Pitch, pedagogy and performance: demographic structure and vocal blending in an English cathedral boys' choir

Martin Ashley, PhD, Emeritus Professor, Edge Hill University, UK, Association of British Choral Directors

Issue One | Page 41 | May 2020


This paper presents the results of a detailed study of the pitching accuracy and sound power level of the boys in a cathedral choir. Although cathedral choirs are expected to perform to a professional standard, they are also expected to offer a high standard of musical education to the children who sing the highest vocal part. Boys are known to take longer than girls to develop pitching accuracy yet have been the traditional choice for the top line. The paper takes as its starting point a theoretical demographic model which posits five age groups corresponding to school years within a typical choir. The pitching accuracy and sound power level of voices in each age group are examined. No significant relationship between sound power level and age was found. Boys were found to pitch accurately from the age of eleven upwards. The sometimes less accurate pitching of younger boys did not have a detrimental effect on the choir because random sharp and flat deviations tended to cancel out in the chorus effect. Issues are raised concerning the oldest boys who sing in falsetto with changed voices. These boys pitch accurately and are of value to the choir on account of their experience and repertoire knowledge. However, some singing teachers counsel against the use of the falsetto treble voice. Advances in the timing of puberty may require compensatory action to reduce the age at which accurate pitching is achieved.

Key words boys, choristers, pitch, accuracy, blending, voice change, age, maturity

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