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Sound Of Pear-Shaped Tones

19 Feb 02 - 03:05 PM (#653530)
Subject: Sound Of Pear-Shaped Tones
From: Mrrzy

Please? Ran across this phrase trying to Googlewhack something with Mellifluous - have heard the phrase all my life. Did a search here first, found no discussions - what ARE pear-shaped tones, and where did the phrase arise? This is one of those Shakespeare Or The Bible things, isn't it?


19 Feb 02 - 03:32 PM (#653554)
Subject: RE: Sound Of Pear-Shaped Tones
From: MMario

Dictionary definition of pear-shaped: "full, clear, even, and resonant; said of sung tones."


19 Feb 02 - 04:23 PM (#653577)
Subject: RE: Sound Of Pear-Shaped Tones
From: Don Firth

Another dictionary says:--

"of a vocal tone : free from harshness, thinness, or nasality"

Don Firth


19 Feb 02 - 04:50 PM (#653594)
Subject: RE: Sound Of Pear-Shaped Tones
From: Mrrzy

But this is definitely a literary allusion, no? Or is it an illusion of mine that it's literary?

Free from thinness - I like that!


19 Feb 02 - 05:23 PM (#653611)
Subject: RE: Sound Of Pear-Shaped Tones
From: Don Firth

Dunno. I couldn't find it at all in the Oxford English Dictionary, but it seems that "pear-shaped" is an adjective used for a wide variety of things in addition to sung or spoken tones: a particular diamond-cut, something going awry (?), or anything shaped like a pear (such as a hot air balloon or the state of one's physical condition). But in reference to singing or speaking, it had to start someplace. Some opera singer of days gone by, perhaps? Curious.

Don Firth


19 Feb 02 - 05:54 PM (#653626)
Subject: RE: Sound Of Pear-Shaped Tones
From: Liz the Squeak

But - is it a green PLASTIC pear? (would put clever link to Evn more Stony Dratsford thread but can't do them.....)

I guess free from thinness makes me pear shaped then!!

LTS


19 Feb 02 - 05:58 PM (#653628)
Subject: RE: Sound Of Pear-Shaped Tones
From: MudGuard

Liz, I had the same thing in mind (the green plastic pear)


19 Feb 02 - 06:40 PM (#653656)
Subject: RE: Sound Of Pear-Shaped Tones
From: Noreen

The only meaning I know (UK) for pear-shaped is the 'something going awry' one that Don mentions above: "The deal went pear-shaped" meaning that it went wrong, and not to plan.

I suspect it's not the Bible or Shakespeare, Mrrz...

Noreen


20 Feb 02 - 01:28 AM (#653812)
Subject: RE: Sound Of Pear-Shaped Tones
From: Kaleea

So rich, so round, so fully packed . . .


20 Feb 02 - 01:51 AM (#653819)
Subject: RE: Sound Of Pear-Shaped Tones
From: Gary T

...that's my pear!


20 Feb 02 - 11:10 AM (#654012)
Subject: RE: Sound Of Pear-Shaped Tones
From: Uncle_DaveO

A classical-singer acquaintance of mine, many years ago, explained "pear-shaped tones" by an example of singers' training:

As a training exercise, the singer speaks, "How now, brown cow?" But it's said something like this "Hah-oh nah-oh, brah-own cah-ow?"

Each of those words is smoothed out in its diphthong, of course, rather than broken up, as I have had to do it, with hyphens. The result is an "ow" that smoothly changes shape in the saying, just as a pear changes shape from one end to the other.

Dave Oesterreich


20 Feb 02 - 11:17 AM (#654018)
Subject: RE: Sound Of Pear-Shaped Tones
From: greg stephens

shakespeare indulges in some very smutty talk about the poperin pear in "romeo and jliet" but i can't remeber any pear-shaped tones


20 Feb 02 - 11:40 AM (#654033)
Subject: RE: Sound Of Pear-Shaped Tones
From: GUEST,KB@work

Singing has a very rich visual imagery - as anyone who has tried to make head or tail of a singing lesson will know.
My 10 yr old, Amoret, complains that some notes I sing are oval-shaped and bulbous and, although very nice in themselves, don't fit in with the rest of my singing. I think the bulbous ones are probably edging toward the better quality notes.
So it looks as though Amoret would agree with the definition given by MMario.

