Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Importance of Using Vocal Resonance

Everyone, but especially Americans with our culture of listening to music, have to at some point in their lives learn to resonate the pitch and tone of their voice. I am starting this process at this late date in my life, because I recognize the importance of doing so. A proper vocal expression does not cause pain to the participant in 5 minutes of speaking or singing.

You see, I experience pain, soon to be a thing of the past, when I speak at the low pitch I have found commands respect from males. This is a common problem for males in the American society, our culture dictates that we speak lower to attain the valued age (older people have a naturally lower pitch). Our culture dictates that respect and income is a function of age for most wage earning jobs. That and our non-singing society that spends its time "listening" not participating in song, has not learned to resonate vocal pitch and tone.

So you're probably asking, what does this have to do with someone whom is intersex?

Hi, I am either a high Tenor, or a counter-tenor, or a contra-alto, or maybe just an alto... it depends on your view of gender. In the world of singing they are extremely stratified on gender. Men are Bass, Baritone, or Tenor and anything expressed in a higher vocal range is falsetto (a partial expression of the full male voice). Women are alto or soprano. Never shall there be a male who is an alto, nor a woman who shall be a tenor. Lets suppose for a moment that someone whom is intersex did not have the vocal drop that males incur during puberty. There is a good book that I'd recommend to anyone wanting to learn to make a better vocal expression: "Is Your Voice Telling On You?" This book describes children of 9 years age as having a vocal range centering on or about middle C (piano keys, page 58). Males when they reach puberty experience a vocal drop of about an octave, and females about half an octave. So how much of a vocal drop do Intersex people experience? This is an entirely individualistic experience for intersex people, so it could be some, none, or all of what the distinct gendered people experience. My own experience is that I can sing from F3 to G5, or mid-tenor to soprano. Because I can sing into a full male voice for the bottom 4 notes D3-G3, transition to a female voice and then sing A3-G5.

I have encountered some specific challenges with vocal range. I hit a puberty cycle about every 5-7 years since 20 years of age. During that time, my vocal range changes, yet again each time. Based on my range, I have someplace between a tenor and an alto range. And I choose to sing tenor in the choir that I participate in, because it is a more interesting part. :) Yet I still experience a challenge, because the bottom of the normal tenor range is too low for me. When I try, as I have done too many times, to sing that low I quickly experience pain, hoarseness, and vocal loss. It is difficult to simply stop singing when in a group, yet with the men, I have to do that for my own protection. Simply does not do to spoil a fun participatory event by going hoarse or incurring personal pain.

So back to resonance. All people generally learn to resonate young, because most cultures have a strong component of singing. However, American's are deficient in this matter. Our culture of Radio, Television, and other pastimes do not encourage participation in singing. As such we are not learning to use natural resonance. You can see this effect in people that experience pain in speaking for more than a short time, for example teachers, public speakers, etc... In my case, I often speak to large groups in a professional capacity. I learned early that males command respect through a low vocal pitch, and I have to use every tactic since I look literally 10-15 years younger than my peers. However, use of a low pitch D3, the very lowest pitch I can reach also causes me considerable pain. The book I referenced above suggests that people should talk in a normal range 3-4 notes higher than their lowest note. However, that pitch D3+4= A3, is in a normal female range, and A3 is considered very high for a male. This poses something of a challenge for me.

The referenced range for a piano, is found in the book on page 58. The book describes middle C, as C4, with each C beginning a range. So the keys are the set = {C,D,E,F,G,A,B}, and on the piano there are 7 full sets. The book tabulates using only the white keys on a piano keyboard.