Back in July, the New York Times included an amusing essay on the pleasures of spending a nightin an old camp trailer:
In describing her delighted response to the [supposed] “cuteness” of the trailer, the author wrote:
I heard myself emitting such high-pitched screeching noises that it was as if I were two 16-year-old girls, meeting each other after an absence of three hours. Imagine it in the key of E sharp: “Oh, my God, it’s perfect. And nobody has slept in it yet? Oh, who cares if there’s no plumbing? It’s so cuuuute!”
When I read “E-sharp,” it made perfect sense to me. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised that in the comments appended to the article, many readers questioned the author’s use of “E-sharp” rather than “F-natural” or “F major.” One commenter said, “E Sharp is the same as F natural. So are the keys.”
Naturally, I couldn’t resist responding thus (edited slightly from my original posting, both for clarity and to add a link):
Only in instruments with equal temperament (such as a modern keyboard instrument, as that commenter implied) will E-sharp be the same as F-natural. In unaccompanied vocal music, such as a shriek of delight over the cuteness of a pale turquoise camp trailer, E-sharp will be slighter higher (sharper) than F natural. It really is different.
Perhaps the editor knew this too.
For everyone who thinks that E-sharp is the same as F-natural, please look up "equal temperament."
Beyond that, musicians, and especially composers, know that each key has a distinctive color and temperament. There’s a reason why a composer chooses to write in, say F-sharp major rather than G-flat major – and both are legitimate keys, which, on an equal tempered instrument, will use the same notes. But they are indeed different. There is plenty of information online about this concept. (Start here: http://biteyourownelbow.com/keychar.htm)
Perhaps the author of this amusing essay is a musician and understands the distinction between E-sharp and F-natural, and chose to depict her shriek in the brighter, higher tone of E-sharp.
Oh, and also look up "enharmonic spelling" or "enharmonic equivalent."