When some boys move from the first phase of change (cambiata) into the second phase of change (adolescent baritone) there will be a short period of time in which moving upwardly through the passaggio becomes treacherous and difficult. At this point in the mutational process the passaggio will be located around middle C, so dealing with the pitches around and including middle C is most strategic. If boys attempt to continue chest phonation as they sing above middle C, the voice may easily “crack” or “break” into head phonation (or “falsetto” as it will be termed when their voices have completed the change). This is an embarrassment to these young men particularly if girls are present. Teachers should be extra sensitive with each of them during this short period of time. Teachers should explain that this occurrence is all part of the normal process while the voice is changing. They should ask the boys to sing lightly if their part in the literature moves near or above middle C. It will make all the boys in the class more comfortable if teachers explain exactly what is happening and if they implore them to be supportive of each other during the entire process.
With other boys moving from cambiata to adolescent baritone is not nearly so dramatic. The point where the passaggio occurs will gradually move downward and the boys will lose the upper pitches of chest phonation as the voices change.
With both of these type mutational processes just described, there will be a period of time when the upper pitches are gone but the young men are yet to add the lower pitches. Some will not be able to sing lower than F below middle C and it will be a struggle to move above middle C. These young men, often called light baritones, are no longer able to sing the cambiata part with ease, and neither are they capable of singing the baritonepart well because they don’t have the lower pitches. In which section, then, should they be placed?
The boys who have added pitches down to D below middle C and find that their only difficulty is producing the upper pitches in chest phonation definitely should be placed with the baritones. It is surprising how much difference only a pitch or two will make. Many cambiatas are able to sing down to the E or F below middle C but very few sing the D which will sound more like an anemic burp. Some arrangers will add optional pitches in the baritone part for these young light baritones to sing if the part moves below the D.
If the process of change is the type described in the first paragraph above, even though the boys have not added any pitches below E or F, they also should be assigned to the baritone section because it is important that they not be required to move upward through the passaggio over and over when singing, which would be required of them if they were singing the cambiata part. Constantly dealing with the passaggio causes them to force the chest phonation too high resulting in cracking, tensive singing, and poor intonation, plus it causes them to develop many bad vocal habits which they will have to overcome later in life. They should use the pitches below the passaggio so these pitches will gain strength and stability. It is to be hoped there will be optional pitches for them to sing when the part goes too low. If instructors have light baritones in their choir, they should choose music with the optional notes. A good example of the type voice part for which to look is found in the baritone part of Ride the Chariot (click the title to see the part). If teachers choose music without optional notes in the baritone part, they should take a few moments to write these notes in each boy’s printed score. Since music educators are often pressed for time, the tendency is to ignore chores such as this, which in this case leaves the boys to fend for themselves. Please understand — keeping boys engaged in the choral-making process at this precarious time in their lives is the greatest gift teachers can give them. When boys feel superfluous and when they feel they are not making a contribution to the choir, teachers have lost them! If there is no part available that they can sing well, they feel they are of no value to the choral-making process.
Thankfully some boys do not experience such dynamic mutational problems. Their voices move smoothly and easily downward and they simply transfer from one section to the next as their voices change without the cracking and tensive singing which often occurs with some light baritones. It helps if the young men have been taught good vocal technique while boy trebles. Good breath control, proper placement, purity of vowels, and ease in singing go a long way in lessening the anxiety experienced by these young men. Further, this decisive period of time when the boys are experiencing these problems is usually rather short, another reason to be grateful. Within a month or so these boys’ voices become more stable and the new lower notes are added to make singing more enjoyable.
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