How to keep boys in choir when their voices change

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By Lindsey Bever February 13 at 5:12 AM, THE WASHINGTON POST

The world’s best boys’ choirs have been losing their sweetest sopranos earlier and earlier to puberty. Every choir director knows that the crack, croak or squeak from a young singer means the boy will soon have a different sound. Many boys never stick with it through this voice change to see where it takes them.

That’s why the Cincinnati Boychoir is partnering with researchers from the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center to study the science behind boys’ changing voices and learn better ways to help them transition as singers.

“Many choral directors and voice teachers believe that the voice change is a primary reason for boys quitting singing as they enter puberty,” Christopher Eanes, Cincinnati Boychoir’s artistic director and co-author of the upcoming study, told The Washington Post in an e-mail. “Who can blame a boy who, when singing, becomes uncomfortable for a time, follows his friends to the football team, never to look back at his musical career.”

“When one thinks about the fact that boys’ voices in the 18th century changed at 17 or 18 years old, and now they change around 12 or 13 years old, one can only conclude that boychoirs are heading for extinction,” he added.

Later this month, researchers will begin to study the physiological, aerodynamic and acoustic changes that happen when boy singers hit puberty. Some 20 Cincinnati Boychoir members from ages 5 to 11 will participate in the study, which is expected to last about two years. The boys will speak and sing in a sound booth, and researchers will examine their larynxes and voice boxes to see how they change during certain tasks, co-author Alessandro de Alarcon, an ear, nose and throat doctor at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, told The Post.

Over time, the researchers said, they hope the study will shed more light on how the male voice changes during puberty, particularly in vocalists, so voice teachers will know how to intervene to help them move into their adult voices.

“My personal hope is that we can, on some level, anticipate voice change stages in order to assign the appropriate voice part for a boy, or to design appropriate vocal exercises to strengthen certain aspects of the singing voice,” Eanes said. “Overall, anything we can do to make the voice transition more comfortable for boys will help us as teachers and conductors.”

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