Who gives the A If there is no Oboe?

December 5, 2018, 9:15 PM · I'll be concertmaster of my school symphony. We have every band instrument but the oboe, contrabassoon and English horn. Who gives the first and second A for the band?

Replies (29)

December 5, 2018, 9:36 PM · Most likely either the principal clarinet, or you.
December 5, 2018, 10:36 PM · Y'all tune beforehand, off stage, using phone apps. Then the CM "tunes" the orchestra on stage as a quaint and very fake ritual.
December 6, 2018, 12:03 AM · Probably you as concertmaster like Mary Ellen said, unless there's a piano or some fixed pitch instrument, in which case you get the A from piano, and then orchestra gets A from you, or everyone gets the A from the piano directly.

Um, I don't think tuning is ever quaint or fake...maybe in bad orchestras where people don't really listen well...

December 6, 2018, 12:04 AM · Both Mary Ellen and Paul are correct. :-)

Actually, it's not always entirely fake. I've had situations where I've gestured for the oboe to give another A and a section to retune again because I can hear an instrument that isn't actually dialed into the right A.

December 6, 2018, 12:06 AM · had this happen in a youth symphony rehearsal before. all of the oboes were gone that day, along with most clarinets and flutes and all bassoons. we were left with four woodwinds and nearly a full brass section. they had me give the A and it wasn't a particularly successful tuning experience
December 6, 2018, 2:41 AM · No contrabassoon? You must be really threadbare!
December 6, 2018, 4:07 AM · Phone app???
I've got a fork.
To the oboe - Can we have another A
or preferably the same one again.
As Beecham once said (after a not very good A from the oboe)
"There you are, gentlemen. Take your pick"
December 6, 2018, 4:33 AM · In one 50-piece community orchestra I play in, the start-up tuning protocol is a B-flat by the oboe for the brass and woodwind, followed by an oboe A for the cellos and violas, and then the upper strings last. The double basses apparently make their own arrangements. Later re-tunes during rehearsal or a performance are by the orchestra as a whole.

Other orchestras, such as the chamber orchestra, tune as one from an A provided by the CM or oboe, as appropriate.

December 6, 2018, 5:15 AM · In both of the orchestras I play in, the first substitute if no oboist is present is a clarinet, and if no clarinets are present then the concertmaster is next in line.

(I've never seen either of my current orchestras completely missing a wind instrument due to musicians skipping rehearsals, but sometimes pieces are scored without oboes and/or clarinets.)

Edited: December 6, 2018, 5:26 AM · Oh, and I've played in one of those bad orchestras Dorian refers to. They weren't not fake-tuning... in fact, tuning often took up to 15 minutes because each instrument in the winds and brass got a separate A, each string section had a separate A, the second violin and cello sections would tune one stand at a time because it was the only way to get them in tune, and the concertmaster would direct individuals to tune up or down in almost every rehearsal.

If you think it sounds excruciating... it was.

Edited: December 6, 2018, 5:29 AM · Once upon a time at our uke group a pro violist (who is now my violin teacher) turned up to slum it. We two were early and she wanted to tune her uke to mine. I told her it would be better to wait until a few more people arrived and then take an average.
Edited: December 6, 2018, 6:37 AM · Malcolm said he uses a tuning fork. Well, the OP is in a school orchestra. I have NEVER seen a teenager use a tuning fork. Andrew H's situation is not that uncommon. A lot of community orchestras have elderly players whose hands have long since lost the ability to wrestle with their tuning pegs. But the solution is to find a room offstage where you can form a "tuning line" where there is an electronic tuner and someone sitting there to help. Why they don't get gear pegs I'll never know.
December 6, 2018, 10:57 AM · I say, have someone with perfect pitch hum an A.
December 6, 2018, 11:23 AM · Never seen a teenager use a tuning fork? I can record a video and send it to you, if you want. It's rare, but not very interesting.
December 6, 2018, 11:57 AM · I've given an A, but never given a F.
Edited: December 6, 2018, 12:04 PM · I've still got the Hohner A440 tuning fork I bought in 1974 as a 14-year-old oboist.

In serious answer to the question, I really don't have a clue. But a possible answer is the leader of the orchestra (if there's no piano). I have zero idea what a "concert-master" is. Is it an American thing? Do you know what the leader of the orchestra is? It's the head of the first violin section.

