You can’t own the tuning

This account of a bizarre law suite on May 6 at Bow St. against the Associated Board of Musical Examinations appeared in the English journal The Musical Times (June 1932).  The board was accused of obtaining money under false pretences:

Mr. Lennox Atkins, F.R.C.O., asked on behalf of the Equal Temperament Committee for a process on the ground that neither examiners nor candidates had any expert knowledge of whether the set pieces were being played in tune or out of tune.  Candidates were allowed to pass off the tuner's scale as their own, and to obtain certificates to which, the E.T.C. claimed, they were not in equity entitled.  Every sound produced was the tuner's and not the candidate's.  Famous examiners, such as the late Sir Frederick Bridge, had wrongly passed thousands of candidates in keyed instrument examinations.  From the point of view of the E.T.C., the candidates were not really examined at all.

 

Warrant Officer Box said that the contention of the E.T.C. was that the examiners were not tuners, and were thus not qualified to determine whether the instruments were in tune or not.

Mr. Fry (the magistrate) said the matter was not one for the criminal court.  If it was thought that the examiners' knowledge was insufficient, civil proceedings should be taken.  He suggested that Mr. Atkins should lay an information in writing.

We have only once before heard of the Equal Temperament Committee – a long while ago – and we, were, and still are, vague as to its aims.  We had imagined it to be a learned Society that met from time to time to exchange light and airy chat about ratios, partials, mesotonics, and other temperamental details.  But it seems that it is a body with a Mission, though we are not clear what that Mission is. Judging from the Bow Street evidence, the Committee's aim is to make "Every Musician His Own Tuner" – which seems rather rough on the real tuners.  However, if Mr. Atkins lays that information and obtains his process, the Associated Board have an easy answer in the shape of a question.  They might ask Mr. Atkins to justify his use of the distinction F.R.C.O., seeing that the sounds he produced when playing the test pieces were not his own, but the organ builder's and tuner's.  He was, in fact, passing off the tuner's scale as his own.


Cited in: Scholes, Percy (1947) The Mirror of Music: 1844-1944.  London: Novello, p. 632.