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March 1963: Gimme an A.

We return to my grandpa’s journal of job-related facts and random trivia for another nugget.

I always enjoy finding some topic or trivia fact of my grandfather’s that interests me too.

The factoid about stacked Life magazines from my last post wasn’t really one of those; I don’t have a personal relationship with Life magazine.

I do have a personal relationship with music. I play it sometimes. I listen to it a lot. I like learning about the technical details of making it, and about the lightning flashes of creativity that also make it happen.

My grandpa was in the same place. So I imagine the tidbit at the heart of this post grabbed his brain in much the same way it grabbed mine, and inspired some of the same thoughts and questions:

aabovemiddlec

Non-musical readers might wonder what the big deal is about the A note above middle C (as in, the middle of the piano keyboard). To them, it might seem like just one among the 88 notes on a standard piano.

That particular note has a special importance to musicians and those who build and tune instruments.

A at the frequency of 440 hertz has been endorsed (though not universally adopted — more on that later) as an international pitch standard for the tuning of instruments. It’s such a significant note, in fact, that it has its own Wikipedia entry.

Hundreds of years ago, there was no single tuning pitch, and the intonation of instruments could significantly vary even within the same city. The use of tuning forks did not help, as they were not all standardized at first.

There was also pressure over time to shift pitch upward. This favors stringed instruments (they sound “brighter” and more appealing at higher pitch) but challenges vocalists, who have to push to hit the notes.

Finally, movements arose in the 19th and 20th centuries to set a single consistent tuning pitch, known as “concert pitch.”

(The three preceding paragraphs are condensed from another Wiki entry on concert pitch, which fascinated me, and I think would have fascinated my grandfather if he’d had the chance to read it.)

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This all might seem arcane; and indeed, it is possible to enjoy music without thinking much about concert pitch.

Rock bands, especially those without keyboard players, have long been known to tune to non-standard pitches, principally for the comfort of their singers.

My dad, the saxophonist-slash-engineer, points out that variations in concert pitch are more serious business to people who play wind instruments. A clarinetist in an orchestra that changes from 440 Hz to 442 might have to have his or her instrument altered, and a larger change might require the purchase of a new clarinet.

My dad adds: “Somehow a “sharper” sound is preferred by some folks.  If you get used to a sharper tuning, old tunings (like the baroque tunings which I suspect almost anyone can detect as significantly “flatter”) sound somehow more lugubrious and ponderous.”

So variation in concert pitch might be most noticeable to classical musicians who need to adjust to differing standards … and to classical fans who buy two recordings of their favorite piece by different orchestras, play them back-to-back, and notice a curious difference in pace and intonation.

To some classical listeners, concert pitch is more than a trivial interest: It can be a yardstick of whether a reissued recording is faithful to the original performance.

Check out this Stereophile magazine review from earlier this year, in which the reviewer retracts his earlier endorsement of a Cleveland Orchestra recording because the reissue is mastered to 445 Hz instead of 440 — rendering the recording faster and sharper than the real-life performance.

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If you’re still reading, you’re probably wondering whether you can hear any difference in standard pitches. Let’s find out, shall we?

Here’s an A above middle C at 440 Hz …

… at 432 Hz …

… at 442 Hz …

… and at 415 Hz.

If you have trouble hearing the difference — or just want to have some fun — try running two of the pitches at the same time. You should hear audible “beats” between the two pitches.

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I’m not sure my grandpa knew the full, convoluted history of concert pitch.

If he had, he might not have been so struck by the Metropolitan Opera’s adoption of 442 Hz as a “new standard,” because he would have known that 440 Hz was by no means universal.

Although 440 Hz was endorsed as a U.S. standard in the late ’30s and an international standard in 1955, some major orchestras here and abroad continued to use concert pitches as high as 443 Hz — and still do.

Other sources argue for the use of 432 Hz, claiming it is more soothing and attuned to the spheres. (This post is long enough already so I’m not going any deeper into that, but you can Google it if you want.)

And those who play period instruments have adopted different concert pitches for different uses, which go as low as 415 Hz and as high as 470. (The low end of this range is the “baroque” tuning mentioned by my dad a couple hundred words ago.)

