The implications of intensive singing training on the vocal health and development of boy choristers in an English cathedral choir


Boy choristers who sing in UK cathedrals and major chapels perform to a professional standard on a daily basis, with linked rehearsals, whilst also following a full school curriculum. This research will investigate the impact of this intensive schedule in relation to current vocal health and future development. This research reports the findings of a longitudinal chorister study, based in one of London's cathedrals. Singing and vocal behaviour have been profiled on a six-monthly basis across three years using data from a specially designed perceptual and acoustic assessment protocol. The speaking and singing voice data have been analysed using a selection of techniques in current usage in both laboratory and clinical settings. Evaluation and comparison of these methods has enabled a range of effective assessment protocols to be suggested. The behaviour of the voice at the onset of adolescent voice change has been observed using electroglottogram data. The boarding choristers numbered thirty-four in total, eleven of whom were selected for longitudinal analysis. Similar acoustic data have also been collected from three other groups of boys, a total of ninety individuals, for comparative purposes. It has been possible to quantify the possible influence of both school environment and vocal activity on overall vocal health. Significant differences have been noted between the vocal health of the boys in the chorister group and the non-choristers; the boarding choristers, although having the highest vocal loading, have the lowest incidence of voice disorder. This would in itself suggest that either the voice is being athletically conditioned to support such activity, or that the chorister group employs some self-regulation with regard to overusing the voice. The comparison with various other groups of boys implicates the cultural and social influences of peer groups in voice use. The longitudinal observations of the choristers illustrate the development of vocal skills and the impact of increased choral responsibility on the vocal health of the individuals. It has also provided insights into the vocal behaviour during the onset of adolescent voice change with particular information about the vocal skills employed in the upper pitch range; the nature of phonation in the upper pitch range of trained boy singers entering voice chang

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This paper was published in UCL Discovery.

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