On Sunday afternoon at the New England Folk Festival, I went to hear a small choral group perform. I had been looking forward to hearing them; but I had to leave after one song. They sang into microphones, even though the room was fairly small and reasonably resonant. I couldn’t pick out which person was singing which line of the music, since the sound of actual voices was completely swallowed up in the sound from the loudspeakers, and I found this disconcerting.

Worse, microphones and loudspeakers remove something from the sound of singing. The previous day, I had been in the same room to hear a six-voice a capella men’s group sing folk songs and sacred music from the Republic of Georgia. They did not use microphones. As a result, when they hit certain chords, you could hear the high overtones ringing in the room. These sounds had a physical effect on my body — you can feel such harmony in your body. Amplifiers and loudspeakers strip away most of the overtones, thus making listening to singing a more passive experience.

(All this might help explain why I dislike amplified church choirs.)

1 thought on “Overtones

  1. dwight

    I think you’d be doing the microphoned choir a favor if you let them know about your experience as a member of the audience. Their performance most likely sounded just fine from their perspective.

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