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May 25, 2005
Vol. V, No. 12

"Mission: Possible"
Knock, knock.
Who's there?
Ivory-billed Woodpecker.
Ivory-billed Woodpecker who?
Ivory-billed Woodpecker back from extinction, that's who!

That's right, 60 years after the last reported sighting, Ivory-billed Woodpeckers have been spotted in a swamp in Arkansas.
I became a semi-serious birdwatcher at an early age and you just never expect to see a bird come back from extinction. Speaking of birds that will probably never see the light of day again, what ever happened to Woody Woodpecker? Oh, sure, he was a little mean but it was all in good fun and that was back when cartoons looked like cartoons, not real life. You know, back when cartoons were funny.

Before I get too far off the track, I brought up the Ivory-billed Woodpecker because it was one of two pieces of information that I received last month that "rocked my world." The other piece of earth-shaking information came from community member Brad Lehman, informing me that he had rediscovered the long-lost tuning system used by Bach.
I was, at first, skeptical because while there had been clues gleaned from various writings, it was long accepted that Bach's tuning system, like his registrations and much other information, was lost forever.

I always wondered about Bach's switch to equal temperament. I assumed he must have badly wanted to expand his modulation capabilities to be willing to give up writing in unequal temperaments with the usable keys having all those interesting individual characteristics. It's long been assumed that Bach composed The Well-Tempered Clavier to show off his conversion to equal temperament and the consequent ability to compose in all keys. But if that was the case, why didn't he call it the Equal-Tempered Clavier? Also, why have a different piece for every key? What are you showing off? The keys are all equal so you should be able to play any of the pieces in any key. Or why not just compose one piece that can be played in every key or one that modulates through every key. No, it makes sense that Bach wrote all those pieces because each of the keys sounded differently to him. This alone points to a tuning system.

Brad's discovery unfolds like a Da Vinci Code for musicians with the main clue sitting right in front of our noses for over 250 years. I don't want to spoil the story so I'll simply start you in the right direction. Part 1 of Brad's story appears in the February 2005 issue of Early Music magazine. Part 2 will appear in the May 2005 issue.

If you find this too technical, there is an introductory article on Brad's website that is quite an enjoyable read:

This tuning system has already been used in an organ installation (see Organ Links below) and Brad's website has samples to listen to (see Featured Links below)

Whether the ivory bill of a woodpecker or the ivory keys of Bach, what I've learned from these two very different subjects is that sometimes the impossible IS possible.

Click this link to read comments and offer your own:

Updated Pages
Organ Links:
Added is the Taylor & Boody organ (with Bach's tuning) in Rieth Recital Hall at Goshen College, in Goshen, Indiana. Also added is the Andover organ in St. Michael's Episcopal Church of Orlando, Florida.

Featured Links:
Added is where you can learn about JS Bach's long lost tuning system and its rediscovery by Bradley Lehman.

Articles Library:
Added is "Bach ground: Unique tuning of new Goshen College organ reverberates through classical music world" by Marilyn Odendahl, The Truth, March 22, 2005. "Perched in the balcony, the new organ at Goshen College looks as majestic as any other but its sound may be closer to what Johann Sebastian Bach heard during his lifetime. The organ, installed in December, is tuned to a system that Goshen College alumnus Bradley Lehman claims was developed and favored by the Bach family. This is the first organ in the world tuned to the Bach-Lehman system. Moreover, with organ building being what it is, the tuning system is pretty much a permanent fixture to that instrument and, as word of the new temperament circulates, the organ and its tuning could be toasted or roasted in the musical world."

RAMPAGE FLASHBACK (It was four years ago today, about)
Making Mary Shelley Proud! May 17, 2001
The issue of electronic sound enhancements to pipe organs popped up in an article I read recently. The article was actually an overview of the Associated Pipe Organ Builders of America (APOBA) by its president, Mr. Charles Hendrickson. Toward the end of the article, Mr. Hendrickson mentioned that after years of debating the electronic sound enhancement issue, APOBA had finally established a policy that endorsed "organs with pipes."
Click the following link for more:


Have a great week!

Dan Long

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