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OT: Alto or Soprano


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#1 Antwoinne

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Posted 21 October 2004 - 05:59 PM

To all who know a lot about the voice, please give me your input.

Are all the following ladies below considered to be altos? Sometimes it's hard to tell.

Chaka Khan
Donna Summer
Vesta
Deborah Cox
Anastacia


Are these ladies sopranos?:

Diana Ross (not so sure of)
Taylor Dayne

#2 whluver

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Posted 21 October 2004 - 06:51 PM

Chaka Khan - today, she's alto IMO
Donna Summer - today, she's alto IMO
Vesta - mezzo
Deborah Cox - mezzo
Anastaciam - alto

Diana is soprano. I don't know Taylor Dayne.
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#3 Antwoinne

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Posted 21 October 2004 - 07:09 PM

whluver, on Oct 21 2004, 07:52 PM, said:

Chaka Khan - today, she's alto IMO
Donna Summer - today, she's alto IMO
Vesta - mezzo
Deborah Cox - mezzo
Anastaciam - alto

Diana is soprano. I don't know Taylor Dayne.
Donna Summer and Chaka Khan's (on a good day) voices don't seem like they've changed much thru the years. So are you saying they were probably mezzo sopranos?

Thanks for your input.

#4 John-John

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Posted 21 October 2004 - 11:26 PM

On a good day, Donna and Chaka would be mezzos. When she is on key, Chaka's chest voice can soar up there and Donna has a nice head voice at times. Saw her in concert 3 years ago and she ripped everything (in a good way). My voice coach says that Taylor is alto and so is Deborah. That's their natural range but they have decent ranges for "pop" vocalists--we're not even talking opera in this thread I assume.

Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind. ~Dr. Seuss


#5 Eboni

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Posted 22 October 2004 - 12:03 AM

John-John, on Oct 22 2004, 12:27 AM, said:

That's their natural range but they have decent ranges for "pop" vocalists--we're not even talking opera in this thread I assume.
Opera singers are easier to calibrate because they usually sing in their proper range all the time. Pop singers are harder to gage sometimes. All the people listed I believe to be altos, except Diana, who'd be a limited soprano.


We've discussed Whitney before, but it will probably come up again. Right now she's easily an alto. In her heyday, Whitney was still at her core an alto, with an astounding 3.5 octave range. She was at one with her inner mezzo-soprano and could call on it at will. I think this is quite possibly the most beautiful range any female singer can have. Even with female opera singers, I think mezzo-soprano/altos are the best. All that coloratura stuff is cute, but when you want someone to just wail her lungs out in the concert hall, you call the "fat lady" whose most likely going to have that range. One of my faves is opera great Marliyn Horne, the quintessential fat lady.

Edited by Eboni, 22 October 2004 - 12:04 AM.

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#6 John-John

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Posted 22 October 2004 - 08:28 AM

Eboni you ain't said nothing but a word. I love Marilyn Horne! Her voice is so expressive and colorful for lack of a better adjective. And I agree that WH was a true alto with a beautiful mezzo. Her transition from her high belt to head voice was unlike anything I've ever heard before. I listen to a LOT of Sarah Vaughn and she too was a true alto but had the most awesome beauty in the high part of her range where she could sing as mezzo.

Also I'll add this. Everyone knows Oleta Adams as a contralto. But she was classically trained and was actually a lyric soprano when singing classical/opera. However she knew her strength was in her deep chest voice and she has one of the most distinctive voices in recent years. I know her from 1 note.

Also Toni Braxton was trained by her mother to sing as a soprano in church (staying in her head voice). But she too realized that her true voice was in her chest.

I mention this to demonstrate that singing classically is totally different from mainstream.

Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind. ~Dr. Seuss


#7 YaOoh

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Posted 22 October 2004 - 09:47 AM

Eboni, on Oct 22 2004, 08:04 AM, said:

We've discussed Whitney before, but it will probably come up again. Right now she's easily an alto. In her heyday, Whitney was still at her core an alto, with an astounding 3.5 octave range. She was at one with her inner mezzo-soprano and could call on it at will.
I really don't think that she was an alto at core in her heyday.. Listen to GLOA or OMIT. OMIT live is actually the best example because the melody goes relatively low in the chorus for soprano. In these low parts Whitney doesn't possess the same kind of power than when she nears C4 and above that. (Also I don't quite get where you pulled that 3.5 octaves range, the extreme notes I've heard her producing are D3 and E6 which is 3 octaves + 1 tone hmm maybe that could be rounded up to 3,5 octaves :) )

The actual differences between the notes some singers that might be categorized differently can REACH is not always big. It's the "comfort zone" which is normally different.The categorization of pop voices is difficult also because there are so many different techniques.

I was JUST thinking about Chaka day before yesterday when I bought her ClassicKhan CD. Chaka is often categorized as contralto, when I tried to find the actual meaning of the word I always came up with the same result contralto is synonym for alto and that seems to be the standard dictionary definition. (At some point in time high male voices (counter tenor or young boy) were called altos and their female counterparts were called contraltos.)

However I found one Finnish page where I there was another meaning. In this definition Contralto (Kontra-altto in Finnish) is described to be the second lowest female voice. The ranges marked to this Finnish page also showed that the Contralto actually may be able to reach BOTH higher and lower than regular alto. Also one Marian Anderson biography (http://txtx.essortme...yofmar_rgtl.htm) says: "Her voice was classified as contralto, she could sing the high soprano notes and the low baritone notes" (probably a slight exaggeration). I don't know what kind of knowledge of music the writer of this piece has but it seems that the text suggests that the latter part of the sentence to be a some kind of definition of contralto.. (Most Finnish dictionaries state that contralto shouldn't be used because it is a confusing term, maybe because at some point the word grew another meaning for some people, like above)

Regardless of the terminology, I do think that there are (at least) two kinds of altos:

LOW ALTOS
Shirley Bassey, Gladys Knight, Cher, Tracy Chapman: Dark and big voice where the timbre is consistent all through their registers (except falsetto which is technically not a correct register)

"VERSATILE" ALTOS
Sarah Vaughan, Chaka Khan: Able to sing as low (and maybe even lower) than some altos but (especially Sarah's) tone changes considerably depending on whether she was singing high (clearer) or low notes (deeper). They also sing a lot higher than a regular alto.

I almost wanted to call Chaka mezzosoprano before I started writing this reply because she definately belts mezzo notes, but somehow that categorizion didn't seem to fit either. So maybe she is this "higher" alto.

Here are my guesses:

Chaka Khan - ALTO (versatile)
Donna Summer - ALTO
Vesta - Don't know this one
Deborah Cox - Mezzo soprano
Anastacia - ALTO

Diana Ross - Soprano
Taylor Dayne - ALTO

-Janne

#8 John-John

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Posted 22 October 2004 - 10:16 AM

I also realize that this minor point has been debated ad nauseum. But I was always taught that men use falsetto and women merely transition to their head voices. The difference between a woman's high head voice and a man's falsetto is the ability of most women to keep the tone rich and have a controlled vibrato whereas MOST men's falsettos are thin and have very little if any vibratto. In fact, my vocal teacher claims that women don't have a falsetto, that their head voice is the natural voice. Her only exception are high trills by coloraturas or pop singers known for using a special technique to hit very high notes--like Mariah and Minnie Ripperton. She would call those notes falsetto but not WH's high head voice notes as in the final chorus of IWALY. My voice teacher says that she actually hits those notes like a trained professional opera singer although she has concerns about her belting because she doesn't feel it's done correctly in her opinion.

Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind. ~Dr. Seuss


#9 Antwoinne

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Posted 22 October 2004 - 11:24 AM

All a very interesting read. It makes it easier to take to know that most pop singers don't sing in their natural range or voice. It's good to know that it's not just me who sometimes can't tell if one singer falls in the alto or soprano. Singing in the choir, the girls were always just broken down into two groups. All this mezzo, 2nd alto, 2nd soprano stuff gets confusing.

#10 Eboni

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Posted 22 October 2004 - 04:43 PM

Typhoide, on Oct 22 2004, 10:48 AM, said:

Eboni, on Oct 22 2004, 08:04 AM, said:

We've discussed Whitney before, but it will probably come up again. Right now she's easily an alto. In her heyday, Whitney was still at her core an alto, with an astounding 3.5 octave range. She was at one with her inner mezzo-soprano and could call on it at will.
I really don't think that she was an alto at core in her heyday.. Listen to GLOA or OMIT. OMIT live is actually the best example because the melody goes relatively low in the chorus for soprano. In these low parts Whitney doesn't possess the same kind of power than when she nears C4 and above that. (Also I don't quite get where you pulled that 3.5 octaves range, the extreme notes I've heard her producing are D3 and E6 which is 3 octaves + 1 tone hmm maybe that could be rounded up to 3,5 octaves :) )

Typhoid, I love when you come and post. I knew that 3.5 octave thing would coax you into posting...(sneeky, huh?) I always give Whitney the benefit of the doubt. Clive never chose to exploit her upper range (like Tommy did with Mariah) so we'll never REALLY know, will we?

And it depends on when you consider Whitney's heyday happened. LOL! If you consider that it was TBG era then by that time, IMO, she was embedded in alto country. I agree with your assessment of the OMIT live performance (at the Grammys). She is clearly comfortable in her upper range during the chorus moreso than while singing the verses in her lower register.

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The actual differences between the notes some singers that might be categorized differently can REACH is not always big. It's the "comfort zone" which is normally different.The categorization of pop voices is difficult also because there are so many different techniques.

True. This is what i was trying to get at too. Some people have holes in their range, and can rarely sing through the middle voice to the extemes. I forget the technical term used to describe the singers 'palette' when it comes to the entire range.

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I was JUST thinking about Chaka day before yesterday when I bought her ClassicKhan CD. Chaka is often categorized as contralto, when I tried to find the actual meaning of the word I always came up with the same result contralto is synonym for alto and that seems to be the standard dictionary definition. (At some point in time high male voices (counter tenor or young boy) were called altos and their female counterparts were called contraltos.)

However I found one Finnish page where I there was another meaning. In this definition Contralto (Kontra-altto in Finnish) is described to be the second lowest female voice. The ranges marked to this Finnish page also showed that the Contralto actually may be able to reach BOTH higher and lower than regular alto. Also one Marian Anderson biography (http://txtx.essortme...yofmar_rgtl.htm) says: "Her voice was classified as contralto, she could sing the high soprano notes and the low baritone notes" (probably a slight exaggeration). I don't know what kind of knowledge of music the writer of this piece has but it seems that the text suggests that the latter part of the sentence to be a some kind of definition of contralto.. (Most Finnish dictionaries state that contralto shouldn't be used because it is a confusing term, maybe because at some point the word grew another meaning for some people, like above)


I believe most, if not all the terms used to denote a voice derive from choral singing in the church where women were not allowed to sing. So they all were meant to describe male voices. (Castrati, soprano, alto, countralto, tenor, baritone, bass) I never saw the difference in some terminology though. Like countertenors and contraltos, although you did just clear up some of it.



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I almost wanted to call Chaka mezzosoprano before I started writing this reply because she definately belts mezzo notes, but somehow that categorizion didn't seem to fit either. So maybe she is this "higher"
alto.

I agree with your assessment. The are definitely more or less versatile altos. Mariah Carey I would categorize as one of the former. I think she has had her voice technically/classically calibrated as being alto. In the debate on whether a woman has a falsetto, what would you call her whisper register? Not her whistle register, mind you.

