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I found a video with the tenor line to an arrangement of Silent night. The tenor is found in this video:

It is a low tenor line. I would even sing up to F4 or even G4 if I sang the melody as a solo piece. Is there a good reason why the tenor line is not higher? Shouldn't tenors sing higher notes in a choir?

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  • If you want that the tenor can sing higher you can transpose the last phrase an octave higher by all tenor voices or you can change the pich 2-3 semitones higher. Nov 24 '19 at 15:12
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The answer is simple: this is a low-pitched hymn arrangement in general. It's very similar to this one, though the last couple measures of the tenor line are varied. This is a very old arrangement of "Silent Night" found in many hymnals, and typically pitched in B-flat.

Note that the soprano is very low for most of the song, going down to a low B-flat (also unusual for soprano). Trying to fit alto and tenor parts below the melody (where they almost always are in hymn arrangements) means that the tenor line is necessarily lower in its range for this setting.

Also, note the general character of the setting, where the soprano and alto move in thirds much of the time (probably to mirror the hymn's simplicity, which was emphasized in early years and in its origin story). The bass is mostly just doing chord roots. The tenor line therefore must fill out the other note of the chord when necessary, and given the low range for the women's voices, it's often at the highest note it could be to allow the women to sing in simple thirds or sixths.

There are only about two places in the whole hymn where the tenor line could potentially go much higher while still filling out the simple chords. (1) First would be on "virgin" and "infant," but the arranger here chose to create a nice voice exchange between the melody and tenor line, which also leads smoothly back to the B-flat of the opening motive. (2) In the first "Sleep in heavenly peace" all the upper voices could be moved up together, but the arranger of this standard version decided (with good reason) to vary the texture a bit and move to an "open voicing" structure with the chords after all the parallel thirds in the soprano and alto for the previous four bars. The tenor does get its highest note there anyway still.

I'm not sure why this is any great mystery. It's a low-pitched hymn because it's meant to be sung quietly (Silent Night) usually late on Christmas Eve in a dark church. The melody and alto are already pitched low, making the tenor squeezed in about as high as it could be with the women's voices in their positions.

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  • +1 for the point about the original intended quiet singig of the carol.
    – user45266
    Nov 24 '19 at 20:32
  • You can sing G4 with a very light head voice if you are a good tenor. It is really nice.
    – user20754
    Nov 25 '19 at 12:10
  • I think Gösta Winbergh really hit the G4 without disturbing the feeling of the tune. open.spotify.com/track/…
    – user20754
    Nov 25 '19 at 12:14
  • @Hank: I didn't mean to imply that skilled singers can't sing high notes very quietly and pleasantly. As I mentioned, this is very similar to a traditional hymn arrangement for congregational singing that dates back a long time. All the notes in all parts are relatively easy to reach for just about all men and women.
    – Athanasius
    Nov 25 '19 at 19:15
  • You can at least sing your own voice/line. I cannot sing soprano (melody) kn Bb as I do not have that low voices need for the extremely low Bb. It is very diccifult to sing for me as an untrained singer.
    – user20754
    Nov 27 '19 at 8:47
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  1. Silent Night is a popular song and the melody of the Soprano is quite high, this means it has a wide range (almost 1 and a half octave!) and ends on the lower root note. If so the 3rd has to be in the Tenor, if the setting wants to avoid an voice crossing of the Alt-).

  2. Woman voices in congregations or school classes of today are not used to sing higher than Eb'' of F'', (the same with male voices of men that are not singing in a choir) while male voices (also tenor range) normally don't have problems to sing in this range of your copy.

  3. Even a "normal" tenor singer (with classical voice training) would be able to sing this d of the final chord. But I agree with you: An arrangement for a professional choir could be in D major.

I would even sing up to F4 or even G4 if I sang the melody as a solo piece.

(maybe a major 3rd higher you couldn't have sung the melody)

As you can see: d is in the range of the tenor

enter image description here

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voice_type

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  • It is actually in Bb so the soprano is pretty low. It would expect a soprano to sing it in D without any problem at all. It is very low since people at church are untrained and cannot deal with head voice.
    – user20754
    Nov 25 '19 at 12:04
  • That-s what I meant to say. In D that highest note would be G and in a church (especially at Xmas there are grandparents and elder who wouldn't reach this pich. (I have it in the ear -memory how the old men are singing the last phrase unisono an octave lower. Nov 25 '19 at 13:23
  • One octave down is pretty cool
    – user20754
    Nov 25 '19 at 15:10
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Just because tenors can scream top C's (or like to pretend they can, even when they can't) doesn't mean the result is musically appropriate in every song.

For a quiet piece like "Silent Night" is it perfectly reasonable to stay in the bottom half of the range throughout.

The range chart in another answer is misleading. Most "tenors" in amateur choirs (who might really be baritones in any case) are not comfortable above about A4, And writing even an A4 at any dynamic level less than "f" would be asking for trouble.

Top Cs are best kept in captivity in an opera house, and not allowed to run wild in the outside world :)

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