Sound projection revisited

October 7, 2016 at 09:30 PM · I played a recital recently, with a pianist, well not that I played very often, but this time it's a totally new experience to me. I played in a pretty dry hall, that's quite big.

To keep the story simple, I brought two violin during rehearsals, violin A sounded more powerful and has rounder sound, while violin B sounded less powerful with more audible bow noise. So being influenced by the result, I chosen violin A for the recital,

However, it was a disappointment during the actual recital - once the hall was filled up with audiences. Violin A sounded weak and thin. I switched to violin B during 2nd half of the recital, and the result was much much better. It sounded a lot clearer, cleaner, focused, and projected better.

As a matter of fact, violin B is a much more expensive violin than violin A. While price doesn't reflect the quality, but we pay for the experience of the violin maker where they know best what works well, that we players don't immediately appreciate,

So lesson of the day - the best way to try out a violin, is to play in a large hall, with at least a piano, AND jam packed with audiences. Seems like violin shopping isn't so straight forward after all!

Replies (17)

October 7, 2016 at 10:26 PM · If the concert hall is a good one you don't need to have an audience to test the instrument.

Some modern concert rooms are designed by acoustic engineers.

October 7, 2016 at 10:50 PM · Of course, so was Philharmonic Hall at Lincoln Center.

October 7, 2016 at 11:40 PM · I've been told that the acoustics of the medium size St George's Hall in Bristol, England, is such that there is virtually no difference between the empty hall and when it is full. Having played there many times over the years (the latest was last Saturday in Beethoven 7) I can attest to that. Further, more than in any other venue I've played in, if you're playing in an orchestra you can hear pretty well every other instrument - which means that they can hear you ;)

Mics aren't necessary either, unless they're needed for recording or broadcasting (the BBC uses St George's a lot).

October 8, 2016 at 01:33 AM · I believe that even the best artists don't get to play in great hall too often. There's an interview video of Kavakos, he said his Strad will sound good and carry well even in not so good acoustic.

So how do we choose violin again? Surely we want to sound good all the time, the audience won't really know. Foods for thought...

October 8, 2016 at 11:11 AM · Casey - when you say that one violin sounded nicer and projected better, was this just your own impression under your ear or did friends in the audience confirm your impression?

October 8, 2016 at 12:42 PM · Raphael is making a good point: what you hear from the violin under your ear is not what the audience hears a few yards away or at the far end of the hall. The only satisfactory way for me in which the player can decide which violin works for a given acoustic is to get a competent violinist to play the violins while you go around the hall listening and assessing; then swap places and get the other violinist to give their own assessment. One hopes that if both assessments come with the same result then well and good, we have a decision; if they are wildly different, then I'll have to have another think about that one ...

This sort of situation can happen in orchestral rehearsals if the conductor is not happy about what the audience may be hearing at the back of the hall. On a number of occasions I've known the CM being asked to go the back of the hall and listen. The CM then reports to the conductor that, for example, the balance between firsts and seconds is not good, or the cellos aren't giving enough oomph, or the brass is over-cooking it too much. Or perhaps that everything is fine. All useful information for the conductor.

October 8, 2016 at 12:53 PM · I am interested in hearing an answer to Rapahel's question, as I have noticed significant differences between how a violin sounds "under the ear" compared to "in the audience".

For example, my practice room has rather dry acoustics and it tends to amplify the small errors in intonation "under the ear". But if I record it or listen to someone else play it and experience the violin "in the audience", the tonal impression is very different.

Moving to another room with wetter acoustics results in completely different experiences "under the ear" and "in the audience".

Another thing I've noticed by attending concerts is that some styles of pieces and phrases play better than others in a large venue.

For example, legato phrasing with very little articulation by the bow can virtually disappear in a concert hall even if played loudly. However, add some strong springing bow action, staccato or wide vibrato and even a soft sound seems to fill the hall.

Which leads to the question did the second half of the program contain more pieces with strongly articulated bow work than the first half?

October 8, 2016 at 02:08 PM · It's quite complicated because it depends on the acoustic as well as the violin and also very much the way it is played. Two different players using the same violin might get very different results.

