The young choral voice meets science



Science can now tell what it is about the voices of young choiristers that gives us goosebumps. It can tell us how they produce the sound, and how it could be artificially recreated. As to why our brains respond to that sound, that’s an emotional driver that’s yet to be identified reports the BBC:

Professor Howard explains:

“The hypothesis is, if we can hear a difference, we should be able to see something that will show us what the acoustic attribute is that means that the brain hears it in that way.” But to study this you need an anechoic chamber – a room designed to prevent any sound from being reflected, which means only the purest tones of volunteer singers are recorded.

He says: “In our experiments it looks as if that particular ‘ring’ is happening above the normal speech area, in the region up around 8,000 Hz, where there is something appearing when you get this really shimmery sound.

“It’s something that makes you sit up, it’s something that communicates with the soul. It’s way beyond the words, it’s way beyond the music, it’s something about the content going from the brain of a singer to the brain of a listener.”

The frequency peaks, he says, are all down to how the folds within the larynx vibrate, which also explains why a choir boy or girl’s voice changes as they approach adolescence and their larynx increases in size.

A sample: St. Philips Boys’ Choir, Norbury, UK. Recorded July 1987.

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  1. Another sample that hugely enriched Christmas season for a lot of people I know was Ana Hernandez work with the Virginia Girls Choir of St. Stephen's Episcopal Church, Richmond VA. We played that CD over and over and over again and all through Advent (yes, even Advent) and Christmas season delighted in sharing it with a very wide range of visitors all of whom found themselves touched, moved, delighted, and asking, "What's that?" "Who ARE they?"

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