The Soprano Voice in Choral Music
The soprano voice can easily overcome any choral sound especially if it has a basically flute quality. Consider the orchestra; 2 or 3 flutes against 30 to 45 strings. That has become the accepted balance of sounds yet the flute does not produce a tone louder than a violin. Why are so few flutes needed to be heard easily against a literal army of strings?
Part of the answer is in the harmonic structure of the two instruments. Violins produce a tone rich in harmonics. It is this richness of harmonics that gives the violin its tonal quality. Flutes, by comparison are rather bare of harmonics. Basically the flute emphasis only the first 5 harmonics.
This is important because when the emphasis of sonic energy is focused on only a few harmonics each of those harmonics are of a higher degree of amplitude. By comparison, the violin, which must energize a much broader range of harmonics, is able to imbue each harmonic with a lesser degree of amplitude.
The result is that the flute will be more easily heard over the sonic strength of the orchestra and the violins with their broader range of harmonics will more easily be absorbed into the orchestral harmonic spectrum. Thus more violins are required if they are to be heard over the complex spectrum of the orchestra. Fewer flutes are necessary.
Understanding this concept has great meaning for choral singing. In short, it is better for the choral director to develop a rich sound in the voices of the soprano section because such a sound is rich in harmonic qualities and this timbre will, as with the violin in the orchestra, more easily blend into the balance of rich choral harmonics developed by a well-trained choir.
The concept of a less colorful soprano sound “a la the flute”, a sound that is very much imitated in todays choral singing, is a timbre that is almost impossible to mix into the balance of the choral sound. This problem is usually corrected by having sopranos sing much softer than the rest of the choir and without vibrato. Anything is tried to avoid their dominating the tonal balance of the choir. But all of these corrective measures are, at best barely adequate and, more importantly, they suppress the natural quality of the soprano voice, develop a disembodied tonal quality and produce a frustration for the sopranos who find it difficult to reduce their vocal quality to that which seems unnatural and uncomfortable.
It has been my experience that training sopranos to sing with a well balanced tonal quality that is freely produced and even throughout their vocal range provides a timbre that is much easier to blend into a soprano section. It is a tone that is vibrant and supple and will not dominate the choral spectrum.
Lloyd W. Hanson: January 23, 2015