Half a croissant, on a plate, with a sign in front of it saying '50c'
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Fan participation orchestral tuning

Concert-goers help musicians tune by chanting 'Air-ball!', basketball-style.
  [vote for,

Concerts of European orchestral (and other high-status) music typically demand silence from listeners. Cough drops may be given out, jewel-encrusted fingers held to lips, and repetitive sneezers 86'd. Yet inevitable wavelets of coughing, and sometimes restless chatter, still spread -- it's as if all that music, good or bad, makes it damn near impossible for throats to stay silent. But what if orchestras -encouraged- their listeners to dissipate that vocal energy ahead of time? What if they could do so in a way that connected them more personally to their dwindling fan base? And what if they could make it useful to the musicians as well?...

Enter the basketball fan. In 1992, Cherrill Heaton reported (in the Journal of Popular Music and Society) finding that 'Air- ball!' chants at American basketball games tend -- strongly -- to start on F. (Near) perfect pitch somehow emerges among large groups of largely tone-deaf people! Knowing that, couldn't orchestras reach out to the leatherlung hoops fans in their markets, inviting them to come to concerts and help the musicians tune up with a healthy bout of 'Airball!' before hand. Maybe F isn't typically used as a reference pitch for orchestral tuning, but hey, they could learn (or helium could be distributed).

n-pearson, Jul 23 2003

On Heaton's findings. http://www.geocitie...n/1669/Daliens.html
I hate to cite Dave Barry, but he did write an informative piece on the phenomenon. [n-pearson, Oct 04 2004, last modified Oct 06 2004]

Tuning from the mains http://www.tranchan...uk/bass/tuning.html
How to tune a bass from mains lighting. [marktranchant, Oct 04 2004, last modified Oct 06 2004]

What this sez. http://www.digitalm...hestra/TuningUp.php
Forgot it last time. [squeak, Oct 04 2004, last modified Oct 06 2004]


       I read one theory about the perfect pitch airball chant. It theorized that the pitch was actually picked up by the fans from the hum of mercury vapor lights which are at most basketball courts. These lights all tend to hum about the same (because of standardized electricity?) and thus "airball" is usually on key.   

       The problem is that it is rare to have mercury vapor lights at tony art events. Usually they are pretty dark. But actually I think mercury vapor lights might improve things a lot, so you could get a good look at the musicians. You could dim them down after the airball chant was done.   

       This mindless blather makes me wonder: if you put mv lights on a rheostat, would the hum frequency change also?
bungston, Jul 23 2003

       No. The hum comes from the current that alternates at 60Hz. You can change the voltage but it will still alternate at 60Hz, just less voltage.
DeathNinja, Jul 23 2003

       But 60Hz (US mains) is a slightly flat B. It's odd that the crowd should start roughly a fifth above that note if that really is the source. Hmm - maybe the third harmonic (octave and fifth, roughly 180Hz, roughly F) is the stimulus...?
marktranchant, Jul 28 2003

       If I'm not mistaken, the mating call of *a phone off the hook too long* is in F, too.
thumbwax, Jul 28 2003

       In the UK telephones also ring in 5/4 time. It seems to be more annoying.
gnomethang, Jul 28 2003

       Heh. If "airball" is F, then this fan participation tuning could have some interesting effects, as the standard tuning note for orchestras is an E. (For the non-musically-inclined, that's a screeching, dissonant half-step interval. Pretty cool, actually :^) Anyway, this tuning method would work better for concert bands, which *do* tune to F.   

       Marktranchant, if the fans do pick up the pitch from the mains, then I agree that the third harmonic is indeed the probably source, since the perfect fifth is almost as easy to tune as the octave.   

       This is kind of off topic, but have you noticed how, when you watch a fan, the blades seem to slow down and then change direction as they accelerate? You'd expect this under strobe lighting or on video, but not in person. I can think of a few possibilities:   

       1. Perhaps the times I've noticed this, I've been watching the fan under fluorescent lighting, and the flicker produces a subtle stroboscope effect. 2. Perhaps the human brain has an optical refresh rate, much like a computer monitor. This is an interesting idea, one I'd like to test sometime under natural lighting. If this were true, it would be fascinating to see how refresh rates varied among different individuals and how this was correlated with other factors (hours of sleep per night, blood alcohol concentration, heredity, affinity for woodchucks...).   

       To be honest, though, I'll probably just forget the whole thing and go to a concert instead.
magnificat, Sep 03 2003

       Magnificat: "the standard tuning note for orchestras is an E"   

       Which would be useful information if it weren't completely wrong... It's the A above middle C.   

       Very rarely (in deference to the brass players), the oboist will also give a B flat (a semitone above).
andymcc, Sep 04 2003

       Have to agree with [andymcc], and would like to add that, at least in the US, concert bands quite often tune to B flat, and sometimes to this F which is not coming from light bulbs...
swamilad, Sep 04 2003

       I had a professor tell me that we needed to change the name of Schubert's "Great C Major" symphony to the "Great Bb Major" symphony... bands can't play with sharp signs for some reason. The old masters knew exactly what key would produce what kind of emotional responses, so the Air Ball theory is old knowledge... The Great Air Ball symphony in F ;-) In Europe there is a 50 Hz hum... we are out of tune, folks. That's what's wrong with the world today.
stringstretcher, Oct 27 2003

       Simply tune the orchestra's lights to the required note, they can tune with the lights.   

       Say aye if you're against audience participation! Aye!
dbmag9, Jan 02 2006


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