Tenors are the stars in some venues. Even in four-part harmony they get to follow a line that's almost always enjoyable and sometimes spine-tingling to perform, even for us so-so singers. Tenor is the harmony voice most easily recognized as such by non-musicians, we're not blind to the heads turning in church to see where that third or fifth or seventh is coming from.
Basses get to star on favorite songs like "Old Man River," but even when they're doing their normal harmonic, their singing makes both hearts and rafters quiver while wordlessly boasting of their manliness.
And then there are the altos. God bless 'em.
It is torturous to listen to most alto lines without other voices: Alone, it's just not pretty. Speaking in brass-band terms, it's the unexciting oom-pah-pah that accompanies the trumpet's singing, the trombone's clownish antics and the tuba's showboaty basso profundo. The only time many listeners are aware of the alto voice is when it's absent.
That's not to say altos aren't every bit as talented as other singers. Melodies tend to be easiest to learn, so sopranos whose voices are in good shape can cram for their exams. Tenors and basses need just a modicum of talent to follow their lines on a huge variety of songs.
Alto, however, follows patterns that don't come naturally to the ear but must be painstakingly picked out, note by note, to fill in the musical gaps the other voices leave.
Altos are the least-appreciated singers in any venue. There's no glamour in their roles and rarely any recognition, but if they suddenly disappeared, we'd all miss them desperately.
Many a non-singer is an alto, too, if we stretch the analogy a bit: deliverymen, dispatchers, tellers, roofers, cleaners, pavers and people in a host of other professions that we all depend on but rarely think about.
Their roles can be hard, they're rarely lauded, but they keep on doing what most of us would not enjoy, because they understand better than most that when we all work together - well, it all works together.
Contact Daily Journal Oxford Bureau reporter Errol Castens at (662) 281-1069 or email@example.com.