Whose voice is that?

I’ve been on testosterone for about 8 months now. There have been a whole host of changes that have happened to me physically, emotionally, and vocally. I won’t go into a lot of details about the first two, but here’s a breakdown of the vocal changes:

  • Lower pitch
  • Timbre of singing different quality
  • Low overtones present
  • “Head voice” sounds more like a countertenor, has no mezzo-quality richness to it
  • Able to produce low growls with no vocal pressure
  • Lower and deeper support necessary for high notes

The changes that my voice has been making have been by far the most interesting. The gradual timbre and range changes have given me a lot of answers, and even more questions.

A major change is obviously the pitch. It’s lower. Like, a lot lower. Probably an entire octave lower. My range is more limited in the sense that anything I would sing in full voice is limited, but I can also sing in head voice, which extends my range quite a bit. For awhile the range was even smaller, but I think simply through practicing and doing exercises, I have been able to add more fullness to my bottom, middle, and top.

I recently sang in the Mozart Requiem and the Schubert Mass in G for an international conducting masterclass, which was essentially my choral tenor debut. It was the first time I’ve been asked to wear a suit as required dress, which is utterly fabulous. I learned a lot from singing in a choral setting, as I’ve always loved to sing in choirs. I had time to wrap my head about sight-reading in a different register, and about the common problems I was having. It gave me a change to fuck up and learn in a relatively non-threatening setting, which I’m very grateful for. I also recently sing in an Opera on Tap night where we switch voice types. So, of course, I sang mezzo roles. I sang the Carmen/José finale, and Dorabella’s aria. They were camp as all get out, and exactly what I needed.

There is a richness to the voice that is very unlike my mezzo-soprano voice, but not unpleasant at all. This has continued to surprise me, because I thought that perhaps vestiges of my mezzo-soprano timbre would exist in my current voice, but that’s just not the case. My musicianship and artistry are still the same, and in those qualities someone who might have known my old voice intimately might be able to pick out the “Holdenness” of it, but that’s about it. For example, I used to sing Rossini, Handel, and Mozart very easily. Runs are not a big deal for me, even now, but I’ve realized that although I was the type of mezzo to sing Rossini while rolling out of bed, I’m not that kind of tenor. A lot of friends have lovingly nudged me towards Puccini instead. I have literally never paid attention to a Puccini opera for a role in my life. The only mezzo role is Suzuki in ‘Madama Butterfly‘. That’s it. Now I have buckets.

This fact has left me feeling both excited, and a bit strange. I never felt out of place in my mezzo-soprano voice, to be honest. That was never something I was dysphoric about, which I think has something to do with my genderqueerness. If I could have the rest of the physical changes, I would have been fine having a mezzo-soprano voice and playing both male and female characters. Coming into a tenor voice is pretty frightening.

I don’t know anything about tenor repertoire.

I don’t know how tenors sing high notes.

I don’t know how physical casting decisions effect me now.

I still have love affairs with mezzo-soprano idols, and honestly have never really paid attention to any tenor on stage, unless they’re BANGIN’. Now that I have a tenor voice though, I have been looking into the repertoire, and am coming into a deeper awareness of myself in a completely different context. Being a singer means that you’re always being judged on a variety of factors: voice, height, weight, skin color, hair color, handshake, contacts, acting, dancing, etc. Those are all just given when you work in music, but when you flip the gender, there are more obvious differences.

Something I’ve currently trying to understand is that tenors are rare. I knew that already by the fact that I’ve had to sing tenor in choirs many a time as a female-voice, but BEING a tenor and knowing this is just crazy. People are constantly looking for tenors, but also constantly making fun of them. The number of tenor jokes in the opera and choral world are just infinite. This shift has been strange as well, as almost no one makes fun of altos or mezzo-sopranos. They’re usually the ones who have their shit together, are pretty chill, and easy to work with. They’re generally not divas, and sometimes like to smoke cigars on the weekends with a whisky. Tenors though? They’re known for being loud, flakey, off-pitch, short, spoiled, and nowhere to be found.

Learning new repertoire is something most singers have to go through at some point though, and now is that point for me. I have to toss most of my old repertoire (except for a few lovely Handel roles), and start fresh. This has finally hit me, and I recently have been making lists of music to just bash out and learn. Some of it I have no clue, but then there are some arias I’ve been wanting to sing for all of my musical life, like Lensky’s arias from ‘Eugene Onegin‘:

That’s all for now! If you have any questions about my voice, or are also a trans* classical singer, I’d love to hear from you!