Can listeners tell the difference between boys and girls singing the top line in cathedral music?

D.M. Howard, G.F. Welch, J.E. Szymanski

Research output: Contribution to conferenceOtherpeer-review


Girl choristers are now widely accepted in English cathedral choirs, and they and the boy choristers generally sing the treble line in services on separate occasions. In addition, the girls and boys usually practice separately. It is believed by some that girls are unable to carry out their role appropriately in this traditionally male dominated arena, and that their sound is not in keeping with the musical traditions of the choral sung divine offices. A paper presented at ICMPC-6 demonstrated that listeners could, with statistical significance, tell the difference between boys and girls singing the top line in cathedral choral music, on average 60% of the time. It was also shown in that experiment that this ability was closely coupled to the particular piece of music used. The experiment reported in this paper investigates the same issue, but this time the listening tests make use of musical material in which the only difference is who is singing the top line. The lower three parts, the acoustic environment, the music performed, the microphone position and the musical director remained constant. The results for 89 listeners suggest that listeners cannot tell the difference between girls and boys (average identification accuracy 53%).
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages4
Publication statusPublished - 21 Jul 2002

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