And Gutenberg Lived Here: A-440 And Me

New Year’s Eve:   Change and Remembrance.

What nondescript item has changed my life?

How amazing that someone asked me to write on this topic,

of all times,

on a New Year’s Eve.

A time when we remember those who are near to us.

Things past.

Hopes we had.

And still have.

And quite often, thoughts are triggered by an object.

A nondescript object.

For my mother, writing in a diary of rememberances for her grandson,

the most amazing change in her life was the electric car lock key.

No more locking yourself out,

No more telling children to lock the doors when they get out.

And no more watching the handbrake of a car being released by a dog

you forgot to take off the back seat before carefully locking up.

(Luckily the car only rolled a few feet.)

For my father, a prize-winning photo-journalist, it was the dawn of the digital camera.

For my brother, it the freedom of having a motor bike.

For my mathematics honey, it was the discovery, as a small child, of chalk.

And later, that the flow of chalk on a board organizes your thought patterns

and regulates the speech flow as you lecture.

For a conductor/composer friend of ours, it was the discovery that using a quill pen

lets the music flow much better than a computer composition program.

And for me?

Ignoring, for a moment, the question of the computer,

which, hallelujah, replaced the old academic rule of three copies with carbon paper

and only three mistakes per page,

the most awe-inspiring nondescript object I can think of is:


No, not the highway,

although living where certain stretches of highway have no speed limit definitely did

have the influence of injecting unmeasurable amounts of adrenaline into my life.

No, what I really meant with A-440 was the, to me, amazing discovery that unheard of

amounts of inanimate objects are actually pitched at A-440.

A fact first introduced to me by a friend, with perfect pitch, the dirty rat,

who helped me get through courses in aural theory with the trick

“lump all the things you don’t hear together, then wait for the chapel bell,

which rings ten minutes before the bell to end the course. Both are in A.

This started me thinking-

about what was really in inanimate objects.

But things didn’t really come to a head until I started vocal conducting,

and found myself without a tuning fork one day, while working on a project

with one of those strange elite beings with perfect pitch.

And being the way the perfect pitched are,

he turned away from the stove he was cooking spaghetti for us on,

non-chalantly rang the pot lid,

and said to me “here. Now can we get on with supper?”

This started my need-to-know wheels turning.

First I check that he wasn’t joking.

He wasn’t.

The pot lid was in A.

(I brought a tuning fork extra the next time to check.)

And from there, I was on a quest.

Within a short time, I had discovered that not only a certain, widely bought brand of pots

and pot lids,

but also certain silverware,

metal hub caps,

although I wouldn’t really recommend kicking one to get a tone,

the old-style telephones,

a once very popular line of metal vases from a certain swedish furniture house,

etc, etc.

are all in A.

As are the artificial hums and whines of certain machines.

(My old Mazda)

Which made me more than curious about how that affects us as humans.

And since,

since the start of music,

we have used agreed on tempos, which are the equivalent of the sitting, walking,

fast walking, and running heart beats,

what about tone?

And this then led to a discovery,

with thanks to Sharon, my first voice teacher,

that the human body often has the break between head and chest voice

within a tone or two of A,

and that by activating it,

singing tones around A,

you can actually cleanse the body.

And even later still, I learned that this is currently being used medically,

if somewhat experimentally,

here in our area in the treatment of tumors and to stimulate the immune system.

Which then led me to my final discovery:

that there are two kinds of non-musician types,

those that don’t care if something is in A,

and those that download something to check,

then go back to discussing sports or cars or sportscars, or whatever.

Me, I still have the curiosity.

And since, over years, I have learned that it is easier to carry a tuning fork,

than to carry a hub cap or a pot lid,

I now have a small collection of them:

from a large concert fork, to one only a few centimeters long,

given to me by my small ensemble, and worn nearly always on a chain around my neck.

It keeps me humble.

And curious.

And reminds me there’s always a place for everyone in this world.

Even those with perfect pitch.

With remembrance and love for those in my heart.

Wishing all of them,

and everyone else reading this,

a happy,


and curiouser and curiouser New Year.

Copyright 2015 all rights reserved
Copyright 2016 All rights reserved.

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