Show Details

Choir Effect

December 5, 2005

‘Tis the season for choral singing. Bob Hirshon has this story about a mystery hidden in the melodies.

Transcript

BOB HIRSHON (host):
The mystery of choir singing. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

[Chorus]

HIRSHON:
This professional choir sounds beautiful, but physicist and conductor Harald Jers of the University of Cologne has found an ugly secret lurks in the beauty. He attached a microphone to the nose of each chorus member, so he could record them separately. It came out like this:

[Tenor]

HIRSHON:
Out of tune—and completely out of character for this professional solo singer. In fact, Jers says all the singers were out of tune individually, but somehow the choir as a whole remained in tune.

HARALD JERS (University of Cologne):
Our guess is that there must be something that the voices should sound a little bit worse but that the sum of the whole choir is better in the end.

HIRSHON:
How do the ugly tones add up to a beautiful one? It’s a music mystery he hopes physics can solve. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.