A Beginner's Guide to Opera

Page 10


Growing up I was taught that there were two genders, and that the two genders would eventually determine whether someone’s voice would be high or low after puberty. As humans, we like when we can put things into boxes; how we think of people’s voices is no exception to this. Sorting things into categories helps us to navigate a world which is often much more complex than male/female, black/white, good/bad, and so forth. However, just like most people turn out to be much more complex than “good or bad,” the ways in which they live and experience their gender identities goes far beyond “male and female.” So why do we still hear so many people talk about voices as if they can be defined by two gender identities?

Our voices are as unique as our fingerprints. They are not just a product of our physical bodies, they are also influenced by our experiences and emotions, as well as the time periods and geographic locations in which we have grown up. In singing, the main characteristics we use to talk about voices are “pitch range” and “timbre” or color. “Pitch range” refers to how high or low a person is able to speak or sing. “Timbre” is the vocal color or quality. Some voices sound bright and pointed, while others sound dark and warm. While these things can be enhanced or even altered by practice, technique, musical style, and emotion, they are most affected by physical characteristics such as the length and thickness of the vocal folds as well as the size and shape of the vocal tract (which includes the larynx, the trachea, the nasal cavity, and the mouth). These physical characteristics are distinct between people post-puberty, based on the presence of certain hormones such as estrogen or testosterone. Estrogen – A type of hormone responsible for the development of secondary sex characteristics, including breast development, increased pubic hair growth, and changes in fat distribution. Testosterone – A hormone responsible for the development of secondary sex characteristics, typically including the growth of body and/or facial hair, increased muscularity, fat redistribution, and thickening of the vocal chords.1 Now, gender identity is a bit more complicated than what I learned growing up. I was taught that a person was either male or female, based on what genitalia they possessed, and what hormones their bodies produced during puberty. These are the things that society and even many doctors use when we are born to put us into one of two boxes. However, gender isn’t defined by our bodies or by society, or even by a medical doctor. Gender is personal, and it is defined by how we see and experience ourselves in the world. Some people, irrespective of the hormones their bodies produce, may seek out Gender Affirming Hormone Therapy or GAHT (sometimes referred to as Hormone Replacement Therapy or HRT). For some, this GAHT will involve the introduction of testosterone into their bodies. For others, it will involve the introduction of estrogen. However, it is important to note that there are Trans and Nonbinary people who do not seek GAHT or other medical procedures to affirm their gender. 1 Definitions from translifeline.org/resource/glossary-of-terms-definitions/


Dress Rehearsal Program


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