Sarah Hepola’s latest smoky podcast is intensely based in NYC, with NYC sounds in the background. She’s discussing the difference between NYC and Dallas soundscapes, garbage trucks and jackhammers vs crickets and frogs.

Reminded me of a couple items I’ve done on the subject.

From 2022, a fable based in NYC’s earlier soundscape, dominated by horseshoes and vendor songs. As it happens, the fable was dramatized for radio by Texans.

From 2011 through 2017, an actual recording of the last remaining streetsong in my neighborhood.

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In the 20 years I’ve been at this address, I’ve heard the ‘Crossing Song’ every morning from the nearby school. It’s an interesting example of how music develops on its own from shouting. Ethnomusicology or something like that.

The crossing guards seem to be assigned on a weekly basis. Each pair has a slightly different way of singing, but the basic tune is always the same. You’d think that in 20 years, with presumably a different pair each week, you’d hear at least one pair who can sing in unison. Nope. Each pair has one good tune-carrier who starts the song, and one poor tune-carrier who follows. The follower is always out of unison by at least a half-tone.

The 9:00 song is simplest, just Last Crossing! I’ve represented it as G G E, though it’s really Sol Sol Mi. (Relative pitch, not absolute.)

The 8:30 song adds another phrase. (Schools here offer both breakfast and lunch; about half the kids take advantage of the breakfast, so it needs a separate crossing period.)

And a few musically conscious ‘lead singers’ add an extra pitch to the 8:30 song, with just a bit of pride evident in the voice.

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After building a usable microphone, I finally got a live recording of the Crossing Song. Thirty seconds long, with three repeats; there was some noise from a nearby weed-wacker or something on the first two, but the noise turned off on the third. Here is the MP3 file.

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It’s always hard to pin down the departure of a practice, especially when it’s not a direct part of your own life. This year the guards seemed silent, but I waited a full month to decide for sure that the skill is gone. It’s been replaced by a MUCH louder school intercom system with speakers that can be heard for several blocks. The intercom beeps at 8:25 now.

If nothing else the kids set a record. During the 26 years that I heard the song, I never heard them singing in unison. Not once. Makes me wonder if non-unison is instinctively compelled when singing is an alarm call. More salient with beats and warbles.

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