What Did 19th Century Writers Say About: Gender Differences in the Larynx?

“Anatomy teaches us that there is no difference between the male and female larynx save in size, so that actions are the same and results are the same, only differing in pitch, the female voice being a reproduction of the male on a higher scale, and this has been amply proved by experiments made with the parts detached.”

[…]

Madame Seiler attempts to support the fallacy held by voice trainers thus: — ‘As the male larynx is about a third larger than the female, it is plain that the registers in the male voice have a greater expansion ‘ (p. 67). This is false, the expansion would be exactly similar; the writer evidently deduced a conclusion from excess in length irrespective of additional breadth and thickness. The difference between the male and female larynx is uniform, thus greater change of state would be required of the larger larynx to produce a similar result to that obtained from the less.”

Lunn, Charles. The philosophy of voice. 1875.

 

“While, therefore, before the period of puberty the voice- box (larynx) is materially the same in both sexes, there are afterwards considerable differences noticeable, not only with regard to size, but also with regard to shape. This seems indeed sufficiently obvious, and anyone can see it by simply comparing the outside of the throat of a man with that of a woman. Nevertheless we are told by Mr. Lunn that ‘ anatomy,’ &c. (see above), and by Dr. Garrett (p. 13, ‘The Human Voice’) that ‘the male larynx does not differ anatomically in the least from that of the female except in size.’ My readers may judge for themselves whether these statements are borne out by facts or not To shew more clearly still the difference in the proportions of the male and the female voice-box, I give below some average measurements (taken from Luschka’s great work on the larynx) which I have for the convenience of English readers readers reduced as nearly as possible from centimetres and millemetres to inches.

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According to this eminent anatomist, therefore, the differences between male and female larynges are as follows: — In height nine-tenths, in width one-fifth, in depth one-fifth; in the length of the vocal chink two-fifths of an inch. As it is plain that if there were ‘no difference between the male and the female larynx save in size,’ all their proportions would be alike, I think I may safely assume that I have proved my point, which is a rather important one, as readers will see when the registers in the male and female voice come up for discussion.”

Behnke, Emil. The mechanism of the human voice. J. Curwen & sons, 1895.

 

 

“The larynx of a newly born baby is about a third the size of that of woman, but it appears smaller because it is closer to the tongue bone than at a later period, and its outer surface, consisting of the two plates of the shield cartilage, forms a very insignificant curve instead of that acute angle which we notice in the larynx of men. The voice-box grows very rapidly up to the third year, and less quickly up to the sixth, and from this time up to the fourteenth or fifteenth year there would seem to be no alteration in its proportions, and it is very much the same in boys as in girls. The voice remains all this time the same in pitch though it increases in compass, and its vibrational number does not exceed that of grown-up women. At the time of puberty, which generally takes place at the age of fourteen or fifteen, but sometimes a couple of years sooner or later, the larynx grows rapidly during the period of from six months to two or three years until it attains its final size. In boys it alters in the proportions of from 5 to 10, and in girls from 5 to 7. The larynx is at this time more or less red, and the tissue loose; the vocal ligaments increase not only in length, but also in thickness. In boys the shield cartilage loses the gentle curve and forms the prominence which goes under the name of the ‘Adam’s Apple’ ; the larynx in its entirety increases more in height than in depth or width, with the result of adding to the length of the vocal ligaments, thereby producing lower tones. In girls the larynx increases more in height than in depth and width, and the horizontal outline of the shield does not lose its evenness. The vocal ligaments remain shorter and thinner than in the male voice-box. At this time the voices are said to be breaking ; the boy changes to a tenor or bass of the man, while the difference in girls is but slight and so gradual as frequently to be almost im perceptible. The phenomenal change in the boy’s voice is probably explained by the cartilages growing faster than the muscles, the latter consequently losing control over the cartilages until everything is finally and permanently readjusted.”

Browne, Lennox. Voice, song, and speech. S. Low, Marston, Searle, & Rivington, 1886.

 

“I am well aware that I have left altogether untouched many points of great importance in voice production, as, for example, …. the difference between male and female voices. No satisfactory definition has so far been given of what is the essential difference in the vocal apparatus of singers of different compass. That the difference does not lie in the larynx, as some would affirm, is now agreed, and it is simple charlatanerie to say, after looking at the vocal cords of an artist without hearing the note, that the subject has this or that voice.”

Browne, Lennox. “Medical hints on the production and management of the singing voice.” The American Journal of the Medical Sciences 73.146 (1877): 512-513.

