alice - I've had plenty of good feedback, and I can hear a huge difference myself too.
Friends that I sing with have commented that I have got much better, and that the improvement is still ongoing - but some of that can just be confidence.
I think where the lessons have made the most difference is in giving me a huge choice of different options in singing - so that I can put a lot more texture into the songs. That also allows me to vary the way I sing a song, so that keeps them interesting.
I always had compliments on my voice & singing when I sing in pubs, & still do - so I know the lessons haven't broken anything :>) . Though I do make some appalling errors of judgement sometimes.........
I minidisk my lessons so that I can practice in between, and I absolutely cringe when I hear the early ones. I also periodically minidisk myself singing & I can hear a big difference there too.
Since I've started to sing some operatic repertoire my next door neighbour claims to enjoy listening when she's on the loo or in the bath!!!!! I can't see my folkie friends appreciating the opera-stuff - but I know 100% for certain that the operatic style of training has improved my folk singing.
Even my husband reckons that I've got way better (and he's terrible hard to please). I just asked Hammerite what had improved since the lessons & she said "everything".
So - overall feedback is good, and there is a big noticeable difference between the before & after.
My teacher is not fond of folk (she thinks its all too miserable!!!) - and we often laugh about her corrupting my folkiness with her operatic stuff. However - last week she told me she was going to perform some "English Folk Songs" with a friend - these being classical arrangements of trad songs. So now I can claim to be corrupting her right back (sort of). Though she did emphasise that they are classical arrangements & her that voice is not folk and the violinist is not a fiddle player.

Kris


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Subject: RE: Tech: Exactly what's a true contralto?
From: lady penelope
Date: 16 Oct 02 - 04:43 PM

I think the problem with altos and their being 'rare' is that girls are discouraged from singing in this range from an early age. 90% of female led pop songs are in the soprano range and quite a lot of other stuff too. If you're not comfortable singing that high up or you don't realise that your voice 'breaks' in certain places up there then you'll find people saying they can't sing or even being told they can't sing.
I'm most definitely an alto, but I found this out by singing along to Freddy Mercury. Had I not been into rock from the time I was 10 ( about the time my voice started to deepen ) I would have thought I just couldn't sing.
How many widely listened to pop / jazz, even folk songs are sung by an alto?
I don't think "true contraltos" are rare, just unrecognised.
After that I think we're back to personal preferences on tone of voice etc.

TTFN M'lady P.


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Subject: RE: Tech: Exactly what's a true contralto?
From: Gloredhel
Date: 16 Oct 02 - 05:02 PM

I disagree with your statement about jazz and folk songs being sung by altos, Lady P. Most of the singers of these genres that I've hung around with favor the lower range. In fact, it makes it a little difficult for me when I participate in a workshop at a festival, as by the end of the week my voice is hoarse from singing much lower than I'm used to. And I'm only a mezzo soprano, and have sung alto parts in choirs (although I'm sometimes discouraged from singing alto because my tone is not dark enough--I sound more like a lyric soprano).


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Subject: RE: Tech: Exactly what's a true contralto?
From: Don Firth
Date: 16 Oct 02 - 05:23 PM

As to what's going on in pop music these days, I can't really comment, but I do hear a lot of bare-naveled anorexics singing in fairly high "little girl" voices. Whether or not they are genuine sopranos (soprani?) I couldn't say, 'cause they probably don't know. Most of the female pop singers of yesteryear, such as Peggy Lee, Jane Morgan, et al tended to stick pretty close to their lower registers and at least sounded like altos. Times change.

But Alice is right. Your voice is determined by the machinery you were born with. But a good voice teacher can help you develop it to its full potential. Which doesn't necessarily mean you will sound operatic. Just as an example of what can be done with a well-developed voice, Kiri Te Kanawa, who is a full operatic soprano, has been doing a lot of pop songs and show tunes of late. She backs off on the operatic horsepower and sounds very much like a pop singer. A well-trained singer has a lot of control over the way their voice sounds.

