Before joining the choir I had only heard of famous Basses, Baritones, and Tenors in the male voice idiom. So you may imagine how it felt, as a hopeful Tenor, when I was advised to sing Second Tenor. The word Tenor was fine, it was what I had always strived for, but the word Second had connotations of, well, being Second.
Composers and arrangers always include a part for the Second Tenors so it must be a bona fide choral grouping. As every Second Tenor knows, their choral part provides the main stay between the vocal extremes of the Tenors and the Gruntis, the “middle cut” which everyone knows is the best part. So why is it given a name which sounds like an after thought?
I thought I would see what the internet had to say. Was there an explanation or definition as to how the name Second Tenor came about which promoted a feeling of uniqueness, pride and well being amongst its recipients? The simple answer was No!
It soon became evident the emphasis was on Tenor rather than Second Tenor. There were loads of “named” Second Tenors but none you would have heard of. There were Tenor guitars, banjos, ukulleles, and saxaphones but the only instrument with a reference to the Second Tenor was the drone on a bagpipe and that often sounds out of tune to the Sassenach ear.
There was reference to “Used Tenors”. They are Tenors who, after years of hitting the high notes, are retired to the ranks of the Second Tenors. Makes it sound like a dumping ground!
There was music available for Baritone and Tenor solos but nothing for the Second Tenor.
One web site had a closet Second Tenor who admitted to singing Second Tenor in the privacy of his own home but sang Baritone in his choir. It apparently gave him a strong feeling of identity and recognition.
Then to my great joy, a website on Barber Shop singing explained how it is the Second Tenor section who sings the lead in this musical idiom. At last, recognition for the contribution the Second Tenors make to musical harmony. But I read further and my euphoria was short lived. It went on to explain the Second Tenors are there to provide the lead vocal within the good quality range of the “average singer” in support of the vitally important Barber Shop harmonies of the Basses, Baritones and Tenors. I gave up!
So, I can hear you say, “Don’t be so sensitive, what’s in a name?” Just enjoy the singing.
I can’t argue with such a straight forward simple approach. After all, the esprit de corps of the Second Tenors rides higher than the name.
Second Tenor ( anon. )