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No more fingers in the ear anymore?

GUEST 17 Jul 13 - 08:45 AM
GUEST,sailor ron 17 Jul 13 - 09:16 AM
Lighter 17 Jul 13 - 09:22 AM
leeneia 17 Jul 13 - 10:01 AM
GUEST 17 Jul 13 - 10:03 AM
RTim 17 Jul 13 - 10:08 AM
Lighter 17 Jul 13 - 10:24 AM
McGrath of Harlow 17 Jul 13 - 10:32 AM
Backwoodsman 17 Jul 13 - 11:14 AM
Girl Friday 17 Jul 13 - 11:52 AM
Jim Carroll 17 Jul 13 - 12:18 PM
Lighter 17 Jul 13 - 12:27 PM
GUEST 17 Jul 13 - 12:36 PM
Don Firth 17 Jul 13 - 12:59 PM
McGrath of Harlow 17 Jul 13 - 01:26 PM
Jim McLean 17 Jul 13 - 01:37 PM
Acorn4 17 Jul 13 - 01:45 PM
Richard Bridge 17 Jul 13 - 02:51 PM
Big Al Whittle 17 Jul 13 - 05:08 PM
GUEST,ketchdana 17 Jul 13 - 05:09 PM
GUEST 17 Jul 13 - 05:19 PM
Bat Goddess 17 Jul 13 - 06:14 PM
GUEST,eldergirl 17 Jul 13 - 07:18 PM
Big Al Whittle 17 Jul 13 - 08:51 PM
Backwoodsman 18 Jul 13 - 01:33 AM
Jim Carroll 18 Jul 13 - 03:13 AM
Backwoodsman 18 Jul 13 - 03:52 AM
Speedwell 18 Jul 13 - 06:00 AM
Backwoodsman 18 Jul 13 - 06:29 AM
Tattie Bogle 18 Jul 13 - 07:25 AM
Richard from Liverpool 18 Jul 13 - 07:42 AM
GUEST 18 Jul 13 - 07:52 AM
Lighter 18 Jul 13 - 08:40 AM
GUEST,Musket musing 18 Jul 13 - 08:42 AM
Richard Bridge 18 Jul 13 - 08:45 AM
Jack Campin 18 Jul 13 - 08:55 AM
Big Al Whittle 18 Jul 13 - 09:33 AM
The Sandman 18 Jul 13 - 09:59 AM
GUEST,Fred McCormick 18 Jul 13 - 01:19 PM
meself 18 Jul 13 - 01:57 PM
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Subject: No more fingers in the ear anymore?
From: GUEST
Date: 17 Jul 13 - 08:45 AM

Why dont traditional unaccompanied singes put their fingers in their ears any more? Lack of earwax? Why did they need to do it then but not now? Seems to have been dying out but maybe just in UK?


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Subject: RE: No more fingers in the ear anymore?
From: GUEST,sailor ron
Date: 17 Jul 13 - 09:16 AM

I don't know if "traditional singers" as apposed to singers of "traditional" songs, ever put there finger in their ears.
Ewan McColl 'cupped' his hand round his ear, as did Paul Robson, and eark Bee Gee's. I've tried it , and it does tell me when I'm out of tune, rather than the audiece telling me!


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Subject: RE: No more fingers in the ear anymore?
From: Lighter
Date: 17 Jul 13 - 09:22 AM

Time to get to the bottom of this.

Did MacColl pick up the cupped-ear mannerism from certain trad singers (not necessarily Anglo-Scottish) or did he just dream it up himself?

Could it have started with some singer just leaning against his hand while his elbow rested on a table and he went into some kind of singing trance?

Or was it just a show-biz schtick? (With MacColl, I doubt it. I suspect it was based on something more than just his trying to keep in tune.)


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Subject: RE: No more fingers in the ear anymore?
From: leeneia
Date: 17 Jul 13 - 10:01 AM

Mannerism? I used to sing in a 'choir' where anybody could show up. Singers, violin, string bass, at least two guitars, flute or recorder, and of course piano. Sometimes I had to put my hand behind my ear to hear my own voice.

But one day there was just piano, me and a tenor. I commented later about how well we blended, and the director said, "That's because there were no guitars."

How many of you who have posted have ever done much singing?


