Thoughts on good intonation, the illusion thereof.

If two players are playing a unison and one is in tune and the other flat, they are both out of tune.
That is the simplest way to say that the ability to change ,sometimes imperceptively is absolutley incumbent in a good player, and the first thing that comes to mind in an ensemble.
There is no such thing as being perfectly intune, for that is but an illusion, the illusion however being most important to playing in any kind of ensemble, from a piano with clarinet, to a great orchestra with an entire woodwind section. It is an illusion.
The first question is, what exactly is the pitch of the A and does it change during a rehearsal or a performance?
The answer is unquestionably, whatever the ensemble establishes as it’s A and the constantly changing temperature of the rehearsal or concert hall.
But in a practical sense, how do you choose your partners in an ensemble, or are you chosen through an audition or, perhaps even a phone call?
You choose an oboist for your quintet because he or she plays intune or with a center of pitch that is similar to yours, and you do it usually by having played or performed prior to the audition or the first rehearsal.
I do respect all of the ways of fixing and establishing intonation through all of the various tomes written, however there is not a book or a particular “way” that will lead one to good intonation.
One must know how the other plays in relation to pitch.
This of course, is the biggest reason for players to aspire to a great or very good orchestra. There, these kinds of problem have been solved by the process of competition and then ,elinimation.
Upon winning an audition one can look forward to playing Ein Heldenlenben or Sacre with little difficulty.
Hardly a solution, you say, and I agree, however it is the way of the musical world and why the wonderful players play so well…intune, and everything else.
For some, it comes very easily, for the ear is magic in the brain of one who simply does it. The quest for a good sound is solved and with it, the intonational problems that one faces on the way.
Although I have had a teaching career teaching certain methods using certain books, the young player who can play is so gifted. Don’t dismiss me quickly for that is my experience for many years.
One can site example after example of certain clarinetists, very well known for their recital playing who have not been hired during a trial week or two in a solidly disciplined orchestra, or who have, then been dismissed when refusing or being unable to adjust to the other principals who have played together for years.
In my own recital playing I learned that there was a certain tuner of pianos, a simply great one, who tuned for me. He would get with me prior to the first rehearsal or perhaps during same and make both notations and comments to us both, and yes, he would tune for me. I am not sure how beautiful lor ugly the intonation was, however it was a pleasure to play with a piano that GL tuned.
Was it for me, or did I play well enough intune for him to tune the piano, for he refused many?
I cannot remember the amount of change in the A there was during a performance of the Boston Symphony, however the figures were truly staggering. And yet, that is one of the orchestras that plays superbly intune.
I still feel it is but an illusion,roughly analagous with “depth of field” in photograhy, that amount of the photo that is clear enough to be called clear and distinct.
Just a few stray puffs to think about.

Happy Holidays,
Sherman Friedland


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