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The Forth in Praise Organists' Blog

The personal views of a Catholic parish organist

August 28, 2011

The Transposing Problem

evelyn @ 8:52 pm

Like the majority of humankind, I don’t have perfect pitch. So why is it that whenever I have to make use of the transposing facility on electronic organs, I mess it up time after time after time?

A couple of posts ago, I related how, when visiting another church, I forgot to lower the pitch of an electronic organ for a contralto cantor. Today, in my own church, I had our soprano soloist singing in her boots. This was after a practice in my own home, where I actually have an electronic organ with a transposing knob.

We had decided that 3 semitones higher would do nicely. ‘Isn’t it lucky’, said I, ‘that we are using the small organ in church just now?’ (Pipe organ is all covered up while a new heating system is being installed).

So when the time came for the solo, what happened? I FORGOT. As soon as I started I realised, but by then it was too late. When she finished, I apologised quietly, and suggested that she might sing another verse in the correct key, turning the transposing knob as I spoke and playing a few chords in the should-have-been key. ‘No,’ she said. ‘Just leave it.’ And I didn’t blame her.

So I started the Communion hymn, but FORGOT to turn the knob back down. The hymn was ‘Sweet Sacrament divine’, which has D as its highest (written) note. The entire congregation was therefore straining to reach high F (and in many cases succeeding – good for them). I was still pondering the soloist business, and the agony going on in the background wasn’t penetrating my consciousness at all.

It wasn’t until I started to introduce the final hymn that I became aware that something was seriously wrong. The tune was Repton, and if I’d continued, the high G flats could well have caused throat injuries. So I just had to turn the knob back down as I played. After a few moments of wildly-chromatic churning, the introduction settled into a definite E flat major tonality. To which, amazingly, they responded.

Is there an opposite of perfect pitch, I wonder? I don’t mean tone-deafness, but just the inability to realise quite how far away from A=440 one is? If there is, I must be a prime example.

Of course, it would help if I did some marking on the copy to assist my memory.


  1. I believe that’s called a bad day at the office… 😀

    Comment by Anthony Stell — August 29, 2011 @ 3:43 am

  2. Not to worry Evelyn, it was alright on the night!! I should have smoked a Havana Cigar before singing, that’s all…. ha ha!

    Comment by Justine — August 31, 2011 @ 10:08 am

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