Dear All,
    Here in Britain the frequency of tuning A was standardised at 440Hz at a
temperature of 20 Celsius in 1939, but before that it had been A=435 "at 60
degrees Farenheit". This was because tuning of wind instruments varies with
temperature, and 60F was typical of pre-war concert-hall temperatures in
chilly Britain! The wind instrument least affected is the oboe, since all
the player's air is involved in making the tuning "A", which will be near
normal human blood temperature. So that's why an orchestra uses an oboe for
    I could write extensively on this subject, but will add four
complicating factors I have found.
(1) Historical artefacts over the centuries have proved that classical
musical pitch has gradually risen, as musicians search for extra "brilliance
of tone".
(2) In the 1950s and 1960s this caused several continental orchestras to use
(3) In "the heat of the moment", Decca recording engineers (who had to edit
together tapes made at different times of day) found A=444 sometimes rose as
far as A=452.5. Also, wind instruments go sharper as temperature rises, but
pianos go flatter.
(4) Brass bands have often used a different pitch standard. The
complications in the days of acoustic recording (when vocalists had brass
accompaniments, and the recording-room would be kept warm so the wax would
cut cleanly), can be imagined.
    I should like to hear from anyone who can tell me such details in the
USA, from which country the vast majority of recordings came to Britain
before the second world war.
    Personally, I can't see anything wrong in altering the speed of an old
recording; but when an analog recording is being digitised, I consider it
vital to note the thought-processes which have been considered, so others
know what has happened (and what hasn't).
Peter Copeland

-----Original Message-----
From: Steven Smolian [mailto:[log in to unmask]]
Sent: 21 August 2003 15:36
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] speed policies

With a few exceptions (one cited by Doug Pomeroy at the last ARSC meeting),
western music is performed at a pitch based on a tuned instrument in the
ensemble.  The tuning is to A-440, plus or minus a few cents.

Pitch divergences are in half-tones and checking the sound a half-step up
and/or down usually does the trick.  There have been occasions where I've
supplied a dubbing in two keys and let the producer decide.

When the older recordings were new (certainly acoustics), it was expected
that the pitch of a record would be set to that of the then-ubiquitous
household piano, hence the keys on some records rather than playing speeds.

Much pop music is in easy keys- seldom more than two accidentals.  For
standard classical pieces, the Barlow and Morgenstern dictionary of themes
series is essential- I keep a vocal book in each room with an operating
turntable, along with a pitch-pipe.

For the rest, the printed music is the answer.  This also solves issues
relating to positioning overlapping side joins.

Even if not proficient in reading music, it's easy enough to count lines and
spaces to the first sustained note, checking the clef.  Accidentals are next
to the clef on the line or space where they are operative.  Accidentals in
the text are also important.  This can be figured out with a little

There are, of course, many disputes over playing speeds- everyone transposed
(sinned) except my favorite singer.

Resolving pitch questions with some of the rawer folk and ethnic recordings
is a different matter, as is that of records which start at one speed and
finish at quite another.

I'm sorry if this sounds condescending or simplistic, but, given the space
this discussion has occupied, I though this needed to be said.

Steve Smolian


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