V.com weekend vote: Do you listen to recordings of the pieces you are practicing?

July 23, 2023, 2:13 PM · Do you listen to recordings, as a part of your violin practice? This might seem like a rather uncontroversial question, but there are actually some dimensions to it, and that's what I'd like to explore and discuss in this week's vote.

I started thinking about this last week, as I was creating a list of recordings for Suzuki students.

Obviously, listening to recordings is part of the Suzuki method - a requirement, really. Back in Shinichi Suzuki's day, it was kind of a new and novel idea. With no smart phones and difficult access to recording equipment, people tended to reserve recordings for special performances - professionals and high level artists. It wasn't necessarily easy to find recordings of beginning pieces, made especially for pedagogical purposes. So the new existence of such a thing was a game-changer.

If you think about it, our classical violin tradition reaches back across the centuries; it predates recording technology. So this idea of listening to recordings was certainly not customary for say, a pedagogue such as Leopold Mozart, living in the 18th century.

Leopold Mozart listening to Spotify
Leopold Mozart, listening to Spotify? Not so much.

In those days, you might listen to your teacher or someone else playing live. If you lived in a musical family, you would likely do more listening than if you did not. Without the existence of recordings, there was no opportunity to learn a pre-recorded "ideal" of a particular piece by taking in a daily stream of recorded music.

So violin pedagogy has had to get used to this idea. The current widespread access to recordings certainly has expanded the reach for "exposure" to music, and this can greatly help students and musicians learn and re-learn pieces, learn new styles, etc.

But is it always a good thing? I've certainly heard of conservatory students being advised NOT to listen to their current piece - as they might start imitating a certain way of playing it if they listen too much. In order create your own interpretation, you need to think for yourself. Some teachers would advise listening to a lot of different recordings of your piece, not just one. Great advice. Or, don't listen to any while you are coming up with your own ideas.

The is of avoiding recordings seems a bit out-dated to me, and yet, I do think that high-level artists sometimes take this tack.

But sometimes we don't listen to recordings, not because of a philosophical problem with it, but because of time constraints, habit, access to the right recording, etc.

I did not grow up listening to Suzuki recordings, but I can remember my teacher handing me a cassette of Viotti 22 when I was working on it. It also had the Handel-Halvorsen thrown in. This recording was incredibly precious to me at the time - it would have been quite difficult to find it in any record store where I lived, and recordings weren't cheap. When I went to give it back, he said, "Oh no, just keep it!" The generosity of that very nearly blew my mind. That's how hard it was to get specific recordings at the time!

I can't say that I always listen to recordings of what I'm playing, but I do it pretty regularly. In recent years, I have my Spotify account, and I have ongoing playlists called "Symphony this week" and "Quartet this week." I just dump whatever piece I need to practice into the playlist and put it on in the car - when the gig is over, I delete it from the playlist. It's mind-boggling, how easy it is now.

So, do you listen to the pieces you are practicing, always, sometimes, or never? Do you actually avoid listening to the piece your are practicing? Please participate in the vote, and then share your thoughts and experiences in the comments.

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July 23, 2023 at 07:31 PM · Most of the "pieces I'm practicing" are chamber parts. Really helps to listen while reading the part so that you know how your part fits with the others. Even with a salon piece there will be an accompaniment.

July 23, 2023 at 09:48 PM · Nearly always. Hearing a piece is often what makes me want to learn to play it. I try to hear more than one other player’s interpretation.

But sometimes just looking at the sheet music of something I’ve never heard before gives me the incentive to tackle it. I’ve known, from an early age, how to hear the music in my mind by looking at the notes on the page. I soon develop my own ideas on how I’d like a piece to sound. Still, once I’ve started mastering it, I then like to find performances of it on the Internet by recognized artists for comparison.

I agree that the practice of avoiding recordings is an outdated idea. Hearing music for violin on recordings was, after all, the first hook that made me want to take up this instrument. Afterward, what gave me the real push was the experience of hearing and seeing live performers play some scores I’d already heard on recordings.

Then, too, we listen to our teachers. I remember how much I looked forward to hearing my first teacher play selected passages at my lessons so that I could get a better idea of how to execute these passages myself.

