Rehearsal notes 10.12.10--R.I.P. Joan Sutherland

I have this thing about tuning. I've related elsewhere that I get physically ill when pitches are not in tune. Tonight at rehearsal I had a mini-epiphany (is that even possible?): I am addicted to A440. 

I was brainwashed. My mom was an accomplished musician, and so I was exposed in utero to a decently tuned piano and voice. We all played and sang from day one. I began formal piano lessons at age 5 and flute lessons at age 7. Records, concerts, recitals, church choir, school, Back in the day, we were expected to line up at the strobotuner and tune ourselves individually before each band or orchestra class. I figured out the trick of scoring two miniscule right-angle lines on the headjoint of my flute so that at least the instrument was aligned to play A440. Then I could concentrate on embouchure, fingering, and angle.

Each type of instrument tends to have one or two problematic notes related to the physics of that particular instrument. In the case of wind instruments, or aerophones (flute, oboe, bassoon, sax; as opposed to soprano recorders, shakuhachi, and other indigenous woodwinds), some fingerings or registers just can't be machined that precisely. In others, it's how the human body interfaces with the instrument. The flute fingering for C in the staff uses no fingers at all--the instrument simply rests on the left forefinger at the join of the hand, and the right thumb, where there are no keys. The slightly graduated bore of the head joint and the diameter of the key holes have to be precisely bored to produce that pitch, and that's pretty darn tough to do. Hand-made flutes that get this right bring are more expensive than most folks expect, especially if they are made with exotic metals and/or woods, and are made with jewel-precision.

I digress into Musicologyland. Point being that the voice is an even more precious human instrument and our brains can be tuned. So this particular mini-piphany is about realizing that I automatically assume that every singer thinks and perceives sound the same way that I do, and that I ought not do that.

This all about producing music and so NOT about negatively judging singers. It isn't the PERSON who is not in tune, it is the TONE that is vibrating at a different cycle per second. And that's all it is.

Apropos of not much...
Pianos are tuned differently, because the physics involved are those of a percussion (rather than stringed) instrument, because the sound is produced by felt hammers which just happen to be tapping strings clustered together in threes. As far as our ears care, it's the tuning of the strings that determines the pleasing (or not) sound of the instrument. 

Next class: the related topic of overtones and the overtone series...
Tonight's rehearsal was a called rehearsal, which just means that it was outside the normal schedule. As a result, not everyone could attend, so it was at about half-strength, and began and ended earlier. This is a good thing in the rehearsal process. It requires more acute listening, reveals insecure language spots (torrents of Russian rushing at you at terrifying speed), and it helps nail entrances, breath marks, page-turns, and other assorted rehearsal best practices.

And for what it was, it was a very productive and satisfying rehearsal. A perfect ending to a fabulous long weekend in Dallas with fine friends, music, food, wine, and talking to 3 a.m.

This Saturday night and Sunday afternoon: Austin Civic Chorus performing Mozart Mass in C. Check it out on Facebook.