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blew wrong note!

I blew the wrong note for the choir! But they sang it a 4th above the key it was written in.
Yes, I learned my lesson about pitch pipes. lol
What would be an acceptable signal? A few of my paid soloists knew it was wrong.
The choir is small, 20 voices, we stand in a big U  - there must be a signal we could work out.
Any suggestions? Has this happened to you?
Replies (11): Threaded | Chronological
on September 24, 2013 3:14am
Yes - happens all the time to Anúna in performance. In a recent performance we got 45 seconds into a piece that began with a soloist and she started to laugh because she knew it was about a third off. We just all laughed and restarted.
A performances has three elements - conductor, singers and audience.  The audience love a good mistake. Relieves the tension - lets them relax and appreciate that the singers are just people. It depends also on what a conductor or choir feel is important. Anúna love the humanity of their performances. As we don't use a conductor, each performance is completely different to the previous one, so errors will abound. The error isn't important. Its how you deal with it that matters.
Applauded by an audience of 5
on September 24, 2013 7:48am
Michael Schwarzkopf, you will have to forgive me if you read this: more years ago than I care to remember, we were grad students at Iowa and proud members of Don Moses' U of I Kantorei.  At that time we had an annual Madrigal Dinner at Christmas in Hancher auditorium.  I was responsible for giving pitches, and Mike was the first soloist in the Boar's Head Carol. Seeing the piece was in C major, I dutifully gave C on the pitch pipe. Mike, bless his heart, took that to be the starting pitch, and away we went, a fourth higher. Dr. Moses was standing at the back, and I still recall seeing him turn away and walk out of the room. But troopers that we were, we sang the whole darn piece in F, a 4th higher. The audience seemed to appreciate our enthusiastic rendition, as Michael was truly in his element as a high tenor. Fortunately, the chorus is just 4 measures long, and we survived, but our director later offered his adjudication...Boar's Head Carol 1, Kantorei 0.
Applauded by an audience of 1
on September 24, 2013 9:10am
Its cool when a group can still pull off a performance away from the usual tonality but why not assign the pitchpipe to a dedicated 'oboe' singer?
on September 24, 2013 9:46am
Maybe have them wait a few seconds.. ?  Good for tonal memory.  When I use one, I always have to use the white-on-black side.  The embossed letters are hard to distinguish, esp. if the "lighting" is "backstage-ish".
I agree with the others - it speaks volumes in favor of you, the choir, the soloists, and how you've guided them, that they went on.
When I auditioned for Atlanta Symphony Chorus years ago, I was placed as one of the 3 highest sopranos.  When I expressed surprise to the auditioner, she said, "Well, you sang a high Eb."  I had not been doing that; I attribute it to nerves raising my range.  (For some, it has this effect; others get lower. )
Apparently this phenom was in your choir's favor, as well :)
on September 24, 2013 10:59am
From my days as a teacher, one of the things you should rehearse is how you will start each piece.  It may sound silly, but it will build confidence in younger performers, and avoid embarrassment for the experienced.  Are you giving the starting pitch, or the tonic?  I don't think it would hurt to hum the starting chord as necessary to establish the pitch center for the piece.  How will you establish the tempo?  How will you actually start?  And, if you completely get off track, start over.  The audience knows (or should know) the only place a perfect performance exists is in a recording, and I've heard some of those that ain't too hot.
Applauded by an audience of 1
on September 26, 2013 6:34am
Not just for young singers, may I say.  Sang in a choir, and the director hadn't told us that he intended to give us pitches from his own "starting point" in the concert and what those pitches would be.  Oh, my; things got confused in a hurry.  Fortunately, there were enough good singers with a good sense of what the pitch should have been (which, to be fair, the director would have put us in IF we had known where he was starting from - tonic, dominant, etc.?????) that we got where we needed to be - but it was an unfortunate addition to the tension which comes in any choral performance.
Chantez bien!
Applauded by an audience of 1
on September 24, 2013 4:19pm
Hi Leonard,
Thanks for the memory.  As we speak, the old Hancher auditorium is being torn down.  The demolition should be complete by the end of the year (this includes, of course, the old Clapp recital hall).  At the same time, the new Hancher auditorium is gradually rising not too many yards away, and the new School of Music building is also rising downtown.  So, signs of hope and progress everywhere.  I assume the madrigal dinner at the time you mention was in the lobby of Hancher.  I can't imagine it could have been anywhere else.  In later years it was always presented in the Iowa Memorial Union.
on September 24, 2013 9:11pm
One year I joined a choir that issued a very small tuning fork for my key ring.  The conductor would announce the piece we were about to rehearse and everyone would take a second to find their pitch just using the fork!  It took awhile but we got good at it and the openings from absolute silence were very impressive when we sang from the back of the church.  It was really worth the time to learn that skill!
PS:  I still have the tiny tuning fork on my key ring.  Sorry, haven’t found another like it in 30 years…
Applauded by an audience of 1
on September 25, 2013 7:05am
If an alert singer who immediately detects the issue can catch the eyes of the conductor, I'd say a shake of the head (as in "No") might be appropriate, but in most cases, the short time between the giving of the pitch and the downbeat probably won't allow for that. I am the "keeper of the pitch" for the Phoenix Chorale and have made a couple of pitch errors over the years--usually getting ahead of myself in the concert order or the like. One was far enough off to require a re-start (similar to Michael's Anúna story above), and I was given a "solo bow" after that piece as a punishment (all in good fun). A year or so ago, I had another equipment malfunction when some pocket lint invaded my pitch pipe, despite my semi-frantic efforts (including sucking it out), it took about 3 or 4 attempts to get it to produce an acceptable tone. I think I cursed under my breath, but I can't be sure that the patrons in the front rows didn't hear that! :-)
on September 27, 2013 4:41am
In the early years of The Dale Warland Singers, our "pitch-piper" blew the wrong pitch for the opening of William Schuman's first Carol of Death, "The Last Invocation" in performance.   We sang in it the "new key" for the first two pages, and when we altos had a soli entrance on the top of the third page we transposed the piece back to the original key, singing the A4 that was indicated in the score.  It was one of those magical moments and still makes this former singer (Yeah Altos!) very proud of that ensemble's abilities!
Applauded by an audience of 1
on September 27, 2013 3:13pm
Thanks for the stories.
We settled on assigning the job of raising a hand, tastefully, to anyone of my 5 soloists before we proceed with an unaccompanied piece if they know the pitch is wrong. We agreed that I should give the pitch and the fact that having messed up once I will be very cautious going forward.
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