July 23, 2023 at 10:01 PM · I'm a fiddler. I have my teacher record the new tune for me, and I listen to it repeatedly over the next week or two and try to pick up some of it. When she gives me the music, or usually tabs that she writes out, I will practice with headphones on and play along, slowing it down or replaying sections as necessary. Sometimes I will change a few of the slurs or bowing or double stops to suit myself. This method works for me and helps me memorize tunes quicker. Generally you don't take music to jams, so I need to get the tune in my head.

July 23, 2023 at 10:48 PM · My teacher told me that when he was a student he was not allowed to go to recitals of the famous violinists of his time. Otherwise he would just imitate one of them. This sounds not very plausible to me; when one works seriously on a piece one ends up finding one's own way of playing it even if one started out with an attempt to imitate someone. I wonder if the real reason for the teacher was a wish to be imitated himself/herself?

I was encouraged to listen to the "competition" and to learn what I could from them.

July 23, 2023 at 10:50 PM · Oh that is sad, your teacher probably missed seeing some wonderful violinists of his time!

July 23, 2023 at 11:02 PM · As from ~ Elisabeth Matesky re Listening to Recordings when Practising? {#6}

Short on Time I will relate One Instance of Listening Intently to a Masterwork Recording for Violin and Orchestra in order to prepare for my Debut Recording of then No Other Violin Concerto No. 1 in a minor, Opus 99, by Shostakovich, only offered by David Oistrakh with the Son of the Composer, Maxim Shostakovich, Conducting!! My Concert Artist Mgmt had been in contact with a major German Orchestra and the Conductor for Life, which brought about my recording in Germany Violin Soloist Debut in this now standard Violin Concerto, yet barely played then and by its rare Dedicatee, GOAT Soviet Violinist, David Oistrakh!

Candidly, one was 'flying blind' when first told a Contract had been signed, with just 8 Months to both learn and Live with this Epic Violin Concerto of Dimitri Shostakovich!! Most familiar with our concert Standard Violin Concerti and carrying at least 4 or 5 + Violin Recital works & major Violin Concerto's each Concert Season, the First Violin Concerto of Shostakovich appeared on my Musical Doorstep out of the proverbial 'Blue' and nerves in those initial moments overtook me!! The First Order of my own Journey was to Listen to Great Violinist David Oistrakh, performing this overwhelmingly glorious & very demanding on All Levels of Violin Playing and matured musical artistry which I had to then Grow Up w/Score and a lot to become deeply immersed in what would come to be my 'Entre to Tragedy' with the later near almost by 8 Months Severe Illness of my teacher /beloved father, most threatening to his Life, and terrified of losing my Principle Life Teacher since age 3 until Heifetz, then Lasserson, sent by JH, and in London {whilst on my Fulbright} and lastly, Nathan Milstein, also in London, privately, yet none had ever performed-spoken of Shostakovich's 1st Violin Concerto, excepting Milstein yet in reference to his Great Violinist friend/Colleague, David Oistrakh's large Violin repertoire ... One was on One's Own for this and I determined at the outset to then practise 8 hours every day to learn & also learn the Reduced Piano Score & Listen to Oistrakh's 'Lead' until my own musical instincts combined w/knowledge of How Dimitri Shostakovich's Life under the Iron Regime had affected his own Compositions which once deeply involved had a pattern of 'Bad Omen's' to All and certainly in his Epic First Violin Concerto in a minor-an ominous key signature delivering in varied sections of truly bad news ...

One's emotional acquaintance with the Shostakovich Score deepened as my Poppa became more ill and growing more frail as the laboured months passed yet one was by 4 months in a truly ensconced in Times of Dimitri Shostakovich's 'regime' compositional Diary of his inner feelings channeled into his own Violin Concerto in 4 Movements, and needed, to fully note express the 4 Chapters of his own Life while composing what would become IMO, the most important Twentieth Century Violin w/Orchestra Concerto since Prokofiev's Violin Concerti, honoured by my private mentor, Nathan Milstein, so beyond well, even Mr. Heifetz, never recorded the 1st Violin Concerto of Prokofiev, deferring to his revered colleague and "Friend", Milstein!! All said, when one has an opportunity to traverse a huge new-to-personal repertoire Masterwork Violin Concerto knowing it will firstly be recorded minus a public performance prior, there is artistic-technical pressure to produce a cold 1st performance in a globally known recording studio more than One's Prior Best's!!!

