Thursday, April 05, 2012

Real Music

Usually, when someone's making music, you notice the music.  But if a real person is making music with a real instrument, which vibrates a real string or a real reed (as opposed to the sounds made by electronic music), there's something else to hear -- the sound of the person using the instrument.

When a person is playing guitar, there's the sound of the fingers on the strings, sliding from one fret to the next.  When a person is playing organ, someone nearby can hear the ever-so-soft sound of the feet hitting the pedals.  When a person is singing, between lines there's that sound of air being sucked into the lungs.

I used to think those were bad-but-necessary sounds.  Now with all the electronic ways of making music, I'm happy to notice those subtle indicators of real music.


  1. While studying music in college my classmates and I had a discussion about what it would take to use electronics to perfectly imitate an instrument. Your post illustrates why that can't ever happen. There's so much more to music than just single notes played together. There's the physical reality of the instrument and person interacting together.

  2. Yes, yes, yes! So true! I remember many years ago reading a quote from Barbra Streisand, one of my favorite singers. She said that early in her career she was listening to a studio track of herself and something didn't sound right. Then she realized that it was because she couldn't hear herself breathing--there was just silence where there should have been breaths. She asked whoever was producing or engineering the recording where all her breaths went and he said he took them out. She made him put them all back in.

    We are slowly losing more and more in the way of authentic music-making. Schools and colleges use "Smart Music" technology instead of real musicians. A colleague of mine recently judged a school music festival and there were no live accompanists, just kids playing with "Smart Music" tracks. He was told not to grade the kids too hard because many of them had never had the benefit of working one-on-one with an accompanist. And of course, a track can't adjust and cover a young musician's mistakes. It just keeps on going. And then there are the virtual organ programs about which I think you know my opinion. Sometimes my husband and I feel like a dying breed. My son is majoring in music and we just pray that there will still be a job for him when he gets out of college.

    1. Don't grade as harshly, because they're using Smart Tracks? Sigh. They should be graded equal to or maybe even more harshly, because they know very well what the accompaniment is going to do.

      As much as I do sing to prerecorded music, I'm a slave to it. I may want to go a little faster or a little slower, depending on how I'm feeling, and the recorded tracks don't let me do that without editing.

      Live players, even if they can't play more notes more quickly than a computer or overdub, will always have value.

  3. Not to get your post totally off track, but I want to clarify that I am not trying to knock all recorded music. I see great applications for things like the virtual organist and Dan's podcasts and the like. My concern is when they are used in the context of worship. My personal belief is that the worship of a community should be comprised of those present. I would much rather sing an entire service a cappella than to sing along with a recording.