Mezzo Sopranos/Belters

Is a mezzo-soprano automatically a belter?

You would think so, since many times the words are used interchangeably. It is possible that someone who is a classical mezzo soprano could also belt. But it is even more likely that a classical mezzo would have no clue about how to belt. You wouldn’t know unless you asked the individual woman.

Yet these two terms are used interchangebly by teachers because the only thing being considered when examining the role is pitch range. If it’s not too high, it is thought to be “mezzo” territory. This kind of fuzzy headed thinking is the result of being outside the community of people in the real world who are actually either mezzos, or belters, or belters who are also mezzos — three different categories.

Lack of specificity of terminology is a chronic weakness in the profession of teaching singing. It has been so since the beginning of organized pedagogy and does not seem to be diminishing as we have more science to support us, which is disheartening. Words are created, tossed around, used carelessly and without any anchoring to an objective base from which there can be general agreement. Words based upon subjective imagery and personal experience alone do not help communicate anything to others unless they are accompanied by many other words and, usually, an out-loud demonstration.

No profession that is a serious one uses terminology with such abandon. Medicine, law, hard science like chemistry and biology, architecture, nursing, speech language pathology, and many more, all have agreed upon terminology (at least in a basic sense) that are used in the profession by all members in it. No so for teachers of singing. It says a lot about our own fears, lack of willingness to give up our personal ego territory and our incapability to organize ourselves in a powerful, useful way. NATS, after all, is a completely toothless organization that does nothing but offer workshops and conferences, some competitions, and publish a journal. It certainly a long ways away from the AMA or the Bar Association or even from ASHA.

If you present or write about music theater, be careful how you present your materials. It’s true that the belter role and the mezzo role in “Most Happy Fella” are both designated as mezzo sopranos but one was a belter and one was a classical singer. You needed to know the show to know that. If you do not know the show and were to go only by the pitch range, you might assume the roles could be sung by the same singer and you would be wrong.

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