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

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:

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.

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

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.

Classical music: Calling all oboists, bassoonists and woodwind fans! This coming Saturday is Double Reed Day — with master classes, workshops and FREE concerts — at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

January 7, 2014
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

Calling all players and fans of the oboe (below top) and the bassoon (below bottom), those woodwind instruments with such beautiful and distinctive tonal qualities! (At the bottom is a YouTube video of the last movement from 20th-century French composer Francis Poulenc’s lovely Trio for Piano, Oboe and Bassoon.)



Even though the second semester hasn’t started yet – and won’t start until Jan. 21 — this coming Saturday afternoon and evening offers a day of master classes, workshops and concerts during the annual “Double Reed Day” at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

This year, the hosts are UW-Madison visiting oboist Kostas Tiliakos and UW-Madison bassoon professor Marc Vallon (below left and right, respectively).

Kostas Tiliakos and Marc Vallon horizontal

“Double Reed Day is an event that has taken place at the School of Music for the last 15 years,” says Vallon. “We invite middle-school students and high-school students and all double reed enthusiasts of all levels to join us for an informal and fun event that includes master classes for both instruments, a faculty concert and a final Double Reed concert in which every participant takes part.”

Adds Vallon: “We had something like 20 oboes and 18 bassoons on stage last year. The goal is to give double-reeders a chance to break from their usual isolation and play with their fellows colleagues, improve their skills and enjoyment.” (Below is a vintage print from the Bibliotheque Nationale de France, an 18th-century drawing of “Le Chevalier de Liroux playing the bassoon.”)

Bassoon playing %22%22Le chevalier de Liroux jouant le bassoon%22 from Bibliotheque Nationale de France

The events run from at-the-door registration ($20 with a $5 fee for each additional dinner guest) held from 1 to1:30 p.m. to dinner and a short evening concert at 7 p.m. in Mills Hall.

(You can also register by mail. Include payment and mail to Double Reed Day, in care of Marc Vallon, School of Music, UW-Madison, 4122 Humanities Building, 455 North Park Street, Madison, WI 53706-1483

From 2:30 to 3:45 there will be master classes, then exhibits from 3:45-4:15. From 4:15 to 5:30 there will be readings of the double reed repertoire as well as rehearsals.

Dinner is 5:30 to 6:30 p.m.

A final Festival Concert, open to the public free of charge but with a program yet to be decided, will be held from 7 to 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall.

A faculty concert is free of charge, and the program will include some French music by Gabriel Pierné and “Five French Folk Songs” by Marc Vallon.

The final concert is also free of charge. It will last 30 minutes and will involve all the participants. 

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