The Process of 'learning' the Shostakovich was also aided by a 'Life Happens' ongoing daily & most painful experience flying back and forth between 1700 miles every 4 weeks w/Concert Engagements also in London and Northern Europe plus the Western US, in different violin works and being "There" for my Poppa ... Fear entered into my equation, cum impressions of this huge 20th Century Diary of the Great Composer, Dimitri Shostakovich's inner turmoil during terror times in his life, aka, existence in an unbendable Regime State yet managing to salvage sanity in & through his Violin Concerto No. 1 for Close Friend & Allie, David Oistrakh, whom I had always revered and loved when first hearing Oistrakh in Los Angeles, Live, in his Violin Recital at the Shrine Auditorium taken at age 10, seeing the powerful yet kind in sweetened loving bold Sound of David Oistrakh & who made an immense impression on my 10 year old little self, so one sensed being that minus any reservation I was on the 'Right Track' re How the Shostakovich had to be revealed yet in a shortened time via my by then developed EM Sound and on firm terrain due to such a glorious and musically in depth foundation from both my musician parents & friends, Toscha Seidel; Alice Mock, Prime Soprano of the Lyric Opera of Chicago; Arnold Schoenberg's Pianist, aka, my Mother and with All musical ideas and active instruction on How to Perfrom at "Olympic Levels" from very early on with Special added to the Mix, Mr. Heifetz & Milstein involved studies which brought me up & beyond what one had imagined when seeing & hearing Oistrakh at age Ten!! It all did come together through my own effort and Concert Soloist Performing & Recording Experience by then and acquired better nerves due knowing What practise techniques worked for me and not needing a 'teacher' to guide my musical gut instincts about the Shostakovich then knowing a phrase uttered by a Sage, "Done is Better than Perfect" and lodged deeply in my Mind & Fingers + musical heart and finally feeling 'At Home' with the Shostakovich 1st Violin Concerto out of my Country far away to record this with an as yet unknown environment and a Major Orchestra abroad!!!

Never before revealing this much I can state in retrospect, the intrinsic value of Teaching any piece of Music or an Epic Violin Concerto as Shostakovich No. I, to another violinist-pupil, {yet providence had me wait a good long time to teach & by then a personal Treasure to me}, and did so to a pupil who, by a rare circumstance, had been witness to a massacre in his own country & needed a release from his inner emotional trauma which in mentoring him, and for a long time, helped do just that and more to improve his violin technique which had to be several 'levels Up' to navigate the, i.e., Fugue like Edifice in the 3rd Mvt 'Passacaglia' huge after Theme Section, building to the Final Fourth Movement Victorious Allegro but whirled into with a nearly computerized Orchestra Conductor w/Players Beyond 'Red Alert' coming in nano second 'On Time' and Off one gallops & to a rousing Victory over All Odds {aka, drusage course's for Horses ridden in the Olympics} finally in the final moments ending in immense technical Beat the Odds Victory!!! One must become an All Around Violinist, and Humanitarian cum Mother Teresa, to truly offer the audience & fellow Orchestra musicians the Whole of the First Violin with Orchestra Concerto in a minor, Opus 99 by Dimitri Shostakovich ~ (ongoing!)

Golly! I am exhausted writing of it all, but I hope others might identify with my Truth set down here on this Sunday, the 23rd of July, in Anno 2 0 2 3 ~ A Word: I've grown much since having had such an experience combined with my mentoring many to Pro Top of Professional Major Orchestras in the US, UK, HK and Northern Europe in Helsinki, FI, Sibelius Academy of Music pupil's plus children whom I so adore ...

Gladly submitted with Thanks to Laurie's Article!

~ ~ Elisabeth Matesky ~ ~

Fwd ~ dmg {#6}

July 24, 2023 at 08:13 AM · Elizabeth's recollections remind me, Shostakovich 1 was the first and only concerto I ever practised for an audition, very much with Oistrakh's magisterial performance in mind. In 1968 I bought his first recording of the piece with Mravinsky conducting and in the same year I went to hear him give the UK premiere of the second concerto. In 1969 I was in the audience for his performance with my university orchestra (OK, that was the Brahms, but wow!) and later that year I passed their audition.

July 24, 2023 at 10:36 AM · Even if we try to imitate someone's performance, it is still our own perceptions, memories and muscles that do it!

