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Lower-Than-Alto Female?

This year, after 10 years of teaching, I have a young lady in choir whose voice is lower than alto---something I have never had happen before. Unfortunately, she is in Women's Choir where her voice really does not blend well. Her speaking voice is also quite low. So, I need some advice.
Do I work with her to try to get her voice up within the alto range? I obviously cannot put her in Men's Choir. I would be very interested in hearing what some of you have done in situations similar to this. What should I do with her exactly?
on September 30, 2015 6:10pm
Female tenors are not common, but there are plenty of them out there.  Just as there are male counter-tenors who sing alto or soprano.  If she seems to have an unusually small range, it's possible there are upper parts of her range that she has never developed the technical skill to use.  But learning to open up your range should always be approached with great care, since singers can seriously damage their voices while learning to use them.  If you suspect this singer has more range than she knows, she'll need a good voice teacher for regular lessons to help her slowly and safely develop the skills to use it.  I don't think the kind of here and there attention you can give her as part of a larger choir is likely to count as "safe" or "regular" enough.  You have too many other demands on your time keeping a choir in order.  Help her find a good voice teacher and in the meantime, encourage her to drop out and just mouth it when the notes get too high for her so she doesn't hurt herself.  
If she has a wide vocal range already, with lots of juicy low notes, there may be nothing you or she or anyone can do to shift it upward.  If she starts near the top of her range and sings a descending scale for you, can you hear a vocal break where she shifts into chest voice?  How many notes are in head voice vs. chest voice?  If she's got lots of "head voice" notes, that's a good clue that she is using the voice Mother Nature gave her efficiently and it just happens to be a deliciously low voice.  In which case, would your guys choir welcome her?  Would she like to sing with them?  Because, yes, she may be a tenor, and that's a lovely thing!  If that would be a bad cultural fit for the vibe in your guys group, maybe this is your opportunity to add a mixed choir, in which she can sing tenor, but not be the only girl.  
on October 1, 2015 4:54am
My own experience- I was able to sing bass/tenor during my entire high school musical life, at the constant sacrifice of what was my non-developing voice quality. I was singing C-D below the bass staff and the octave and a half above, then in my alto voice singing to 4th space E in the staff.
When I got to college, I was placed in the "voice therapy" choir, and I learned, by the Grace of God, that I should have been training UP for all the years that I had produced my "baby baritone" voice.
When trained HIGH and given wonderful training in vocal technique, I discovered my authentic contralto voice with a USABLE, PRACTICAL range  much more extended than what I had been using, and abusing, previously.
As long as this young woman does not have specific gender identification issues, which would need to be addressed by someone other than you, it may be useful to her to explore, with your guidance, the part of her voice that she isn't using.
She needs to become acquainted with the idea that she has something (her lower range) WELL worth developing APPROPRIATELY, but also very likely has an upper eegister that will extend her potential and her value as a singer.
You will need to tred lightly with finding out WHY she is speaking and singing in a lower than natural voice, since there can certainly be MANY issues in her situation. Speech therapist, psychologist, school counselor, parent  may need to offer at least input and an opinion if nothing more.
I made my choice because I loved part singing, and hated to have a voice part missing, even if it wasn't mine.
Please let us know how this is going.
on October 1, 2015 5:57am
Our local high school's "men's" and "women's" choirs are co-ed.  My church choir has had, and my community chorus has several women tenors.  It's ok!
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on October 1, 2015 9:37am
This is an interesting topic and one I deal with every month. Our compline choirs are voice-part related, not gender related, unlike the protocol in the Renaissance. We have 4 compline choirs, one of which is all-female and I write for the voices I have. I have engraved about 500 works specifically for a female Compline Choir we call Voces Angelorum. All are mature adults and experienced, trained singers that can sing with a vibrato-free, straight tone. The normal voicing is SSAT with SSAA and SA in the mix to get through a 22 minute, mostly chanted office.  4 of the 15 women who are bonafide 'lady basses' and hold up the bottom with ranges down to low D, low C, low B, and low A and fortunately can make a lot of sound; plus they want to. I don't know if it's hormone or age related, but they are all over 50 yrs. Oh, and none of them smoke! (Roger Wagner famously said an alto is just a soprano that smokes.) I interviewed one who had no voice above about B above middle C. She took lessons to try to increase her range and it really screwed her up for a while until she 'found her own voice' and supported it by herself. But she is not the norm. The other tenors don't have much of a high range either. So on unisons, they just drop out. The purists out there may find using female tenors abhorent, but I'm rather fond of the sound they put out. Our sound is actually alto heavy (the 3rd part) since we use only 2 or 3, small toned, 1st sopranos. The balance is built in. More than once, when our lady basses were reduced by half, I thought of moving a couple male tenors into the group to get us through the next Compline. Since I'm a tenor and the leader, I just sang along on any parts that needed more sound, but it kind of screwed up the 'pure' sound I was used to hearing. Our original and still going strong Compline Choir was ATBarB or AATB using a couple counter tenors on top, but adding some big voice female altos into the mix. This worked well, but you needed about a 3:1 ratio of female altos to balance the sizzle of the counter tenors.  We've since moved those females over to Voces and made the ATBarB group into all-male; except one female who sings the second part. We use up to 6 counter tenors. So, in your case I would add your 'lady bass' into the male group remembering it's not the gender but the defacto voice part that's important.
on October 1, 2015 11:56am
Why can't you put her in the other choir?  I don't understand the point of dividing by sex.  She sounds like a contralto which would make her a choral tenor.  I would put her in the choir where her voice fits, not her reproductive organs.
on October 1, 2015 2:28pm
From a voice teacher's perspective, I'd want to know why she doesn't blend well.  Is it a relaxed sound that is produced with easy airflow, or is it pressed?  Can she access her head voice at all?  Is she able to sing piano, or is everything forte and louder?  If she is untrained, it may be that she just doesn't know about her head voice, and she might be willing to learn.  
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