In August 1971, Time magazine — my grandpa’s former employer, and one of his favorite news sources — reported on the disagreement in an article titled “The Pitch Game.” I can’t read the whole thing without subscribing, but I’m sure it fascinated him, and I’m sure it reminded him of the nugget he’d written down in his notebook eight years earlier.

My dad suggests my grandpa took notice of the whole subject not because it affected his listening habits, but for other reasons:

I think he was generally interested in what he considered significant changes to standards in the world.  I think a pitch change might have been in the same ballpark as leaving the gold standard, replacing the voting machine, changing the size or makeup of a baseball, making a penny out of steel instead of copper (1943), these sorts of things.

# # # # #

 I found this subject interesting as well, 980 words ago.

But now I feel like cleaning out my brain with a little 4′ 33″. That doesn’t require adherence to any particular concert pitch.

Wonder if my grandpa ever heard of John Cage?

Time fades away.

No deep truths about my grandpa this week; just an errand that I think he would have enjoyed, even if it made him shake his head in disbelief.

Time Inc. will probably show up with some frequency in the remaining installments of Hope Street.

As mentioned last week, one of the new documents my folks unearthed is a journal in which my grandpa jotted down technical and scientific tidbits — mostly related to his job with Henry Luce’s magazine colossus.

This week we focus on a nugget that was almost certainly fed him by the company PR department. I do not think he figured it out himself — not because he wasn’t capable, but because he didn’t show his work, and he was a thorough sort.

102_1075

America’s weekly photo magazine was either on its way up when my grandpa wrote this undated entry, or on its way down.

The former is more likely. If Wiki is to be believed, Life’s circulation at one point soared as high as 13.5 million copies per week, and it was still printing 8.5 million copies a week as late as 1971 — the year before the classic version of the magazine ended its print run.

Measuring this week’s print run of Life, of course, is no more possible than measuring this week’s Nielsen rating for The Ed Sullivan Show. After being rebooted as a monthly magazine and a newspaper insert, the once-omnipresent rectangular red nameplate is no more.

(The Life name might still be used for those cheesy commemorative/”collectible” issues you see at grocery checkout counters. I don’t look closely at those so I don’t know for sure.)

Anyway, I decided to adapt this note to the year 2015, using a surviving stallion from the Time Inc. stable, and solve the kind of riddle my grandpa would have enjoyed turning his pencil to:

If all the issues of this week’s printing of Time magazine were piled one on top of another, how high would the pile reach?

Various sources, including Wiki, put Time’s 2014 paid circulation at roughly 3.29 million. I’ll round that up to a nice neat 3.3 million to make the math easier. (Time is, Wiki says, the nation’s second-most widely circulated weekly magazine, trailing only People.)

I will also assume “paid circulation” is acceptably equal to one week’s print run. Scholars of the print biz — and I know there is at least one in the crowd — can correct me if that is wrong, and I’ll redo the math.

The difficult part of the equation is measuring the height of a typical issue of Time: Like a $2 chicken dinner, it doesn’t stack up like it used to. My father suggested a micrometer might be needed to do the trick.

He stopped subscribing a few years ago. But in the name of science, he brought a ruler to his local library on my behalf and — while using his quiet voice, I’m sure — measured the height of the July 27 issue:

One-sixteenth of an inch.

So, then. 3.3 million copies multiplied by .0625 (that’s one-sixteenth) would make a stack 206,250 inches tall.

Divide that by 63,360 (the number of inches in a mile), and we find that one week’s stack of Times would measure slightly less than 3.26 miles high.

Not quite so impressive, is it? Hell, I can jog three-and-a-quarter miles. (Maybe not straight up.)

If you want to compare today’s Time with yesterday’s Life, that 22-mile stack of Lifes equaled 1,393,920 inches. If 7 million stacked issues of Life stretched 1,393,920 inches tall, then each issue stood roughly two-tenths of an inch high, back in the day.