And in the corridors of a conservatoire we often hear our fellow students practicing the same music.

July 24, 2023 at 12:40 PM · I think we differ as to how much we will mimic what we hear. I am very much on the 'very little' end of that spectrum and hence, can listen to recordings with little impact on my own expression. However, I can see how this would be a problem for those with a sort of 'photographic aural memory' where the expression seems to burn a trace in their minds.

You come across this more obviously in garage band covers where the singer or guitarist not only plays the piece but has to emulate the original by not only style but also body movements etc. In such circumstances if you try to change the rendition to make it your own these players will rebel and even get angry. Bit of a far analogy but I have come across something similar in violinists.

July 24, 2023 at 04:15 PM · Laurie, my teacher did not mention if he obeyed or not. Maybe he missed nothing. Though obviously he missed a lot compared to us today (he must have been a student around 1950).

July 24, 2023 at 06:24 PM · Albrecht, I'd be sad to hear that he turned down chances to go to recitals by Jascha Heifetz, Nathan Milstein, Fritz Kreisler, etc. etc.!

July 24, 2023 at 08:30 PM · I listen to recordings of pieces I am practicing. I tend to do this more in the early stages, so I am familiar with the various interpretations that exist. My performance does not exist in a vacuum. It is important to me to know other interpretations. I also listen to related works.

It can be a bit tiring to listen to the work later on in the process. Too much playing and listeninh to th3 same thing. It can also be distracting from my own ideas about the piece. I prefer just to hear the piece in my mind.

July 25, 2023 at 12:46 AM · Like Mark, I often listen to recordings early in the learning process, but much less at later stages once I've already made most of my interpretive decisions. In the later stages, if still I'm not sure how I want to play at a certain spot, I may jump straight to that spot in several recordings to compare them.

I generally don't remember specific recordings for very long, because I'm more interested in surveying the range of interpretations than in identifying any specific recording as definitive.

July 25, 2023 at 01:18 AM · I think that if an amateur violinist decides to listen to a recording of a piece with the intent of imitating the professional performer as closely as (s)he is capable, and if that amateur enjoys that activity, then I don't see any problem with that.

July 25, 2023 at 06:24 AM · An Addendum to my earlier Reply {#6} re Shostakovich Violin Concerto No 1 in a minor, Opus 99 {#15}

After catching up with later Replies from Violinist.com Members here, I think it a good idea to clarify for various individual musician experiences expressed and while here re 'mimicking' or the likes of and in a musical conservatoire environment & looking back as then students, my situation regarding the surprise to myself of a highly professional soloist with a superb German Orchestra violin soloist engagement with just 8 months notice by my Concert Artist Mgmt in the US, was a First Time Experience and being forced to listen intently to the superb recording of David Oistrakh with the Son of Dimitri Shostakovich, Maxim, Conducting a power Orchestra, and unknown to myself at that time! I have tried to never mimic those 'Giants Who Walked the Earth', as a Violinist, since being under the guidance of my principal teacher/father, Ralph Matesky, at a very young age, not only trained as a musician with my father insisting his daughter had to play and learn to play in an orchestra to grow as a maturing musician, but to learn the entire Whole of any Violin Concerto to make music as a musician Violin Soloist.

The Process of learning a Masterwork unknown to me at the time in one's ongoing Professional Concert Soloist Career, was unusual in respect to knowing most of the 'standard' Violin Concerti from listening in one's childhood years, hearing my father teaching in our home combined with the teachings of my Mother on the Piano, and an honoured UCLA Pupil & Pianist of/for then Professor Arnold Schoenberg, able to 'Hear' all Atonal complex harmonies +unusual tonal orchestra combinations at sight=her savant gift of harmony and transposition from her birth, which was, somehow, passed on to us without any formal discussion yet unspoken not mentioning much, expected to be part of one's learning/absorbing entire Scores as having one's porridge for breakfast!!! It was essentially 'A No Big Deal' approach!

