"Boyes are apt to change their voice at about fourteene yeeres of age": An historical background to the debate about longevity in boy treble singers

Martin Ashley, Ann-Christine Mecke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Historical sources and longstanding custom suggest that boys’ voices “break” during their fifteenth year. This event, when experienced boys leave the treble sections of choirs, represents a significant musical loss to the choir and potentially significant disruption to the boy’s musical career. In recent decades, increasing attention has been paid to research that highlights more subtle staged changes to the voice rather than a sudden “break.” A pedagogical consequence has sometimes been for boys to leave treble sections at younger ages. Even more recently, concern with a trend toward earlier puberty, termed “secular” in the medical profession, has exerted further downward pressure, leading to expectations that age twelve rather than fourteen might be the time choirs lose their most experienced trebles. Potential impacts include the need to simplify repertoire or commence the training of boys at younger ages. The paper reviews existing research in order to probe the unlikely scenario that the age of voice change has only recently dropped to as low as twelve after being consistently at fourteen for over two thousand years. The conclusion is that a lack of conceptual clarity, wide variations in choral practice and inconsistent attempts at measurement in the past demand both skepticism and further research.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-19
JournalReviews of Research in Human Learning and Music
Volume1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2013

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