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Choir Director: June Graber

Guide to the Chorus

 

In any chorus, there are four voice parts: soprano, alto, tenor, and bass.

Sometimes these are divided into first and second within each part,

prompting endless jokes about first and second basses. There are  also

various other parts such as baritone, countertenor, contralto, mezzo

soprano, etc., but these are mostly used by people who are either soloists,

or belong to some excessively hotshot classical a cappella group (this

applies especially to countertenors), or are trying to make excuses for not

really fitting into any of the regular voice parts, so we will ignore them

for now. Each voice part sings in a different range, and each one has a very

different personality. You may ask, "Why should singing different notes make

people act differently?", and indeed this is a mysterious question and has

not been adequately studied, especially since scientists who study musicians

tend to be musicians themselves and have all the peculiar complexes that go

with being tenors, French horn players, timpanists, or whatever. However,

this is beside the point; the fact remains that the four voice parts can be

easily distinguished, and I will now explain how.

 

THE SOPRANOS are the ones who sing the highest, and because of this they

think they rule the world. They have longer hair, fancier jewelry, and

swishier skirts than anyone else, and they consider themselves insulted if

they are not allowed to go at least to a high F in every movement of any

given piece. When they reach the high notes, they hold them for at least

half again as long as the composer and/or conductor requires, and then

complain that their throats are killing them and that the composer and

conductor are sadists. Sopranos have varied attitudes toward the other

sections of the chorus, though they consider all of them inferior. Altos are

to sopranos rather like second violins to first violins - nice to harmonize

with, but not really necessary. All sopranos have a secret feeling that the

altos could drop out and the piece would sound essentially the same, and

they don't understand why anybody would sing in that range in the first

place - it's so boring. Tenors, on the other hand, can be very nice to have

around; besides their flirtation possibilities (it is a well-known fact that

sopranos never flirt with basses), sopranos like to sing duets with tenors

because all the tenors are doing is working very hard to sing in a

low-to-medium soprano range, while the sopranos are up there in the

stratosphere showing off. To sopranos, basses are the scum of the earth -

they sing too loud, are useless to tune to because they're down in that low,

low range - and there has to be something wrong with anyone who sings in the

F clef, anyway.

 

THE ALTOS are the salt of the earth - in their opinion, at least. Altos are

unassuming people, who would wear jeans to concerts if they were allowed to.

Altos are in a unique position in the chorus in that they are unable to

complain about having to sing either very high or very low, and they know

that all the other sections think their parts are pitifully easy. But the

altos know otherwise. They know that while the sopranos are screeching away

on a high A, they are being forced to sing elaborate passages full of sharps

and flats and tricks of rhythm, and nobody is noticing because the sopranos

are singing too loud (and the basses usually are, too). Altos get a deep,

secret pleasure out of conspiring together to tune the sopranos flat. Altos

have an innate distrust of tenors, because the tenors sing in almost the

same range and think they sound better. They like the basses, and enjoy

singing duets with them - the basses just sound like a rumble anyway, and

it's the only time the altos can really be heard. Altos' other complaint is

that there are always too many of them and so they never get to sing really

loud.

 

THE TENORS are spoiled. That's all there is to it. For one thing, there are

never enough of them, and choir directors would rather sell their  souls

than let a halfway decent tenor quit, while they're always ready to unload a

few altos at half price. And then, for some reason, the few tenors there

are, are always really good - it's one of those annoying facts of life. So

it's no wonder that tenors always get swollen heads - after all, who else

can make sopranos swoon? The one thing that can make tenors insecure is the

accusation (usually by the basses) that anyone singing that high couldn't

possibly be a real man. In their usual perverse fashion, the tenors never

acknowledge this, but just complain louder about the composer being a sadist

and making them sing so high. Tenors have a love-hate relationship with the

conductor, too, because the conductor is always telling them to sing louder

because there are so few of them. No conductor in recorded history has ever

asked for less tenor in a forte passage. Tenors feel threatened in some way

by all the other sections - the sopranos because they can hit those

incredibly high notes; the altos because they have no trouble singing the

notes the tenors kill themselves for; and the basses because, although they

can't sing anything above an E, they sing it loud enough to drown the tenors

out. Of course, the tenors would rather die than admit any of this. It is a

little-known fact that tenors move their eyebrows more than anyone else

while singing.