(If your gut response to all this is to point out that an actual stack of millions of magazines would be shorter, because the weight and compression exerted on the issues would lead to measurable reduction in many of their heights, I will mail you a quarter, along with directions to the sense-of-humor shop.)

Unlike the Life days — when that 22-mile stack represented the magazine’s entire reach — today’s Time has an online presence as well. I’m sure there are well-paid industry consultants who can magic up a “formula” for how improbably high my Time-stack would be if I took online readers into account.

No matter. My grandpa would not be impressed by the state of today’s publishing industry. A stack three-and-a-quarter miles high might not even have impressed him enough to jot down in his notebook.

That’s life.

Mystery train.

As you might have guessed from my previous posts, I have a thing for New England.

Both of my parents and three of my four grandparents were born there. I went to college there; lived there for almost seven years afterward; and have gnashed my teeth a thousand times about my decision to move among the pierogi- and polka-loving people of Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley.

There is plenty in the Lehigh Valley to like, and more arrives each year. But we all define ourselves to ourselves in our own ways … and in my heart of hearts, I am a New Englander. Preferably a Masshole, but other states would do.

(It’s true that both sides of my family settled on just about the southwesternmost crag of New England, firmly in the shadows of New York City. But our roots in the region run deeper than that, deep enough to support my personal mythmaking.)

A fat man at the Quabbin Reservoir, winter 1998.

A fat man at the Quabbin Reservoir, winter 1998. Only true New Englanders visit the Quabbin Reservoir. I miss those sideburns.

My folks recently found some interesting journals kept by my grandpa — the same dude who kept the calendars. (These journals will provide much of the fodder for future installations of Hope Street, and I’ll describe them more as we go.)

The entry I’ll look at this week raised a question that shook me to my imaginary granite foundations:

What if, instead of New England, my grandparents had settled in the Lehigh Valley … and instead of building memories at 1107 Hope St., I’d spent my childhood vacations going to Forks Township or Catasauqua Borough or someplace?

Heck, what if I’d lived here all my life, and New England meant nothing more to me than some dusty branches on the family tree?

The mind reels.

Click to see larger.

Click to see larger.

I found this entry in a scientific and technical journal kept by my grandpa. He used it to record information useful to his job as a draftsman, as well as random scientific tidbits he found interesting.

It’s undated — and the entries seem to hop around in time, so there’s no clear way to identify when this was written.

But it seems that my grandpa came to the Lehigh Valley decades before I did, taking the Lehigh Valley Railroad to visit a company in the city of Easton, on the New Jersey border.

I don’t know much about his destination. Sheridan Machine Company is one of those companies whose name only shows up in obituaries, and not always recent ones.

A post on a railroad forum mentions a Sheridan Machine in Easton, but says it was “gone by the ’70s,” and the nearest train line is now a paved bike path. It’s possible I’ve been on that path without knowing it.

All I know for sure about this train ride is that it happened after my grandpa moved to Stamford from Springfield, Mass. (roughly around 1941), but before the Lehigh Valley road ended passenger operations (roughly 1961, if Wikipedia is correct). I’d bet pretty strongly on the early end of that spectrum.

Of course, I wonder whether he went to the Lehigh Valley for a job interview, which would have changed family history.

My grandpa didn’t settle at Time Inc. in Stamford, his largest and longest-lasting employer, until 1946. Before that, he worked for a company in Bridgeport that he must not have liked that much, because he only stayed there four years.

It’s possible — maybe remotely possible, but possible — that this trip came during a time in his life when he was checking out his options.

If he’d gotten a job here, my parents, who grew up and met in Stamford, might never have crossed paths. And whatever version of me ended up getting born might have grown up coming to the Lehigh Valley for my vacations, instead of Connecticut, and thinking of Easton as my home away from home.

(Heck, I might even have grown up here. My folks didn’t settle in their shared hometown of Stamford after marrying because it was an expensive place to live. That would not have been an issue for a young couple with roots in Allentown, Bethlehem or Easton.)

It’s also possible that the train trip was solely for business purposes. Perhaps my grandpa’s employer at the time was considering doing business with the company in Easton, and my grandpa was part of a traveling party going to check out their facilities and capabilities.

