And then Hugh finally said “Rhys, I’ve taught you everything I can. You have to go now to the Steinway of harpsichord builders and study with him,” and that was William Dowd in Cambridge, Massachusetts, who was the wonderful builder of early Flemish instruments.1 And I apprenticed with him, and he taught me equal temperament, which is the system that we use today.2 Oh, it was so difficult, because when I was working with Hugh Gough, I just worked — I tuned by ear, but when working with — in the context of William Dowd, they had — they used a system of beats, a thing called acoustic beats, which is you listen very carefully to the perfect fifth and you hear these sounds that sound a bit like “Wow, wow, wow, wow, wow”, that kind of thing. And tune in that way — and it — I couldn’t hear them, and I thought “Oh dear, maybe I’m tone deaf. What is the problem here?”
And the person — you know, the foreman just laughed and said — because I couldn’t hear them. You know, I was putting my ear close up to the strings, and I said where are these beats, I can’t hear them. And he would just laugh — he was sitting 15 feet away, and said “Rhys, I can hear them from over here. And don’t worry, everyone has the same problem,” because back then we had no idea what beats were, what really — in Western music, we weren’t really trained in listening to harmonics back then. And he said “Eventually you’ll hear them, and you’ll realize that you’ve been hearing it the whole time,” which is exactly what happened.3
Then one time, you know, at William Dowd’s workshop, all of a sudden I said “Oh my God, I hear them. That’s what they are,” and I had realized I had been hearing them the whole time. And in this way I got sensitized to listening to beats, acoustic beats, you know, and working with these various tuning systems.