23. June 2007 · Comments Off · Categories: imported, Ramble

Here’s one explanation:

The concertmaster then asks the principal oboist to play the note A, and the orchestra tunes up to that note. It is always the oboist who plays the tuning note, and it is always A. This is because the pitch of A is the note that is determined by international conventions √ it is 440 vibrations per second, though (and I shouldn≠t be telling you this) most orchestras play at around 442 or even 444. Scandalous though that might seem, in flagrant violation of international law, notes sound a bit warmer and richer if they are slightly on the high side, so the pitch tends to creep up. Oboists spend their lives trying to stop this from happening, but what can you do? It is always the oboe that plays the A since the oboe gives a very accurate pitch, and is less able to wobble around than most instruments. It≠s another of those things that is always done the same way, so it is reliable, and quite undistracting.

I’ve also heard that we give the A because we are the least flexible (hah!) when it comes to pitch so everyone has to stick to whatever that particular oboist wants, that our timbre is easiest to tune to, that we cut through easier, and of course the real reason is because we are far superior to anyone else. ;-)

Just so you know.

(I read the paragraph I pasted above at the Vermont Symphony Orchestra blog, and here’s a direct link.)
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