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: Tech: Exactly what's a true contralto?
From: Bonnie Shaljean
Date: 16 Oct 02 - 06:58 PM

I couldn't agree more strongly with Don's last sentence (well, OK, the whole message really) and must also mention another opera singer who successfully manages to rein in the mega-watts and deliver a believable popular sound. It's... God - I can't remember whether it was Pavarotti or Domingo!!!!!!!! Anyway he not only succeeds in doing this, but in duet with a pop/folkie singing the other line! I refer of course to John Denver's "Perhaps Love". Think it was Lucy but whichever tenor it was truly put aside the plummy don't-listen-to-the-song-listen-to-me-sing manner that we too often hear, and turned out a beautifully blended performance with some meaning behind it. Denver and (?)Pavarotti, who'd a thunk it? But it works.

Whichever music one wants to do, I strongly believe in the development of vocal (and instrumental) technique as a solid foundation to performing material that's any sort of challenge, and am forever reminding my (harp) students not to confuse technique with style. I'll never forget one of my little girls coming into a lesson and telling me how much she'd worked that week. She stared in wide-eyed wonder and said, "I practiced, and guess what? It works!"


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Subject: RE: Tech: Exactly what's a true contralto?
From: Liz the Squeak
Date: 16 Oct 02 - 07:27 PM

No-one will tell me what I am.... I have a range of almost 3 octaves from the G below middle C upwards, but on bad days or with a cold, get down to E or D. I've sung descant down to tenor in the same piece of music (weak tenor part, no other trebles!) but am happiest at soprano. Ah well, that's me... never could fit into a category, never will....

LTS


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Subject: RE: Tech: Exactly what's a true contralto?
From: GUEST,Janie
Date: 16 Oct 02 - 07:58 PM

Wow. What great information on this thread. I have always been somewhat embarrassed that my voice is so low--probably close to a second tenor, and have always had problems singing in groups because of the key. As I have gotten older (I,m 50, almost 51, and also a smoker, I'm ashamed to say) my lower range has increased but I have not lost my upper range, so I can sing a much greater selection of songs.

I have always thought of voice lessons as being only for people who aspire to sing operatically, or professionally. After reading many of your comments, I think I need to add them to my list of things I want to do before I turn 100.

Threads like this are why I love Mudcat. Thanks.

Janie


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Subject: RE: Tech: Exactly what's a true contralto?
From: Alice
Date: 16 Oct 02 - 08:21 PM

Janie, check out the thread where I linked Threads on the Singing Voice together (it's in my first message in this thread)... you can really dig into alot of info there.

Alice


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Subject: RE: Tech: Exactly what's a true contralto?
From: dorareever
Date: 17 Oct 02 - 03:41 AM

Alice,you're very kind and useful.I'm not sure of what a teacher would say,but looking at the table you linked I'm a contralto.Which means that I *can* sing in soprano range too,but my voice is so weak and squeaky that surely I'm not a soprano,even though I can hit soprano notes,but I can't hold 'em. But,as KingBrillian said,maybe I'm a meezzo who just needs to develop her higher voice more...maybe it's just training.But,the lower note I can hit,which under normal cirumstances is a F below middle C comes out loud and powerful,but the higher note instead is so ugly and hard to sing that I guess I'm a natural contralto.Or maybe I'm an untrained mezzo ;)
KingBrilliant could be right too,the way she describes her voice as being low and loud could be said of me too,and my head voice sucks,but since I don't plan to sing opera,maybe I could work with what I got.I don't need to sing 3 octaves,or anything,I sit fine with my 2 and an (awful) bit :)

Another singing question,everybody knows that males change voice,but I guess this happens to females too,in a certain why,right? I recall my voice being much higher (a friend singing in a choir told me I was indeed a mezzo,but she said it on the spot,not after a long listening)before 17, before I learned how to sing.When I sang without breathing properly,you know,with the same voice I use for speaking pretty much...then,I don't know if it's age (I'm 23,started to have this singing voice at 17),or training or what,but it became so much lower and dark.


