Stuff that occurs to me

All of my 'how to' posts are tagged here. The most popular posts are about blocking and private accounts on Twitter, also the science communication jobs list. None of the science or medical information I might post to this blog should be taken as medical advice (I'm not medically trained).

Think of this blog as a sort of nursery for my half-baked ideas hence 'stuff that occurs to me'.

Contact: @JoBrodie Email: jo DOT brodie AT gmail DOT com

Science in London: The 2018/19 scientific society talks in London blog post

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Orchestras tuning up - what a magical sound

Being a fan of music used in film (ie music that has a narrative purpose as which often happens to be lovely to listen to beyond that) I've been getting out to quite a few film music concerts of late with Alexandre Desplat in the Barbican a few weeks ago and David Arnold in Dublin just last week (he's also doing the Barbican in June as part of a series of concerts).

Many of these concerts involve many tens of musicians (an orchestra) playing the music live and it's all ridiculously enjoyable - I am at peak squee soon after taking up my seat, hoovering up my micro-pack of ice-cream and having a look at the concert programme in anticipation.

Whatever the lovely music I'm going to hear (I died and went to heaven when the orchestras played Desplat's Birth and Arnold's Stargate and Wing Commander not to mention Sherlock) I always really really enjoy the bit just before the concert starts when the orchestra tunes up.

It's a magical thing, perhaps a little like a flashmob - in that an otherwise disparate group of people suddenly come together to create something harmonious, and move from just being on stage with their instruments to being part of a performance. Well.. it's halfway between being part of the performance, and not being part of it, and I find this 'between worlds' ritual rather thrilling.  

I half-joked on Twitter that if someone released a CD of orchestras tuning up I'd probably buy it. I don't think that exists and perhaps it's a limited market (though a couple of people favourited my tweet) but the 'Baby Einstein' CDs do have an orchestra tuning up track (found via YouTube). It's a much more saccharine version than the real thing.

To be honest I had suspected it was more for show than being absolutely necessary as I'd have to assume professional orchestra folk tune their instruments before heading out on stage, however some comments here explain why it has a useful function, beyond quietening the metaphoric crisp-packet-rustling of pre-concert chatter. I'm just surprised that - given the hugely positive comments on YouTube - that there aren't more videos or sound clips of it, there seems to be a consensus that it's a lovely sound.

Concert pitch
Orchestras tune their instruments to Concert pitch, which is usually A (set at 440Hz) above Middle C though the A pitch can vary a bit. Here's Wikipedia on concert pitch:
"Despite such confusion, A = 440 Hz is the only official standard and is widely used around the world. Many orchestras in the United Kingdom adhere to this standard as concert pitch. In the United States some orchestras use A = 440 Hz, while others, such as New York Philharmonic and the Boston Symphony Orchestra, use A = 442 Hz. The latter is also often used as tuning frequency in Europe, especially in Denmark, France, Hungary, Italy, Norway and Switzerland. Nearly all modern symphony orchestras in Germany and Austria and many in other countries in continental Europe (such as Russia, Sweden and Spain) tune to A = 443 Hz."
Further tone fun
Online tuning fork  329.6Hz (E), 440Hz (A), 523.3Hz (C)
Online tone generator - you can have quite a bit of fun with this one if you open up multiple tabs. Two frequencies a few Hz apart will give you beats and the comments on the binaural page are fun too with suggested frequencies to try out, eg to recreate the sound of a touch-tone telephone dialling sound.

Film music concerts
The site Movies in Concert has a massive list of film music concerts from around the world.

Further reading
Bit that didn't fit anywhere else
I found out about 'Concert A' by accident. A couple of years ago I wrote a post about tuning fork therapy in response to a misleading advert that claimed special tuning forks could be used to diagnose and correct health imbalances. Utter nonsense of course but the act of writing it (and responding to the tedious comments) made me find out a lot more about tuning forks than I otherwise might have done. Played with them at home, played with them at school but still plenty of gaps in my tuning fork knowledge.

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