Edited by Eboni, 22 October 2004 - 04:44 PM.

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#11 Eboni

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Posted 22 October 2004 - 04:54 PM

Antwoinne, on Oct 22 2004, 12:25 PM, said:

. Singing in the choir, the girls were always just broken down into two groups. All this mezzo, 2nd alto, 2nd soprano stuff gets confusing.
It also depends on the type of singing you're doing. I've sung with a classic chorus/chamber singers and been categorized as a mezzo-soprano/2nd soprano. But then I've sung with gospel choirs and with jazz accompaniments and found the director placed me as an alto.

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#12 YaOoh

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Posted 29 October 2004 - 05:41 AM

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Typhoid, I love when you come and post. I knew that 3.5 octave thing would coax you into posting...(sneeky, huh?) I always give Whitney the benefit of the doubt. Clive never chose to exploit her upper range (like Tommy did with Mariah) so we'll never REALLY know, will we?

LOL, you surely made my octave scanner stop in this w-fan forum :)

I agree with you wholeheartedly about what you said about Clive. I've thought about it many times how Whitney's strongest upper register notes can only be witnessed in her live performances like in "I Am Changing" from NY 1986 where she hit the C6 (high C) and also belted strong G5 (<-- a very high belting note). If you only listen her recorded songs her power is in belting. She is one of the few persons who has outdone her recorded work singing live. The fans who have not heard any of her live stuff are missing so much.

So as for her REAL range, we don't know it, we can only use the notes she has sung as indication what it might be. Also it is totally irrelevant to value singers by the octave distance of their highest and lowest note. It is not difficult to learn to screech high falsetto notes, the difficulty is to be able to control it and make it sound good.

It is true that after the Bodyguard era Whitney has been singing in lower and fuller voice than before but I guess I would still rather call her a mezzo than an alto because mezzos have richer voice than sopranos. The notes that she is still belting in JW (e.g. in OOTD) go somewhat higher than what regular altos would be belting.

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The are definitely more or less versatile altos. Mariah Carey I would categorize as one of the former. I think she has had her voice technically/classically calibrated as being alto. In the debate on whether a woman has a falsetto, what would you call her whisper register? Not her whistle register, mind you.

Women definitely have falsetto as well. There are some female singers (normally high sopranos) who's register changing point from chest to head voice is so natural that they never learn to sing "falsely" using falsetto and they are not even able to learn it later and generally don't even quite know it what it is. However most women in non-classical world definitely have falsetto. Regarding Mariah, I don't think that she has a "whisper register" as such because she whispers all through her registers. The register she uses above chest register in my opinion is clear falsetto all the way to the gap after which she sings in whistle register. I guess I have never heard Mariah sing in real head register, I think that she is always using falsetto above chest voice.

#13 Eboni

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Posted 29 October 2004 - 11:57 AM

Typhoide, on Oct 29 2004, 06:42 AM, said:

Women definitely have falsetto as well. There are some female singers (normally high sopranos) who's register changing point from chest to head voice is so natural that they never learn to sing "falsely" using falsetto and they are not even able to learn it later and generally don't even quite know it what it is. However most women in non-classical world definitely have falsetto.
Very true. One of the girls I used to sing with was what we all called a "super soprano". You could never pinpoint her passagio (I remembered the technical term for that break in the voice!). She'd just keep going up and up and up, while never deviating in the quality of her tone.


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Regarding Mariah, I don't think that she has a "whisper register" as such because she whispers all through her registers. The register she uses above chest register in my opinion is clear falsetto all the way to the gap after which she sings in whistle register. I guess I have never heard Mariah sing in real head register, I think that she is always using falsetto above chest voice.

Mariah never used to wail like Whitney could (can), but she use to NOT rely so heavily on the whispering in the past. Her full head voice was decent to a degree, but when she really pushed (punched) on it, it would begin to grate and become less melodious/mellifluous. I wonder if all the years of whispering have taken their toll on her true voice.

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