A History of Singing by John Potter & Neil Sorrell - review by Rupert Christiansen

Rupert Christiansen

Hitting the High Notes

A History of Singing


Cambridge University Press 349pp £75 order from our bookshop

To the excessive number of trivial or adulatory books about individual singers in the catalogue, here is a bracing corrective that puts what all these performers actually do – and how they do it – into the broadest cultural and historical context. Scholarly but not academic, concise, readable and lucid even to a musical layman, it is a survey that looks beyond conventional categories and hierarchies, resisting the obvious temptation to prioritise the Western classical tradition and rejecting the common assumption that snootily puts opera singing at the top and pop singing at the bottom. I found it enormously absorbing and illuminating.

John Potter and Neil Sorrell, colleagues at the University of York, start by considering singing both physiologically, as a basic human impulse that ‘connects to the fundamental imperative of survival’ and sexual reproduction, and anthropologically, through its use in praise, worship, and simple communication (the potentially high pitch of song

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