minstrel: Performance styles was Calling On Song

Patricia Yarrow yarrowp at mscd.edu
Wed Jun 11 14:34:52 PDT 2008

Thank you - this is an interesting line of inquiry.

Adelaide wrote:

<<I've counseled more than one male performer down at least a full step;
it's easier to be heard when you pitch up, but pitching down often makes it
much more worth the hearing!>>

My college voice teachers were always trying to get me to sing at a higher
pitch, and I got the range trained up fairly well over time, into the mezzo
range.  When I was singing with choral groups, though, especially in the
SCA, I tended to get stuck on the tenor or sometimes the bass lines.  

<<The chief difference I hear is the tone of the lead.  The lead in "Fair,
If You Expect Admiring" sounds like your typical madrigal (court)
performer, but the lead in "Daphne" sounds like Frankie Armstrong.>>

Interesting.  What I was hearing was like the difference between one of our
singers' "normal" singing voice and her "belt" voice.  It was a flattening
and harshening of tone, with a movement toward the nasal.  Almost like a
vibrating reed.

<<It's the post-break choristers who pick up heavy artifacts, especially
those who stay in the counter-tenor range.  "Polish" to me involves an
intentional rounding of tone that allows a section to sound like one
voice.  The last thing a choir director wants is a section made up of
soloists, because it sounds cacophonous when you put it all together.
That's not a problem in a madrigal, where you actually WANT to hear each
voice separately.>>

Then "polished" is probably the wrong word for what I meant.  What you're
describing I think of blending, or as "tuning" the ensemble.

<<I think what you're describing is what audio engineers put reverb on a
recording to eliminate, certain frequencies that do have a "prickly"
effect on the ear.  I happen to dig those frequencies, which is why I'm
always telling my husband to dial back the reverb on our recordings!  In
many cases it's the difference between a recording sounding like the
singer is in the room with you, or in the next room.>>

That sounds more like what I meant, yes.

<<[Remember that the role of the hero in early opera...]

Yeah, like that's changed.  The soprano is still usually the heroine of
the Broadway show; the mezzo or alto is the plucky comic relief.  Just
like the heroine in the trad ballad is a fair blond, and the evil
schemer is a tan brunette.>>

Though there is the occasional nut-brown girl heroine, especially in the
Scottish songs.

<<  We have certain cultural biases.  We
wondered in High School choir whether Kirke Mechem wasn't married to a
mezzo, because the SSA arrangement of "The Seven Joys of Christmas"
gives the lead/melody to the mezzos in five of the seven sections (the
sopranos HATED IT!).>>

The sopranos tend to get irked with me, too - I'm an equal opportunity
arranger, and tend to spread the melody around in any given piece.


<<And generally those cultures have a nasal quality to their language.
The more a language's vowel sounds tend to the front of the mouth,
especially high front (think <i> as in <bit>), the more nasal are both
their speech and their singing.  The more vowels tend to be "low back"
(think <ah> as in <father>) the less nasality to the language.  As
English had darned few front vowels before the Great Vowel Shift (ca.
15th c.), I doubt there was much nasality to singing anything before
then.  Back to Tim Hart, he speaks nasally, so obviously he's going to
sing that way.>>

This is a fascinating observation.  Now that I'm thinking about this in
terms of that "buzzing" quality, it's present in Alan Stivell's singing, and
some of the French Canadian singers I've heard.  I don't think I've heard
the buzz on a Welsh singer, but I have on some Scottish ones.  I don't know
enough about the languages of the Balkans to say what the vowel positions

<<Definitely.  How stupid is it to teach a singing style that will
eventually limit the type of music you can sing?>>

True.  On the other hand, I very much doubt whether I could sing Wagner.  I
don't have those operatic vocal folds.  But, then again, I wouldn't *want*
to sing Wagner, either.


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