Why male choirs need to admit women

Why male choirs need to admit women


norman lebrecht

April 09, 2018

A Welsh academic, Thomas Breeze, makes the case for toppling a bastion of male pride.

Sample argument:

Initially, the recreational activity of choice was drinking, with an enormous number of pubs springing up in the towns to cater for the hordes of thirsty workers. The social consequences were inevitable. To counter this, nonconformist chapels in the industrial centres preached temperance and self-improvement – and the demon drink was eventually pushed aside in favour of community music-making in the form of choirs and brass bands. The male voice choir was born.

But that was another world. What’s stopping male voice choirs from welcoming women to their ranks now? After all, to claim some sort of cultural exemption would be to place them in the sort of uncomfortable position recently occupied by private members’ clubs, golf courses and – closer to our topic – the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, none of whom convinced with their defence of: “It’s always been this way.”

Read on here.

pictured: Wessex Male Voice Choir


  • Hanna Nahan says:


  • Kelvin Grout says:

    Pompous idiot!

  • Elizabeth Owen says:

    Welsh Male voice choirs are a part of our culture and tradition. Why can’t the ladies form their own choirs?

  • Sharon says:

    Barbershop quartets now regularly contain female members and what about all the pants roles in opera? Did the composers originally expect the role to be sung by a female? I doubt it.

    Although I can understand wanting same sex space i.e. “night out with the boys” glee clubs might be made even more gleeful if they were coed and also could expand their repertoire.

    • Alex Davies says:

      I’m guessing from the fact that you use the words “pants” and “glee” that you are American. If so, it is possible that you are less familiar than we are on this side of the Atlantic with the very specific cultural phenomenon of the Welsh male voice choir. It is important enough in Welsh culture that since 1902 there has even been a Welsh (not English) male voice choir in London.

  • Anon says:

    Bring the female tenors and basses on!
    About time to end this frequency range discrimination!

  • Jake says:

    We gonna let men into women’s choirs as well?

  • boringfileclerk says:

    And all woman choirs should be forced to include men, or transgendered people. They should also admit anyone who is tone deaf, but really just wants to belong to a music group.

  • Jon H says:

    For the sake of equality, every choir could be mixed – but musically we’d be missing something.

  • pooroperaman says:

    Why are there no oboes in string quartets? Why are instruments being discriminated against for their inherent non-stringedness?

    And what about violas that transition to become clarinets? Are they to be excluded from the string quartet that they were once part of?

  • Doug says:

    Now do you understand when we say Liberalism is a mental disorder?

    • Malcolm James says:

      This is more likely typical of a certain sort of academic who believes that there is no such thing as bad publicity and who therefore makes iconoclastic claims or remarks simply to get attention. It is in the same vein as the Aussie who claimed that Mrs Bach had a big hand in writing the cello suites, because the manuscripts may have been in her hand, where she may well have just been a copyist and her compositional input was limited to ‘are you sure that note’s meant to be an F sharp dear?’

    • prof says:

      I’m a liberal and I strongly disagree with the moron (Thomas Breeze) quoted above.

      Calling Liberalism a “mental disorder” is rather pathetic and cheap.

  • DaveAlkan says:

    The article raises a point which has rarely been made in this debate and does deserve some attention. Where male voice choirs are concerned, we’re normally talking about amateur groups, and many of the smaller examples of these are struggling with numbers.

    The idea that some male choirs may actually benefit from musically brighter futures if they admitted women is a valid one, and one which should probably be considered in a lot of cases. (Although in my experience I might add, there are a large number of Male Voice choirs who prefer to grumble rather than take action when the opportunity presents itself!)

    Someone makes the comment why are there no oboes in a string quartet. But remember these are groups comprised of amateur enthusiasts. If you look at instrumental music making by amateurs, you get all kinds of parts swapped or doubled by different instruments depending on who the group has available.

    Having said all this, I don’t like the sound of what happened at Derbyshire Constabulary Male Choir at all, and in any changes are to be made, they need to be musically justifiable as well as fulfilling a tick box exercise. I’m not at all sure we have any decent evidence of that at Derbyshire Constabulary Male Choir.

    • pooroperaman says:

      Someone (i.e. me) was being sarcastic. Next time I’ll colour-code what I say, so that the irony is a bit more obvious.

    • Alex Davies says:

      So what you’re suggesting is that male voice choirs should just become choirs. The thing is, there are plenty of choirs already. Rather than admitting women to formerly male voice choirs, the men might as well just disband and join existing choirs. The point is that the phenomenon of the male voice choir is something that is worth preserving.

  • Alex Davies says:

    There is no point comparing the Vienna Philharmonic with a male voice choir. A woman can play a viola or a clarinet just as well as any man can. There’s nothing about a man that makes him any better at playing a trumpet or a flute. You can’t listen to a harp or a cello and identify that the player is a woman rather than a man. But if you listen to The Sixteen, Voces8, or the BBC Singers, you can hear that it isn’t a male voice choir.

  • collin says:

    Something has been lost in (cultural) translation here.

    We are not talking “male voice” choirs in general, but a very specific cultural phenomenon of the Welsh Male Choir.

    In that sense, the proper analogy would be to American “fraternities” or all-male singing groups like Yale’s Whiffenpoofs (which, by the way, just in February of this year, allowed women to audition, and admitted its first woman).

    Put into its proper context, it is easy to see that “all male” clubs (whether singing at Yale, or eating at Princeton’s eating clubs, or socializing at a fraternity, or swimming nude at a university club (Yale)), were and are “all male” for reasons that historically and culturally have less to do with some specifically “male” reason (like range of a voice) than for “elitist” reasons that excluded women, just as these groups were slow to integrate Jews, Blacks, Asians (in that order, at least in America), and now finally … Females.