Kris


20 Feb 02 - 12:45 PM (#654067)
Subject: RE: Sound Of Pear-Shaped Tones
From: Mrrzy

Amoret sounds synesthetic, how fun!


20 Feb 02 - 02:15 PM (#654112)
Subject: RE: Sound Of Pear-Shaped Tones
From: CapriUni

My favorite saying (In regards to this generation's obsession with "health"):

"I'm in very good shape. 'Pear' is a very good shape!"

As the folks in this thread will attest. ;-)

As for things "going pear-shaped", I have no authority to cite to back me up, but the phrase brings an image to my mind of a former athlete, who used to have bulging pecs and washboard abs, now vegging on the couch, with beer in one hand (and the beer belly to go with it) and a tv clicker in the other -- or, more comfortingly, an old worn teddy bear whose stuffing has gone all soft (like the Velvetine Rabbit).

As for the shape of sounds, I agree with MMario. I think it may have to do with how the singer shapes her/his mouth and throat to form the sound: starting small and quiet, and then opening out to a larger sound, the way a pear changes shape from the stem end to the blossom end.

I am a moderate afficiando of Shakespeare, and I've never come across the phrase in his work. Although I'm not familiar with every single line in every poem and play, I really think it is more likely that this phrase came about because some hapless singing teacher was trying to describe the sound he wanted, and was trying to come up with something for his student to visualize. Maybe there was a bowl of fruit in the studio, and he latched onto that...


20 Feb 02 - 02:46 PM (#654117)
Subject: RE: Sound Of Pear-Shaped Tones
From: M.Ted

Once upon a time, diction was formally taught, and the excercises mentioned above for opera singers, as well as the terminology were used. Check "Singin' in the Rain" for a hilarious parody of the old time diction coaches. Also check "My Fair Lady" and the original, "Pygmallion"(with Wendy Hiller and Leslie Howard) for other, amusing, diction lessons. They may even mention "Pear-shaped tones"--


20 Feb 02 - 03:44 PM (#654144)
Subject: RE: Sound Of Pear-Shaped Tones
From: The Pooka

Don Firth..hmm...Oxford English Dictionary...a particular diamond-cut...state of one's physical condition...opera singer of days gone by...

(snap!) GOT it!!

"...but Square-cut or *Pear*-shaped
These Rocks don't lose THEIRRRRR shape...."
- the pear-shaped operatic :) tones of Russell & Monroe, happydays longgone by


20 Feb 02 - 03:50 PM (#654150)
Subject: RE: Sound Of Pear-Shaped Tones
From: Don Firth

The singing voice is a weird instrument. You can not sing a particular pitch by directly adjusting the tension on your vocal cords. You have to "hear" the pitch in your head, then your own body automatically makes the adjustment. In fact, you can't control any aspect of your voice with your muscles (other than your diaphragm, and that's controlling your airflow, which does have a lot to do with the kind of tones you produce). If you do try to take over and control your voice directly, it all goes wrong.

The result of this is that voice teachers are often hard-pressed to explain how to go about getting a good quality of tone. Beyond "open your mouth and relax your throat," voice teachers usually have to get you to try to imagine or visualize the tone a particular way. "Feel the tone in your mask," is one, meaning feel the vibration, not in your throat, but in the front of your face above the mouth (striving to make use of the resonating chambers there). "Imagine the tone as if it were hovering just in front of your face," is another way of trying to get the same effect. "Visualize the tone as if it were a ball, balancing on top of a stream of air," shoots for the same effect and emphasizes good breath control. The voice teacher is trying find an image that the pupil can relate to. If the pupil looks puzzled, or the results are less than the desired ones, the teacher tries another image. And another. Until finally, he/she finds an image the pupil can "resonate" with (pun intended). At the same time, the voice teacher is listening carefully to the tones you produce. When a certain image clicks in and the teacher hears the voice "place" itself—produce a good, pleasant sounding, ringing tone on the correct pitches—then he/she knows that the current image works, and you have a basis for talking about refining the tone even more.