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Subject: RE: Tech: Exactly what's a true contralto?
From: Escamillo
Date: 17 Oct 02 - 04:47 AM

A true contralto is a woman who, after a couple of years of study, has been recommended to sing contralto by a competent classical voice teacher ! :) :)

I'm so glad to find these conversations, once more learn something from Alice, and see the general attention that this subject receives in a community of folk singers. A great benefit for all.

Un abrazo from this far South
Andrés (the bass who was brighter as baritone but happened to be a tenor)


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Subject: RE: Tech: Exactly what's a true contralto?
From: KingBrilliant
Date: 17 Oct 02 - 05:21 AM

dorareever -
Before lessons my upper range was weak and squeaky - so I never used it because it was so appalling compared to the low range I had got comfortable with.
On my first lesson I was asked to "siren" up and down so that Tania could ascertain the potential range. She assured me that no matter how sqeaky or weak the note was at that time - if I could get the note out then it was singable for me. Then it was a case of learning how to sing those notes - a good part of which was learning to "suck the note in" instead of "pushing it out", and learning that that higher notes need much less air expelled than the lower ones.
After a while I had about 3 really good quality notes somewhere in the middle of the soprano area. That quality (pure & ringing), once found, spreads across the range with time & practice.
Tania uses a lot of imagery in her teaching & so some of it only really makes sense to me after it is achieved.
There's tons to learn and it really fascinating and exciting - so I'd really really really recommend lessons with a classical teacher. If you can master the classical techniques then you have a lot of control over the voice and can sing better in whatever style takes your fancy. You have more options available to you on how to deliver the songs and how to use your voice in each situation to really express yourself - which is great fun if a bit bewildering at times.
And I had no plans to sing opera either - but I've changed my mind now..... I find its more fun to sing than it is to listen to.

As regards female voice changes over time - I'm told that the female voice doesn't reach its best until mid-forties. Yippee - I'm not too late then!!! (I also hear that a properly trained voice will last way into old age with little loss of quality)

Kris


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Subject: RE: Tech: Exactly what's a true contralto?
From: Don Firth
Date: 17 Oct 02 - 12:29 PM

Bonnie, the Perhaps Love duet was between Placido Domingo and John Denver. Nicely done. There was a program some months ago (one of the PBS fundraising specials, I think) that I believe was called "Luciano Pavarotti and Friends" during which he sang duets with a whole variety of singers. I was particularly struck by Panis Angelicus sung as a duet with Sting. The contrast between the two voices was really interesting: Pavarotti's full operatic voice (backed off a bit for a religious song) and Sting's very straight voice (practically no vibrato). It was lush!

With each voice being unique, I've gotten to the point where, without knowing who a particular singer is ahead of time, I can usually pick out who it is. I guess I'm kind of a voice nut.

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: Tech: Exactly what's a true contralto?
From: NicoleC
Date: 17 Oct 02 - 01:05 PM

This thread is utterly fascinating to me. One of these days I WILL take real voice lessons, but I have no idea how to aquire a decent teacher.

The older I get the higher and clearer my voice gets. One of these days I may wake up and be a true soprano!


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Subject: RE: Tech: Exactly what's a true contralto?
From: Alice
Date: 17 Oct 02 - 01:12 PM

Kris, it's great to hear about your experience with your teacher and stretching your voice skills to reach their potential. It really is the second greatest adventure I've been on in my life, even better than climbing pyramids in Tikal in Guatemala or any other thing I've done (the greatest being a mom)... the mastery of the voice brings so much strength and confidence in all parts of my self identity.

Another interesting thing about learning to develop the voice is that you fine-tune your ear at the same time!! Suddenly you start hearing things in other people's singing that you didn't even hear before... when you spend time learning how to shape and control sounds yourself, you start hearing what others are doing, appreciating things that are difficult that you didn't hear before and noticing things that sound awful that you didn't even hear before. You hear subtlety and ability that you can directly identify with the technique someone is using... it's like having new ear capability because you've had to practice learning how to do those things yourself. Suddenly you find yourself hearing a singer and thinking.... clear tone, good breath support to sing that long phrase.... opens up a whole new world to appreciate.