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Subject: RE: No more fingers in the ear anymore?
From: GUEST
Date: 17 Jul 13 - 10:03 AM

Lighter,

This old post from Jim Carroll gives a good answer to your question.


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Subject: RE: No more fingers in the ear anymore?
From: RTim
Date: 17 Jul 13 - 10:08 AM

I still do it at the start of a song and have done for years. It is just so I know that the tune is secure in my head. Once started I generally remove my hand. I helps me concentrate.

Tim Radford


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Subject: RE: No more fingers in the ear anymore?
From: Lighter
Date: 17 Jul 13 - 10:24 AM

Thanks, Guest.

Case essentially closed, but it would still be interesting to know just where MacColl got the idea. His own sources were far more limited than, say, Alan Lomax's, who collected songs in several countries and languages.

Leeneia, MacColl even cupped his ear when he sang unaccompanied, so hearing his own voice wasn't an issue.


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Subject: RE: No more fingers in the ear anymore?
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 17 Jul 13 - 10:32 AM

It has always seemed the natural thing to do, nothing to do with McColl doing it.


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Subject: RE: No more fingers in the ear anymore?
From: Backwoodsman
Date: 17 Jul 13 - 11:14 AM

Before the days of sophisticated stage monitoring, many singers in loud pop and rock bands did it so that they could hear their own voice over the instruments. i used to do it a lot, usually you would close your ear by pressing on the little flap of cartilage and skin to the front of the opening (dunno what it's called) and you could then hear your voice resonating through the bones of the neck and head. Without the benefit of the monitors that artistes have at their disposal nowadays, It was pretty much the only way to hear if you were in tune with the instruments.

But I've never found it necessary when singing unaccompanied as the only sound is that of your own voice, so hearing yourself is not a problem.

So, to answer the original question....I believe it's a useful tool when singing with instruments or other voices which drown out your hearing of your own voice but, when unaccompanied singers do it, it's either a case of self-deception that they're able to sing in tune more easily, or it's an affectation. I lean towards believing the latter to be the most likely.

Usual disclaimers......IMHO, YMMV, ETC.


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Subject: RE: No more fingers in the ear anymore?
From: Girl Friday
Date: 17 Jul 13 - 11:52 AM

Showing my age here... but Johnny Rae (Ray?) used to do it in the 50s ... but he was deaf. Cupping ear - not finger in).


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Subject: RE: No more fingers in the ear anymore?
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 17 Jul 13 - 12:18 PM

I don't know if "traditional singers" as apposed to singers of "traditional" songs, ever put there finger in their ears."
It's an international device used by traditional singers down the ages from muezzins to broadside sellers and verified by historically by woodcuts and paintings.
It was widely used thoughout Europe and Asia - probably Bert Lloyd introduced the technique into the British revival from his work in recording Eastern European singers.
The Irish Traveller ballad seller we recorded said he used it when selling his wares at the cattle-markets in rural Kerry in the 1940s, but he said he saw his father (born c 170) singing with one hand over his ear (only eejits claim the finger was IN the ear) in pubs.
There is an excellent early woodcut of the technique being used by a street singer in Leslie Shepherd's book 'The Broadside Balld'.
Perhaps people don't use it today because they're not all that much bothered about singing in tune (near enough for folk-song maybe).
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: No more fingers in the ear anymore?
From: Lighter
Date: 17 Jul 13 - 12:27 PM

> they're not all that much bothered about singing in tune.

Ouch!


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Subject: RE: No more fingers in the ear anymore?
From: GUEST
Date: 17 Jul 13 - 12:36 PM

Thanks all. i did sort of anticiapte the answer but did not realise the technuw had such a historical pedigree on different genres of music.


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Subject: RE: No more fingers in the ear anymore?
From: Don Firth
Date: 17 Jul 13 - 12:59 PM

I don't use the cupped hand behind my ear because I accompany most of the songs I sing with the guitar. But when I do sing unaccompanied, I have tried the cupped hand and it gives me a clear idea of how I sound, and it's not just a matter of pitch.

It is a very helpful technique, and it is NOT a mannerism or affectation--except by those who want to "look cool" and don't understand what it's all about.

People too often criticize what they don't understand.

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: No more fingers in the ear anymore?
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 17 Jul 13 - 01:26 PM

I suppose if you had really big ears like the Ferengi it wouldn't be needed. But for ordinary humans it helps. Not cupping your hand behind your ear is the affectation.


