Off The Record

Recording is a wonderous thing, but has evolved into an art form that is truly separate from performing. The manipulation made possible by technology allows recordings to achieve an ideal of perfection beyond what happens on the stage. Or, at least a certain quantifiable kind of perfection.

I once produced a recording for a colleague. Upon hearing the finished product, his thrilled reaction was, “Wow, nobody plays like that.” I reminded him that he didn’t either.

For many young performers these professional recordings are REALITY, and they aspire to sound like these mostly artificial products.

It is true that we strive for perfection in our practice – but this is not the goal. Mastery of the instrument is simply a vehicle – one that allows a free flow of expression that we delight in sharing with others.

This reminds me of a passage from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice in which the heroine attributes her own imperfect performance on the piano to the fact that she “would not take the trouble of practicing.” Her admirer, responds with “No one admitted to the privilege of hearing you can think anything wanting.” I always felt that he “gets it”, and is listening beyond the notes.

Of all the commercial recordings I have done, the two releases that please me most are live performances. 

4 responses to “Off The Record

  1. You are not the only one. Listen to the part from 8:05 to the end in this interview.

  2. Sharan Leventhal

    Beautiful! My sentiments as well….

  3. Recordings are documents of performances that never took place, and yet are held up as definitions (by critics, by audiences, by performers themselves) of the way a performance must be or be found lacking. I had an orchestra colleague who refused to attend a performance of a certain work because he “loved the music too much”, i.e. a live performance is imperfect and thus, apparently for him, not worth listening to. Search committees routinely toss out any recordings with _any_ missed anythings on them to whittle the field, even though the “perfect” recordings are either edited in the computer or selected from a much larger group of live recordings. A recording engineer I’ve worked with told me of a harpsichord recording he recently did: it was a page or two of sheet music and had about 300 edits.

    They/we should all learn more about wabi-sabi, the Japanese word for “the beauty of imperfection.” The brain tends to shut down (go to “sleep”) in the face of perfection where everything is predictable and unchanging. Small flaws evoke awareness and thus appreciation. Live performances have what recordings can never have – some level of unpredictability (from the possibility of “surprises”). Mistakes are a chance to learn (or discover) something new as well as to stay awake and “alive.”

  4. Pingback: For The Record | Just Tuning In

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