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Pitch and Pythagoras - Pulse and Prison

Monday, 9 July 2012

Todmorden U3A's resident music meister Richard Pomfret, launched his talk entitled "Pitch and Pythagoras - Pulse and Prison", by telling his audience at the June general meeting that a piano can never be in tune.

He did this by way of mathematics in a talk designed to undermine the myths that exist about the links between maths and music. They are there, he said, but not to the extent that many imagine. With the aid of a diagram he showed that the pitch of one note calculated from a lower one by two different but both mathematically precise methods, gives two slightly different values. Therefore, the resultant note is not the same. Discordance.

He went on to say that medieval musicians knew this and used the true notes. Whereas this difference was fudged when the introduction of notation as we use it today took place.

Richard quoted Philip Ball, author of "The Music Instinct": "Notation tends to oppress that which cannot be notated." Richard went on to explain that although there were gains, principally the ability to pass music on, in our present system, notation shut music into a series of boxes, notably with the introduction of bar lines. These are only milestones indicating how far the music has travelled; they are not significant for the journey. Since musicians tend to look for how many beats there are in a bar, lines in medieval music, which originally had none, interfere with the singers' feel for the rhythm of the music. Notated music, Richard explained, contains much that cannot be notated and gave the example of syncopated music, of a style which cannot be written down.

Musical interludes helped illustrate the talk. Richard screened the text of To Lizbie Browne, a poem by Thomas Hardy. The poem had four syllables to each line and in the wrong hands a rather banal song might have resulted, had the composer stuck to this rhythm. Richard then played a recording of a setting by Gerald Finzi, who did no such thing, with a result that was particularly affecting. Richard's affinity with Finnish choral music will be well known to many in the Upper Valley and beyond and he included a song from a CD by Ensemble Norma, five young Finnish women who recently performed at Wainstalls Chapel alongside Enkelit.

As with his previous talk on music to the U3A membership, Richard was interesting, enlightening, and many in his audience wished he could go on beyond the allotted time.

The University of the Third Age meets at 1.45 at Central Methodists in Todmorden on the third Thursday of every month - find out about all of its activities at www.u3atod.org.uk

Many thanks to John Bouttell for this report


Previous U3A reports on the HebWeb

HebWeb News - Lord Shutt explains the workings of the House of Lords (May 2012)

HebWeb News - Claire Benedict talks acting to Todmorden U3A (April 2012)

HebWeb News - Kate Moreton-Deakin spoke about her day job as Associate Director - Corporate Social Responsibility with Calderdale and Huddersfield NHS Foundation Trust. (Feb 2012)

HebWeb News - Fair Trade Movement (Feb 2012)

HebWeb News - Fancy a cruise to the Antarctic? (Feb 2012)

HebWeb News - Gail Allaby, U3A's Queen of the Underworld (Dec 2011)

HebWeb News - September meeting report - Report of meeting about Walking the Pacific Crest Trail

HebWeb News - August meeting report - Bolton Abbey

HebWeb News - May and June meeting report - Keep Learning: Live long and prosper and the role of the Lord-Lieutenant

HebWeb News - April meeting report - Belt and Braces - An Everyday Guide to Risk and Chance

HebWeb News - March meeting report - Growing Old in the Twenty-First Century

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