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April 6, 2009

Tenor of the times: Choir needs more off-bass voices

Vancouver Sun (Canada): (Thanks to The Choral Blog)

It’s time for the banana frog, the Cuban long-nosed toad and the Hawaiian duck to make room on the endangered species list for tuxedo-wearing gentlemen with voices that can hit the high notes — better known as tenors. That the tenor is slowly vanishing from the world was evidenced Wednesday morning when members of Vancouver’s Jubilate Chamber Choir risked hypothermia by standing for more than an hour at the south end of the Burrard Bridge, trying to lure a tenor or two.

Choir president Jim Colbert and three others, all in tuxedos, were waving signs saying “Free, the tenors” to passing buses and rush-hour motorists. It wasn’t an appeal to let some Pavarotti-beautiful voices out of jail, but shorthand for telling tenors they wouldn’t be charged the usual $250 in annual fees if they joined the choir.

Colbert is hoping the demonstration will bring one of these scarce voices into the fold. “We stayed out there as long as we could. We left before hypothermia set in,” said Colbert, whose 24-member choir was formed in 1994 and is now down to its last two tenors.

It has a full complement of basses, altos and sopranos, but those sublimely soaring male voices are missing. There has been a mysterious drop in the numbers of tenors worldwide, Colbert said.

So is it global warming? Something in the water? He isn’t sure, though he has heard it might have something to do with diet — hormones in the meat — that is making males grow larger and likewise increasing the size of their voice boxes, which results in lower-pitched voices.

“I know there was an Ideas program on CBC a year ago which dealt with the vanishing tenors and what might be behind it,” he said. “There could be social and physiological reasons. We see boys today emulating gruffer sounds because that is what they are exposed to hearing. So they don’t have the cultural or social motivation to sing classically at a higher pitch.”

Vancouver has dozens of choirs and tenors are in constant demand, said Colbert, who sings bass. It is difficult enough to recruit male voices of any kind, he said. “I was dragged kicking and screaming into the choir. Men in general are hard to recruit.”

Posted by acapnews at April 6, 2009 9:06 PM

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