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A little inequality ?


headcase

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I've often toyed with the idea of secretly tuning a small church organ to a mild unequal temperament, just out of devilment, to see if the organist/congregation notice any difference. Naughty...but there it is.

 

Is there anyone out there to whom this has happened - knowingly or unknowingly ?

 

I'd also be interested in comments from singers and choir directors with experience of regularly using an unequally tempered instrument for accompaniment.

 

H

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I've often toyed with the idea of secretly tuning a small church organ to a mild unequal temperament, just out of devilment, to see if the organist/congregation notice any difference. Naughty...but there it is.

 

Is there anyone out there to whom this has happened - knowingly or unknowingly ?

 

I'd also be interested in comments from singers and choir directors with experience of regularly using an unequally tempered instrument for accompaniment.

 

H

 

 

 

Perhaps I should try this, but with an added twist!

 

I have a little Brustwerk, with only 244 pipes and a computer tuning programme with all sorts of tempers or lack of them..

 

I wouldn't want to get the ladders out and tune the Hauptwerk....too many Mixtures, too high and too little time....BUT....what about equal for the Hauptwerk, and mean, (as mean as mean can be), for the Brustwerk?

 

None of that pseudo-sensualist, Werkmeister nonsense.

 

On the fly, I could test the reaction of the congregation to each.

 

If I don't use the coupler it would be fine.

 

The final voluntary would have to be a French 'Grande Jeux' which, if I use the coupler, would sound highly authentic; knowing how the French used to look after their organs. B)

 

MM

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We've just had our school organ, a Mander, tuned to Young II (by another board member who may reply with what he thinks!). I've known the instrument for a number of years and can honestly say that it's sounding the best it has in that period. Circles of 5ths come alive with each key having its own colour. We've found it fine for choral accompaniment so far (Stanford in C, I was Glad etc).

 

Best

 

mpk

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A further thought occurs. Does anyone have a view on 'note-bashing' for choirs, using a tempered keyboard as the learning tool. I wonder if this induces a tendency for singers to pitch intervals inaccurately and thus fall into a fundamental bad habit rather insidiously ?

 

H

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We've just had our school organ, a Mander, tuned to Young II (by another board member who may reply with what he thinks!). I've known the instrument for a number of years and can honestly say that it's sounding the best it has in that period. Circles of 5ths come alive with each key having its own colour. We've found it fine for choral accompaniment so far (Stanford in C, I was Glad etc).

 

Best

 

mpk

 

Ah, but how does it cope with Rutter? :)

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The small GDB round the corner from here has been in Werckmeister III for years without ever being declared so. No-one seems to have noticed but the choir did sing in tune!

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A further thought occurs. Does anyone have a view on 'note-bashing' for choirs, using a tempered keyboard as the learning tool. I wonder if this induces a tendency for singers to pitch intervals inaccurately and thus fall into a fundamental bad habit rather insidiously ?

 

H

 

Hmm - but if you don't use a tempered scale, you would need a different keyboard for each key, because singers tend to sing 'true' in any key, whereas a non-equal keyboard will be far from that in several keys. :wacko:

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Out of interest how difficult is it to retune an organ to a different temperament, and how does one go about it? Having more than once had the experience of an organ tuner whose attempt at bringing the organ into tune sounded more out of tune the following Sunday that it had been for the previous year since his last visit, I sometimes wonder how much difference a different temperament adds to an already out of tune instrument?

 

One of the advantages of having a Hauptwerk practice organ at home is that I have a selection of probably a dozen or more different temperaments that I can play around with, but the sample set producers inevitably fine-tune the instruments either before recording or during processing so the organ (unless it's French) sounds pristine. Perhaps in the interests of authenticity I should suggest to the programers to have a "weekday winter tuning, central heating at 90 degrees for one hour a week on Sundays" setting!

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I recall Ernest Hart (of Copeman Hart) saying that he set his instruments to sound as if they were tuned a few days ago. There are good reasons for Hauptwerk sample set producers to fine-tune sample sets which may be subject to temperament changes, but some sample sets forbid that, and perhaps they do include the minor shifts from perfect tuning, so producing a slightly richer chorus effect.

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Hmm - but if you don't use a tempered scale, you would need a different keyboard for each key, because singers tend to sing 'true' in any key, whereas a non-equal keyboard will be far from that in several keys. :wacko:

 

I’m glad you put ‘true’ in quotes because there really isn't any such thing, even before you add chromatic notes or modulate.

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Comptons' once tried the experiment of doubling the number of generators, with the second set tuned very slightly 'off'.

 

I know one quite modern job (typical postVAT2 job - so long as it has tracker action and isn't by a British builder, it must be good :P ) which was retuned to equal temperament some years after going in. The work also included fitting tuning slides. The original builder had omitted to thin the metal at the tops of the pipes and a very modest amount of cone tuning had caused collapse around the mouths.