A good voice teacher doesn't try to make you sound "operatic" or any other way. They try first to get your voice relaxed and open so you won't wreck it, then they to get the best out of whatever kind of voice you were born with.

It's easy to imagine a voice teacher telling a pupil to "think of the tone as if it were pear-shaped." That's probably how it got started.

Don Firth


20 Feb 02 - 04:05 PM (#654164)
Subject: RE: Sound Of Pear-Shaped Tones
From: Mrrzy

That is very interesting, Don Firth. I know of recent neurological evidence that Broca's area, the part of the motor area thought to be responsible for speech production, is really much more involved with overriding the automatics involved in breathing so that speech CAN be controlled, than it is with the actual voluntary control itself, so that would make a lot of sense. The motions involved in speech and song are so complex they are automated as you could never do it on purpose fast enough, as with any other overlearned behavior. Way cool. Yet, I knew the phrase as a child, and I remail certain that it's FROM something. Ah, but what, the deponent sayeth not, nor doth anyone else so far!


20 Feb 02 - 04:29 PM (#654183)
Subject: RE: Sound Of Pear-Shaped Tones
From: CapriUni

Mrrzy--

If you're right, and "pear-shaped" does show up as a literary metaphor somewhere, it's entirely possible that the writer picked up the phrase from a music or rhetoric teacher, ;-).

That's why I always take the assertion that Shakespeare "invented" certain turns of phrase (like to "humor" someone, or that something is "laughable"). He might indeed have been the first to right these phrases down in a literary work of art, but there is no proof that he didn't overhear them in the street.


20 Feb 02 - 04:45 PM (#654192)
Subject: RE: Sound Of Pear-Shaped Tones
From: Don Firth

I knew a very ambitious girl in the School of Music at the University of Washington who started out with a really nice natural operatic soprano. But she got so hung up on the anatomy of the voice (all the little bitty muscles) and with attempts to control her voice directly that her voice started developing one problem after another. She had a great deal of faith in a voice teacher off-campus who other voice students I knew referred to as "The Stangler." She never did wise up, and went noplace musically.

It's like the li'l bug who asked the centipede, "How do you manage to walk with all those legs?" The cemtipede said, "Well, I just--uh--well, lemme see, now. First I start with--uh--" To make a sad story short, a few days later, the centipede died on that spot, unable to move.

I'm gonna keep monitoring this thread. I also can't help but feel that it came from something. I'm curious to see if someone comes up with an answer.

Don Firth


20 Feb 02 - 04:54 PM (#654205)
Subject: RE: Sound Of Pear-Shaped Tones
From: Helen

"or, more comfortingly, an old worn teddy bear whose stuffing has gone all soft (like the Velvetine Rabbit)"

No, CapriUni, that's "bear-shaped"!

Helen

P.S. Interesting thread, so I'm not just here to talk BS, in case you were wondering (grin).


20 Feb 02 - 06:36 PM (#654264)
Subject: RE: Sound Of Pear-Shaped Tones
From: CapriUni

Bear... Pear... Instead of minding my p's and q's... I guess I ought to be minding my p's and b's ... :-)

Yes, it is an interesting thread. I particularly like the different visualizations you posted Don. I'm going to try them.

I have cerebral palsy, which means that certain muscles are sometimes or always spastic (depending on which muscles they are). When I get excited, my throat muscles tend to go spastic, so my voice jumps up a couple of octaves... which is frustrating, because at that time, I am usually excited about the topic of discussion, and right at that point, I become incoprehensible.

:::Arggh!:::

Visualization often helps with larger muscles, I'll try these and see if they also work with my voice, too (I suspect that they will, at least somewhat). Do any of you Mudcatters here have a visualization aide that you've come up with on your own for when you're practicing? Care to share?

P.S. The sad thing for a lot of folks with CP is that their throat/voice muscles are among those always effected, which causes the words to come out slowly and/or slurred, so that even though many of them are very bright, people assume they are retarded, and treat them accordingly.


