Tenor Finds His Pitch

& Hopes it Might Help Other Choir Members

tenorIn 1975 Director King Findlay asked me if I’d like to be in the Church choir.
The first song we sang was “Sine Nomine.”
About a year later we sang the song again,
and to my chagrin,
I discovered that I had been singing the soprano line!
For me the song should have been called “Sine Pitch!”


On top of that, it turned out that King had only invited me to sing in the choir because he mistakenly thought I had sung in the Church’s college choir.  Actually I was a choir wannabe without star credentials who you’d want tenor twenty feet away!

Forty-one years of various choirs later, including singing in the Pasadena Centennial Choir, festival choirs and in foreign lands, and 37 years dabbling at the piano, I still have a challenging time finding my opening note of a piece.   When the helpful pianist plays the four part notes and the director says “Find your note,”  no matter how hard I stress or strive, the note I find is the last one played:  the soprano/melody line.  Warmup exercises in four parts leave me cold turkey unless there is a strong tenor nearby.

The nicest situation is when I have a right-on-pitch tenor on both ears.  Then I can sing confidently right on pitch and loud.

Trouble is, in practices I am often the only tenor and have to find the pitch for myself.  That usually means practicing the piece over and over until the opening tenor part becomes the melody line for me.  Even then it doesn’t take much to lure me off pitch, challenged to find my way back.

BUT … recently I found

A breakthrough solution

which might benefit other pitch-deficient choir members.

The sheet music said the melody line for the very familiar song, “The Lord Is My Shepherd,” starts with middle C and G.  But tenors start A below middle C and then sing the C.   Sometimes I can hear harmony going up but never going below.  I’d play the notes on my piano again and again but still couldn’t consistently find them when the piano would play the intro.

BacharachThat is, until I just happened to notice that the opening tenor note was the same sound as the word “Spread” in the song “Message to Michael” by my favorite composer, Burt Bacharach.  I can hit that pitch anytime I feel like singing “Spread your wings to New Orleans, Kentucky Bluebird, fly away.”

So now I can think “Spread” in my head and then make that my pitch for “The … Lord is my shepherd.  At the end of the song, at “the quiet waters by,” I can double check that I am still on pitch with the A by thinking of “Spread.”  One verse through I’m tuned in for all four verses.

This new “comparative” pitch technique should work in all the songs that come this tenor’s way.

It’s interesting to me now that John Schroeder, a Pasadena choir director, had used this same technique on me in the ’80s when he was trying his best—futilely—to help me pass his audition to be in the choir.  He would play four notes for me to sing back to him.  When I’d argue that I couldn’t do it, which I actually could have but was refusing to do because I was fearful of singing solo, John would say “C’mon, these are the same four notes in ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb.’”

Maybe this will help other choir members find their pitch.

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