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Contralto is the lowest standard female voice. It shares the same two octaves as the male tenor voice. Women whose voices crack at G4 or A4 are often bolted to pews in the 'alto' section and forced at baton-point to attempt thousands of notes between B4 and F5. This is because almost all the composers were also men, and they wished all women were not women but rather pre-pubescent boys or pre-pubescent girls (all of whom would ideally be placed in the screamer section, otherwise known as 'soprano'.
These composers really wrote music for bass, tenor and screamer/soprano but later grudgingly re-allocated some of the soprano parts to 'contraltos', just to shut them up. And the contraltos did shut up, because they couldn't reach the notes.
This is the reason nobody notices the 'alto' section of choirs: they are entirely silent, because the music that has been given to them was actually really meant for 8-old boys hundreds of years ago, when everybody was shorter and had far higher voices anyway.
Contraltos with the misfortune to end up in choirs have a life expectancy of 2 years. Most die of laryngeo-cephalic rupture, unless they fight the 'glass floor', recast themselves as tenors, and escape a certain career of bitch-fights.
A kinder view is that a contralto is just a female tenor, contra (at odds with) alto, which is not really a voice part at all but a Bermuda Triangle for women not high-voiced enough to scream.
edit Is That Singer Male or Female?
- You Really Can't Tell by the Voice...
This vocal type is pretty hard to distinguish from a male voice, and normally the singer will be very proud of their androgynous voice which enables them to sing all manner of popular music such as Queen and Green Day, which is written for male tenors, quite convincingly.
It is actually a commonality to be listening to a piece of music that you have never heard before and be left entirely puzzled by what gender sang it. This is, of course because tenor and contralto are actually the same thing.
- ...Or the Way They Dress
K.D Lang is a Canadian contralto that not only sounds like a man, but also dresses like one, just to add to the confusion. But not every contralto dresses like a man. Some, like Cher and Lady Gaga dress like a man wearing drag, which is actually even more confusing.
Contraltos tend to cut their hair short too, or wear very bad wigs that would only otherwise be seen on men who are playing pantomime dames.
edit How to tell a Contralto from other female vocalists
Apart from the glaringly obvious similarities with the male tenor, a contralto will differ from a regular alto because they sing lower notes, and the texture of their voice will be a lot heavier and more manly, sometimes a little like Elvis such as Cher's voice. It is difficult to confuse a contralto with the alto voice unless the contralto takes a gulp of helium.
A contralto will generally act more masculine also, and so there really ought not to be much confusion.
However, some contraltos may learn to sing particularly high notes; but these will only sound heavier than the average female, and like a male tenor hitting them. As a matter of fact, contraltos have been used classically to sing ancient pieces of monks chanting as a matter of fact due to their voices being indistinguishable from that of the male tenor.
edit The contralto lifestyle
Contraltos were never feminine to begin with. In fact, the very reason why their voices are so deep is because they got a big dose of testosterone inside the womb. The voice is just a symptom of their masculine nature, however. As children, they played with trucks rather than Barbie, climbed trees, fought with boys, shoplifted, used drugs, and drank regularly.
A contralto usually find that she likes looking at other girls at school, and boys will become her friends rather than lovers. She might get involved with football, playing Warcraft, going to bars and riding motorbikes.
Contraltos naturally like to drink, gamble and take drugs. This is directly linked to their inherent masculinity. Amy Winehouse is a wrecked example of what can happen when such a vocalist discovers that she can earn too much money.
edit Existence of contraltos
Research suggests that contraltos are actually male transvestites, or even transexuals. However, there is biological evidence to support that these 'women' are not actually men, but have evolved, along with male tenors, into an entirely different gender.
Blood tests reveal that they have two X chromosones in their genetic makeup like regular women, but they also have a Y chromosome (XXY) as opposed to the ordinary female (XX). The Y chromosome is only normally found in males, however, it was also discovered that 'male' tenors lack this, only having a single X chromosone.
Female tenor is a more accurate description, since that is their vocal range and physical anatomy, except that there is no point of having two of the same thing.
edit Careers for contraltos
Contraltos are actually used in opera as drag kings. They cross dress and wear fake beards. These operatic roles are known as 'trouser roles'. In opera, contraltos are limited to playing 'witches, bitches or britches'. Contraltos find more success in jazz, R&B, and progressive rock, as a female voice trying to sing a male part is as relaxing and soothing to the soul as an 11/4 time signature or manic key changes every bar.