I had an abbreviated pitching career — pitching a grand total of maybe 30 relief innings from age 11 to age 15. I never had a great arm, but I suppose my control was in the 80th percentile or so in my age group.
I also had a summer of sales pitches, after my freshman year in college. I sold cookware. These days, I am so repelled by sales pitches that I would probably go on welfare instead of taking a cold-calling sales job.
I also had an abbreviated experience with the pitch on a roof. That is the last time I will ever roof. I have no idea how anyone older than 25 can do that for a living. Stephen and I really nailed it (pardon me), but roofing ages a body! (Plus, it is over my head.)
This serial essay will not be about any of those kinds of pitching, though. This will be a sort of chronologue of experiences with musical pitch—or vibration frequency, if you prefer. I hope a few of you find it interesting.
Since my mom is a fine pianist, and since I grew up with (a much lesser) pianism myself, I suppose my sense of pitch was based somewhat on equal temperament. However, I learned to sing alto in church at a relatively young age, and there were no fixed-pitch (or any other) instruments involved there, so my developing sense of intonation was probably more . . . ahem . . . fine-tuned than it would have been if I had had no a cappella experiences.
As a 4th grader, I was chosen to play the horn. (Yes, it’s best known simply as the horn, not the French horn, although I admit the generic label creates confusion and the need for further specification.) I believe that selection had something to do with Mr. Kosc’s finding that I could perceive pitch better than most my age. It is notoriously difficult for young horn players to know whether they are on the correct pitch since the horn’s partials in its typical playing range are closer together than they are with other brasses. As a result, there are lots of jokes about horn players hitting the wrong notes. I have hit lots of wrong notes in my time, but I almost always immediately know it when I do. Pitch is something I can hear.
I actually remember very little about my sense of pitch prior to college, but I do remember taking a quantum leap in understanding the relationship of pitches in complex chords during jazz improvisation class and in a combo with Mr. Byerly (who, incidentally, had played with the Jimmy Dorsey Band). The ability to perceive in-tune chords, it seems to me, is most notably enhanced by experience with the piano (and secondarily, the guitar).
I also remember reveling in the blends of barbershop harmony with Mike, Charlie, and Andy. After the first two graduated, Charlie and I sang with Mark and Tim and maybe someone else. Memories fade, but those guys were all fine musicians, and we had high school quartets with the rare ability to sing relatively difficult music in tune. It was much later that I experienced an almost pleasant sort of inner-ear pain when hearing top-shelf barbershop groups hold out perfectly in-tune chords with no vibrato. Those overtones can be amazing!
Speaking of overtones, the father of one of my college friends had a particularly keen ear for them. He also had the skill and materials to make tuning forks, and he passed along that skill to his son Steve. I learned to use a tuning fork when I was a young teenager and began leading singing (again, with no instruments) in church, youth, and Christian camp gatherings. And those experiences led to some college music experiences with pitch . . . which I’ll share in the next installment.