Sunday, December 06, 2009

low notes

For some time now I've been trying to figure out if we could make some lower notes to go with my pipe chimes. It's fun to be able to include harmony, so I figured more harmony would be even more fun. Our ward Christmas party is coming up, and I said I would get some people together to play a song.

We found this file which gives the lengths for the octave below middle C, in 3/4" pipe. (These directions have the pipes suspended with rubber bands rather than drilled and hung, but the measurements are the same.)

Problem: the list is missing a few notes (C sharp, A flat, E flat). We found a formula here but I didn't think I was up to the challenge of actually using it to figure anything out. Fortunately I just happen to know someone who is both mathematical and musical. I dashed off an email to Helen Chick explaining the problem. We met Helen when she was attending our (church) branch in St. John's, Newfoundland, while on sabbatical at Memorial University there. She's from Tasmania and is a professor of mathematics. (She's currently on sabbatical at Oxford and blogging about it. Hi Helen!) Well, she not only filled in the missing notes, she made me a spread sheet where I could enter the length for the lowest note, and it would calculate a full three octaves above that, as well as calculating the node--22.4% from the end--the ideal place to drill for the best sound. Amazing.

Tim Beecher helped us with the cutting and drilling. I say "helped," but he did all the actual cutting and drilling. I wasn't sure what tools would be needed but it wasn't quite as complicated as I'd thought, just time-consuming. We ended up going over to the Beechers' and using up good chunks of their evenings on two different occasions.

I got some copper pipe first. I had read that copper produced a mellower sound. What we discovered was that "mellow" apparently means "not clear," and with the muddiness and all the overtones, we found it very difficult to tell if the pipe was actually making the right note. We cut about six pipes but I wasn't really happy with them.

So next I got some of the other stuff (galvanized?)--which is a lot cheaper, anyway, should have just started with that--and it worked great. In the interests of time, though, I decided that instead of creating the entire bass clef I would pick a song and concentrate on getting those notes first. That was a tough choice. I decided to go with "Silent Night," but I find myself afflicted with something like buyer's remorse and keep wishing I'd picked something else instead. (Next year!)

The two pipes on the right are the highest and lowest notes from the set Helen Vernon made for me. My #1 is a B flat below middle C, but the set my mom got (from goes down to A, which is #0. So now I have an A, too. You can see how huge the new ones are. They're louder, too. This may present a difficulty if they just completely overpower the melody.

Andy thinks the pipes are pretty cool!

We practiced last night. I sent out an email and got just barely enough people. Jeanette, Amanda, and Jill were all in the group that got together last year, and then we didn't get to play because there was a big storm and our Christmas party was canceled. Tim Beecher and son Jesse came, and also Alixandria, who's twelve. We went through "Silent Night" till we all felt comfortable with it, and then played some of the other songs that I had written out, just for fun. I think everyone enjoyed it. I'd like to be able to do this more often, and not just at Christmas.

This has been quite the group effort, and definitely a learning experience for me! Now I have to figure out what to do with these copper pipes that I'm not using. Anyone want to make some really big wind chimes?


Kathey said...

Helena, that is so cool! I'm glad you got to make those pipes. Helen is amazing. :D

aaron&marianne said...


Helen in Australia (via Oxford) said...

Oh wow. So glad they worked out, and I love the group effort involved (I've always felt choirs and orchestras are the ultimate team "sport"). So now, are you going to record "Silent Night" so we can hear them?!

Amy Sorensen said...

That is AWESOME! I am impressed, and slightly envious. Of course, since I know zippo about music, I wouldn't know what to do with them anyway!

Hope your performance goes well!

Kathryn said...

If the new pipes are louder, maybe use a different mallet for them? Something with a softer end? Felt? Rubber?
Maybe you could get a recording for us to hear when you get the song all figured out!