Sunday, March 15, 2009

Fading away

About eight years ago, I participated in a research project investigating people with perfect pitch. [This is the ability to hear a sound and to know the pitch of it.]

I was told that Australian research suggests that babies are born with this facility, and recognise their mother's voice not just by timbre, but pitch as well. In time, this fades as this method of recognition is no longer necessary.

However some people who begin music lessons at an early age retain the ability to hear a sound and to know its pitch.

But I was also told that as people get older, this ability is not as acute. I have noticed this to be true and have sometimes heard a recording and been thinking in, say A flat major, when the piece of music is being transmitted in A major.

When I was younger this didn't happen and when I was played a gramophone recording for an aural test, if the record was playing too fast, and I was told to write my answer in E major, but it came across as F major, I would find this disturbing and would have to write it out in F and then transpose.

I was playing in India in 1973 on a piano that had been tuned a semitone sharp and I found this most distressing and had a hard time keeping on keeping on [as my father used to say, quoting the Berger Paint advertisement].

But yesterday at James and Therese's wedding, the string players and trumpeter all noticed that the pipe organ I was playing was very sharp when they tuned their instruments. I was blissfully unaware of this until it was obvious by listening to the violinist tuning.

But it has advantages, because I can now play a flat or sharp instrument without having to do mental gymnastics to match what I hear with what I play.

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