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Peter Hennen

Peter Hennen is an Associate Professor of Sociology at The Ohio State University. He is currently in the process of collecting the life histories of countertenors at all levels of training as part of his ongoing research. If you would like to share your story, you can contact him here.

Nature’s Way: Vocal Production in Social Context

February 1, 2011

Dr. Peter Henen, an Associate Professor of Sociology at The Ohio State University, contributed this fascinating and provocative article, challenging us to think outside of our current standards of ‘normal’ and ‘natural’ with respect to both voice and gender. He places the countertenor phenomenon into a logical, yet surprising social and historical framework, accounting for the seemingly random manner in which our culture has sometimes embraced and sometimes rejected this voice type.
~ The Editor

The meandering path that led me to undertake a sociological study of countertenors began rather inauspiciously in the fall of 1976. All of my high school dreams were about to come true as I stepped into the role of Tony in West Side Story. This was decades before Glee, but that’s exactly what I was feeling. At the first music rehearsal my rendition of “Maria” was coming along nicely; the sound seemed effortless, heartfelt, and strong. And then I hit the wall. At its sweet conclusion, the song asks for a sound that I didn’t know how to make, or rather, wouldn’t allow myself to make. I’d heard Larry Kert do it a hundred times on the original cast album – why couldn’t I? “Use your head voice” advised my vocal director. My what voice?

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