I have never had perfect pitch – the ability to name a note or a chord by its musical name on hearing it played. I have been able to name a key or a note most of the time but cannot always follow rapid modulations and cannot tell where a note is if it falls between the classic semitones on the piano. I grew up with a piano that was not in pitch with the rest of the world (a quartertone flat), having been moved from Britain to southern Rhodesia across the ocean. I then learnt the clarinet which does not play the note one sees. I am also not Chinese. Mandarin Chinese being pitch-related enables young Chinese to be pitch perfect in a large proportion of cases. So that I have had pretty good (but not perfect) pitch, I consider to be a boon.

This facility certainly underpinned the nature of the Keynotes programmes on Fine Music Radio. The ‘sound’ of a key influenced most if not all the composers I included, and often determined my emotional response to a piece or a section of  a piece. ‘Keys have character’.

But now things are changing. Since I first compiled those programmes in 2006, the ‘sound of music’ is not what it was. I am losing pitch. The tendency has been for keys to sound a semitone higher than they really are. E major sounds like F major, for example, and, in so doing, it loses the character I have always known it to have. It’s like losing a friend.

I intend to chronicle aspects of this change here. Sometimes it’ll be how I feel, and sometimes what I experience, and perhaps I’ll also take a scientific approach. At what frequency does a specific key ‘switch’ in my brain?