Sunday, August 10, 2008

Can women sing tenor?

As you know, there is a distinct lack of male singers in most mixed choruses. Woven Chords currently has a shrinking Tenor section, most of whom are low ladies.


The Tenor by Paul Helm

Only by getting the Altos to lend us some singers do we have enough Tenors. But can women really sing a Tenor part?

As a community choir we tend to cover quite a limited range – most of the women are really Altos, and most of the men are really Baritones. In fact, I don’t call the high female voices Sopranos, but tops, and the blokes are … well, just ‘The blokes’! Only a couple of our guys sing Tenor, the others sing the Bass line (which is really Baritone!).

So, given that we have a limited range, the Tenor section is really just a low Alto part – not too high for the guys, and not too low for the women.

There has been quite a lot of discussion about Tenor ladies. Many people deny their existence, and some people think it damages the female voice. Here are a couple of articles, one written by a woman Tenor: Should women sing Tenor? and the other as part of ChoralNet’s discussion forum: Gendered vocal parts (female tenors).

Whether you believe a woman can truly sing Tenor or not, there is always going to be a difference in vocal quality since a man will be singing high in his range and will sound strong and resonant, whereas a woman will be singing low in her range and will sound dark and husky.

Typically in choral music the Tenor range is something like C one octave below middle C, up to A above middle C. The range I use in the choir is just F below middle C up to F above middle C – quite a small range which is more like a low Alto or even Contralto.


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