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Choral Caffeine: More Pitches

One has come to despise B-flat.
An explanation is in order.  Adjacent to one’s office at ACDA is a room containing all of the electrical switching equipment for the entire complex.  One of the devices generates a continual B-flat drone.  One. Long. Unending. Hellish. B. Flat. Drone.  It’s like living inside a bagpipe.
Often, for amusement (to say nothing of sonic sanity), one will sing with the drone.  And now, thanks to David V. Montoya’s article, “Music In-Between the Notes and from Other Cultures” (California Cantante, Vol.22, No.2), it appears that there are more pitches to use against one’s sonic nemesis.  According to David:
There are at least 30 recognizable, singable pitches in the space of a chromatic octave. Learning to sing some of them apart from equal tempered piano tuning can be a great experience for any musician.
For example, choirs can easily sing an equal tempered major third (as in C to E) when the piano is sounding, but learning to sing the major third which comes from the overtone series (which is 386 cents out of the equal-tempered 400 cents, or 14 cents fl at to the piano) can be a surprise and a deeply satisfying experience.
Let’s try it! Play a C-G drone an octave below middle C. Sing a major third and feel the resonance of the pure third (with no help from the piano). Then play the E on the piano and notice how it is actually sharp to the note you were singing. Bingo! There’s another pitch you can sing within an octave!
(For additional articles on a dazzling array of choral topics, visit ChorTeach.)
on April 24, 2013 5:45am
I'm pretty sure your "B-flat" isn't really quite a B-flat, in that our electrical systems are based on 60HZ, which is in between a B-Flat (58.27HZ) and a B (61.74). From those values, you'll note that it's a little closer to the B-flat than the B, but still very much out of tune, which indeed makes it even WORSE to musicians! One reason I know this is that I spent years in my undegraduate choral rehearsal room at California State University Fullerton wishing that we could rehearse in the dark, as the ballasts in the flourescent light fixtures on the ceiling high above put out a fairly loud and constant 60HZ hum, so virtually everthing we sang in that room was out of tune with the lights, unless we shifted a bit up or down subconsciously to accomodate the ambient pitch.
As for a possible solution, I wonder if there isn't some sort of wave-cancellation device that could be used to send the opposite waveforms at the source of the sound, thus canceling them out and making them either inaudible to staff or at least much less bothersome (somewhat like the technology in the noise-cancellation headphones used on flights)?
on April 24, 2013 6:58am
You are right, David. It comes in at 120.00 HZ, which is half-way between our B and B-flat. We will think of it more in terms of baroque tuning.
Applauded by an audience of 2
on April 24, 2013 3:25pm
My house has that same vibration and others can't hear it (like when I called the electric company because I thought there was a problem). I've trained myself to not focus on it, but this is validating; at least I'm not crazy.
on May 4, 2013 9:08am
This discussion reminds me of the notation I habitually put in autograph books at school.  If you are not old enough to remember autograph books, think Year Books.  I would write:
Never B-sharp
Never B-flat
Always B-Natural
Wno knows which your hum seems to be. (pun intended)  I love the baroque comment.  Tee, hee.