Perfect Pitch en masse at public sporting events ("Gregory J. Sandell" )

Subject: Perfect Pitch en masse at public sporting events
From:    "Gregory J. Sandell"  <sandell(at)SPARKY.PARMLY.LUC.EDU>
Date:    Fri, 4 Aug 1995 14:02:16 -0500

Dear Auditory readers, A recent thread on the subject of perfect pitch was discussed on another distributed email list (SMT-list, devoted to Music Theory) which I think will be interesting and entertaining to readers of this list. There's even something in it for sports fans, too. I've edited down the discussions a little bit. Greg Sandell (sandell(at) [ Beginning of excerpts from SMT-list ] Fellow scholars: For those interested in inherent pitch ability in the untrained public, music cognition, "chant" and other pitch phenomena: From: "Philip A. Todd" <PATODD0(at)UKCC.UKY.EDU> Subject: AIR-BALL as a form of mass chant in F !!! Yesterday (Sunday), syndicated columnist Dave Barry (of Dave's World) wrote that a friend sent him a copy of an article entitled "Air Ball: Spon- taneous Large Group Precision Chanting," published in the journal Popular Music and Society by Dr. Cherrill P. Heaton, an English professor. In this article, Heaton describes discovering the phenomenon of precision chanting at NCAA basketball games -- whenever an opposing team's player shoots the ball and misses everything, there arises the chant "AIR-BALL! AIR-BALL!" Heaton videotaped several different basketball games, and discovered that they all chanted the same tones = F to D !!!!! Perfect pitch, babyyyy !!!! From: jlondon(at) (Justin London) Subject: Re: AIR-BALL as a form of mass chant in F !!! My own sense is that the "Na Na Hey Hey Goodbye" chant so popular at mass sporting events IS INDEED sung in more-or-less d-minor, which would put this on the same axis as the "air ball" chant. So there another datum here (though this awaits broad empirical confirmation). From: ferenczg(at) (George Ferencz) Subject: air-ball...mass chant It makes me wonder if comics (and amateurs) who do impressions (say, of James Cagney and "you dirty rat") tend to place them at a consistent vocal pitch. Perhaps just a silly thought... From: jfboss(at) (Jack Boss) Subject: "Airball" as a form of mass chant in F (fwd) I too was intrigued by Philip Todd's comments on the "Airball" motive (if I may call it that). In the interest of scholarly accuracy, however, I must protest the key attribution implied by his subject heading. "Airball" is *not* in F; it vacillates between the fifth and third scale degrees of Bb major. The motive is pure text-painting; its incomplete nature mirrors the inability of an air ball to reach its intended goal. This motive has been used by sports crowds to set other texts besides "Air ball." New Yorkers will remember its application to Darryl Strawberry's first name during his tenure as outfielder for the Mets. (Now that he is returning to the city as a member of the Yankees, I expect the motive to resurface, perhaps at the same specific pitch.) And Clevelanders will recall that it was applied to John Elway's last name repeatedly during the 1986 American Football Conference championship in that city. (Alas, whatever connotations it may have suggested about Elway's inability were disproved by his famous last-minute "Drive" that denied the Browns their first Super Bowl appearance.) The motive also has older connotations that have nothing to do with sports, like most simple tonal elements. For centuries it has been associated with the cuckoo bird (and with clocks that simulate this bird's call), and it is an important component of the children's song "Ring around the Rosy." (In that context, the motive is *clearly* ^5 and ^3.) My conviction is that the 20th-century manifestations of the motive have their ultimate source in "Ring around the Rosy," proving that all sports fans (including this author) are in some sense children at heart. From: "Elizabeth W. Marvin" <ewma(at)> Subject: Re: "Airball" as a form of mass chant in F (fwd) These "airball" postings remind me of a paper given at the 1993 meeting of the Society for Music Perception and Cognition in Philadelphia by Daniel Levitin, entitled "Absolute Memory for Musical Pitch: More than the Melody Lingers On." It may have appeared since then in _Music Perception_ though I don't have the reference here at home. Levitin argues that absolute pitch is a two-component attribute, consisting of (1) pitch memory, and (2) pitch labeling. Forty-six subjects sang popular songs and their renditions were compared to commercial recordings of those songs. 24% of subjects sang in the correct key, and 67% came within a whole-step of the correct pitch-level. Of course, musicians may be unimpressed by "absolute pitch" that is a step away, but his subjects as I recall were musical novices and sang tunes they had heard on the radio or personal copies of CDs, and came pretty darn close to the right key. As I re-read this, I see I left out a detail: 24% sang on pitch, and 67% of the _remaining_ subjects were a step off. Maybe the airball "song" and "sound-off" chants are similarly learned in a particular key, but the singers are not aware of the particular "labeling" of the key: Levitin's second component. From: Daniel Harrison <hrsn(at)> Subject: "Airball" and standard pitch Jack Boss offered the insightful observation that the F to D "Airball" could be heard as 5 to 3 in Bflat, with the inability of the arpeggiation to reach 1 illustrating the inability of the ball to reach the hoop. If Bflat is indeed a kind of referential note used to anchor the pitch structure of the chant, one wonders why. Perhaps it is due to the pervasive 60 Hz (Bflat-ish) drone of electrical equipment in the US and Canada. [ End of excerpts from SMT-list ] I read this thread to my wife last night, and when I sang the "air ball" melody, she went to the piano to check my pitches. Without even being conscious of it, I was singing F-D, practically right on the money. - Greg -- Gregory J. Sandell, Research Associate, sandell(at) Parmly Hearing Institute, Loyola University Chicago 6525 N. Sheridan Chicago IL 60626 USA voice:312-508-3976 FAX:312-508-2719 WWW:

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