Alice


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Subject: RE: Tech: Exactly what's a true contralto?
From: Alice
Date: 17 Oct 02 - 01:26 PM

NicoleC, there is a thread on the subject of finding a good teacher. A bad one can wreck your voice, so it is important to be choosy. If you don't have one in your area or want to just get an assessment of your voice and some exercises that are custom applied to where you are with singing right now, you can contact my teacher and do lessons through cassette tape sent through the mail. I think Mudcatter Lane did this, so you can PM to him for feedback. Her site is http://www.suzannegorder.com She is very reasonably priced. Much lower cost than many voice teachers. She is dedicated to making it accessible to everyone who has the potential.

Alice


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Subject: RE: Tech: Exactly what's a true contralto?
From: Don Firth
Date: 17 Oct 02 - 02:12 PM

Wow! I just checked Suzanne Gorder's operatic repetoire. From something as high and light as "The Queen of the Night" in The Magic Flute to a powerful role like Bellini's Norma. Quite a span for a soprano. That's impressive!

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: Tech: Exactly what's a true contralto?
From: NicoleC
Date: 17 Oct 02 - 02:30 PM

Thanks for the tip, Alice, (I've seen you post her link before), but I don't know if I'm anywhere near the point where it would be useful for me. Heck, I wouldn't even know what to put on the tape!

Maybe I'll email and ask her if a bare bones beginner would get any help from this sort of thing.

And my neighbors thought beginning violin was bad. ;)


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Subject: RE: Tech: Exactly what's a true contralto?
From: GUEST,boromir
Date: 17 Oct 02 - 04:39 PM

It boils down to this

A woman who sings a tenor's part is a contralto. Think 'Maude'.

A man who sings an alto's part is a contra-tenor. Think Tiny Tim.


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Subject: RE: Exactly what's a true contralto?
From: Alice
Date: 17 Oct 02 - 08:08 PM

NicoleC, if you can sing anything, she can tell you alot about your voice.


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Subject: RE: Exactly what's a true contralto?
From: Alice
Date: 21 Oct 02 - 02:04 AM

I emailed this thread to my teacher for her input and she said that basically none of us got it right in defining a contralto. In spite of what the dictionary website shows as a contralto range, it is not really a RANGE so much as the TIMBRE and WEIGHT of the voice.

quote "...The range is just one of the factors that goes into a voice category..... Schuman-Hink can be found on old records - real true contralto. I'll have to give this some thought as to who the current ones are - they often find their way into Wagnerian music.
Anyway, the timbre and weight of the voice is more important than the range in this case. Suzanne" end quote

I'll post more when I receive it.

Alice


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Subject: RE: Exactly what's a true contralto?
From: Alice
Date: 21 Oct 02 - 02:13 AM

That should be Schumann-Heink (sp)


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Subject: RE: Exactly what's a true contralto?
From: Don Firth
Date: 21 Oct 02 - 12:53 PM

AHA!! Now that makes sense. I've often wondered why singers such as Marilyn Horne and Cecilia Bartoli are sometimes listed as mezzo-sopranos and sometimes as contraltos. Their voices have a quality that is different--more "weighty" than singers who are always listed as mezzo-sopranos, such as Frederica von Stade, for example, whose voice is somewhat lighter in quality.

Don (learn a fact a day) Firth


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Subject: RE: Exactly what's a true contralto?
From: Alice
Date: 21 Oct 02 - 01:31 PM

Don, Suzanne told me when she read this thread that Bartoli and Horne are NEVER contraltos, even though they may be given parts labeled contralto, because their voices are definitely mezzo soprano voices. They don't have the contralto sound to their voices, even though they may be given that role. Regarding this, the worst she said she has heard was when Charlotte Church, who has a light voice, was given the Habanera from Carmen to sing. Suzanne's further comments

"...For instance, a heavy quality
voice (be it mezzo or soprano sings the role of Carmen) - traditionally and because of the other voices and
orchestration of the composer.   The MOST ridiculous thing I ever heard was Charlotte Church singing the
Habanera from Carmen on TV. Her timbre is the lightest of soprano voices - and she has a real purity to the
tone - gorgeous in music for that kind of voice. And most ill advised attempting Carmen.   Neither Cecelia
Bartoli nor Marilyn Horn are true contralto voices, they are mezzo sopranos - not because of their range
but because of their timbre (and parentheically each started out as a soprano and as the voice matured, it
found its true range and type)." end quote

So, a mezzo is a mezzo, like Bartoli and Horne... a contralto naturally has even a weightier voice than a mezzo (not necessarily LOWER, just heavier timbre).

