As a tractor-trained tenor I have noticed that opera, as well as cowboy songs, are vocally biased, to say frequency shifted as they are to the Johnny Cash register. As includes John Wayne, Matt Dillon, Kemo Sabe, Richard Boone, Clark Gable. It seems the bass always get the chick, not the tenor. Science has been indisposed to explain why this is so, until now.
To cite a study by Halfwerk et al. (in the National Academy journal), people recording the vocal register of urban birds in Holland found that with the acoustic competition of background noise such as trucks, cars, sirens and industry, birds coexisting in this environment shifted to a higher register for mating purposes.
Urban noise tends to be in the low frequency range so urban birds simply shift up their territorial voice to distinguish it from the background. The study noted this may seem a reasonable adjustment, at least until the babes are involved. This being classic opera, the curse of the tenor still applies.
By rule, whether of birds or bards, those with lower voices are associated with bigger cahoneys, at least so goes the resident mythology whether attached or not to the pencil-thin Rhett Butler mustache. As tenors know, this is all a scurrilous lie.
Alas, a recent study of Great Tit (Parus major) in the Dutch forest, the bird we in America more respectfully call the chickadee, found that of female mates of low-frequency males were not only less likely to stray but more fertile than the mates of tenors. To add insult to injury, males with higher frequency songs were less likely to be the sole father of their offspring. I am currently taking voice lessons.
The study found that when the Great Tit was exposed to background sounds similar to urban noise, they shift their call to a higher frequency in order to be heard. When returned to a rural setting the frequency was less preferred by females and these males were less able to defend their territory. As might also explain rock music’s affinity for bass guitars and drums versus violins and French horns.
It isn’t often I feel that creation is inherently unfair, but at this moment of scientific truth I believe tenors are getting screwed… or not.