    I am guessing there are not a lot of Welsh Jews, Black or Asian Welsh. I heard there are at least 50% Welsh women.

    • Alex Davies says:

      I hardly think that Welsh male voice choirs could be said to be elitist. Where you would be quite right would be in observing that the original reason for having male voice choirs was social and cultural rather than purely musical. However, the tradition of the male voice choir is so venerable that there now surely is a very sound musical reason for it to be maintained.

  • V.Lind says:

    You are missing the point entirely, as seem to be many here. It is nothing to do with quotas; it is to do with a particular musical “product,” as the Americans would say. The distinctive feature about the Whiffenpoofs is that they sing a capella, so that sexual integration does not automatically erase that tradition.

    Similarly, while I would object strongly to strings being added to brass bands, there is no reason why some of the brass players should not be female (especially now that the pits are closed). (See the film Brassed Off). Brass bands produce a particular sound.

    SO DO MEN”S VOICES. A make-voice choir is a special sound, and the Welsh have made it their own and doubtless much of what they sing nowadays has been written especially for that range of sounds.

    I do with the political correctos would just LAY OFF. As someone noted above, there are plenty mixed-voice choirs, many crying out for singers.Leave male voice choirs alone to make their special music.

    • V.Lind says:

      Sorry about typos — obviously, “male” voice choir, and “I do wish” in the final paragraph.

  • Derek says:

    Admit women to Welsh male voice choirs?
    How could you! Sorry – How could yooooou

    • Sue says:

      Or, as some bogans say in Australia, “how could youz?” That’s when you NEVER feel like answering the question!!

  • Tim knight says:

    Male Voice choirs are a separate entity with their own repertoire of music and indeed so are ladies choirs, why would you advocate that all choirs were mixed, should girl bands take in boys? I represent a male Voice choir of sixty members and a further 30 in the training choir, it’s the camaraderie and male fellowship that is important . if they had wanted to join a mixed Voice choir, why hadn’t they already, simply because, apart from sport, the male Voice choir is where men of all ages can come together in a life enriching experience.

    • Cyril Blair says:

      Wait, is it the camaraderie and male fellowship that’s important, or is it the sound? If it’s the camaraderie and fellowship, well, women want that too. Country clubs and golf courses used to exclude black people and women too, because the white male members wanted camaraderie and male fellowship amongst themselves.

  • Derek says:

    If Welsh Male Voice Choirs are open to new types of entrants

    can we all have a go. Sorry – can we all have a gooo

  • Eric Channera says:

    Chanticleer is one of the finest male vocal ensembles in the world. I have many of their recordings and love them. Should they be forced to admit women now? Additionally, there are many “Gay Men’s Choruses” or “Choirs” all over – should they be forced to admit women now, too? Of all of the problems in the world that need attention, this is surely not one of them.

  • John Borstlap says:

    I always regretted that there are only two sexes. If everybody were female, that would solve a lot of problems in the world.


    • Malcolm James says:

      Maybe in the short term until the human race died out within one generation!

    • Sue says:

      Grammar: “if everybody (collective noun) WAS female”. Not plural, Sally. Singular collective.

      • Alex Davies says:

        I believe that Sally is quite correct: she is writing in the subjunctive mood.

        • Sue says:

          Then I spent years in the teaching profession providing the wrong information to students going on to university!? Collective singular = correct.

          • CJ says:

            As said, here “were” IS singular, but past subjunctive.
            From Wikipedia: “The main use of the past subjunctive form ‘were’, which is also known as the irrealis is in counterfactual if clauses:
            ‘If I were your wife, I would put poison in your coffee’ [attributed to Lady Astor, speaking to Winston Churchill].
            The simple (indicative) past form ‘was’ is very common in sentences of this type, though the Random House College Dictionary states ‘Although the [were] subjunctive seems to be disappearing from the speech of many, its proper use is still a mark of the educated speaker.’ “

          • Alex Davies says:

            Yes, you did. This isn’t a question about number; it’s a question about mood. You are not wrong about the collective singular, but you are wrong to use the indicative mood.

  • Ruben Greenberg says:

    Why are there no female voices in Bitten’s opera “Billy Budd?” There should be a ban on performing this opera.

  • Sue says:

    “The Conversation”? Say no more!! A less appropriately named site I cannot imagine.

  • Ben says:

    Rampant OCD.

  • DidIreallyreadthis says:

    Why are men choruses needed in this world?

    Let’s leave the answer to Schubert:



    Or Schumann:



    Or Brahms:


    Any other comment anyone?

  • TwentyTwenty says:

    When I was younger I was in a prominent American collegiate mens chorus. We also had a womens chorus, and a mixed chorus. We all three did our own concerts and projects, and occasionally would all come together for one giant Beethoven 9 or something. This system worked very well. You could have whichever experience you wanted and often, people moved between the groups.

    There was one young woman I knew who was a very powerful low alto, and we had half-joking conversations about admitting her to the men’s chorus, but she never actually pressed it. If someone HAD pressed it, we probably would have said okay, fine. The camaraderie of all three choirs was great, but ultimately we were there for the music, and if a girl has the range to sing Oedipus Rex, why shouldn’t she? This is the key point. It’s all about serving the repertoire, not having boys-only drinking clubs that sing sometimes.

    Some of our peer colleges once had great traditions of male choruses but made them mixed when the schools themselves integrated in the 60s/70s, and now they have so-so traditions of mixed choruses and male choral music is rarely heard at those places. I always thought this was kind of a shame. This repertoire doesn’t get the respect it deserves.