Martin Ashley – Bristol Voices

Martin Ashley is Professor of Education at the University of Edge Hill in the United Kingdom. He has published significantly in the area of boys and singing and continues to research the gender imbalance in singing and other performing arts, including dance. Professor Ashley first used Sing & See in the “BRISTOL VOICES” project which aimed to encourage children, especially boys, to continue singing in choirs

“At the moment, I am using Sing & See in two related ways, both under the umbrella of ‘increasing the interest in voice of young males through technology’. I have created an audio-visual road show for use in primary schools where there is no tradition of boys’ singing. The session begins with a perceptual test where the children have to identify the gender and age of singers in short excerpts. Having given their answers, the children then hear the excerpts again, but with pictures of the singers, who are mostly boys. This invariably results in considerable surprise, as most English primary schoolchildren now believe that boys can only sing in a “low, gruff voice”. Having gained interest in this way, the children are then invited to talk into a microphone and see a pitch trace projected onto a large screen. We use Sing and See to explain that singing a note as opposed to speaking really means producing a trace that stays steady along the bars. Many boys (who are aged about 8 y/o) are keen to try this and lose their inhibitions to singing in the excitement of interacting with the computer software. We then explain to them that their “singing range” is two or three notes below to perhaps many notes above. How many? We illustrate this by playing a brief extract of a boy singing the Allegri Miserere, illustrated by a Sing & See display. There are often gasps of amazement!

The second use to which we put Sing & See is with experienced boy singers who are about to undergo voice change. We draw heavily on John Cooksey’s work on voice change and are using Sing & See to educate the boys themselves about their changing voices. We have recruited a number of boys to the project and we are taking bimonthly measurements of their growth and changes to their voices. Sing & See has proved especially useful in illustrating Cooksey’s voice change phases and to locate a boy’s current tessitura. Through this, we have successfully identified boys who are in the “cambiata” phase and they have collaborated with us in choosing songs to record at cambiata pitch and range. This process, combined with some spectrographic analysis, is proving successful in retaining the interest of adolescent boys who might otherwise drift away from singing once their treble voices are no longer of use to their cathedral or church choir (regretably a common occurrence in the UK!). Sing & See is proving an asset in our endeavour to capitalise on the interest that many boys have in technology.”

Dr Martin Ashley, Edge Hill University, UK

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