Klarinet Archive - Posting 000025.txt from 1994/01
Subj: Pitch, Tuning and Climate
Date: Wed, 12 Jan 1994 08:37:58 -0500
> So what is the frequency of an American A if it's not 440 ?
I understand that American A is 440, but as I do not play in the States I
sometimes have trouble believing that the clarinet is really played at 440.
I live in a hot and mostly damp climate. For me to play at 440 means that
I must open my instrument, a B-Flat Prestige R-13, at the barrel and
between the joints. It also means that I have had to work on playing with
lighter reads so that I can control pitch more easily. I do not play with
an orchestra. The piano I play with is tuned to 442, which is quite
comfortable for me. I have been told that I have a good ear.
When I play with other clarinetists, I find I "open" slightly more
between the barrel and the upper joint than most of my friends do. I begin
to wonder about the case Jack Brymer describes in his book, _Clarinet_.
(New York: Schirmer, 1976): "What is much harder to explain is the case of
at least one world class orchestra, which employs two clarinettists whose
sound blends perfectly, who normally play well in tune, who use the same
model clarinet, the same grade of mouthpiece and read, and who can if fact
play each other's instrument in comfort and with pleasure -- yet who, when
they do so, find the pitch of one is almost a quarter-tone above that of
the other. (There must be a good medical reason for this.) The phenomenon
is especially noticeable in the 'throat' register of the instrument, and
here the cunning of the maker has been called into action over the years to
such excellent purpose that the instruments these players use are in fact
'tailor-made' to their requirements. One player uses a fairly short barrel
with open holes for G, A and A-flat, while the other requires a longer
barrel with smaller holes for these notes."
What I note about my own "amateur" playing is that I can play in quite
tune at 442, making adjustments with mouth shape and breath speed as
necessary and "clicking in" in such a way that when playing with others I
do not call attention to my tuning. (The process is automatic now.) When
I shoot for 440 on the tuner while practicing scales, it is very clear that
my real instrument, my body, does not know what to do for the instrument.
Not only does it feel physically impossible to lower high C (not highest C)
to such a degree -- and if I do so, I will also have to lower high B -- but
also after a certain point the effect of the very open instument and the
demand on the diaphram and mouth muscles is such that the lower register
gets very flat, and certain notes that are never a problem, such as high G
(not highest G) begin to tire my ear. It is as if the sound of the note
was no longer clean.
People living in the US of A sometimes think that the climate is
wonderful in the subtropics. It is and it isn't. When the temperature
goes below 12 degrees Celsius and it is raining, it is going to be chilly
indoors. (We have no central heating.) I have no problem on these days,
but my first teacher here would play flat. On these rare drizzly days to
be in tune at A = 440 is not impossible,, which would make me wonder if my
clarinet would not have been happier living with me in Europe. (But now I
understand that the pitch in Europe is higher than in the US of A. Could
someone please clarify.) The worst days for me and the Clarinet are hot
and dry (30 degrees Celsius and 30% humidity at 2 pm), the kind when one
plays for an hour with absolutely no condensation in the instrument, and a
light beading in the mouthpiece and barrel that evaporates as soon as one
takes the mouthpiece off. It is ironic that the days in which I must blow
water out of the keys are the days when I sound best to myself.