October 9, 2016 at 05:57 AM · Raphael - during rehearsal, I asked the pianist to go down to audience seats to listen to my violin, which I believe can help a little (I couldn't get anyone else to come to listen the balance as a whole that time), and she also commented that violin A sounded better and more powerful when she accompany me. Violin B doesn't sound as rounded and it's not so clean (lots of bow crunch/noise).

Then during the intermission of the recital, few of the audiences who are my musician friends came up and comment that my violin sounded too soft. So I thought I'll take a chance by switching to the other one since violin A no longer work. And to my surprise, violin B was indeed better, as the audiences commented.

Carmen - the 2nd half contain more delicate pieces like Kreisler waltzes so in a way I should have more problem to project my sound as I can't force it.

Peter - yes I often get into a situation that violin that I sounded very good on during violin tasting, I mean, testing session (again comments from friends), was being trashed by another player.

I'm still leaning to the conclusion that one only can really test out the real potential of a violin during actual concert or recital.

October 9, 2016 at 07:24 AM · "Proof of the pudding is in the eating" IMHO. But not everyone likes Vindaloo curries.

I wasn't too impressed with a Lucci violin I had on trial over 20 years ago until I got my wife to play it indoors and the sound passed easily through double-glazing and could be heard clearly at the bottom of the garden !

By contrast, my Vuillaume violin which was very loud under the ear and terrific for playing in an orchestra because I could always hear myself was disappointing when I got a concertmaster to play it on the platform of a large hall. Less effective at a distance.

The phrase "Horses for Courses" comes to mind !!

October 9, 2016 at 09:05 AM · Interesting comment about the bow crunch. A friend attended a rehearsal and concert by a prominent violinist (decades ago). In rehearsal, close up, the playing sounded crunchy, lots of bow noise. During the concert from the audience seats the sound came across as clean, well articulated, but not crunchy.

October 9, 2016 at 08:15 PM · Casey - good!

October 9, 2016 at 08:34 PM · This is what lead me to filter the scratch out of my left ear with a ball of cotton. Full DIY ear protectors are too much for fine judgement, but are useful to distance onself from the tone.

For ca 100 dollars, you can treat yourself to a Zoom H1, which be very useful for practicing as well as rehearsals. I found it worth having good earbuds (e.g. good Sennheisers at ca 70 dollars), or on-the-ear phones (e.g.Sony Rh-5ma, around the same price).

October 9, 2016 at 08:57 PM · Too much scratch = too much bow pressure, or a not fast enough bow. (If it's not the fiddle causing the problem with too much high frequencies and/or surface noise).

October 9, 2016 at 09:00 PM · The problem is, that many violinist desire to achieve the same sound that they use to hear at concert or listening CDs (as a listener). But if they adjust their playing style, instrument choice, strings choice, rosin choice e.t.c to what they hear close to their ear, listeners in the hall do hear just a feeble rehash of the "desired" sound.

We need to be aware the similarity to a lamp. Inside the lamp (close to the bulb) the intensity of the light is much more intense than the light that is spread in the room. Neither the color spectrum use to be the same.

I have described my very early personal experience of that kind in the short text "Our sound concept":

This is why we aim to consider both, the "beauty" of the sound heard close to your ear as well as the projection on a large hall. Many violinists do not like the "sizzle", "grain" or however such part of the sound can be named in English. But it is the necessary part of the projecting sound.

October 11, 2016 at 03:15 PM · David - Heard about your story from older thread, and I believe there was another thread about recognising projecting violin and another Lucci was mentioned!

Liz - Damn, should have know better.

Adrian - The crunch was audible from distance during rehearsal, but I guess it works well when there're a lot of audiences.

Peter - What's interesting was the crunch wasn't present (at the very least it didn't distract the audiences).

Bohdan - I don't mind the sizzle, it's what translate that I was really concerned, and seems like I earned some experiences from the recital. Thanks for sharing the info!

October 11, 2016 at 05:19 PM · Actually, I think I meant harshness, rather than scratch or crunch.

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