how High? - the sequel


My ground breaking book, How High Should Boys Sing? was published ten years ago. Much of it is still as relevant as the day it was published, but an amazing amount of new research has been undertaken and published in peer-reviewed journals since then, to say nothing of new choirs that have started and developments in others.  Perhaps a second edition of How High might have been a solution, but a better plan is to keep the original and publish a sequel!  Dead Composers and Living Boys is that sequel and it's currently in preparation. This page is a work-in-progress.

Dead Composers front jacket.JPG


1.     The Turning Point

The shift in balance from liturgical to concert performance during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries ended a relationship between boys and composers that had endured for four hundred years. The twenty-first century will be remembered as a turning point in the history of choral singing. The use of boys in liturgical singing enjoyed an Indian summer during the twentieth century but the conditions of the twenty-first century have seen the need for an entirely new relationship between boys and composers to be forged.  This relationship needs to be built upon what we know about boys alive today, their culture, how they interact with their social world, and how their voices develop as they grow physically. If it is no longer necessary to use young boys for the high parts, should we take a longer-term view of how the next generation of adult male choral singers come to develop their relationship with composers of the past?  The chapter maps out a course of developmental progression in which it is seen that the traditional model of recruiting boys as trebles at the age of eight and keeping them until their voices change at the age of thirteen is no longer fit for purpose.

2.   Living Boys


This chapter introduces the concept of the resilient singer.  A common experience is that when girls are admitted to a previously boy only choir, boys gradually leave and girls become the majority. The few boys that remain are the resilient singers and it is critically important to understand the source of their resilience.  More boys than is commonly supposed enjoy singing, but unless they receive support and encouragement, they will shy away from singing in public. Singing is not the only subject in which boys “don’t try” and there are some general principles that can be identified. High expectations are identified as critical and commonly lacking. Although the chapter looks at why many boys lack resilience in singing, it is what it has been able to identify as the source of resilience that is going to become important after the turning point. The chapter concludes with a section on the importance of audiences, listeners, and supporters. Something more than nostalgia is going to be needed to develop the resilience of the boys who remain as girls begin to dominate treble lines, even in the so-called “elite” choirs.