We are in the process of creating a standardized policy for requests for alternative tunings (either pitching pianos at other than A=440 or thereabouts, or a tuning system other than Equal Temperament).
As part of this process, we would like to know what policies are in place in that regard at your music school, conservatory or concert venues.
Thanks for your comment, Wim, but I was looking for policies with regard to alternate tunings, not extended piano techniques.
My thought is, if the piano is not going to be at that pitch / temperament permanently, the artist needs to pay for a special request tuning accordingly, then pay for it to be tuned back so others can use it normally. Practically, this means a bare minimum of two tunings to fulfill this request. Maybe as much as four - one to get it to the new pitch / temperament, one to stabilize it, one to return it to standard, and one more to stabilize it.
------------------------------Benjamin Sanchez, RPTPiano Technician / Artisan(256) 947-9999www.professional-piano-services.com------------------------------
------------------------------Alan Eder, RPTHerb Alpert School of MusicCalifornia Institute of the ArtsValencia, CA661.904.6483------------------------------
I agree with your take on this, Ben, and would add that a round trip there and back again would require a MINIMUM of four tunings total, often more than that.
Also, considerable time may be needed to realize the tuning system based on what information the composer or performer provides. In my experience, all too often this information is inadequate, a problem stemming from the fact that the party making the request does not know some basic acoustics, and/or what inharmonicity is, and/or does not realize that all pianos are not tuned the same, and/or is unfamiliar with Pythagoras.
Back question central to the OP, do you have pianos under your care for which people have requested alternative tunings for performance and/or recordings? And if so, what is the policy in this connection?
------------------------------Benjamin Sanchez, RPTPiano Technician / Artisan(256) 947-9999www.professional-piano-services.comOriginal Message:Sent: 11-30-2023 07:44From: Alan EderSubject: Alternative Tuning Requests
Thanks for your point about pitch. Yes, there are two issues with regard to alternate tunings: temperament and pitch.
If someone wants to play quarter-tone music, that will involve two pianos, one of which will be tuned 50 cents flat. While that is a large tension change for the -50 instrument, the temperament is still a known, so no extra time needed to deal with that aspect.
I should clarify that when I say A=440, our practice is to keep the pianos between 440 and 442, wherever they will be most stable at any given time of year. Anything higher or lower than that falls into the range of "alternative."
As for historical temperaments, we regularly keep one of our harpsichords at 440 in Valotti at 440 and the other in 1/6 comma Meantone at 415 (achieved with a transposing keyboard). Haven't yet had a request to have a piano tuned to an historic temperament, but it could happen tomorrow...
While we don't have a policy here, it is becoming more requested, as is extended piano prep and it falls within the document I am in the process of creating, a draft of which I shared with you. If you do come up with a policy, would you mind sharing it with me so I can include that as part of the new policy document? Thanks so much.
I most certainly will share whatever policy we come up with. I have drafted something and will soon be meeting with our dean about it. Since changing pitch and/or temperament involves some time (and in certain instances, a LOT of time), either regular piano maintenance will be shorted, or someone has to pay for it. This extra time should, of course, not simply be an added burden for the piano tech.
Alan: I have always been open to these requests. We are a School of Music, not a Museum of Past Practices. It starts with a conversation with the performers about what they need, and then we figure out which piano to use. Depending on how exotic the temperament is, 6 tunings seems likely, but more if they need an instrument to rehearse with. Often that can be handled by a digital keyboard, but not always. Two years ago a former student came back to NIU to play a piece with piano tuned to Slendro scale for Gamelan. Pretty wild, so we used a Kawai upright for that project. There were maybe 10 tunings involved, result was quite a good performance, was not hard to do , though Verituner sometimes had issues with which note it was tuning. The instructions in cents deviation was not super precise, but that doesn't matter- neither is a gamelan tuning. Octaves were just clean- and non altered notes were muted so they wouldn't ring out of tune with the altered notes. I could have done the tuning on one of the concert grands but they were both pretty busy at that time in the calendar and performers were just thrilled to have an acoustic piano of any type for the performance. That's how we handle these requests. Start with a conversation, and have the ability to say no if it messes up things for the rest of the school. I have never had to say no, but can if need be.
Any chance the piece you tuned to a Balinese slender scale was composed by Bill Alves? Decades ago, we did a concerto of his for piano and our gamelan. Cool sounding piece in the end, but it took a lot of time turning a cool concept into hard reality. From what I was able to surmise, no two gamelans are pitched exactly the same or tuned to precisely the same temperament. Add to that the fact that most gamelan instruments come in pairs that are deliberately "de-tuned. (When I was a student at CalArts, I asked our gamelan master, I Nyoman Wenten, why the paired instruments were not tuned together. I'll never forget his answer, "If they were tuned together how would you know there was more than one of them?" This aesthetic is a world away from the ideal of twenty violins trying to sound like one big violin.)
David--"We are a School of Music, not a Museum of Past Practices". I think I will avoid saying anything of the sort to the Musicology faculty here!! LOL Here at U of O they even have their own building, Collier House, and are know here as the Collierites!! But I digress.
We are fortunate to have a dedicated "extended techniques" piano, a Steinway D, which takes the brunt of the service. I have recently had a request to tune the piano to Kellner to match the organ for a piano and organ piece. As suggested above it's not a big deal to change temperaments to most of the historically based tunings. We also have two historically based pianos pitched lower to accommodate such needs
As for policy we have been using the policy found on the CAUT page and generated as I recall by BYU and altered to our own needs. It gives us some clout, as a group, to support or decline any requests. I work with a production team that includes the stage manager, scheduler, building manager and recording staff. Together we are able to make these decisions without making any one person the spoiler. One of the concerns we have with so many events at once is the possibility of having a piano that doesn't match it's partner in a two piano event. It's just a matter of coordinating the service to accommodate various events. Some advance planning usually solves the issue.
We also have a "fines and fees" schedule for charges to anyone wishing special services. As we are a state school we can't charge for things not on the list. The above has served as a reminder to update that schedule to include tuning to other temperaments/pitches.
It's good to hear that musicians are exploring and schools are perhaps more open to expanding the range of acoustic sound.
I have wondered about the educational possibilities of the Keybird piano, a small, single strung vertical piano, capable, according to the company, of being tuned by the player.
It looks like the cost, delivered to the US, would be about $4000.