The concept of voice part is deceptively simple. Voices have ranges and music is written in parts that fit those ranges. Thus we have the four main voice parts of soprano, alto, tenor or bass (SATB). Given that these can be further subdivided into first and second, all singers ought to fit somewhere in choral writing. Alas, it’s not that simple. First, there is the issue that children’s voices are different and the voices of adolescents, particularly boys, yet different again. Then there’s the issue that much of our greatest choral music was never written for SATB in the first place. The quest to understand these issues better has taken me off the SATB piste in two major directions.
(1) The Cambiata Voice. For over a decade, I devoted much attention to making known in the UK the work of Irvine Cooper on the Cambiata voice and evaluating the results.
The table opposite from p197 of Singing in the Lower Secondary School is based on Cooper’s work in its most recent form, as promoted by the Cambia Vocal Institute. It is the basis of the OUP Emerging Voices Choral Series, which I have edited with Andy Brooke as co-editor.
What Voices Emerged? I now have the results of the project to record the first twelve pieces in the OUP Emerging Voices choral series. Eight choirs were involved in this project and as well as providing complete performances for the CD, the choirs provided voice samples for analysis. The result was interesting. Broadly speaking, the results support the use of cambiata voice parts by composers, but do not lend strong support to the necessity of creating specifically cambiata choirs.
I have created a new 15′ podcast that is to be the “bonus track” on the CD, scheduled for release December 2017. The podcast or bonus track explains all of this through the use of some of the examples recorded by the choirs.
It’s difficult to pick from twelve excellent performances an example, but the one below, by Winchester College Voces is as good an illustration as any of what good cambiata voices sound like.
You will find more information of interest on the Emerging Voices pages of this site.
(2) The Meane Voice Where next after cambiata?
Meane (also spelt mean, meany or medius) was the most common boys’ voice for much of the renaissance which, for many, was a golden age of choral polyphony. Meane parts were lower than today’s treble parts (or, indeed, renaissance treble parts where they existed). A typical meane range, as in Byrd’s Second Service, was Middle C to the D an octave above. If performances of sixteenth century music are to be “historically informed” they should arguably employ meane voices. But what kind of boys were meanes? Could boys of today sing like meanes? Was the meane voice just the lower part of the recognised range for unchanged voices, or was it, like cambiata, a changing voice?