I may be wrong or mistaken, but it seemed that a comment or two thought I was a student in a music conservatory when first initially engaged to record Dimitri Shostakovich's First Violin Concerto in a minor & never having heard nor even known of this gloried work very early on in the programming of major orchestra's Concert Season Repertoire when engaging Violin Soloists!! Already having made my Wigmore Hall Violin Recital debut in London; toured the European Continent giving Violin w/Piano Recitals in most major European Capital Cities, and signed under same Concert Artist Management with Violinists, Henryk Szeryng; Ruggiero Ricci, and Nathan Milstein, one was in a becoming larger by the year 'regular' guest Violin Soloist across the Atlantic, & beginning to be engaged by major & regional American Orchestra's by Conductor's in my birth Country, hearing about one's concertizing which brought about this New Violin Concerto to myself, and posed an intriguing albeit difficult challenge, never having had the opportunity to play in an orchestra accompanying a Great Artist in the Shostakovich Violin Concerto No. 1 in a minor, when this to-become new Friend landed on my Door Step!

Paul Deck, known to all on Violinist.com, summed much of this Subject up when writing about an amateur violinist deciding to listen to a recording of a piece 'with the intent of imitating the pro performer as closely as (s)he is capable, and if that amateur enjoys that activity, then I {he} doesn't see any problem with that.' I would like to add to Paul's statement just above, to say I do think in the specific situation I found myself, with just 8 Months to learn and fully prepare a Masterwork, and dedicated to David Oistrakh, my choice to Listen a lot in the beginning weeks to begin to grasp the style of the Composer and What Messages were contained in his 4 Movement Epistle in Sound, was necessary and not harmful to my own developed long-before-Sound and musical sense which did not allow me to mimic David Oistrakh yet to learn from his rare wonderful approach to the Music of his Compatriot and under the very severe Regime Politik at the time both were living and/or surviving via the best they both knew how through Music ~ their Escape from and through to Sanity in the purity of the Music Composed by Master Composer, Dimitri Shostakovich, also in many of his Symphonies which in my journey of learning the First Violin Concerto, was my 'life raft' to hold on to, musically, to then outline my own perception and as a fortunate American, having grown up in a Country which offered Freedoms never experienced by Shostakovich, David Oistrakh, and later Rostropovich, plus great Writers and Film Producers in a closed State to The World ... {To Know Sibelius, for instance, is to then Know the Finnish People and Soul, collectively! Likewise, it was my own 'Mission' to Learn to Know the 'Person' of Dimitri Shostakovich, to Know his People and the environment of the Country he was born in with & without the many advantages offered in our own Country at that time, thusly giving one a perspective which was paramount to offering this Epic Treatise for Violin with Orchestra but to not overlook the deeper messages of utter strife and underlying terror channeled straight into the Score of Shostakovich's First Violin Concerto with Orchestra, and I sensed, the Composer praying it would not be cast aside by those in Highest Halls of Power in the Country he was forced to Live ...

This Assignment was the most challenging of my musical career to that point, and it was mirrored, ironically, by the growing weakness of my looked up to always Strong & one thought immortal father, seeing Poppa being so physically reduced by a severe illness to a physical shadow of himself ... Ironically, in retrospect, I could never have portrayed the darkest moments in the Shostakovich Score without this horror occurring in my Family and at the same time of my limited 8 Month Preparation which greatly & profoundly influenced my musical approach to an Elisabeth Matesky portrayal of the Shostakovich 1st Violin Concerto in a minor, Opus 99, which I recorded just a Week prior to Poppa's Passing, and flying back to see him a Last time just after returning from Germany with Poppa waiting for me to say Good Bye . . .

This is personal 'holy' ground for myself, and perhaps I have erred in writing of it here for it is, as stated in my #6 Reply "my Truth" & I do hope others will take it as such and not include me with other conservatory music pupils' then preparing for various professional careers in Music yet perhaps not for the Life of a Concert Soloist which is, to be candid, very difficult to do and to live up to one's mentor's, All, & to not disappoint the public or one's professional colleagues on the path of Artistry-dom always striving for more and more technical-musical insight in one's own Sound & musical Conception of the Music with Greatness in one's Ear from the likes of both of my Iconic Violinist Mentor's, Jascha Heifetz and Nathan Milstein, with a touch of Oistrakh in the Mix!!! In closing, I must mention the utter devotion of Heifetz, in his JH Violin Master Class thrice Weekly and twice Weekly with Mr. Heifetz 6 hours a day with Chamber Music on Friday afternoon's with All Three= Heifetz, William Primrose and Gregor Piatigorsky, yet it was always Heifetz, who when teaching the Seven of us who would oft say, "Professor Auer told me ... " and point out his revered Teacher's ideas on a beloved Violin Concerto, i.e., Tchaikovsky, or Glazounow, or the Brahms, or Achron's "Hebrew Melody" as taught by his revered beloved Professor, Leopold Auer!