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Subject: RE: No more fingers in the ear anymore?
From: Jim McLean
Date: 17 Jul 13 - 01:37 PM

I saw this in Egypt, many years before I saw McColl et al, (not Bert)! As McGrath says, it's almost an affectation NOT to cup you hand behind your ear.


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Subject: RE: No more fingers in the ear anymore?
From: Acorn4
Date: 17 Jul 13 - 01:45 PM

Which finger you use is important as each one is a different key!


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Subject: RE: No more fingers in the ear anymore?
From: Richard Bridge
Date: 17 Jul 13 - 02:51 PM

Nice to see the wankers get a kicking with such authority.


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Subject: RE: No more fingers in the ear anymore?
From: Big Al Whittle
Date: 17 Jul 13 - 05:08 PM

where are the shows of yester year?
with digits shoved inside the ear
No wonder folk music is quite schtupped
for nary an earhole now is cupped
let's revive the glory days of Ewan and Bert
So fingers into ears.....insert!


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Subject: RE: No more fingers in the ear anymore?
From: GUEST,ketchdana
Date: 17 Jul 13 - 05:09 PM

The freqencies carried through "bones in the head" are mainly the low ones. Low notes in isolation can vary quite a bit and sound in tune. But your voice also has higher harmonics/overtones, which are more sensitive to matching pitches, and which you aren't hearing.

Fine tuning is done with those higher tones, which you can hear better externally with the cupped hand.

Even singing solo, if you start out in tune with yourself then muscle memory can carry you through pretty much in tune.


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Subject: RE: No more fingers in the ear anymore?
From: GUEST
Date: 17 Jul 13 - 05:19 PM

The outer ear is surely a shell to catch the sound waves more effectively. Therefore adding a cupped hand surely acts as an extension to that. In theory. Not only that, in most people the ear is a fixed object. The human hand, however can be angled to alter the tone volume from different directions. This is most effective when other instruments/singers are in close proximity, but also in a room sounds echo from different objects and walls and here it can also be a help. However, I can't see an advantage to singing solo in an open field in this way. In that case the cupped hand might be better round the mouth, or in some cases covering the mouth.


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Subject: RE: No more fingers in the ear anymore?
From: Bat Goddess
Date: 17 Jul 13 - 06:14 PM

I press the tragus (part of the ear) in order to hear myself in the din at The Press Room. When Curmudgeon still had his voice, he often cupped his ear.

Here's Joe Stead's video of Tom singing "Battle of Bull Run" -- Bull Run

Linn


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Subject: RE: No more fingers in the ear anymore?
From: GUEST,eldergirl
Date: 17 Jul 13 - 07:18 PM

Cupping ear essential in company with 2 full volume shantymen, believe me! Not a hope of accurate harmony otherwise. (Sorry, harmony, shanties, is that heresy? ;))


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Subject: RE: No more fingers in the ear anymore?
From: Big Al Whittle
Date: 17 Jul 13 - 08:51 PM

Why it be earcupping toim in the hedgerow
Time to cup my ear
The lark be in the turmitts
As I fondle a lady's rear


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Subject: RE: No more fingers in the ear anymore?
From: Backwoodsman
Date: 18 Jul 13 - 01:33 AM

There's no doubt that cupping the ear or pressing on the tragus is very effective indeed as a tool for improving your hearing of your own voice in noisy surroundings - instruments, other singers, crowd-noise etc. - but the OP posed the question in relation to unaccompanied singing. Unless the singer has a hearing defect, I don't see that it's necessary, and I'd certainly challenge McG's assertion that not cupping the ear when singing unaccompanied is an affectation!

But that's just me speaking from 50-odd years of singing, accompanied and unaccompanied, solo, in choirs, in bands, amateur and semi-pro, so what do I know?

Oh, and BTW Mr. Cranium, a person's opinion that differs from that of others doth not a wanker make. Except in the mind of a real wanker.


