Stephen Howard Woodwind - Repairs, reviews, advice, tips and tales...
Haynes woodwind maintenance manuals
Notes from a small workshop - anecdotes & musings from the workbench
Haynes woodwind maintenance manuals

Of planes and pitch

Do you consider yourself to be tone deaf?
You're not alone - there must be countless millions of people out there who have convinced themselves that they suffer from this terrible affliction, though I wonder sometimes whether it's just an excuse to sweeten the bitter pill of never having realised a secret ambition to sing, or play a musical instrument. But take heart - actual bona fide tone deafness is a rare phenomenon, if you can distinguish between the sound of a phone ringing and your front door bell then you're clearly and very evidently not tone deaf.

The father who brought his young son in with a clarinet for a service expressed his regret that he'd never taken up the saxophone. "Why not?", I asked - "All it takes is half a grand and a fat wadge of free time?" "Tone deaf", came the reply, "can't hold a tune to save my life."
I was about to launch into my phone/doorbell analogy when my thoughts were interrupted by the growing roar of a piston engine, an aeroplane engine no less. The workshop resounded with the low, urgent drone as something small and fast shot right over the roof of the workshop.

"Sounds like a Mustang to me" said the chap.
Now, I know it was a Mustang as there's a local chap round here who owns one, and many's the evening I sit on my doorstep at home and watch him as he pitches his aeroplane through loops, twists, stall turns and dives - and despite being somewhat unadventurous when it comes to thrills and spills (I go green on the kid's teacup waltzers at the fairground) I can't help but envy the pilot's obvious sense of elation as he chucks a good few tons of metal and oil around the sky.

I asked the father how he knew it was a Mustang - neither of us saw the plane fly over. "No mistaking the engine sound, all those warbirds have their own sound". And he's right, pretty much anyone with a passing interest in old planes will be able to tell the difference between a Spitfire and a Hurricane approaching - and some people can even tell when the starboard outer engine on a Lancaster is running lumpy. And so my case was made - I told him he couldn't be tone deaf if his ears could make that kind of distinction. There's a very intimate relationship between sound and music. Not all sound is music, but all music is most certainly sound.


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