If you do a google search on Schumann-Heink or Schuman-Heink you'll find some interesting stuff (I keep finding different spellings of her name).

Maybe we are getting down to why true contraltos are rare today.

Alice


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Subject: RE: Exactly what's a true contralto?
From: Don Firth
Date: 21 Oct 02 - 03:08 PM

Alice, in searching for Ernestine Schumann-Heink, I ran across this web-site: (Blicky) and wound up having an ear orgy! Singers from times gone by. If you're anything like me, don't click on it unless you have some time to blow! One of the first opera singers I listened to avidly was Beniamino Gigli, and I'd forgotten just how fantastic his voice was. Listening to Ezio Pinza also reminded me of an unfinished project: learning the Serenade from Don Giovanni and working out a guitar accompaniment for it (it ought to work pretty well!).

I dug through several web sites but couldn't really find anything definitive. I could be off about Cecilia Bartoli, but Marilyn Horne? I don't know. Listening to Schumann-Heink, I thought I could hear the same quality and texture to her voice that I hear in Marilyn Horne's. And the example of Marion Anderson was the same aria for Samson and Delilah that I cited above, and her voice actually sounds lighter than Marilyn Horne's, which came as a surprise to me. Am I missing something?

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: Exactly what's a true contralto?
From: GUEST,KingBrilliant
Date: 21 Oct 02 - 03:46 PM

Don that is an amazing site!!!! Thanks for posting it - I for one am hooked. I suspect I won't be the only one.......

cheers

KRis


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Subject: RE: Exactly what's a true contralto?
From: Alice
Date: 21 Oct 02 - 03:46 PM

Don, what a site you found... I couldn't find old sound files, which is what I had hoped for... just love those scratchy old records. Listen to how her low notes compare to the high ones, the low ones really where her voice is best... wish we had more examples of her voice. Suzanne will be sending me more info that I'll post later.

Alice


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Subject: RE: Exactly what's a true contralto?
From: Alice
Date: 21 Oct 02 - 08:49 PM

Don, I emailed the recent part of this thread to Suzanne including your link to the sound files. Here's her response.

..."Hi Alice, As we know, the old recordings really miss the depth of voice.   Most of the fabulous golden age
coloraturas sound like Minnie Mouse a lot of the time. However, Marion Anderson was certainly a true
contralto. You have to hear some of her spirituals where she brings out the really dark low, low tones to hear
the differences. I will give a little thought to some current voices that qualify. Sorry I have to go. I think that
the singer that responded is very knowledgeable.....we need more like him out there. As to Delilah 's arias -
not a fair comparison because the French music forces everyone to lighten up in order to be true to the style
and language.
Suzanne "


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Subject: RE: Exactly what's a true contralto?
From: KingBrilliant
Date: 22 Oct 02 - 05:12 AM

Hi all -
I was reading a book my dad got from a charity shop recently. Oxford companion to music - quite an old book. In the section on voice it mentioned that each vowel is actually made up of two pitches (made by two resonant chambers in the mouth. Apparantly the vowel production has to take advantage of overtones in the note - and is only possible of the correct pitches are there in the overtones. That is supposed to be why each vowel is easier to sing on some notes than on others. Higher registers are supposed to be particularly difficult for some of the vowels.
I have explained it very badly - but just wondered whether anyone had any more information or comment on this?

