Vocal production and listener perception of trained English cathedral girl and boy choristers

D M Howard, C Barlow, J Szymanski, G F Welch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Whilst it is becoming increasingly commonplace to find girls in English cathedral choirs, there is a debate that continues as to whether they are able to carry out this role appropriately in what is traditionally a male dominated arena. Some suggest that girls are unable to produce a sound that is in keeping with the musical traditions of the choral sung divine offices. This paper reports results from two experiments designed to explore the nature of perceptual nad production differences between trained girl and boy English cathedral choristers. The experiment was designed to explore the extent to which listeners can tell whether boys or girls were singing the top line in excerpts from professional recordings of an English cathedral choir where the lower three parts and the acoustic environment remained constant. Results suggest that listeners can identify the sex of the choristers singing the top line with approximately 60% accuracy but that musical context plays is an important factor. Boys are accurately identified more often than girls and adults recognise chorister sex more reliably than children. The production experiment looked at voice source differences between girl and boy choristers. The results suggest that voice source differences that change through puberty exist between boys and girls, and that real-time visual displays could be useful in vocal training.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)81-86
Number of pages6
JournalBulletin of the Council for Research in Music Education
Issue number147
Publication statusPublished - 2000

Cite this