BYU choirs rise but don’t shout

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Being involved in the BYU chorus world means committing to certain requests, such as not shouting at sporting events.

Bobby Hale mastering the art cheering for his team without shouting.
Bobby Hale mastering the art cheering for his team without shouting. Photo by Sarah Hill

Women’s Chorus, Concert Choir and BYU Singers are encouraged to maintain their voices and not strain themselves at sporting events. However, due to the number of non-music major men in Men’s Chorus who enjoy spending their free time at games, this request is more heavily enforced.

At the beginning of the semester, each member of a BYU chorus signs a commitment contract stating that they will attend all practices and performances as well as uphold certain requests, like not shouting at games, according to Rosalind Hall, Men’s Chorus and Concert Choir conductor.

Hall first made this request when she came to BYU in 1999. It is not meant to restrict any school spirit but instead encourage the singers to take care of their voices.

“Although our singers are discouraged from screaming at games, we encourage them to find other ways of showing their school spirit,” Hall said. “Some have perfected the art of ‘silent yelling.'”

Patrick Tatman, graduate assistant of Men’s Chorus, said there aren’t any systems in place to monitor the men’s shouting nor consequences set by the choir.

“We do, however, try our best to educate them on the negative impact shouting has on the voice, and we also do our best to convince them that if they do choose to shout and damage their voice, the success of our choir is severely compromised,” Tatman said.

According to Tatman, this success requires a higher level of commitment than simply singing the correct notes.

“A choir like the Men’s Chorus is constantly working to produce a beautiful tone that is full of vibrancy and is pleasant for audiences to hear,” he said. “If a significant portion of the men develop mechanical laryngitis from yelling at the football game, the quality of the choir’s sound will be greatly diminished. We teach the men that it is not enough to simply sing all the right notes — what matters most is how they sing the music. The ‘how’ of singing is what creates beautiful art.”

The science behind becoming hoarse supports the request to avoid shouting.

“The sound that we recognize as our own ‘voice’ is actually produced inside the larynx where two folds of flesh are vibrating against each other, fueled by outgoing breath from the lungs,” he said. “The harder and longer the vocal folds are forced to rub against each other, the more heat and friction they will produce. Continued heat (and) friction will cause the vocal folds to become inflamed — this is known as mechanical laryngitis. Vocal folds that are inflamed do not vibrate as freely as healthy vocal folds, and the resulting sound is what we recognize as a ‘hoarse’ voice.”

Bobby Hale, an electrical engineering student from Spanish Fork, does not have a problem upholding the no shouting request except for “when something really exciting happens at the game.”

“To be honest, I mostly just clap or stomp to make noise,” Hale said. “Sometimes though, it’s fun to sing out a pitch similar to the yelling around me, or even cause dissonance when there’s booing. Others at the game are yelling, hard-rock style; men’s chorus keeps it classical.”

The policy simply states the men “maintain top vocal condition, including not yelling at any sports games,” according to Hale. He has also found a way to vocalize cheering at games by sing shouting.

“Yelling causes a lot of vibration and damages to your throat, you’re just forcing sound out,” Hale said. “Instead I’ll use singing techniques to create a cleaner sound. It’s similar to when people ‘wooo’ in a high-pitched voice. It can be pretty loud if you create resonance.”

Ariana Fonnesbeck, a BYU senior studying music from Danville, Calif., is a BYU Singer and not much of a yeller in the first place.

“I don’t like to hurt my voice and I am conscious of the pain it causes to my throat,” Fonnesbeck said.

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