Keeping One’s Ears Open

I’ve mentioned in this blog before the common (mis)perception that the male voice does not go beyond tenor without, shall we say, surgical intervention.

Recently, while in a hotel restaurant on business, I was eating a fantastic lunch — a nice pumpkin risotto with a glass of white wine, delicious stuff — and about to take a train to the municipal airport to return home when I began listening closely to two businessmen talking about something financial at a nearby table.

I would wager my retirement that the taller, fairer of the two would be a natural male alto. His speaking voice didn’t strike me simply because of its range, but also because of the relatively unremarkable quality of it. It was the sort of voice that one might hear every day, think, “That’s a bit higher than usual,” and then shrug and move on. The sort of “impossible” voice that we’ve all actually heard from time to time without really registering. I can think of one UPS delivery man and one young man I overheard speaking to his girlfriend in an elevator in my living area with similar voices — and this is only in the last few months!

Consider the speaking voices of the following natural male altos (and one male soprano):

Russell Oberlin — billed himself as the only “true” countertenor of his time
Neil Sedaka — yes, the bubblegum pop singer
Steve Perry — yes, the rock singer
Dennis DeYoung — yes, the other rock singer, and probably the lowest voice in this list
Michael Maniaci — male soprano

Now, consider — with the possible exception of Maniaci — how many times you may have heard men with similar speaking voices at work, in supermarkets, in elevators, in restaurants, and perhaps realized that their voices were a bit higher than usual, but nothing beyond that.

I challenge any(!) readers: keep your ears open. Listen. These voices exist; we’ve all heard them. (Even someone with as high a voice as Michael Maniaci; Nature never makes a miracle only once.) Every now and then, one of these voices turns up in the throat of a man with a bent toward music and singing.

And every now and then, it’s accompanied by ambition and talent, and we’re privileged to enjoy what we call a “miracle.”

But the raw materials are far more common than anyone imagines.

Keep your ears open.