20 Feb 02 - 07:51 PM (#654323)
Subject: RE: Sound Of Pear-Shaped Tones
From: Dicho (Frank Staplin)

The definitions by Firth and MMario are close enough. I remember a vocal coach in my school (1930s, long time ago) trying to teach those of us in the school choir to use our diaphragm, not just vocalize from the throat. She would place her hand on her ample middle and call on us for pear-shaped tones, then on her throat and say No! No! and sing in a thin falsetto to point out the difference.
I am sure the phrase goes back to some long-forgotten vocal coach.
I couldn't find the term in the OED either, but it is in Merriam Webster's (Firth's def.). I doubt that the term is only North American, however.


20 Feb 02 - 09:56 PM (#654381)
Subject: RE: Sound Of Pear-Shaped Tones
From: Matthew Edwards

Mrrzy, I think you have started quite an intriguing discussion here. Although Don's and Mmario's definitions are helpful, and Don's suggestion that the term come from the teaching of singing sounds good we still don't know the origin of the term - and I can't offer much help beyond what I've found by following your example of "Googlewhacking".
This takes the phrase back as far as the early 1590's when the line:-
What Greek thunders in such pear-shaped tones?
occurs in the contemporary translation of an introductory sonnet in Latin congratulating the author, Thomas Alabaster, of a Senecan tragedy composed in Latin, Roxana. The Latin reads:-
"Quis Graium tonat ore tam rotundo?"
leading the editor to conclude that the phrase refers to a 'forced, mock-impressive manner.'(I would have thought that something more complimentary is intended, reading rotundo more as "rolling, fluent".)
The play is generally considered dull and has been out of print since 1632 but if anybody wishes to read it the online text is available at Thomas Alabaster
On a much lighter note the WW2 radio humourist Bob Burns had a turn with Tommy Dorsey about his new instrument, the "Bazooka" -
Tommy : Can you blow that thing and get a real pear-shaped tone?
Bob : Tommy, when I used to play this thing in Vaudeville, I got every vegetable in the garden.
Check out this and other stories on Bob Burns: Radio Humour

Not much more help from Google apart from more than I really wanted to know about aspects of Genito-Urinary Medicine! However it was worth finding out that Erik Satie composed three piano duets entitled "Trois Morceaux en forme de poire" (Three pear-shaped pieces), in resonse to a complaint that his music lacked form!


20 Feb 02 - 10:43 PM (#654394)
Subject: RE: Sound Of Pear-Shaped Tones
From: CapriUni

Mathew:

"Not much more help from Google apart from more than I really wanted to know about aspects of Genito-Urinary Medicine!"

What the -- ?

I suppose certian organs involved are either normally or abnormally pear-shaped, and muscle tone has something to do with it...


21 Feb 02 - 12:17 AM (#654426)
Subject: RE: Sound Of Pear-Shaped Tones
From: Dicho (Frank Staplin)

The Alabaster Senecan tragedy is no help. Merely refers to loud rounded off tones. It will take a trained voice coach to possibly come up with a useful answer as to the age of the phrase. Speculation is useless.


21 Feb 02 - 02:38 AM (#654468)
Subject: RE: Sound Of Pear-Shaped Tones
From: JohnInKansas

I had always heard the "pear shaped tone" description used in reference to early efforts at analysis of the spectral content of speech and singing.

I'll leave it to others to determine whether the terminology predates the development of instrumentation for such direct measurement, but will note that oscillographs and crude oscilloscopes date to about the time when the Edison recording and telephone instruments appeared - early 1900s.

On an oscilloscope or oscillograph, the "pear shaped tone" looks exactly (more or less) pear shaped - in a display of amplitude versus frequency. Regularly spaced harmonics vary smoothly in amplitude, with most of the content in the lower harmonics, tapering smoothly to lower amplitudes. The "ideal" tone contains "rich" harmonics though the upper second octave - the body of the "pear." Into about the third octave, there are "rich" harmonics, but with lesser amplitude - the neck of the "pear," with little content above about the third or possibly into the lower fourth octave.

A nasal or "thready" tone (or a free reed like a harmonica) looks more like a rather "scraggly" christmas three.

If the terminology existed before then, it is certainly nice to see that "modern" instruments confirmed its appropriatness.

John


21 Feb 02 - 09:10 AM (#654579)
Subject: RE: Sound Of Pear-Shaped Tones
From: Mrrzy

1590 - wow! That's a lot earlier than I would have thought... and yes, this is turning into a neat thread!


