What in the World is a Trinome?

by Maddie Dietrich, Music Special Collections and Research Specialist


F. Ludwig Diehn, composer, benefactor, and the man whose name is born by ODU’s Diehn School of Music, donated his personal collection of letters, scores and artifacts to ODU Special Collections and University Archives in the late 1990s. Among the items contained in the collection is a remarkable piece of apparatus known as the Billotti Trinome. It is a metronome, but it’s much more.

A simple metronome produces a click sound at regular intervals at a rate set by the user who can then self-monitor their own sense of pulse against that of the machine. The rate of speed the clicks occur is measured in beats per minute, so a metronome can be set to, say, 72 bpm, or 120 bpm, and so on. Nowadays metronomes, like clocks, are partially or fully electronic, often relying on quartz movement for establishing regularity, but older metronomes were mechanical and operated via a simple clockwork mechanism and, like mechanical clocks, were driven by a rewindable mainspring. Later metronomes would feature a small electric motor to drive the mechanism. A slightly more complex version of the mechanical metronome included a small internal bell which could be set to ring once every two, three or four clicks as desired, on the downbeat of each grouping of beats. The Billotti Trinome took this concept a step further by adding a second, independent click pitched slightly lower than the first. Combined with the bell sound the Trinome is capable of playing three separate beats simultaneously at one tempo, effectively producing what musicians call polyrhythms.


Patented by Paul Billotti in the early 1960s, a product review appearing in a 1963 issue of Music Educators Journal offers the following description. “THE BILLOTTI TRINOME, a new device billed as “the rhythm metronome,” produces beats with three different sounds—a bell, a tick, and a tock—each sound beating a different rate of speed and combining in various ways to form rhythmical patterns which can be varied by adjusting the rate of speed of each beat sound to the desired proportion relative to the speed rate of the other two beat sounds.” As a composer of 20th century music Diehn undoubtedly found the device useful when conceiving of multiple complex melodies and rhythms played against one another.

A Stillness that Better Suits this Machine by Casey Cangelosi, 2003

Of course the advent of electronic and computer-based metronomes and drum machines rendered a device like the Billotti Trinome obsolete, though surviving specimens occasionally surface on sites like eBay and Reverb.com and when they do they command a hefty price tag. The machine even has a cult following, so much so that the company Grover Pro Percussion commissioned a work for solo percussion which calls for the Trinome along with a set of woodblocks, bell, and triangles. A performance of the work, entitled A Stillness that Better Suits this Machine by Casey Cangelosi (2013), can be seen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XY-b188mihM (above). The video offers a fine view of the Trinome’s internal workings. A more basic demonstration of the Trinome may be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y1XnnzCX5XA.

And the beat goes on.

COVID-19 and Beyond: How ODU Has Stepped Up to Meet Crises Throughout Its History

By Steven Bookman, University Archivist

Women students in the war-training program work on an airplane

As Virginia, the United States, and the World are responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, Old Dominion University is rising to meet the challenge. For the health and safety of its students, staff, and faculty, the University closed its facilities, moved all its courses online, and will hold a virtual Monarch Grad Week to celebrate students graduating in May 2020. The entire Monarch community has come together to help slow down the Coronavirus by making masks for their fellow Monarchs, providing meals for the community, and volunteering for the Virginia Medical Reserve Corps.

However, this isn’t the first time ODU has faced adversity in the face of a crisis. International wars, the September 11 terrorist attacks, and the H1N1 pandemic have cause the University to respond in a variety of ways.

World War II


Sally Avery holding her nephew, George Shipp, Jr., points out her uncle Robert Turner whose name is on the Alumni War Memorial plaque.

Well before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, the Norfolk Division of William & Mary, as Old Dominion was known from 1930 to 1960, was already heavily involved in the war effort. An Aircraft Instruments Institute was established at the division in 1938 to train students to operate and repair aircraft instruments. The following year, a war training program was established on campus, allowing students to take courses related to aircraft mechanics and welding, radar, and topographical mapping, among others. At a time when colleges were losing enrollment with male students leaving to fight the war, the enrollment at the division remained steady and even grew during the war. Under the direction of Lewis W. Webb, Jr., the war training program offered free classes for women such as aircraft repair, drafting, and other war-related topics. Officers from Naval Station Norfolk, including several African American sailors, took classes at the division. By the end of World War II, approximately 5,000 people enrolled in the war training program, the largest on the East Coast.

September 11, 2001

The morning of September 11, 2001 began like any other Tuesday morning on campus. Students went to their classes as usual, but when highjacked planes crashed into the Twin Towers, Pentagon, and a Pennsylvania Field, word spread rapidly. The ODU community, as it always has, reacted quickly to help with those in need. Shuttle service was organized for students, faculty, and staff to give blood at the Norfolk Scope, the History Honor Society collected bottle water and socks to give to first responders in New York and Washington, D.C., and a room in Webb Center was reserved for Monarchs to pray, remember, and reflect. Three students and an alumnus lost their lives during the attacks: Army Lieutenant Colonel Karen Wagner, Army Specialist Craig Amundson, Navy Lieutenant Commander Robert Elseth, and alumnus Robert Schlegel, ’92.

ODU students attend a 9/11 vigil

H1N1, 2009

In April 2009, the first human infected with H1N1, a flu-like virus similar to the current Coronavirus, was reported in the U.S. Unlike the Coronavirus, H1N1 mostly infected children and young adults. ODU Student Health Services was quick to send out recommendations by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) to combat the virus. By July, Human Resources encouraged offices and departments to come up with plans for teleworking in preparation for an outbreak in the fall. A vaccine was developed in September and H1N1 flu clinics were held on campus beginning in November. By the time the CDC declared the pandemic over in August 2010, only a small number of Monarchs were infected.