Debunking the Octave Myth
Hello all... first, some housekeeping notes as I keep learning about the blog-o-sphere.
(1) I will update my blog at least three times a week (Sunday-Saturday) and possibly more. I'm feeling a smidge guilty about having taken several days since my last post, but that's the critic's life. Always at the theater, rarely at my computer! But have no fear... there will be bloggy goodness every week.
(2) And soon I will finally start putting audio clips up here. I've just got to sit down and teach myself to do it. Listen out for it!
(As opposed to "look out for it." The wit comes free around this blog, y'all).
And now... on with the show:
For those of you who don't know him, my boyfriend Andrew teaches singing to many talented performers, and he teaches me many things about music. Through him, I've learned that declarations about a singer's vocal range are often... innacurate.
Take Mariah Carey, who no doubt wishes there were no photographic records of the humidity-perm she rocked in the 90s.
It was once widely reported that she has a seven-octave vocal range. That notion even surfaced in respected publications like Salon.com (just check the ninth line of the last paragraph of this review).
But as Andrew has pointed out, it is impossible for a person to have a range so broad. "That would mean her highest note was something only dogs could hear!" he recently exclaimed, and then he tried to make a dog-whistle sound. He scrunched up his face and let out a whispery, screechy noise that did not attract local animals but did make him look goofy and cute.
Anyway, his statement is backed up by this report on Snopes, a website dedicated to debunking urban legends.
And yet the idea persists. In fact, Andrew is dubious that Carey has even a five octave range. Honestly, I don't know, and when I looked up "octave" on Wikipedia, the entry didn't clear things up for me. (Damn you, free-for-all publishing! Why don't you have exacting scholarly standards?)
But the point is that "octave" is one of those terms that gets tossed around glibly by lots of people--myself included, I'll admit--because we know just enough about it to use it incorrectly.
Another example is in some of the press given to Felicity Huffman for her Oscar-worthy turn in "Transamerica" (Sorry, Reese. Huffster got robbed.)
Articles like this one from London's Observer casually reference how the actress changed the octave of her voice. Really? Now I'm dubious.
It seems to me that the press (and a great swath of the public) has adopted the word "octave" because it sounds schooled and therefore gives an argument the false appearance of scholarship.
I'm sure, for instance, that I said the following at some college party:
"Well, Mariah Carey's music may sound a little processed, but you can't deny she's got an amazing voice. It's seven octaves!"
And see... bam. I've made my point with some wicked-fancy terminology. Point, set, match.
But let's make "I Totally Hear That" a place of truth. I still don't really know what I'm talking about. I just know I have more to learn. Can anyone else help clarify this "octave" business?
Andrew? Bueller? Mariah?