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One of the advantages of having a Hauptwerk practice organ at home is that I have a selection of probably a dozen or more different temperaments that I can play around with, but the sample set producers inevitably fine-tune the instruments either before recording or during processing so the organ (unless it's French) sounds pristine.

 

I like the implied 'dig' in the strike-through. Some Frenchmen get quite upset if you suggest their organs are habitually out of tune.

 

JS

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It's better than a lute. It is claimed that lutenists spend 2/3 of their time tuning their instruments, and the other third playing them out of tune. A lutenist of my acquaintance did not disagree with that view.

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It's better than a lute. It is claimed that lutenists spend 2/3 of their time tuning their instruments, and the other third playing them out of tune. A lutenist of my acquaintance did not disagree with that view.

Frets and historical tuning is a very interesting area of research.

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In amongst all the frivolity, I was hoping for some informed comment - particularly on the use of an equally tempered keyboard instrument as the means of 'training' amateur singers and whether this would affect their ability to pitch perfect intervals.

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In amongst all the frivolity, I was hoping for some informed comment - particularly on the use of an equally tempered keyboard instrument as the means of 'training' amateur singers and whether this would affect their ability to pitch perfect intervals.

I'm not a choirtrainer but I've read a certain amount on temperaments and I've spent a lot of time close to choirs, choral singers and conductors. It would be hard to find a singer that's not been exposed to Equal Temperament; it's ubiquitous. However, most singers and most instrumentalists on instruments where the pitch of each note can be adjusted by the player will generally not perform in equal temperament. I have known top violin pedagogues tell their students that, when playing with a piano, they should tune (each note) to the piano. And choirs accompanied by piano or organ must sing so that their tuning matches that of the instrument. When choirs sing unaccompanied then the tuning tends to be determined by the director; chords, particularly opening and closing ones, may well be tuned to something approaching pure intervals but quite often leading notes will be sharper than their equal-tempered version, which in turn are sharper than a theoretical leading note. 200 years ago string players and singers were taught about big and small semitones but I don't know anyone that teaches them now.

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Certainly an unequally tempered instrument will not help teach singers to sing in anything like pure tuning. Any temperament even somewhat playable in all keys will have most the thirds and the fifths impure, and the more pure intervals they manage to get in to some keys, the more impure the remaining intervals will become. Even full-on mean-tone temperament only gets its pure thirds by making the fifths worse in the same keys.

 

Paul

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Ah, one of my favourite topics!

 

Almost all of the chamber concerts I perform use some non-equal temperament. In fact, I've only ever tried tuning my harpsichord in equal temperament once, and that as an exercise, several decades ago. Singers who are used to this work much the same was as, for example, string players, tuning in (pardon the pun) to the characteristics of the temperament that you've chosen on the fly as they rehearse, and occasionally asking to work on particular intervals or chords when they are struggling to centre the pitch quickly.

 

Singing 'in tune' involves more than just how wide a third is, or how narrow a fifth is, in any case, and it tends to be less experienced conductors and choirs which obsess most when dealing with this aspect. (This is not meant to be a reflection on the question, which is a good question or the originator of this thread. On the contrary, I'm just trying to say that for those that are more experienced, there is less worry about this particular aspect of sounding 'in tune' than for those that are less experienced.)

 

In my experience, in trying to help singers tune pure intervals, pianos tuned equally are not the ideal pedagogical help. Organs, with their sustained tone, are better, and, for example, 1/4 meantone, provides pure thirds for singers to hear and to match pitch with (c - e, f - a, d - f-sharp, e-flat - g, g - b, b-flat - d, and your choice of e - g-sharp or a - flat to c) and for perfect fourths and fiths, although, as pwhodges says, not in the same triad! (But that doesn't matter once the singer has experienced the sensation of what a pure third, fourth of fifth really sounds and feels like.) Of course, there is wonderful software for this as well.

 

There are funny moments with all this: I never tire of watching cellists tune to an A, then tune wonderfully pure fifths, only to look puzzled when the C is not in tune with the accompanying instrument. They do it time and time again and the result never changes!

 

I have wondered, with instruments where the harmonics are so out of tune as they are with a piano, whether people with so called perfect pitch are pitching to the first, second or even subsequent harmonics. Piano tuning is a series of compromises to work with this problem. Tuning harpsichords is so much easier than tuning pianos as with smaller diameter strings their harmonics are much closer to being in tune.

 

Now, I used to play an organ build in 1741 which was decidedly not equally tempered. The choir at that church was not the most advanced choir that I've trained, but they had no trouble singing to it. The congregation was totally used to it and never commented on it. I chose to transpose some hymns into keys that worked better with the temperament. The repertoire that worked well on that instrument was written before God punished musicians by leading humanity to the general adoption of equal temperament. That was the most extreme temperament I've regularly enjoyed for leading a congregation, but I have also played others with milder temperaments such as Valotti and Young. It was very rare to find something in an accompaniment that hit the ears, and the congregations were used to it in any case. I so miss that Pfiffaro and the wonderful sound of the Principale. Sigh.

 

Back to the Baileys and pleasant memories.

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