Voices from the 20th Century: Vibrato In Singing



Mention the word “vibrato” to an early music specialist and you’re liable to get an earful. The same goes for non-specialist, or “modern,” musicians. Or those who balance both.

Disagree with any musician’s position and you might see fireworks.

It’s contentious subject, no matter how you look at it, which has been the culprit of many a heated debate. You either for or against its use, with some middle ground, but generally leaning in one direction.

Is it natural or artificial? Learned? Should it be used sparingly or as a constant?

(Does the listener really care?)

Vibrato may have been a part of the singing voice from time immemorial, who’s to say, but one thing’s certain—everyone has an opinion and is only happy to share it.

Take Mr. F.W. Sykes of Frome, England, who wrote in to the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) at the end of December, 1925. He was unequivocal about his stance on the matter.

“Sir, vibrato in singing is caused by want of control of the voice, bad training, or by physical defect: in some others it is a deliberate affectation. It is not an innovation, but the B.B.C. gives us many opportunities of hearing singing that we would otherwise avoid. May I implore them not to engage sopranos with this exasperating habit, or contraltos who attack a note a semitone too low and then ‘scoop’ up to it. It would be a great relief to listeners, and of great advantage to the singers, who would then learn to overcome these faults.”

Learn More: What is vibrato?

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