Saturday, February 16, 2008

Three Octaves

While I was on my trip to Peoria and Rockford, Illinois, I discovered that my singing voice has a three-octave range.

Really. Here's how it happened.

While in college, I majored in piano performance. (I even had a tuition-paid scholarship, albeit at a little-bitty music department at a state college, but still).

All piano majors had to "minor" in another performance instrument, be it vocal or instrumental. I was a disaster at the French horn which I played in high school band, so it my minor instrument had to be voice. As a pianist, I made extra money as an accompanist for vocalists. I was a damn good accompanist (i.e. "piano whore") so I was able to procure one of the better voice teachers to supply me with the requisite four semesters of voice lessons.

I had always sung the tenor parts in high school choir. I was really a "high baritone" but tenors were always in short supply, so I sang the part. My voice teacher in college had me develop my tenor range with some success. However, he also tried me out with some bona-fide bass solos and it worked.

One semester during my senior year, I even sang in a vocal competition in Austin as a bass soloist, singing the bass aria from Mozart's Die Zauberflote "Isis unt Osiris." It goes down to a low F, which is definitely the lower part of a bass range. I didn't do well at the competition -- after all, I was a pianist, not a vocalist. One of the judges eeked out a somewhat complementary note: "You have an innately pleasant voice." - - Ouch!

Here's a video of "Isis un Osiris" from Die Zauberflote. Note the low note at the end. I can do that. (Without the drama, mind you).

While I was driving to Peoria, I sang along with this solo and I could still hit those low F's. And in German.
It was fun.

Now then. My voice teacher also noted that I could also do a "counter tenor" voice. Some might call it "falsetto" but a counter-tenor voice has more . . . well . . . balls . . . especially in the lower, alto, range.

So, just for grins, he also had me sing this counter-tenor solo by Handel, Ombra Mai Fu. I never sang it in public, but just as a vocal exercise. And I did it pretty well. The vocal line goes up to a high F in the soprano range.

However, Handel did NOT write this solo for a female soprano;

And not for a boy soprano;

Nor did he write it for a "castratto" (those were the male singers in the 16th century who were castrated at puberty so that they could continue to sing soprano when women weren't allowed to do so in the Catholic Church).

No, this solo was written for a counter-tenor; a post-pubescent, unaltered, male vocalist.

My voice teacher in college had me singing these high F's. Ombra Mai Fu was the only counter-tenor solo I ever performed and I did a passable job of it.

And while I was driving to Peoria, I sang Ombra Mai Fu a couple of times along with a soloist on my iPod and I could still hit those high F's -- the ones three octaves higher than Mozart bass solo.

Here's a real counter-tenor, Andreas Scholl, singing it as God and Handel had intended.
You have to admit, it's pretty gorgeous.

Just to prove this story, I'm going to get Iwanski over here to video me singing the bass solo as well as the counter-tenor solo. I'll post the video soon. (I promise I won't perform as "affected" as the opera singer did, but I will hit the notes.)

A three-octave vocal range.

Pretty damn good for a piano major.

See what happens when you drive to Peoria over and over?

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