There is much published work on the way the young male voice gradually deepens through the phases of puberty. The Emerging Voices choral series is designed to cater for the changes, providing vocal parts suitable for the tessitura associated with each of the main stages of puberty. Less is written about changes in choral timbre – but these are important too and we need to know more about them. Listen to the extract of Oliver Tarney’s composition Lover’s Ghost, performed by Winchester College Voces. You should hear two distinct timbres -baritone quality from the older boys and a distinctly different timbre from the younger boys.
It is this younger timbre that is the subject of our research. John Cooksey described it as:
quite startling in its beauty and richness if cultivated properly; that is if the voice is encouraged to develop within its own natural pitch tessitura
Other writers have struggled, recognising that this “mid-voice” retains the timbre of the unchanged voice, whilst being quite a lot lower in range. For example:
may sound more like an unchanged voice but the lower tones will begin to be stronger
Often, this voice is not heard. If the singing is not well controlled, it can be drowned out be over-exuberant stridency from the baritones. If there are treble voices in the ensemble too, their shrill tones can also drown it out if the choir is not skilfully managed. A “rose between two thorns” perhaps! You can help us to understand and provide for this voice better by taking part in this research.
Here are the instructions
“Thank you for participating in this project. It is an investigation of choral timbre in young male voices. First, we want to make sure you understand what we are looking for. On the demonstration track you will first hear two soloists. The first is a young man who has recently attained baritone quality in his voice. The second is a similar aged singer who still retains a “treble” quality to his voice. Then you will hear two identical choral lines. In the first, all the singers have attained baritone quality. In the second, none of the singers has. All still have a “treble” quality to their voices. The purpose of these recordings is to define for you what we mean by “baritone” and “treble” quality in adolescent male voices. We do not intend a baritone or treble range or part. We intend a particular timbre or vocal quality. You can listen to the demonstration track as many times as you like.
For the actual test, you will hear the note Bb below middle C sung by several different choral groups of adolescent boys. Some of these boys on their own might have voices tending towards baritone quality, others tending towards treble quality. We are asking you to assess the degree to which you perceive baritone or treble quality in the choral ensemble. Your response is given by means of the visual analogue scale below. Simply place a tick on the line towards treble quality on the left and baritone quality on the right according to how you perceive each sample. There is a printable version of the response sheet if you will find this easier. The letters have no significance other than to allow you to communicate to us where you have placed each sample on the treble to baritone quality continuum. You may play the samples as many times as you like. To communicate your answer, please send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org with something such as this in the subject box: 1N, 2R, 3S, 4P, etc. Thank you so much for participating and we hope you find the test enjoyable (fun, even!)
(Page updated June 2018)