December 6, 2018, 12:17 PM · Leader = concertmaster
December 6, 2018, 3:02 PM · Tom I feel like that might be unreliable, especially in a high school orchestra...

As concertmaster you'll probably do it.

December 6, 2018, 3:39 PM · Cotton thanks for the offer but my own kids know how to use tuning forks. However when they go to rehearsals they use phone or tuner.
December 6, 2018, 8:48 PM · The community orchestra I am in rehearses once a week without the brass and wood winds.

When our concertmaster misses one of those rehearsals, I, as the acting concertmaster, get my A from a phone app, then tune the orchestra as a quaint and for some still very real ritual : )

December 7, 2018, 6:11 PM · In my community orchestra, the conductor said the same as Paul; tune beforehand using a phone app, all four strings. The final tuning to the oboe is mostly, mostly, for show.
December 8, 2018, 12:00 AM · Tune the A to the phone app.

Then tune the other strings by fifths, starting with tuning the D to the A.

December 8, 2018, 4:00 AM · I bought a few A440 tuning forks recently on Amazon. Two (Planet Waves and a dirt-cheap Chinese Kasstino) were perfect. The third, a Sodial, was 450Hz according to my Snark! I don't own a smartphone.
Edited: December 8, 2018, 9:47 AM · David Finckel, former cellist with the Emerson Quartet, and currently co-director of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center has written that the Emerson used to tune to a tuner - it avoided arguments. But I did not learn what "tuning system" they used.

There are problems if strings tune to "perfect" fifths and then play with a piano tuned in equal temperament. (G strings seem close enough in fifths to the 440 based A, but the viola and cello C strings are off enough to be noticed. It all comes down to whether or not the violas or cellos ever have to play their open C string.

December 8, 2018, 10:24 AM · For chamber music, my usual solution is to tune my D and G strings in perfect 5ths so they are in tune with the violins, and then use a phone app to tune my C string to an equal-temperament 5th below the G string.
Edited: December 8, 2018, 11:12 AM · shoot the pianist.
December 8, 2018, 12:49 PM · Actually I agree with Mary Ellen. It's how I do it, but it's not what the conductor recommended. It's an equal temperament issue. Tuning the other strings by ear gives you perfect fifths, a bit wider than what the app will give you. So if you use open strings and you've tuned all four by the app maybe you'll be better in tune with the winds than if you tuned perfect fifths. Same with a piano tuned in equal temperament.
Edited: December 8, 2018, 2:27 PM · If a viola (and cello for that matter) are tuned in perfect fifths in a string quartet environment the E harmonics of the C strings of those instruments will clash with the open E of the violins.

Applying a little bit of math to this (no apology for that, folks!) the frequency of a violin's open E tuned in perfect 5ths is 660Hz, and the frequency of the corresponding E harmonic from a viola that is also tuned in perfect 5ths is 652Hz. On good instruments the clash between the two will be audible. The answer is to tune the C-strings of the viola and cello just a shade sharp. The easy way to do this is to play the E harmonic on the C and tune the string up until the harmonic coincides with the violin open E.

Similarly on a violin tuned precisely in perfect 5ths, the B harmonic on the G string is slightly flatter than the B harmonic of the E string, so it may be advisable in some pieces to tune the G slightly sharp (from 195.6Hz to 198Hz) to give the correct resonance with the E's B harmonic.

It is noticeable that players with good ears will naturally play the major third (the B) in the key of G on the E string slightly flatter than the position of the B harmonic, but when playing in the key of A on the E string they will play the B coincident with the position of the B harmonic.

Edited: December 9, 2018, 6:10 AM · Some years ago, when on holiday in Ireland, I attended the finals of an important harp competition. I think the 1st prize was €6000, so it was not inconsiderable.

There were 6 finalists and they all tuned and warmed up off-stage before they came on to play their individual pieces. Five of them checked their tuning by ear when they came on stage, and the sound they were producing sounded pretty good. The sixth harpist came on and checked her tuning as did the others, but with an electronic tuner and not by ear. People in the audience turned to each other, whispers went round the hall, and the adjudicator's face turned to stone.

Because of that electronic tuning the sound of that player's harp lost a lot of its resonance and its intonation was dreadful compared with the smoothness of the others. It was no surprise to us when the unfortunate lady received the lowest marks of the competition and did not stay for the awards ceremony.

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