That doesn’t necessarily make sense either, though.

If he’d traveled on the company’s behalf, the company would probably have made his arrangements, and he wouldn’t have taken such precise note of the details. (Don’t I wish I could ride the train from Easton to Stamford for $8 today? Or the train from Easton to anywhere?)

Also, my grandpa was never a boss, as far as I know. I’m not sure he would have been in a position to be an “insider” on any kind of business deal. People higher up would have made those decisions.

So, I’ll never know what brought my grandfather to Easton.

All I know for sure is it was a round trip … and that, perhaps, I owe part of who I am to that ticket home.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna go eat a Hoodsie cup.

The lights are back on at 1107 Hope Street.

I went to my folks’ house this past week. In their trawling through the family archives, they discovered some new stuff related to my grandpa. Not more calendar entries, exactly, but other material that beckoned to me with similar storytelling potential.

This left me with a choice. I could revive Hope Street, write some new posts, and spoil what I thought was a pretty decently executed walk-off. Or I could stay silent and stifle the creative mojo that led to this blog in the first place.

The decision was not difficult.

I don’t know how many more posts I’ll write; and I don’t expect I’ll write every single Monday like I used to. It might be more of a here-and-there thing.

But there’s more stuff in the pipeline. Hope Street is still the best creative outlet I’ve ever come up with, and I think I can still slip into the old kitchen and bake a couple more loaves of bread.

(If you’re interested, the best course of action might be to subscribe via email — I suspect most readers still do. That way, when there’s something new here, it’ll land in your inbox, and you won’t have to come looking for it.)

What’s new to post will still go up on Monday mornings, just for consistency’s sake, and I’m aiming to have something ready for this coming Monday.

I hope (no pun intended) you’ll join me.

Good things end; and today, after four years and 251 posts, so does this blog.

I thank my dad and my aunt for generously sharing their memories of 1107 Hope Street. I also thank everyone else who served over the years as readers, commenters, providers of additional information, speakers of encouraging words, muses, goads and even contest supporters.

Bill Blumenau would have been befuddled by this blog, probably; but he would have appreciated your interest, as his grandson does.

Back to it, then, one more time.

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Bill Blumenau and his maniacal-looking grandson. Christmas, circa 1994.

Bill Blumenau and his maniacal-looking grandson. Christmas, circa 1994.

Having come to the end of Bill Blumenau’s story online, it seems like I should mention how it ended in real life.

My grandfather suffered a heart attack — his third — in the early hours of Feb. 26, 2001, and was found dead later that morning in the nursing-home room he shared with my grandma. He was 90.

If memory serves, he also was suffering from prostate cancer, but could not be operated on because of his advanced age and the fragility of his heart. I suppose it is better to die quickly than slowly, though the outcome is the same either way.

My grandpa is buried not in Stamford but in Rochester, N.Y., his last home. I do not remember the last time I visited his grave. I prefer to think of him as he was in life, and I do not think my absence (or anything else on the earthly plane) matters to him at this point.

Having just mentioned all that, I have not spent the past four years bringing my grandfather to life on this blog just to have him die at the end.

Instead, we’ll round out our explorations in a sensible place — at the very last calendar entry available to us, on a day my grandpa probably spent quietly puttering around his house.

Since the calendars we have on hand span the years 1961 to 1975, we’ll be setting the WABAC machine to …

December 31, 1975.

December 31, 1975.

Wednesday, December 31, 1975, is a full working day for President Gerald Ford. The president spends the day talking with such distinguished personages as Vice President Nelson Rockefeller, Dick Cheney, Alan Greenspan and James Brown.

(No, not the Godfather of Soul; this James E. Brown is an executive at Thiokol Corporation. He gets a seven-minute phone convo with Ford shortly before 11 p.m., while the rest of America is icing down its Champale.)

The year seems to be winding down fairly quietly, without much in the news. As the new year dawns, the Liberty Bell is about to be moved to a new enclosure in time for the bicentennial. The movers say they can do the job without further damaging the symbol of liberty, and they are as good as their word.