 

“The larynx is sometimes absurdly called the ‘voice-box’ as if it were one of those ingenious toys which grind out a thin strain of wiry melody on being wound up. If a comparison is necessary, I should prefer to liken it to a hollow wedge, of which the sharp end looks forward. The larynx is, in fact, an expansion of the upper part of the trachea, on which it is placed like a funnel on the top of a tube It cannot be too clearly understood at the outset that the voice is generated solely ‘in the larynx.’ It is necessary to insist on this elementary fact with some emphasis, so much confusion having been caused by fanciful expressions like ‘head-voice’ and ‘chest-voice.’ …. The larynx is the organ of voice just as the eye is the organ of sight or the ear of hearing. …. From the age of six to the period of puberty — fourteen to sixteen — the voice undergoes but little change except in the way of gaining power. A very marked alteration, however, takes place at that time, and this change though chiefly noticeable in the male sex, is also evident enough in girls Anatomical features of the change Increase in size of the larynx in all its dimensions ; enlargement and consolidation of the cartilages ; the angle formed in front by the two wings of the thyroid becomes sharper and more marked, so that it is more prominent in the neck ; lastly the vocal cords become longer and thicker. In the female these physical modifications also take place, though to a much less extent, the voice gains a tone or two in compass besides becoming stronger, sweeter, and richer. The voice remains much the same throughout adult life, growing fuller, however, up to the age of thirty or even thirty-five.”

Mackenzie, Morell. The hygiene of the vocal organs. Macmillan, 1886.

Spontaneous Action in a Voice Lesson

The buzzword of the past couple weeks in my studio has been spontaneous.

This can be difficult for some singers who are married to a certain way of making vocal sound. They often have a tough time “letting go” of a way of doing something because they are (often erroneously) attached to an incorrect aesthetic conceptualization of their own voice.

What does spontaneous mean?

Here are some WONDERFUL definitions I grabbed from the dictionary:

  1. coming or resulting from a natural impulse or tendency; without effort or premeditation; natural and unconstrained; unplanned.
  2. arising from internal forces or causes; independent of external agencies; self-acting.
  3. growing naturally or without cultivation, as plants and fruits; indigenous.
  4. produced by a natural process.

I absolutely LOVE every single one of those definitions, because they also describe a way of working on the voice that accords with its Nature. This is that wonderful hallmark of the Old Italian School!

A singer that is self-conscious will usually prevent spontaneity in their vocal approach. They are often overly rigid, and psychologically and pedagogically dogmatic. They have dug in their heels with the way that they sing, and have ‘armored’ themselves into ‘their’ sound.

A self-aware singer is open to all possibilities, understands that the act of singing is a process, and are not constrained by intense judgement of their work in the studio.

When a student is faced with a stimulus in lessons (an exercise that combines some combination of vowel, volume, and pitch) they can react in a habitual way (which can be useful for unlocking further muscular entanglements), OR they might surprise themselves by letting go to see what ‘shows up’.

Often in lessons I will say, “Let’s just see what shows up – no need to judge anything.” BOY – does that relieve a singer from a need to ‘make’ a sound in a certain way, or work to impress me!! One student said to me, “I just want to make you happy.” My response to her was, “There isn’t anything you could do that WOULDN’T make me happy! Everything that you are doing is teaching me, too!”

So let’s get down to singing:

We start to do an exercise.

Let’s say it’s a nasty nay, or a hooty oo above middle C.

And you don’t like it.

Impasse.

Until you actually try something, you really can’t have an opinion of it. Much like a book you haven’t read, or a meal you haven’t tasted, or a movie you haven’t seen, judging something beforehand will lock down your spontaneity and freedom of movement in singing.

You can’t claim to have freedom of musical communication unless your options of interpretation open up into a MYRIAD of directions, NOT ONE. If there is only the ONE and ONLY way of doing something, how is that artistic? The goal of becoming a creative artist is to get all the crayons in the box, not just 64. More paint, more options, more color, more choice. This is bad because…???

Many students who come from a classical vocal tradition resist exercises based in function because they tend not to be ‘beautiful’ right away. They throw them off their axis, as Seth Rudetsky so comically says. As I say many times, and will continue to reiterate – Beauty is a by-product of a correctly functioning vocal mechanism. It is an EFFECT of a functional CAUSE. Peter T. Harrison in his book on singing has a whole chapter on this very idea, which is worth a read. Cornelius L. Reid as well remarked that,

the benefit to be derived from a healthy coordinative response is that it provides absolute spontaneity of expression…The singer then becomes able to express what he has to say the way he wants to say it, not the way he has to.

My job as a teacher is to unlock, liberate, and free the voice in front of me for the widest abilities possible. This IS the bel canto school. Can you sing fast/slow, loud/soft, high/low? If not, you have a limited palate of options as an artist.

Aesthetics and tonal judgement can be a slave master to the singer, and freedom is the enemy of a slave master. Break the chains! Follow the freedom train and drop your judgement. Try a new exercise and see what shows up.