Discussion in 'A Song For You: The Carpenters Forum' started by Karen4ever, Jan 25, 2016.
Karen had a great vocal instrument and it was her lowest tones that distinguished her raw talent from others. How high is not as big, but the dexterity in her interval reach to perfection is, and the more available to her use of her range is where the highest note fits. Her punch on the higher notes seemed more natural in the earlier years, and more practiced and stylized in the latter years. Another great thing is that whatever sweetening was applied, needed or not, only gave us another way to enjoy her voice. We are lucky today that so much time was spent in quality reproduction in an time where this rule was the exception. Wow, all these thoughts make me want to listen to Horizon again, where to me, Karen is at her best! Interpretations is another of the greatest! And, I can't forget my favorites in the solo project, too! She could sing in virtually any style and make it her own with respect to its origin!
Just a quick FYI if anyone's interested.
Over at the vocal forum 'therangeplace', Karen (amongst many other singers - see their index [soon to be revamped]) has been fully researched and made a vocal range profile. It's wonderfully comprehensive.
It has been decided over there that the 'B'wana She No Home' E♭6 is a bit too faint, and/or reminiscent of an odd synth (like in Man Smart Woman Smarter and Occpuants) to be fully countable so it has been placed under 'Questionable Notes'. The very low C3 that can just about be isolated in If I Had You, is similarly not counted due to its faintness. Instead, the B♭5 in B'wana She No Home that is much clearer and higer quality, and the D3s heard in A Song For You etc. (yes there are more songs way down low!) make up her 'definitive', 'undeniable' vocal range.
Thanks for this post - I found this interesting: "While Karen has frequently been identified as a contralto because of her distinctive low sound, her fairly light natural tone would exclude her from this classification. Instead. Karen's voice is most likely a mezzo-soprano, albeit one who places more emphasis on her lower register (she once said in regards to her singing "the money's in the basement")."
I've never heard Karen's voice be described as other than Contralto. Annifrid Lyngstad is a known Mezzo and she sounds - to me - substantially higher in range, generally, than Karen.
It's pretty much consensus over at therangeplace, and on a few vocalist videos, that Karen's voice, once developed was a Mezzo. The huskiness and brasher technique of Carpenters' best-known hits of the early '70s sounds more akin to a higher smoky Contralto, but by '73 or so Karen had settled completely into her voice and refined her technique (improved it; much healthier for the voice) and she blossomed into a Mezzo. My hunch is this why Karen herself was so keen on rerecording Ticket To Ride, Top Of The World, Merry Christmas Darling and Someday (in '73, '78 and '80).
Remember that Karen sang Alto in chorus, and in choir. This is a particular choral part that the majority of Mezzos and Contraltos naturally, and rightly, go for. If Alto was anything more than a quasi voice type, Karen would fit fine as it would encompass Mezzos and (most) Contraltos. But it's not so Karen has to fit into Mezzo, which isn't unreasonable. Also, it does hold some water that Karen, if we (unconventionallly) apply opera theory, would be a 'hybrid' voiced 'Dugazon' Mezzo- a.k.a. Light Contralto (a middle and upper register akin to a light Mezzo or even a Soubrette yet an easy low register with a darker tone) - yet it is an odd way to go about voice typing and doesn't bode well with current accepted standards of BASS|BASS-BARITONE|BARITONE|TENOR|CONTRALTO|MEZZO-SOPRANO|SOPRANO
Something always noted about Karen is her need for close miking, due to her lack of power (LOUDNESS!) - this almost never happens with Contraltos; they tend to struggle at holding back and taming their voices! Contralto=Cavernousness.
If you listen to Karen 'belting' (technically in mixed voice) it is bright, womanly, and crucially low in outright volume. Even when compared to a 'Contralto-lite' (a not particularly lowset Contralto, can just about be called Contralto) like Toni Tennille there's a stark difference:
In a song discussed recently, Cinderella RockAFella she naturally glides upward in the phrases..lady who....and your the fella...I’m your little lady. I think that’s the range she tried to use more of in the solo album to set her apart from the usual range in songs of a Carpenters project. I’m sure it was a challenge to step outside of the comfort zone she had sung for over ten years. Women usually get that chance to explore their voice and push the envelope around 20, so I’m sure the challenge excited her at 29. The solo album is a great study in vocal texture with Rod Temperton’s arrangements. In contrast, there were challenges in Invocation and Another Song. And in the ‘76 concerts that we see online she sings Sing higher than the recording. At least it feels higher listening to it. And nothing is better than Solitaire and Santa Clause is Coming to Town. Actually a lot falls in that category- which is why I’m addicted to her voice.
Rumor has it that Karen received very little vocal training, and none after their career launch as the Carpenters. When you say "refined her technique" how do you mean that? Karen is quoted (or perhaps Richard is quoted as Karen saying) that she felt she "over-sung" some of her earlier songs, and wanted to re-record a few, as you suggest (personally, I prefer her first recording of Ticket, and her "huskier" earlier voice overall - for me it had more visceral "gut" feeling and passion). Although this is pure speculation on my part, I feel that at some point Karen decided she wanted to sing "higher", like ONJ and others of the time. If so, this _might_ mean that she didn't necessarily "blossom" into a Mezzo, as much as decided to sing more in a Mezzo range (but maybe that's the same thing )
Does anyone know if Richard (or Karen herself) ever defined her voice in terms of "Contralto", "Mezzo", etc.?