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Subject: RE: No more fingers in the ear anymore?
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 18 Jul 13 - 03:13 AM

"Unless the singer has a hearing defect, I don't see that it's necessary,"
Lucky old you - I've sung and been interested unaccompanied singing most of my life and have always been acutely aware of the difficulty of maintaining pitch (usually a tendency to rise) without some sort of device to help; particularly necessary with unusual musical intervals.
We've recorded numerous descriptions of some of the singers in the first half of the 20th century sitting facing a wall or into a corner, with their backs to the listeners so they could experience the reverberations of their own voices. In rural Ireland, the singing was virtually all done at what they called country-house gatherings, ceilidhs or 'cuirds' - in other words, in the home.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: No more fingers in the ear anymore?
From: Backwoodsman
Date: 18 Jul 13 - 03:52 AM

Jim, I just posted a long response, but the Bastard Mudcat Post Eater devoured it! I haven't time right now, but I'll come back to this later.


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Subject: RE: No more fingers in the ear anymore?
From: Speedwell
Date: 18 Jul 13 - 06:00 AM

Surely it's the end result that is important here? If a singer feels the need to block or cup their ear to sing better or more confidently then why is that a problem?
I sing in a four piece a cappella folk group and find it useful to do occasionally - especially with a catch where different lines are going at the same time or when other singers are doing some ornamentation that could distract me.


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Subject: RE: No more fingers in the ear anymore?
From: Backwoodsman
Date: 18 Jul 13 - 06:29 AM

Right Jim, duty done, dog walked before the sun gets too hot, I'm back! :-)

I've re-read your posts and mine, and I believe you and I are in broad agreement, but differ on some details - and isn't that what a forum like this is for, to air our opinions, share our differences, and find out where we can agree, despite the attempts of the graceless, mannerless big-gob public schoolboys to wreck discussion by their puerile name-calling and insults? (In fairness it's hardly their fault - gracelessness, bad manners and wanking are instilled in them at their posh-kid schools, along with acceptance of having to drop their pants, bend down and take a regular butt-fucking from the prefects, so I suppose those of us who spent our formative years in the real world of normal people shouldn't be too hard on them, should we?).

Anyway, that's already too much time and too many words wasted on the undeserving, so back to the topic. I think we agree that ear-cupping is an aid to maintaining pitch, but we probably disagree about the mechanism and necessity. I may have misinterpreted your words (and those of others), and I know you'll quickly put me right if I have, but I get the impression that you believe that cupping bestows enhanced vocal control skills on the performer, and this is where I have to disagree - vocal control is a physical skill, learned by many but possessed naturally by, perhaps, a lesser number. I do believe that ear-cupping can assist a performer to hear his voice better in order that he might use his vocal control skills to better effect, but I don't believe that it will make a less-skilled performer instantly more skilled in pitch-control - that takes training to be successful, and may not even be achievable, some people simply can't sing!

So I have to go back to my earlier comment that, provided a singer who has good pitching control skills can hear himself satisfactorily, cupping is unnecessary and makes little, if any, difference to his performance. If he can't hear himself well, then cupping will undoubtedly help him to use his pitching skills to good effect. In the case of an unaccompanied singer, and in the kind of rooms that folk clubs in the UK tend to take place in, I'd suggest it's unlikely that a singer wouldn't be able to hear himself, unless the audience was especially unruly, or there was noise from an adjoining room.

However, if a singer does not have good pitching control, no amount of cupping is going to instantly make him maintain pitch, he doesn't have the skills in the first place, so as cup his ear he might as well stick his fingers up his arse!

On the topic of Ewan MacColl and his influence on folkie-finger-in-the-earism, you knew him personally and I didn't, so you have a better insight than I do but, FWIW, I believe he was possessed of a majestic voice and superb performing skills. I believe that he used ear cupping when he found it necessary to improve his hearing so that he could better exercise his undoubtedly supreme control skills, but I also believe he was the consummate showman and, like all good showmen, he knew the importance of 'selling' a song, and he knew the importance of having 'trademark' mannerisms etc. which would help carry an audience along. So I suspect that, although on occasion his ear was cupped out of auditory necessity, on other occasions it would be employed in the same way as the back-to-front-chair - as a means of telling his audience "Here I am, this is me right here in front of you, take the journey with me!" - in other words as a kind of stage-prop.

So, is ear-cupping a necessity or an affectation? IMHO it can be both, depending on the situation.

Sorry to have gone on at such length, you'll no doubt be glad to know that I'm finished and gone now! :-) :-)


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Subject: RE: No more fingers in the ear anymore?
From: Tattie Bogle
Date: 18 Jul 13 - 07:25 AM

I don't find it necessary myself. Other people do. Short answer.


