Heroes and Villains: The Relationship between Pitch Tessitura and Sociability of Operatic Characters

Authors

  • Daniel Shanahan Louisiana State University
  • David Huron Ohio State University

DOI:

https://doi.org/10.18061/emr.v9i2.4441

Keywords:

tessitura, pitch, sociability, opera, personality

Abstract

ABSTRACT: Research in speech prosody and ethology suggests that pitch height indexes positive and negative social affects. For example, higher pitched voices are used to convey friendliness, whereas lower pitched voices are used to convey aggression (Bolinger, 1964). Research concerning animal calls suggests that this association generalizes to many species. In a study of the calls for 56 species, Morton (1977, 1994) proposed a sound-size model in which large size (and low pitch) is associated with aggression, whereas small size (and high pitch) is associated with friendliness, fear, or appeasement. We examine whether this association can be observed in music. Specifically, the results of three studies are reported in which the pitch-height of various voices is related to estimates of the sociability of the corresponding operatic characters. Results are consistent with lower-pitched voices being associated with less sociable characters, and higher-pitched voices being associated with more sociable characters. In addition, older male characters tend to exhibit lower-pitched voices, consistent with known physiological changes (Linville, 2004; Reubold, Harrington & Kleber, 2010).

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Published

2014-11-25

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Section

Articles