By the by - you seem much more knowledgeable than I, regarding this topic; I'm not really arguing the point as much as I am trying to understand it as pertains Karen.
If a direct comparison would be helpful betweeen Contraltos and Mezzos - the following two videos compile a number of prominent singers by voice type; play them in sequence to compare etc.
You can hear how Karen fits much better alongside the Mezzos - Contralto is very much a different territory!
The only difference I hear is that the lower notes of the mezzos did not ring as Karen did at D3 - F3. I can hear both characteristics in Karen’s voice depending on the song. She had an extensive range that makes it tough to catagorize and could sing the most complex interval leaps with precision and her rhythm and phrasing were expressive and her tone and timbre a God send. A true natural talent. Her classification is not as important as her body of work and accomplishments. The high and low note of every song is interesting reading but just the pleasure of listening to the song is most important or who would have any interest in any of it. So, I can see your point, but I can see both. I knew someone once who had two voices similar to Karen who was catagorized mezzo but again, she could only get to G3. Karen could go a fourth lower, and ring as a bell with tonal clarity.
On top of your pertinent points, it's only right for me to agree with you that music as an experience is of utmost importance.
To pick up on the 'ringing', impacful impression Karen's lower register gave you, I have to say this - fully fledged Contraltos, well, they spookily tend to 'ring' and resonate right down to the lowest extremes in their voices way down into the second octave: e.g. Carly Simon singing 'Over The Rainbow' , and 'Trot' songstress Moon Joo-Ran singing 'Each Nostalgic Heart'.
Yes, "labeling" Karen's vocal range is really a "technical" thing; but it is of interest to some. Since I've always heard "Contralto" used when describing her voice, I found this of interest.
I agree with @Seán Pendlebury that after 1973 Karen's voice changed and, based upon examples shown, I can see how Karen could be classified as a Mezzo, especially if the power of a voice is pertinent to it's classification, and not just range. Especially post-1975 (she dug pretty low and strong in Only Yesterday).
Regardless, as you suggest, what matters is the pleasure and how her voice makes one feel, when they hear her sing.
No matter the year, and in songs where Karen sang higher, it was usually due to songs with more extensive range and even all through the years that range was used. Now, where the song rested, higher or lower overall is what keeps getting pointed out when discussing songs that are high or low. But she never abounded singing low notes. The Christmas songs have some of the lowest notes and even some of the solo selections. It is when she sang those notes that they always rang, effortlessly. Her vocal clarity, up and down the range of her voice is also one of the vocal characteristics that made her unique, especially when you add all the other qualities I mentioned in the prior post. Thankfully, so much was recorded for we all get to experience her voice in those songs over and over again. And, just when we think we have it figured out, we notice something undiscovered. It is a continual treat to the ears. From what we have read, ONJ admired Karen’s voice as much as Karen admired Olivia’s. Sometimes, we learn from our friends as they challenge us and help us keep our tools sharpened!
Lots of interesting posts lately. You can see in the string of mezzos in this video that Karen had a more intimate style than the others, (at least, in the snippets shown). I haven't watched the contraltos yet.
Karen had a soul-soothing tone in her lower register and I also find her tone in her higher register beautiful. You hear it on the higher notes of 'Ave Maria', 'Now', 'I Need to Be in Love' and 'Love Is Surrender' (etc), and in the background vocals, (mainly the high 'Oohs'), in 'I Won't Last a Day Without You', 'Our Day Will Come', 'Johnny Angel' and 'Two Sides', (etc). She probably only got that tone through singing softly into the microphone. If she'd pushed, the tone mightn't have been there.
There are a couple of good old favourites in the mezzo montage shown here, including Ella Fitzgerald. Interesting that Donna Summer is shown. She is famous for her big, booming disco voice, (which probably isn't exactly intimate), but she had a beautiful soprano-like higher register which was rarely heard on her hits. You get a hint of it on 'I Feel Love', but that sound is more processed than on earlier, starker recordings. She sounds beautiful on 'Whispering Waves', which is set lower and is more mezzo. She scrapes the sky in interludes in 'Summer Fever' and 'I Remember Yesterday'. You can hear there that her range is much, much higher than Karen's.
I've never heard Edith Piaff sing as she does on the little snippet of video shown. Maybe it was the live setting that brought that thicker, booming tone out, along with all the vibrato. I haven't noticed those qualities on the studio recordings that I've heard.
There are one or two singers on this mezzo montage who I've never heard of, who I may be interested in exploring. I'll definitely continue giving Barbra Streisand a big miss, though. Never been a fan.
Thanks for posting the videos and for the info, Sean, and thanks, Craig and David, etc, for your insights. Very informative.