Worship Musician Magazine December 2022 | Page 32

Have you heard this one ?
Q : How many altos does it take change a lightbulb ? A : Altos don ’ t change light bulbs . They can ’ t reach that high .
( Pause for effect )
In case you ’ re unfamiliar with the term “ alto ”, it ’ s the title used in choir or choral language for the lower of the two categories of female voice . Very generally , altos are women who sing in a lower female register and sopranos are able to sing higher . Perhaps ironically , the musical term “ alto ” is Italian for “ high ”. ( Go figure !)
But something very strange seems to have happened to the vocal range of female singers over recent years . As I described in a past article “‘ C TO SHINING C ’ & THE FEMALE VOCALIST ’ S FLIP ZONE ” the highest note that some - perhaps many - women are willing to sing seems to be considerably lower today than it was not so many years ago .
No two voices are identical . We ’ re all unique . Some female voices don ’ t easily fit either the alto nor the soprano categorization . But they are rare . Most do … or could .
Historically , a choir director would expect all of the choir ’ s female singers - whether they be alto or soprano - to comfortably sing higher than C5 . Quite a bit higher actually ! But today , if we are wanting to use the historically ideal “ C to shining C ” approach to lead our congregation in sung worship , we may find some female singers resistant , or even unable to sing C5 - or perhaps even a note or two lower - and certainly not the C # 5 or D5 that we might sometimes reluctantly need to ask of them .
I believe this is because more and more women are relying on their vocal chest register only . Female singers using their head register as well as their chest register ( and being able to move smoothly from one to the other ) has fallen out of fashion . Perhaps this is because today ’ s singers are less likely to have had any choir / choral experience , let alone any formal voice training . Perhaps it ’ s because the female “ worship artists ” that influence us rarely ( if ever ) use their head register ; preferring instead to stick with their chest register even if that requires them to belt out some of the higher notes .
In any case , it seems to me that , today , the female head register is considered a “ no go ” zone by a growing number of female singers . They might say it ’ s a “ thin ” or “ weak ” sound . That they feel less in control or uncomfortable in their head register . They may feel like head register sounds too “ classical ” or even “ operatic ” for contemporary music . Some are unaware that they have another way of singing ; a way of allowing higher notes to resonate differently . They only know the chest register . Their head register goes unused and undeveloped .
If you want more background on this resistance from some female singers , check out my article from last month “ OVERCOMING RESISTANCE TO CONGREGATIONAL KEY CHOICE ”
Previously , all of our choir alto and soprano singers would use their head register . Different singers would “ flip ” from chest to head and back again at different places in their own register , but all would utilize both registers to achieve the range required . Surrounded by other , more experienced female singers using their head register , less experienced singers - even those who had never known they had a head register - would quickly catch on . With practice , the “ flip ” from one register to another would become less noticeable , more comfortable , and even unrecognizable to listeners .
Please know , this is not just some off-the-topof-my-head , wild theory . This is a line of thinking that I have developed after considerable consultation with female vocal experts , wider personal research , and my own experiences with numerous female singers through my coaching work with More Than Music Mentor over many years .
This diagram on the next page - indicating generally accepted bass , tenor , alto and soprano vocal ranges - suggests that alto range should reach to G5 . Other sources suggest that a little lower than G5 is acceptable for altos . F5 or maybe even E5 . But all agree : Altos can sing way higher than “ C to shining C ” requires .
But for alto singers to reach these notes , they may need to make use of their head register , rather than relying on just their chest register . If female singers with lower chest registers are not using their head register , the whole concept of “ C to shining C ” and , indeed , truly congregational singing are under threat .
It ’ s a problem .
When it comes to how best to select keys for
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