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Subject: RE: No more fingers in the ear anymore?
From: Richard from Liverpool
Date: 18 Jul 13 - 07:42 AM

I sang in a Cathedral Choir, and I was taught to cup my hand over my ear by the choirmaster every now and again to basically check tuning and make sure we were 'secure' in our own voices. Now, that was in a choir situation so part of the purpose, as I understood it, was to block out other sounds (though not for too long, because the blend of voices is all important) - but we were also told that it was a good way of hearing exactly what you were singing, rather than what you thought you were singing.

So it's a useful enough device, but I've never really done it as a solo singer. Perhaps I should!


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Subject: RE: No more fingers in the ear anymore?
From: GUEST
Date: 18 Jul 13 - 07:52 AM

In the seventies,when the habit was widespread, there were few PA systems in folkclubs. Now performers benefit from monitors for feedback on how they sound which may account for the diminution of the habit? I remember Ewan MacColl using the technique in theatres with a reversed chair, cupping his ear with elbow leaned on the chair back and faced away from Peggy Seeger. I've never seen anyone else do it though I imagine it was a comfortable position for long ballads prevalent at time. It did sort of focus the audience's attention because MaColl would focus inwards to perform, and his posture seemed to be saying "listen, I'm telling you a story here and it will take a while". Similarly, storytellers sometimes use props such as a storyteller chair.


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Subject: RE: No more fingers in the ear anymore?
From: Lighter
Date: 18 Jul 13 - 08:40 AM

What's more, the whole ear-chair thing emphasized that this wasn't ordinary pop music and wasn't meant to accord with pop standards of voice, delivery, subject, etc.


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Subject: RE: No more fingers in the ear anymore?
From: GUEST,Musket musing
Date: 18 Jul 13 - 08:42 AM

I use a thumb pick for guitar and as much as anything, it gives me a clue to keep the wandering voice in tune. On the occasional unaccompanied song, I usually begin "in ear" as it were and my hand drifts upwards occasionally to see if I still am....

That said, just like sandals with socks, beards and asking if this beer is real ale, sticking your finger in your ear is living the dream........


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Subject: RE: No more fingers in the ear anymore?
From: Richard Bridge
Date: 18 Jul 13 - 08:45 AM

I don't understand socks with sandals. Either your feet need keeping warm, in which case why sandals, or they don't, in which case why socks?


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Subject: RE: No more fingers in the ear anymore?
From: Jack Campin
Date: 18 Jul 13 - 08:55 AM

I have mainly seen this done by Koran reciters, who are generally chanting VERY loudly (comparable to the power of a trained opera singer) in a quiet setting. So I don't think the point of it is always to deal with ambient noise.


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Subject: RE: No more fingers in the ear anymore?
From: Big Al Whittle
Date: 18 Jul 13 - 09:33 AM

socks keep feet from getting sunburnt. Recently I drove a lawn mower over a wasps nests. Wearing sandals without socks exposed the wounds on my feet to bright sunlight and caused a rash.

as for the other business , who gives an earhole....? If you want to do it, do it ....ears, earcups....have fun with your body, while its still there.


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Subject: RE: No more fingers in the ear anymore?
From: The Sandman
Date: 18 Jul 13 - 09:59 AM

I find it occasionally useful, and I have had a lot of people over the years compliment my singing.


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Subject: RE: No more fingers in the ear anymore?
From: GUEST,Fred McCormick
Date: 18 Jul 13 - 01:19 PM

I started putting my hand over my ear, not as an aid to staying in tune or staying with the melody, but because it was a useful way to avoid straining. This was particularly true if I was singing in a sizeable room where I wasn't familiar with the acoustics.

Over the years I learned a bit more about voice control and gradually managed to sing pretty well anywhere without needing the clip on hand - as someone called it.

This afternoon I went to our usual session at the Belgravia in Liverpool, and a great little bash it was until a burglar alarm started off and threw everyone. I stifled the noise of the alarm by putting the hand over the ear and got through the song ok. But by 'eck, did it sound odd!


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Subject: RE: No more fingers in the ear anymore?
From: meself
Date: 18 Jul 13 - 01:57 PM

I find that when I sing, the people around me put their fingers in their ears. Doesn't seem to help though ....


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