Investigators are probing a bomb blast two days earlier that killed 11 people at LaGuardia Airport in New York City, fewer than 40 highway miles from Hope Street. Presumably the investigators are still probing, as the bombing has never been solved.

bombings

Guy Lombardo plays one of his last New Year’s Eve specials, joined by guest Aretha Franklin. Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve fights back with Neil Sedaka, KC and the Sunshine Band, Melissa Manchester, Freddy Fender and the Average White Band. And — this being a regular workday for Johnny Carson, just as it is for President Ford — The Tonight Show features Joan Rivers, Orson Bean and Charles Nelson Reilly as guests.

Frances Drake’s syndicated horoscope warns Capricorns against a “tendency toward indiscretion,” cautions Scorpios to “be prepared for all contingencies,” but tells Cancers that travel could lead to “a most unusual and highly stimulating experience.”

According to the morning front pages of December 31, U.S. Chief Justice Warren Burger denied a request the day before to delay a multibillion-dollar increase in the nation’s postal rates.

mailincrease

And that — not the airport explosion, or Guy Lombardo, or preparation for all contingencies — is what’s on my grandpa’s last calendar entry of this sequence.

It’s a natural thing for my grandpa to make note of. Postal rate increases are scattered throughout his 15 years of calendars.

At least one of the other postal rate hikes is illustrated with a drawing of a letter with wings. But this one seems hefty enough for my grandpa to skip the whimsy.

I’m sure he counted every cent, and an increase from 10 cents to 13 would have been something he noticed — another sign that the basics of American life just kept getting more and more and more expensive.

Other items of interest at 1107 Hope Street that day:

– My grandfather didn’t have a watercolor painting class. (His teacher, unlike President Ford and Johnny Carson, must have taken the day off.)

– The weather was pretty unmemorable — overcast, nippy and rainy, more Novemberish than wintry.

Despite the rain and the postal rate increase, there were other things on the horizon in December 1975 that would have made my grandfather happy.

He had two healthy grandchildren, and had just found out a third was on the way in the new year. His kids were both within visiting distance, more or less, and visits were not rare.

Apologies for the poor picture quality. It's December 25, 1975, and my Aunt Elaine and her husband Steve are visiting Hope Street.

Apologies for the poor picture quality. This is December 25, 1975, and my Aunt Elaine and her husband Steve are visiting Hope Street.

He’d been retired a few years, and he hadn’t had any more heart attacks, so he was probably pretty well comfortable with his lifestyle at that point. He knew what he could do and what he shouldn’t, and he’d made his peace with it.

(My dad has said many times that my grandpa adapted after his heart attack in ways that many people don’t. He not only made lifestyle changes, but figured out how to relax. The Bill Blumenau of December 1975 was a different man, and in some ways a better one, than he was in January 1961.)

The bicentennial year was coming up, too, and as a patriot, my grandpa would have bought into the idea of celebrating America. I can see him being interested in what was to come.

So, I think my grandfather would have seen out the old year 1975 on a positive note. Life was pretty good on Hope Street. My grandpa had paid his dues in the rat race; now he could sit back and watch the wheels.

And that’s where I think I’ll leave him.

He is sitting on the couch in the front room, a skinny older man in a plaid shirt, reading about Mother Theresa in the latest issue of Time. There are no end-of-year holiday visitors; he is alone in the house with his wife and mother, who are already upstairs, quietly preparing for bed.

The nighttime rain patters gently outside, as it has all day, but he doesn’t pay it much attention. He has nowhere to travel, and his roof will hold.

As page follows page, he starts to think about turning in for the night and saying goodbye to another year. It scarcely seems like another 365 days have passed, but here it is, a new year coming. And if the taxman doesn’t ratchet things up too many more notches, it could be a pretty good one, he thinks.

He yawns, gets up and switches off the light, tossing the magazine onto the coffee table.

As his footsteps disappear up the stairs, the first floor of 1107 Hope Street settles into darkness and silence, with only the eternal streetlights and the occasional tire-slick of a passing car on the wet street to interrupt the stillness of the night.

April 2011-April 2015