How High Should Boys Sing? was published in 2009 and was based on on a monograph, published in 2008 entitled Teaching Singing to Boys and Teenagers: the young male voice and the problem of masculinity. The research for this was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council under the title Young Masculinity and Vocal Performance. In essence, the study was in two parts. First, twelve solo boy artists who had made commercial CD recordings were studied in detail. Second a range of primary and secondary schools across the UK was visited and the work of the solo boy artists was played to and discussed with the pupils. How High? is full of interviews with the young artists and a detailed analysis of what their school peers thought of their singing. The main theory discussed in the book concerns the dilemma of the eleven to fourteen year old boy who must choose whether to exploit the high “treble” voice” or the newly emerging lower “cambiata” voice. Here, you can sample what the young artists sound like.
“Yniold” (Teaching Singing to Boys and Teenagers pp. 194 – 200) sings Caro mio ben. “Yniold”, trained in Bel Canto, is on the front cover of Teaching Singing. He has a whole album to himself in Swing and Sadness!
“Sebastian” (Teaching Singing to Boys and Teenagers pp. 187 – 194) was interviewed on BBC Radio Three. A short excerpt from his album of of Lieder and English classical song is played, he then sings the same song in his “emergent” voice. This is priceless! It is a lovely cambiata voice, but I don’t think “Sebastian” appreciated this. And as for Radio Three and “broken voice” – shame on them!
“Jamie” (Teaching Singing to Boys and Teenagers pp. 154 – 158) This is a commercial recording and you can obtain it here. It is a genuine, unchanged boy voice, what John Cooksey has described as “reaching its pinnacle of beauty, power and intensity”. The voice has not yet begun to divide noticeably into different registers. The Pie Jesu track demonstrates this very well.
“Chris” (Teaching Singing to Boys and Teenagers pp. 151 – 154) was recorded at a public concert, given after winning Chorister of the Year. I’m not normally an enthusiast for Danny Boy, but this was the first thing I heard “Chris” sing. This is the other end of voice change from “Jamie”, the mature treble sound of a thirteen year old trained in an English cathedral choir.
“Tom” (Teaching Singing to Boys and Teenagers, pp. 206 -215). This is a commercial recording and there are two short extracts to illustrate what I think is the cambiata voice at its best. Tom was 14 when this was recorded. We later used “Tom” in Boys Keep Singing to illustrate vocal metamorphosis in both voice and identity as a performer.
“Heinrich” (Teaching Singing to Boys and Teenagers, pp. 183 – 187). This is from a private CD recorded by Heinrich. By the time of this recording, he had been moved to the alto section in the “very well known Austrian boys choir” of which he was a member. The treble sound is clearly that of a boy well past voice change with some evident hoarseness. At the same time, he is not producing the “head tone” of post-pubertal boy sopranos.
“Dan” (Teaching Singing to Boys and Teenagers, pp. 216 – 225). “Dan” was into indie-punk and had his own rock band. You will hear a recording made at the age of fourteen before he had reached the high point of voice change. Technically, then, he is a “treble” and the snarled, shouted punk vocals he is trying to achieve just aren’t possible for a treble. This caused a lot of comment from the peer group audience. You will then hear the same song re-recorded a year later when his voice had just passed the high mutation point.
The boy on the cover of How High Should Boys Sing? was head chorister at St George’s Chapel Windsor. He made this recording after leaving the choir at the age of 14, by which time the National Youth Choir had decided he was an alto. Was he just in time? The mature treble voice is gone so quickly. If you know a boy with a good one that’s worth recording, plan the recording NOW!
“Cute boys and folk angels” This is a short extract of a recording made by a member of The Choirboys for the BBC’s Songs of Praise. The boy is interviewed on p117 of How High Should Boys Sing? This is a mature, thirteen-year-old treble at its best. I sometimes use this to show what You Raise Me Up sounds like when sung by a boy who knows how to use his whole voice. The comparison is made with other recordings that sound strained and out of tune because the young singers are forcing their “chest voice” too high.