Kris


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Subject: RE: Exactly what's a true contralto?
From: John in Brisbane
Date: 07 Nov 02 - 02:31 AM

For a more pitch based perspective here's a site which provides good info on not just the many ranges of the human voice (amateur and pro) but a huge range of other musical instruments. (i'm a profundo working to become a contrabass). Here it is.

http://www.azstarnet.com/~solo/insrange.htm

Regards, John


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Subject: RE: Exactly what's a true contralto?
From: KingBrilliant
Date: 07 Nov 02 - 05:06 AM

C5 referenced in John's link is 1st fret second highest string on guitar??

Kris


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Subject: RE: Exactly what's a true contralto?
From: John in Brisbane
Date: 07 Nov 02 - 07:04 AM

However because the notes which come out of the guitar are actually one octave lower than the actual dots you'll find C5 at the eighth fret on the highest string (or one octave above the first fret on the B string) - I think.


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Subject: RE: Exactly what's a true contralto?
From: dorareever
Date: 07 Nov 02 - 07:06 AM

If I just look overall range I'm everything (?!),I mean soprano-mezzo-alto,but my upper range really sucks,though is there.(Want to work on it,but slowly,because I don't want to ruin my voice of course).The highest note I can hit is D6,but can't hold it or anything.It's high whiny bad headvoice (good headvoice is okay,but I don't have one it seems.)I'm comfortable singing F3-F5,so I guess I'm an alto.I'm sure I sang even lower once or twice,like E3,but that was the flu! ;)
Looking at this thing,maybe I'm not so bad,since I'm there with professional singers,it's flattering.
I just have this problem from F5 to D6,where my voice breaks (G5 I guess),and I do this stupid squeaky sound,though I can still reach it,and I'm working on reaching it in a better way.

Thanks a lot for the link!


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Subject: RE: Exactly what's a true contralto?
From: Alice
Date: 07 Nov 02 - 09:58 AM

dorareever, remember that these charts are not the whole story in defining your voice. Lots of people have wide ranges, especially after some training in how to use the voice. The main "label" issue is the quality of the sound of your voice, which is unique to each individual and can change over time. When it comes to the contralto (alto) label, it is not the range so much that defines alto as the timbre and weight of the voice the dark, low tones being the best sound quality. If you want to sing about ten minutes into a tape and send it to Suzanne she could give you alot of professional feedback on your voice, its quality, its potential, what you are doing with it, etc.

Alice


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Subject: RE: Exactly what's a true contralto?
From: sharyn
Date: 07 Nov 02 - 10:19 AM

If y'all want to hear a true contralto, dig out your old Christmas carol albums or Handel's Messiah by the Robert Shaw Chorale and listen to Florence Kopleff (she sings a solo of The Cherry Tree Carol, among other things. She also serves as the entire alto section of the group, against five sopranos, four tenors, three baritones and a bass).

One reason for the "rarity" of true contraltos is that less music is written for contralto soloists, so they don't come to light. Also, it has been fashionable here in the San Francisco Bay Area for some time to cast mezzo-sopranos in alto roles. A great pity.


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Subject: RE: Exactly what's a true contralto?
From: harpgirl
Date: 07 Nov 02 - 10:25 AM

...I'm wasting time at the office and I knew Alice would have some very interesting things to share about singing....I'll read with care later tonight. Thanks, Alice!


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Subject: RE: Exactly what's a true contralto?
From: dorareever
Date: 07 Nov 02 - 06:51 PM

Alice,that would be easy,but the thought of having to send and pay for sending mail to USA (I think you live there),it's unappealing.I could make sound files (like MP3 or things like this),but don't know exactly how.Maybe I should ask some friend with a better computer to help me.From the things you said I'm almost sure that I'm an alto indeed,low and dark is really the way it sounds.I don't sound like anybody else,but my friends say that I sound a little like Polly Jean Harvey (that's vague,I know.)I mean is the same kind of voice.


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Subject: RE: Exactly what's a true contralto?
From: Alice
Date: 07 Nov 02 - 10:08 PM

dorareever, it would be great to hear you sing. Have you ever considered making a page at mp3.com? You can choose the free service there to upload your recordings.

Sharyn mentioned an excellent contralto example in Florence Kopleff. I will search for sound files and post a link if I can find them. There is a recording of Irish folk songs by the Robert Shaw Chorale.

Alice


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