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dead composers and living boys

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The sequel to How High Should Boys Sing? and thoroughly in tune with the living boys of today, this book is a detailed empirical study of how they grow, how their voices work at different stages of growth and how they want to use them. Intrigued by the fact that boys are almost never chosen for historically informed performance, I see the relationship between dead composers and living boys to be in need of development.

Open Source

Currently available as a free to read open source web book or .pdf download.  A revised print-on-demand version will be available for sale after an on-going process of peer review.


FAQs .  Visit this page for concise case studies that answer the most common queries.

The Book

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John Taverner autographed his Missa Sine Nomine ("the mean mass") as “for iij men and a childe". Yet no recordings exist with the mean part part sung by a childe.  This digital simulation was created  out of interest and in the hope that a countertenor free recording with a living boy may yet be made.

This book has been ten years in the making as a "retirement project".  Since my retirement in 2013 I have:

  • Conducted further analysis of the 1000+ boys' voices recorded between 2010 and 2012.

  • Continued longitudinal field studies of boy singers right up until the current time.

  • Collaborated with a consultant paediatrician on growth, puberty and voice.

  • Undertaken a university residency in Tudor pitch.

  • Conducted follow-up studies of former choristers who are now young adults.


Chapter Synopsis

1.  Sweetness and Light

Is it all about "pop music"?  How far is it tongue in cheek to talk about "dead composers"?  Is "classical" music dying or will new generations of boys keep it alive?  What kinds of boy? 

2. Science and Empiricism

Boys in choirs are mostly still taught by empirical methods, i.e. ways that have been developed through centuries of practice.  But modern voice science presents challenges to time-honoured methods.

3. Essential Adolescent Biology

A thorough understanding of how boys grow, particularly during the years of puberty, is an essential foundation for a full understanding of vocal development in an age where science challenges centuries old practices.

4. Trends over Time

Changes in the timing of puberty have been identified and are often cited in discussion of how boys sang in the past and how they should sing now. What are the facts?

5.  From Speaking to Singing

All boys speak, rather fewer sing.  For boys who sing, the speaking voice and singing voice diverge in both pitch and timbre during puberty.  This is why the question "How High Should Boys Sing?" was first asked.

6. Peak Performances and Swansongs

The "treble" voice is often thought of as an "unchanged" voice, but very few boys give their best "treble" performances before voice change.  This important consideration is examined through some detailed case studies.

7. Vocal Agency in Middle Adolescence

Ultimately, a boy's voice is his to do with as he pleases.  What do boys choose to do as their voices deepen and they undergo the social transition from child to young adult?  14 - 17 year olds who have made quite different choices give us their reasons.

8.  Fitting Voices to Parts

Part range in a choir is an issue for any singer.  For adolescent boys, it is the defining issue.  We compare what is done now with what was done during the sixteenth century.

9. The Pre-Scientific Age

The renaissance might be called the golden age of choral polyphony.  Was it a golden age of science?  A quest for "historically informed performance" gives some surprising answers.

10. The Early Scientific Age

The nineteenth century was both an age of rapid scientific advance and an age of great choral revival after the "Georgian nadir".  To what extent might this great revival and great outpouring of scientific writing on children's voices be a model for us today?  What should we learn and what should we discard?

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