21 Feb 02 - 09:59 PM (#655024)
Subject: RE: Sound Of Pear-Shaped Tones
From: Dicho (Frank Staplin)

Mrrzy, the Latin is incorrectly translated. No reference to pear-shaped tones- only loud and full.


22 Feb 02 - 06:26 PM (#655660)
Subject: RE: Sound Of Pear-Shaped Tones
From: Matthew Edwards

Sorry Dicho, but I have to disagree. The English translation of Alabaster's Roxana was made at around the same time as the Latin drama, so that Mrzzy's instinct that the phrase dated back to the time of Shakespeare and the Authorised Version is vindicated.

What is also quite interesting is that the Latin is almost a direct quotation from the Ars Poetica of Horace l.323
Graiis dedit ore rotundo Musa Loqui
(Trans)The Muse of Speech gave elegant voices to the Greeks
I would guess that there was a 16th century translation of Horace which gave ore rotundo =elegant, or polished voice as "Pear-shaped tones.


10 Oct 11 - 07:36 PM (#3237031)
Subject: RE: Sound Of Pear-Shaped Tones
From: GUEST

Well, if you've heard it since childhood, you may have heard it in Disney's Cinderella. The evil stepmother sings, "in pearrrr shapedddd tonnnes...'" right before the stepsisters begin their horrible rendition of "Sweet Nightengale". But, lol, I seriously doubt they had any place in coining the phrase.


11 Oct 11 - 10:47 AM (#3237207)
Subject: RE: Sound Of Pear-Shaped Tones
From: McGrath of Harlow

So if someone told you that your singing had gone all pear-shaped, would that be good or not?


11 Oct 11 - 11:54 AM (#3237239)
Subject: RE: Sound Of Pear-Shaped Tones
From: Stringsinger

Isn't what is intended in this description or metaphor, a voice that uses vowel placement in such a way that the full resonance of the voice is exhibited?

I understand singing to be a somatic experience and try to take note when it sounds good, how that feels in the body.


12 Oct 11 - 06:33 AM (#3237705)
Subject: RE: Sound Of Pear-Shaped Tones
From: McGrath of Harlow

How about egg-shaped?


12 Oct 11 - 06:47 PM (#3238068)
Subject: RE: Sound Of Pear-Shaped Tones
From: Helen

I just remembered a documentary I saw on tv about 20 years ago. It was called What is Music?

It showed that an instrument like a trumpet changes it's sound the longer and louder a note is blown, i.e. the sound becomes not just louder, but fuller and richer. It was represented visually on the electronic graph-thingy, (sorry, just read John in Kansas's posting: oscillographs/oscilloscopes) like the music visualisations on Windows Media Player, and started small then gradually enlarged, like the transition in the shape of a pear, from top down. Maybe what shows on the graph-thingy is what was recognised by voice teachers a long time ago.

I'm not explaining this very clearly. If you listen to the trumpet sound on a good electronic piano, like my Yamaha, the longer you press the note, the richer and fuller the sound gets.

(I recorded the tv show on a video tape, which I still have, but don't now have a video player to play it on, and the tape is probably kaput by now, too. Unfortunately, "What is Music" is one of the phrases which tends to stump Google, because it returns about half a million hits, and it's not easy to narrow it down to the documentary, especially since I cannot remember specifics about who was in it, or where it was made. I'd love to be able to buy the DVD.)

Helen


13 Oct 11 - 11:31 AM (#3238389)
Subject: RE: Sound Of Pear-Shaped Tones
From: GUEST,leeneia

I think I've figured out what 'pear-shaped tones' are all about.

If we sing with the backs of our mouths open, the tone is fuller. However, we can't just open the backs of our mouths just by trying, we need a metaphor to help us out. If I pretend that I have put a pear (a small one) in my mouth, big end first, then the back of my mouth has to open up to accommodate it, while the front closes down to help with enunciation. Trouble is, I soon begin to feel like I can't breathe - even though the pear is imaginary.

I prefer the metaphor that I have a forkful of hot food on my tongue and I'm opening my mouth inside to cool it off.