The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Is having perfect pitch ever a problem? Can a pill give you perfect pitch? A story on NPR inspires a lot of public doubt.

January 11, 2014
2 Comments

ALERT: Remember that today from 1 to 8 p.m. is Double Reed Day at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music. Hosts are UW professors oboist Kostas Tiliakos (below left) and bassoonist Marc Vallon (below right) Registration is $20 at 1-1:30 p.m. in Mills Hall. The event features master classes, exhibits, a dinner and free concerts of music for bassoon and oboe. Here is a link to a previous blog post about the day:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/01/07/classical-music-calling-all-oboists-bassoonists-and-their-fans-this-coming-saturday-is-double-reed-day-with-master-classes-workshops-and-concerts-at-the-university-of-wisconsin-madison/

Kostas Tiliakos and Marc Vallon horizontal

By Jacob Stockinger

One opera composer and musical titan – Mozart (below) – had it.

mozart big

Another opera composer and musical titan – Richard Wagner (below) — did NOT have it.

Richard Wagner

So, how important is having perfect pitch to having a successful career in composing or performing music?

And is perfect pitch a question of chemicals and drugs as well as of genetics and heredity?

Here is a quick summary of perfect pitch with some names of classical musicians who are said to have possessed it.

http://classicalmusic.about.com/od/classicalmusic101/p/perfectpitch.htm

And here is an even longer and more detailed background piece with more names, examples and anecdotes from The New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/1990/12/23/arts/classical-music-there-may-be-more-to-music-than-meets-a-typical-ear.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm

Being one of the 1-in-10,000 people who have perfect pitch can pose problems, as a YouTube video about best-selling hip-hop violinist Paul Dateh at the bottom discusses.

The question of perfect pitch was also raised by a recent story on NPR. A scientist challenged the notion that perfect pitch is genetic and made claims for a drug that can confer it.

But many readers remain dubious. They say the story not only contains inaccurate reporting and underreporting of the drug’s side effects, but also confuses perfect pitch with relative pitch.

Here is a link to the story. But sure to read the more than 100 reader comments, many of them very strong, about the story. And leave your own reaction there or even better in the COMMENT section of this blog.

http://www.npr.org/2014/01/04/259552442/want-perfect-pitch-you-could-pop-a-pill-for-that


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