Academic journal article Journal of Historical Research in Music Education

Irvin Cooper (1900-1971) and the Development of the Cambiata Concept for Adolescent Changing Voices

Academic journal article Journal of Historical Research in Music Education

Irvin Cooper (1900-1971) and the Development of the Cambiata Concept for Adolescent Changing Voices

Article excerpt

Choral conductors and music educators have been working with adolescent boys' voices for centuries. The earliest evidence of boys singing was established in the Schola Cantorum by Pope Sylvester in 314. (1) The Schola Cantorum was established to train boys to sing for Catholic worship services. (2) The aural appeal of the unchanged boy's voice has been coveted by many cultures throughout history. Saint Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) writes in the Order of Citeaux, (3) "It is necessary that men sing in a virile manner and not with voices shrill and artificial like the voices of women, or in a manner lascivious and nimble like actors." (4) It is unclear if the early church used adult males singing in falsetto or if unchanged boys' voices were used. An argument could be made that "artificial like the voices of women" is rejecting the adult male singing in falsetto. This leads to the use of unchanged boys' voices for religious worship. In an effort to extend the ability for boys to sing in this unchanged range, castration was used as a method to stop the voice change from occurring. (5) Castrating boys at approximately age 8 to 9 allowed young boys to sing the pure high tones throughout their life. Fisher states: "evidence of Castrati can be traced back to 2000 B.C." (6) The castrati became a popular voice type during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in Italy and was the premier voice type for many Baroque operas. The castrati lost popularity during the eighteenth century, but the sound of the unchanged boy's voice remained in vogue in sacred music until the twenty-first century. (7)

In the nineteenth century, noted voice teacher, Manuel Garcia, said that boys with changing voices should not sing during the changing process. He believed it would be dangerous and detrimental to continue to sing until the voice was fully settled. (8) Garcia was contradicted by a British laryngologist Sir Morell Mackenzie. Mackenzie believed that the voice change was gradual and that it was beneficial to encourage boys to sing throughout the voice change. (9)

Other musicians felt that it was safe and effective to have boys sing during the voice change. In his book The Child Voice in Singing, Francis Howard states that most boys are capable of singing throughout the voice change, specifically those voices that change gradually. (10) Boys whose voices change rapidly are advised by Howard not to sing until the voice change has settled. Howard emphasizes that the boys should not be asked or required to sing notes that they are not freely capable of singing. To do so will cause damage to the voice and discourage their zeal for singing. (11) Behnke and Browne conducted a survey of British choirmasters and school teachers of preadolescent and adolescent boys asking whether it was safe for boys to sing while the voice is changing. The study, published in 1895, yielded 190 responses, of which 183 advised against singing during the voice "break." (12) While the majority felt that vocal rest was appropriate during this time, the responses given by those who felt that boys could sing was aligned with future discoveries in voice change research that states that it is safe for boys to sing during the change. (13)

This philosophy of resting the voice during the voice change dominated the practice of dealing with changing voices until 1950, when Duncan McKenzie introduced the alto-tenor plan. McKenzie said that the voice changed gradually and, therefore, boys should continue to sing during the changing process with proper instruction. (14) A later researcher, Frederick Swanson found through empirical evidence that the voice changed rapidly, dropping to the bottom of the range and gradually adding notes to the upper register until the voice was complete. (15) This discovery coincided with Howard's in that some voices change rapidly. (16)

Irvin Cooper (1900-1971) was a choral music educator and scholar who established the Cambiata Concept for working with boys' changing voices. …

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