Super Bass: Can You Hit This Note?

Originally published on February 9, 2012 5:24 pm

Calling all basses: Decca Records is on the hunt for someone who can sing a low E, nearly three octaves below middle C. The note is featured in a new piece called De Profundis (Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord — Psalm) by the Welsh composer Paul Mealor.

"I'm really attracted to the depths of the human spectrum," Mealor tells NPR's Robert Siegel. "We're seeking to find the person that can sing the lowest note ever written in choral music — and not just that note, but the solo in this piece for bass solo and choir. So we're looking for someone very special."

Mealor is working with Decca to find that someone — they'll be accepting submissions online through February 24. Mealor says that making someone sing a dauntingly low note was always part of his thought process for the piece.

"I've been constantly been trying to write lower and lower, and the bassists I write for seem very pleased about this," fe says. "We all have friends in the singing world who will try to bedazzle you with how low they can sing at the party afterwards. So I thought, this is a chance to give the low basses a chance to shine."

The full version of this story includes a demonstration from Roger Menees, the record holder for the lowest note ever sung. To hear it, click the audio link at the top of the page.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Finally, we end this hour on a low note, a really low note.

(SOUNDBITE OF PIANO)

SIEGEL: That is a low E, nearly three octaves below middle C. The music label, Decca Records, is on the hunt for someone who can hit it and the catch is you can't use a piano. You have to sing it. The note is featured in a song called "De Profundis," "Out of the Depths, I Cry to You, Oh, Lord." It's Psalm 1:30 and it's by Welsh composer, Paul Mealor, who joins me now.

Welcome to the program.

PAUL MEALOR: Thank you.

SIEGEL: That is a very low note.

MEALOR: It's incredibly low. Yes. I'm sorry about that, but I'm really attracted to those depths of the human spectrum.

SIEGEL: Because the Psalm, out of the depths - what word actually does one sing on that low note? Do you know?

MEALOR: Oh, yes. Yeah. That comes in the middle of the song as the singer sings, hear my voice, oh, Lord. It goes right there.

SIEGEL: OK. Now, how are you actually conducting the search for a voice that can deliver that line best?

MEALOR: Well, I mean, obviously, speaking on here today and through various magazines, we're seeking to find the person that can sing the lowest note ever written in choral music and to be able to sing not just that note, but the solo in this piece. It's a piece for bass solo and choir, so we're looking for somebody very special.

SIEGEL: Take me back to the moment of composition as you're - whether you use a pen or whether you're at a keyboard nowadays. And then you had to decide, do I actually - am I going to make somebody sing a note that low?

MEALOR: Well, yeah, there's two reasons. One is I write a lot of choral music and I've been constantly trying to write lower and lower and the bassists that I've been writing for seemed very pleased about this. In my piece "Ubi Caritas," for Prince William and Princess Catherine's wedding last year, had very low notes in it.

And they all seemed very happy about that. So I thought, right, let's push this even further and see if we can get down there. But also, I know we all have friends in the singing world that, after a concert, will try and bedazzle you with how low they can sing in the party afterwards.

So I thought this is a chance to give the low basses a chance to shine.

SIEGEL: But how do they audition? How does somebody who thinks they can sing that very low E, how do they let you know that they can do it?

MEALOR: Yeah. Well, we'd like them to do it - and, in fact, some people have already started doing this - is actually record yourself on an MP3 and email it to Decca Records. And if you email yourself singing as low as you can go, we will sift through these and find that one that we think can do this. Fingers crossed, we'll find somebody.

SIEGEL: Well, Paul Mealor, thank you very much for talking with us. That's composer Paul Mealor, who is on the lookout for a singer who can hit a low E note for his latest composition. Thanks a lot for talking with us.

MEALOR: Thank you.

SIEGEL: And now, just to show that we've covered all of our bases, we're going to return to Roger Menees, whom I spoke to two years ago in June of 2010. He made it into the Guinness World Book of Records for singing the lowest note on record. It was an F sharp. He recorded it in southern Illinois, where he joins us from right now.

And your F sharp was, as I understand it, a lot lower than this low E we're talking about.

ROGER MENEES: Yes, yes, it is. It's about 43 and a half notes off of the piano.

SIEGEL: It's almost in the next room from the piano is what you're saying.

MENEES: Yeah.

SIEGEL: And the note we're talking about, it should be a breeze for you in that case. Here. I'm going to play you that note as we recorded it earlier.

(SOUNDBITE OF PIANO)

SIEGEL: Can you give us your rendition?

MENEES: Could I just illustrate it in the "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot?"

SIEGEL: Sure.

MENEES: (Singing) Swing low, sweet chariot, coming for to carry me home.

SIEGEL: I think motorists all over America are adjusting their radios right now. Roger Menees, thank you very much for talking with us. Mr. Menees is the Guinness World Book of Records record holder for having sung the lowest note. It is a lot lower than low E. Thanks again.

MENEES: Appreciate it so much.

(Singing) Swing low, sweet chariot, coming for to carry me home. Swing low... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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