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Klarinet Archive - Posting 000696.txt from 2002/05

From: Mike Dowler <>
Subj: RE: [kl] Perfect Pitch
Date: Wed, 29 May 2002 18:50:45 -0400

>my brain, "Whoa! Mayday! Different key!..." It's kind of like ordering a
>sweater from a catalog in red and when it arrives in the mail, you open
>the box and expect to pull out a red sweater but they sent you the green
>one instead. "Hey! That's not the right color (key)! Grrr..."

Good analogy! But maybe it's a bit more like a blue sweater that
arrived purple! (I have a backpack which came out of the box
transposed like that)

>the best anyway. Try to imagine Beethoven's 5th transposed from C minor
>to A minor. The color and character of the entire work would be
>completely changed, and most likely not for the better. The 4th movement
>would probably be less effective in A major. Frankly, I think Beethoven
>would roll over in his grave!

I'll have to run that one through my audio editor sometime and have a
listen! Of course, then we could get into a long discussion on
whether it would be completely the same effect because the actual
notes fingered on each intstrument wouldn't have changed (or worse,
the transposition wouldn't be genuine because of the different sounds
in each register over various breaks!) Yeah, I think I'll leave that
one alone!

>Just now I had a conversation with a friend who is an excellent
>violinist but does not have perfect pitch (but has good relative pitch),
>and he agreed that yes, it bothers him too when he hears a piece
>transposed to a different key than the original. And he conferred with
>what I just said above about composers writing in specific keys for
>specific reasons.

That may be true, but only for specific time periods in composition.
What about the ever changing pitch of the A? It wasn't always 440.
Should we play on instruments designed to play around the composer's
intended A, or should we tune our 440 instruments lower (if
possible)? Or maybe we should transpose?

>Absolutely not! I wasn't talking about modulations, but about
>transcriptions in which an entire piece has been put into another key.
>Modulations are part of the compositional process and are a completely
>different topic. Besides, I love modulations (it's actually the main
>topic I taught for my theory senior assignment). If music was always in
>the same key all the time, it would get pretty bland--pretty fast. I
>love the variety of key in a sonata form, theme and variations,
>fantasia, fugue, etc. My favorite genre is the Romantic era, because of
>the chromaticism. It's actually fun to hear developmental sections and
>listen to what the composer can do with a motive or subject. One of my
>favorite developers is Beethoven! Geez, what that man could do with just
>a few notes or even just a rhythmic idea! Wooooo, Lordy!

Yes, and perhaps as your ear is better trained, you like modulations
more because you "remember" the original keys better and feel this
contrast strongly. Something just as important between movements.

I heard Stravinksy's Tree Pieces for Clarinet, with the second
movement played on Bb (with reasons given I can't remember) I can't
say whether it was the actual different pitches, the change in "key"
relationship, or the instrument change that made it feel different.

>In reference to transcriptions, yes, the overall key change irks me in
>general. I don't like expecting one thing and hearing another, or
>getting a different key just because it's easier to play in but ends up
>ruining the whole sound of the piece. To me, that's not worth it. But
>you were getting into the aspect of modulation, and that really has
>nothing to do with what I said earlier about transcriptions.

Okay, I believe you! The reason I asked about modulations is I wanted
to know the degree of uneasiness you experience. (I personally feel
sick whenever a terribly cheesy pop song modulates up a tone for
dramatic effect, but i think that's something different!)

>Sorry to say, I don't think in terms of what other people hear, just in
>my own (how could I, unless I crawled inside their ears?). But I don't
>feel any better about it, because some people are really irritated by
>having an ear that can hear things like that and feel that they're
>cursed by it. Plus, I don't necessarily think that it's always good to
>have perfect pitch; it just depends on how you look at it. Some people
>don't want it and are glad they don't have it! My former double bass
>teacher felt this way (yes, I played the bass for several years) and
>actually felt sorry for me, but that's how he looks at it. It stinks to
>hear church bells in the distance and have your ears grated because the
>bells sound flat! I generally don't even talk about it with others.
>However, I think everyone is entitled to their opinion on the subject,
>and there is no right or wrong when dealing with such a subjective
>subject (wow, an alliteration!). And no, I'm not offended by the
>question; I thought it was a good one.

The church bells are interesting. The music from the ice cream truck
around the neighbourhood here plays pretty much out of tune. In a
way, it's grating on the ears, but in another way it's refreshing.
Sometimes it's nice to take a vacation from A440.

Interesting comments. This is always a curiosity to me, the way
different people hear. This might be something fun to experiment with
this summer - secretly transposing a recording and playing it for a
group of clarinetists to see what the reactions are! Or maybe better
- playing for the same group a piece on the wrong clarinet. Hmmm...



Mike Dowler -


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