SATB choir

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ChoirSinging 525x321px

A typical SATB Choir.

SATB is an abbreviation for the four voice parts in any choir: soprano, alto, tenor, and bass. Each voice part sings in a different vocal range, and each one has a different personality. Sometimes these four are divided into first and second within each part. This gives a whole new meaning to high-schoolers talking about getting to second bass.

There are other parts, such as baritone, countertenor, contralto, and mezzo soprano. These are mostly for soloists, prima donnas (especially the countertenor one), and to let the antisocial singer belong to a choir. These parts are outside the scope of this article.

The question, "Why should singing different notes make people act differently?" indeed is mysterious and insufficiently studied, especially since scientists who study musicians tend to be musicians themselves and have all the complexes that they claim to be studying dispassionately. No matter; the fact remains that the four voice parts are easily distinguished.

edit Sopranos


The most famous Sopranos of all time were true masters of their art.

The sopranos sing the highest. They therefore think they rule the world. They have longer hair, fancier jewellery, and swishier skirts than anyone else. They are insulted if not allowed to hit at least a high F once per movement. When they reach the high notes, they hold them for at least half again as long as the composer or conductor requires and then complain that their throats are killing them and that both the composer and conductor are sadists.

Sopranos have varied attitudes toward the other sections of the chorus, though they consider all of them inferior. Altos are to sopranos as second violins are to first violins - nice to harmonise with but not really necessary. All sopranos secretly feel that the altos could drop out and the piece would sound no different. Altos don't understand why anybody would sing in such a boring range in the first place. Tenors, on the other hand, they regard as nice to have around. Sopranos like to sing duets with tenors because tenors strain to sing in a low-to-medium soprano range, while the sopranos are up there in their range (the stratosphere) showing off effortlessly. To sopranos, basses are the scum of the earth. They sing too damn loudly, are useless to tune to because they're down in that low, low range, and there has to be something wrong with anyone who sings in the F clef.

edit Altos

The altos are easily the most credible and gentle voice part. Altos are unassuming and would wear jeans to concerts if they could. Altos, uniquely, cannot complain about having to sing either very high or very low, and they know that all the other sections think their parts are pitifully easy. But the altos know that, while the sopranos are screeching away on a high A, they are being forced to sing elaborate passages full of sharps and flats and tricks of rhythm, and nobody notices because the sopranos are singing too loudly (and the basses usually are, too).

Altos get a secret pleasure out of conspiring to tune the sopranos flat. Altos have an innate distrust of tenors, because the tenors sing in almost the same range and think they sound better. Altos like the basses and enjoy singing duets with them - the basses just sound like a rumble anyway, and it's the only time the altos can really be heard.

Altos' other complaint is that there are always too many of them and so they never get to sing really loudly.

In some choirs, countertenors sing the alto part. These are mostly wannabe castrati who don't have the capacity to reach such heights.

edit Tenors

The tenor section comprises baritones who happen to have musical talent, or at least resonance cavities where their brains ought to be. There are never enough of them, and choir directors would rather sell their souls than let a half-decent tenor quit. They sometimes make up the numbers with butch contraltos at half price, since they have the same vocal range and sound like men anyway.

Inexplicably, the choir's few tenors there are always really good. Explicably, they all have swollen heads. But they can be made insecure by the accusation (usually by the basses) that anyone singing that high couldn't possibly be a real man. In fact, despite their comparative lack of facial hair, they are the most manly in the choir. This is a result of associating exclusively with homosexuals.

In their usual perverse fashion, the tenors never acknowledge this but just complain louder about the composer being a sadist and making them sing so damned high. Tenors have a love-hate relationship with the conductor, too, because the conductor is always telling them to sing louder because there are so few of them. No conductor has ever asked for less tenor in a forte passage.

Tenors feel threatened by all the other sections - the sopranos because they can hit those incredibly high notes; the altos because they have no trouble singing the notes the tenors kill themselves for; and the basses because, although they can't sing anything above an E, they sing it loudly enough to drown out the tenors. Of course, the tenors would rather die than admit any of this.

Tenors move their eyebrows more than anyone else while singing. Tenors may not be able to count as well as basses, but can perform complicated feats like counting rests visibly, audibly, and wrongly.

Tenors are sometimes split into two groups. This shows why some of them complain about high notes: Tenor 1 are genuine, handbag-carrying tenors. However, tenor 2 are simply bog-standard baritones just like bass 1.

edit Basses

The manliest of all parts. The basses are also normally simply baritones who sing lower than everyone else, often by as much as a half tone. This basically explains everything. They are stolid, dependable people and have more facial hair than anybody else. The basses feel perpetually unappreciated, but they have a deep conviction that theirs is the most important part, even though it is also the most boring part. They often sing the same note (or in endless fifths) for an entire page. They compensate for this by singing as loudly as they can get away with. The basses are sometimes split into separate parts, bass 1 and 2. This lets the bass 2 feel more manly than every other man in the world.

Basses are the only section that can regularly complain about how low their part is, and they make horrible faces when trying to hit very low notes.

Basses are charitable people, but their charity does not extend so far as tenors, whom they consider effeminite poseurs. Basses hate tuning with the tenors more than almost anything else. Basses like altos - except when they have duets and the altos get the good part. The sopranos are simply in an alternate universe that the basses don't understand at all. They can't imagine why anybody would ever want to sing that high and sound that bad when they make mistakes. When a bass makes a mistake, the other three parts cover him, and he can continue on his merry way, knowing that, sooner or later, he will end up at the root of the chord.

Basses have the most fun during choir rehersals. They don't really need to concentrate because their part is so damn easy, with all those long, long notes, and not even any words to sing; just da or la. This also means that, when the conductor has to spend hours going through all the other parts individually, the basses can just sit there and joke about how the tenors aren't real men, the altos are really men pretending to be girls, and the sopranos are just stupid.

Basses are better at counting than tenors. Basses can count to 21, though it involves disrobing.

edit See also

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