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Karen Allendoerfer

'It Sounded Better at Home'

April 6, 2009 at 10:48 PM

It's a famous student line:  "it sounded better at home!"  But is it true?

Philip Johnson says, in The Practice Revolution, that students who say this are usually remembering some bright shining moment when everything came together, once, at home, when no one else was around.  And that they forget the multitude of times it actually sounded worse at home.

I decided to test the theory with my viola recital piece, "Passacaglia on an Old English Tune," by Rebecca Clarke.

At home in the rec room (~1 hour before the recital)

The recital itself (filmed by a 9-year-old):

Something I did not anticipate:  how much my hands would sweat due to nerves.  And how that could cause fingers slipping off the strings!  I thought if I solved the "cold, stiff hands" problem, I'd be able to move on.  Not exactly.

Something else I did not anticipate: it may not be obvious to other people, just from listening to this, why I love this piece.  So here is how it is really supposed to sound, played by someone who knows what she is doing:

What do you think?


From Tom Holzman
Posted on April 7, 2009 at 1:55 PM

Interesting question and observation.  I thought the recital sounded maybe a bit better, but the sound quality in both recordings has problems which make it difficult to really tell.   However, I did not find terribly significant differences, sweaty hands and nerves nothwithstanding.  Good work.  If I did the same recordings, my recital performance would likely evoke winces and/or guffaws.

From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on April 7, 2009 at 2:07 PM

Thanks for looking and listening!  I think the recital sounds overall better due to better room acoustics and to having a live pianist.  I also prefer my own tempo, which is a bit slower than the recorded pianist's (but faster than the professionally done recital that I linked to).  

But I did slightly better with the 7th position sections and shifts at home; they were better in tune there (still not perfect, but more reliable).  And at home I didn't have the problem with the second set of ascending double stops that I had during the recital, where my sweaty hands made my fingers slip all over the place.  That was normally a section I enjoyed doing and I was disappointed with how it came out in the recital.

But I'm quite happy with the fact that I was able to perform it without the sheet music and didn't have any memory glitches.  Performing from memory is something I've never even attempted before and the thought of it used to terrify me.  Now, hopefully, I know the worst that can happen is sweaty hands.

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