 

THE BASSES sing the lowest of anybody. This basically explains everything.

They are solid, dependable people, and have more facial hair than anybody

else. The basses feel perpetually unappreciated, but they have a deep

conviction that they are actually the most important part (a view endorsed

by musicologists, but certainly not by sopranos or tenors), despite the fact

that they have the most boring part of anybody and often sing the same note

(or in endless fifths) for an entire page. They compensate for this by

singing as loudly as they can get away with - most basses are tuba players

at heart. Basses are the only section that can regularly complain about how

low their part is, and they make horrible faces when trying to hit very low

notes. Basses are charitable people, but their charity does not extend so

far as tenors, whom they consider effete poseurs. Basses hate tuning the

tenors more than almost anything else. Basses like altos - except when they

have duets and the altos get the good part. As for the sopranos, they are

simply in an alternate universe which the basses don't understand at all.

They can't imagine why anybody would ever want to sing that high and sound

that bad when they make mistakes. When a bass makes a mistake, the other

three parts will cover him, and he can continue on his merry way, knowing

that sometime, somehow, he will end up at the root of the chord.

 

Top Ten Reasons For Being A... Soprano

 

10) The rest of the choir exists just to make you look good.

9) You can entertain your friends by breaking their wine glasses.

8) Can you name an opera where an alto actually got and kept the man?

7) When sopranos want to sing in the shower, they know the tune.

6) It's not like you are ever going to sing the Alto part by accident

5) Great costumes -- like the hat with the horns on it.

4) How many world famous Altos can you name?

3) CENSORED

2) When you get tired of singing the tune, you can sing the descant

1) You can sing along with Michael Jackson.

 

Top Ten Reasons for Being a Bass

 

10) You don't have to tighten your shorts to reach your note.

9) You don't have to worry about a woman stealing your job.

8) Or a pre-adolescent boy.

7) Action heroes are always basses. That is -- if they ever sang, they would

sing bass.

6) You get great memorable lyrics like bop, bop, bop, bop.

5) If the singing job doesn't work out, there's always broadcasting.

4) You never need to learn to read the treble clef.

3) If you get a cold, so what?

2) For fun, you can sing at the bottom of your range and fool people into

thinking there's an earthquake.

1) If you belch while you're singing, the audience just thinks it's part of

the score.

 

Top Ten Reasons for Being a Tenor

 

10) Tenors get high -- without drugs.

9) Name a musical where the Bass got the girl.

8) You can show the sopranos how it SHOULD be sung.

7) Did you ever hear of anyone paying $1000 for a ticket to see the Three

Basses?

6) Who needs brains when you've got resonance?

5) Tenors never have to waste time looking through the self-improvement

section of the bookstore.

4) You get to sing along with John Denver singing "Aye Calypso".

3) When you get really good at falsetto, you can make tons of money doing voice-overs

for cartoon characters

2) Gregorian chant was practically invented for Tenors. Nobody invented a

genre for basses.

1) You can entertain your friends by impersonating Julia Child.

 

Top Ten Reasons for Being an Alto

 

10) You get really good at singing E flat.

9) You get to sing the same note for 12 consecutive measures.

8) You don't really need to warm up to sing 12 consecutive bars of E flat.

7) If the choir really sucks, it's unlikely the Altos will be blamed.

6) You have lots of time to chat during Soprano solos.

5) You get to pretend that you are better than the sopranos, because

everybody knows that women only sing soprano so they don't have to learn to

read music.

4) You can sometimes find part-time work singing Tenor.

3) Altos get all the great intervals.

2) When the sopranos are holding some outrageously high note at the end of

an anthem, the altos always get the last words.

1) When the Altos miss a note, nobody gets hurt.