My old high school calls me once a year… to sit on a sort-of Dragon’s Den panel thing… where all the students in business classes come up with business ideas and business plans, and the top 5 projects get presented to a panel of Dragons, much like the TV show of the same name. They do their business pitch, and the panel decides on the winner. Fun, interesting… and encouraging. There are some very bright, and soon-to-be successful kids coming down the pipe.
The winning pitch a few years ago was an App — ringtones that only young people could hear. Those higher frequencies, above 17.5KHz… most of us can hear them when we’re young… but by the time you hit 40, the ability goes away. The older you get, the farther down that number drops… below 15KHz and downwards. The presentation and demonstration were great; a bunch of blindfolded kids all putting their arms up in unison when the ringtone was activated; the rest of us unable to hear a thing. But the thing has other uses too — I used to use it to annoy my kids or get their attention. For those who can hear it, it’s loud and annoying, a super-high-pitched squeal that drives young people crazy. And nobody else can hear a thing.
It reminds me… a technology that didn’t exist when I was a kid… and has now cycled through to obsolescence… CDs, which were designed so that nobody would miss hearing a thing… 44.1KHz means 22,500Hz per stereo channel, more than enough frequency range for any human, and even more than enough for dogs to be able to hear that final note in “A Day in the Life”.
It’s also interesting that the standardized length of an audio CD, around 74-80 minutes (650-700MB)… was decided-upon because someone insisted that a full recording of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony must be able to fit. Recordings of that Symphony range from 70 to 79 minutes, so it’s all good.
And what’s further interesting is that by the time Beethoven wrote that symphony, he’d already lost most of his hearing. It’s beyond comprehension… perhaps the greatest piece of music ever written… by someone who never actually heard it. There are many stories about the premiere of that piece, in 1824… where Beethoven himself insisted on conducting, the equivalent of a blind air-traffic controller armed only with binoculars and a megaphone. Nevertheless, it was Beethoven, so he was given the podium, and threw himself into the role with great relish. The musicians ignored him and kept their eyes on someone else, who quietly conducted from elsewhere. The result of that was… that by the time the piece was finished, Beethoven was still a few bars behind, caught up in the version playing through his head… and he was still conducting while the audience was giving him the first of five full enthusiastic, jubilant standing ovations. At some point, one of the musicians stood up and turned him around, so he could see and appreciate the well-deserved cheers and applause. He couldn’t hear it, but he could see it, including hats and handkerchiefs being thrown in the air, arms waving wildly around… the whole thing was a tremendous success.
Indeed, it’s possible to have great success, even when the conductor doesn’t know what’s going on. Even when all he’s listening to are voices in his head.
There are too many examples… heads of state… governors… Swedish head epidemiologists, etc… a long list of conductors that are out of sync with their respective orchestras… and this is where the metaphor breaks down, because there’s no other conductor off to the side. Because the music isn’t so great. While the varying orchestras may be marching to a different beat, at the end of the day, they sound like one voice. And what does that voice sound like? In many cases, it’s numbers… not notes. And not great numbers when you start looking around at places that haven’t managed things well, or that have started opening up before they should’ve. Yesterday saw surges or record highs in Oregon, California, Arkansas, Arizona, Texas, North Carolina, and Florida. Russia and India have seen surges. Also, Summer up here means Winter south of the equator. Brazil is a mess, and getting worse. Peru and Chile are seeing some pretty ugly numbers. Ugh.
Around here, some room for optimism… for Canada overall, over the last few weeks, a slow but steady decline in new cases. The Time To Double has gone from 53 days to around 130. Ontario’s TTD three weeks ago was around 39. Today it’s around 100. And both Quebec and B.C., over the last week, have averaged a TTD of around 175. All very far cries from the early days of this pandemic where TTDs of 3 were not uncommon.
Let’s just keep in mind… this symphony isn’t over. We may have reached the first pause, between the first and second movements. But let’s also remember the rules of classical music etiquette… you never applaud between movements. You wait until the whole thing is over before you stand up and give it the final applause of great success.