I'm sure all here will realize Heifetz imitated no one and brought the World Himself Complete with a revolution in Violin Sound, Tempi, and Playing which changed our perceptions of Greatest Artistry to this moment on Violinist.com, now at 2:24 AM, 25th of July, 2 0 2 3, and all here whether fully aware or not {and doesn't matter} are deeply influenced by the Heifetz Mystique & Magical plus Mythical Violin Art!

Thanks to All for reading this when time to ponder all this Subject posed by Laurie Niles has brought to us here and to share with each other ~ Wishing everyone Best's in whatever you be practicing without any Guilt for listening to a favoured Artist if beginning a new violin piece of Music to gain entre to the basic Style, Ideas posed and to firstly follow along =then as a spaceship is launched into the Atmosphere, losing Stage I, then Stage II, to enable its travel through various zones of lesser and lesser gravity pulling it back to Earth yet a final destination, say for now, the Moon, then touching down with little left of the original space craft but needed to get 'There' to Explore a new Planet in this Vast Universe we still look up at knowing so little about!!!!

~ With Musical Best Wishes to All ~

...... Elisabeth Matesky .....

Fwd ~ dmg {# 15}

July 25, 2023 at 04:40 PM · Thank you, Ms. E.M. for that memory. I wonder, what would be more intimidating; doing the first recording of a new major work, or, doing the second recording when the premiere recording was already done by David Oistrakh.

It is not a good idea to listen to recordings with the intention of imitating. The lesser skilled can't do it and the highly skilled don't need it. Listen to recordings for ideas, aesthetic boundaries, upper and lower limits for tempos.

At some point you need to make the piece your own, stop listening to the recordings. That also involves using an unedited edition, and not automatically accepting the conventional performance tradition.

I must confess that sometimes I do not enjoy listening to the Heifetz recordings. Probably because I am a lesser violinist, several orders of magnitude below him. And,-he could do it all 10% faster than anyone else.

July 25, 2023 at 11:27 PM · I realize that this group caters primarily to violin soloists, but I find that as an orchestral violist, listening to recordings is valuable. Becoming familiar with the other instruments' parts helps me build an image of the entire piece; once I've figured out where my part fits in, it becomes much more meaningful.

July 26, 2023 at 01:00 PM · Charlie - good point, its absolutely invaluable.

[PS They talk solo, but they mostly play orchestra!]

July 26, 2023 at 02:49 PM · This group is mostly amateurs.

There are a few professional orchestral violinists/violists who post here, one or two violin/viola professors, and retired concert soloists, such as Ms. Matesky.

Any professional orchestral violinist needs to have an excellent command of at least part of the solo-with-orchestra repertoire. An orchestral audition will include a romantic or post-romantic concerto and a Mozart concerto. Both need to be played at a very high level. Most orchestral violinists have done some sort of prep at conservatory, and as part of that training, they will have performed many solo with piano recitals in front of juries.

Your conductor is going to tell you (orchestral violinist) how they want you to interpret your part. You can't go off on your own to try unique interpretations while everyone else in your section is fulfilling the conductor's vision. Certainly you want to listen to many recordings of orchestral music, but, in the end, you follow the conductor.

July 26, 2023 at 06:47 PM · But Jocelyn, surely an 'excellent command' does not imply that there is also a need for individual interpretation? ["Sorry, you did not get the chair because although your playing of the Beethoven concerto was technically better than any other candidate, we could detect significant expression emulation by Stern."] If so then (according to the above) listening to others play could hardly be damaging.

Where the listening helps (me, amateur) is when I have a lot of repertoire to learn fast and where much of it is new and unfamiliar - which is I think what Charlie meant.

July 28, 2023 at 03:00 PM · Hi Elise, I was just reacting to the suggestion that these threads are by and about "soloists". My point was only that orchestral violinists have to worry about solo music because they use the genre to get their orchestral jobs!

I don't have a strong opinion about "imitation." Has anyone ever been accused of giving a performance that was too similar to a well-known recording?

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