Bass bias?

November 18, 2010

When my congregation intones the Lord's Prayer, everyone seems
to use a cellar voice. We sound like a bass section, women and children
included.

On a recent Sunday I dropped out and listened. I thought the
deep, resonant sound was pretty neat--until I mentioned it on Facebook. I was
hoping to hear from friends in other congregations, to learn whether this is
true elsewhere. But I mostly heard from people from my own church-- all women who
were not too happy about the bass droning.

One woman said her voice is naturally low, so she makes an
effort to speak higher. Another said she tries to speak with a natural pitch,
rather than going down to the basement.

The response that struck me the most was from a mother of young
children. She said her children know the Lord's Prayer, but they're intimidated
by the bass sound, so they don't even participate!

Now it's a problem if children don't want to participate and
if women, with treble voices, are ambivalent about it. But what to do about it?
I suppose a congregation could be trained to speak in higher tones. And on
unison responses other than the Lord's Prayer, reading antiphonally helps,
alternating between women's and men's voices.

One Facebook respondent suggested singing the Lord's Prayer.
His Episcopal congregation uses a contemporary three-part setting
by Marilyn Haskel that is rather slow and meditative. He said he's come to like
it.

My voice is naturally low, but in the future I'll try to
pitch it up a bit in congregational recitations and readings.

Do low voices dominate in your congregation? Any thoughts
about how to make corporate readings and responses more genuinely inclusive of
higher voices, so they're not drowned out by voices like mine?