Friday, January 23, 2009

Finger-synching at the inauguration

If you play Irish tunes, you're likely to get a few calls around March 17th. Some of those calls may involve outdoor events, parades, that kind of thing. If you live in New England, some of those March 17ths are going to be pretty chilly. You'll learn from that about doing music under adverse conditions, finger-tip-less gloves, the way that cold weather hurts your instruments or their tuning, or not. (Most Irish fiddle players use steel strings, which would be less affected by cold weather than the gut strings used by classical players. Thought I'd mention that up front, so as not to have to explain it later.)

If you play classical music, it's probably unlikely that you'll get those calls. So you may never learn those things. More on this at Althouse: "Yo-Yo Ma and Itzhak Perlman faked it." With a few pithy comments by yours truly.

It amazes me how many people will comment on a post about a specific article without reading the article. Note all the concern exhibited by some commenters for the fabulously rare, old, valuable instruments, when it was made clear in the linked article that those instruments were not even on the scene.

Side ♪: If you own an instrument that's mostly made of wood and glue, such as a guitar or violin, it may be better off in the barn (or garage, or trunk of the car) than in the house in winter. Why is this? Central heating and insulation. A piece of wood will expand in size as it absorbs moisture, decrease in size as it dries out. Modern houses are pretty well weather-stripped, so that when the heat is on in winter, the humidity indoors can get down to 10% or less. It's a safe bet that the instrument was assembled under conditions of greater humidity than that. The wood will lose moisture to the dry air, and the individual pieces will shrink — away from the glue joints. Each piece of your guitar or violin will be trying to go its own way. In the barn, without central heating and with the wind whistling through the boards, ambient humidity rules. If it gets really cold, you might get some finish checking (but you can steal a word from the antiquarians, and call it craquelure). Still, your instrument is better off with a slightly more, um, interesting finish, than it would be in its component parts. Or you could use a humidifier. Many years ago, we'd cut a potato or an apple in half, put one half in the case with the instrument, and eat the other half. Change it for a new one when it got shriveled. More recently, when I worked at a music school, our pianos had humidifiers attached. It was time to fill the reservoir when the yellow or the red LED was lit. The piano teachers never checked those, gosh, I wonder why. Artistic temperament, I suppose. A guitarist is more — ahem — attuned to instrument maintenance. When was the last time you met a piano player who had to change her own strings, or even tune them?


blake said...

See, that's something more to think about.

We pretty much keep indoors the same temp as outdoors here. Cooler in the hot summer, slightly warmer in the mild winter.

Almost never any humidity to speak of.

Hector Owen said...

You're in or near L.A., I believe. 28% right now. That's comfortable, and considerably more than "never any." Not trying to pick a fight about the L.A. weather, which during brief visits I have always found pleasant.

I'm told that Martin keeps the guitar factory right around 50% (splitting the difference).

Here in New England we often hit stretches of higher than 80% for weeks at a time during the warm months. So an instrument can go from well-humidified (darn close to wet) to really dry on an annual cycle.

blake said...

Hyperbole, you understand.

Though most days of the year you can spill a glass of water and the puddle will be gone before you can get back with a towel.