My mother told me about an old friend the other day. He’s an orchestra teacher at a suburban school in Kansas, and during his hour-long orchestra classes he spends the first fifteen minutes tuning instruments. I can only imagine how tedious and what an assault on the ears that must be. As I’ve just been thinking about it, a fuzzy but definite memory from my time playing as a child has come back. I remember being told by the powers that be, likely the nameless, faceless, genderless, victim-of-my-memory strings teacher, not to touch the pegs; we were only allowed to turn the fine tuners on our Wichita Public Schools rental instruments.
I do remember doing it myself, to some extent – tuning by my mother’s piano, and by the piano in the orchestra room (AKA the cafeteria). I also seem to remember tuning by a little pitch pipe I had – I think it came with my violin. Basically, I remember thinking the whole tuning process was scary – the possibility of breaking a string loomed large. Now that I know my friend’s plight, I’m forced to wonder if my old orchestra teacher did not deal well with the stress of tuning so many beginner instruments all the time!
The pegs still cause me some stress. When I stepped up from my rental to my father-in-law’s instrument I gave up my fine tuners, except for the one on the E string. The instrument holds a tune fairly well, but I almost always have to make some minor adjustments. I have an Android tuner ap that I’m using, though, as I mentioned in my Stuff post a few days back, I’m getting annoyed with its desire to show me ads, and I want a new one. The ap works well though – it pitches G, D, A, and E at me, it “listens” and flashes green when one of the strings is in tune, providing a readout of the frequency of the string’s vibration, and it also has a metronome.
Yesterday in my lesson, my tuning self-consciousness got the best of me and I broke down and asked Teacher if she thought my violin’s pegs were fine – I know there is some stuff you can put on the pegs. I’m not sure whether it’s lubricant or, on the other side of the coin, something that keeps them in place, but I know it’s stuff and, again, I like stuff, so wondered if I needed some. Teacher called it a “compound,” and I didn’t ask a follow-up, but she reported, after shouldering the instrument, turning the pegs, and retuning the strings, that she thought they were just fine. Her technique for tuning makes my mouth water. I always hold the instrument with both hands, carefully pushing while turning, barely giving myself permission to do it all the while. She keeps it on her shoulder, using one hand to turn the peg while continuously bowing. I don’t know how she manages to turn and push the peg with one hand – It seems nearly impossible to me, but I might start practicing how to do that soon.
One thing I will not be practicing soon, however, is tuning large roomfuls of children’s instruments!
Thanks for reading.