November 23, 2008 at 2:34 AM
Aural tradition -- is this something that has any meaning for us in the 21st century?
Or does it just have a really weird meaning, as in, our aural traditions are no longer passed straight from human to human, but now they are passed from human to the television to human, or even human to YouTube to human?
Is it the same? And does it matter?
We still learn to speak by hearing other live humans speak to us and each other. But in music, it's different. Very often, the first music a modern child hears is not a song his mother sings; instead it comes from a CD, a television or even from one of those wretched electronic dolls -- or a cell phone!
Of course, I'm thinking about this in terms of being a violinist. For beginners, I like students to sing versions of the songs they play, to hear them played by friends and certainly to hear them played by me. But let's face it, when they study a Suzuki piece, they hear the recording more than anything.
For more advanced students, what do they hear? Most often, a recording, and then snippets from a teacher. Hopefully they hear another advanced student play their piece in master class.
But is hearing a recording really the same as hearing something live? If you think about it, the sound of a violin can vary in the extreme, between a recording, a hall, a studio, a practice room, etc. When someone plays for you, the vibrations get in your bones, literally. Does this happen with earbuds? And what of the entire three-dimensional aspect of music? It's a three-dimensional art!
So I ask you to think about the piece you are playing right now. Maybe you've heard a recording of it, maybe your teacher has played little bits of it for you.
But have you ever heard it played live, in its entirety, right there in the same room? And what are your thoughts on this topic? Is it important to see live performances, as opposed to the ones that go through a television, computer or other recording devise?
I think that the greater advantage is hearing a recording. For me, it's like I can immerse myself in the music and get lost. But when watching a performance live, there are so many things that distract from the piece. The lighting may be too bright, that annoying person in the back of the hall coughing, the orchestra player dropping their bow during the cadenza... The interruptions are simply endless.
It' s also different when I'm watching someone perform something live because I'm watching what they're doing as well as listening, but I'm not completely focusing on the sound.
So there are advantages and disadvantages to both.
I think there's no substitute for a live performance. It transmits excitement and other emotions like no other performance. However, there are so few opportunities to hear the great artists we love playing live. Even if you live in or near a big city with lots of live concerts in lots of genres, as I do, it's impossible to attend all you'd like to for financial and strategic reasons. Recorded music on CDs, DVDs, and even TV can fill a lot of needs. I can't hear great violinists who have passed away except in recordings, and I would miss so much beauty and technique without recorded performances. I've often wished we had recordings of great violinists, like Paganini, who lived before the electronic era. We have written descriptions by many who heard Paganini live, but we're still missing so much. There was a time when virtuoso violinists played on TV during prime time (can you imagine that now?), and I'm glad we have recordings and DVDs of them from the Bell Television Hour series. Personally, I learn so much and enjoy so much listening to the radio, CDs, and youtube. I listen to music almost every waking minute, and I have for many years. TV can be a medium for introducing young children to music and encouraging them to learn to play. I have a student who came to me as a first grader because she and her Mom had watched a PBS special about music and musical instruments, and she fell in love with the violin. She started violin lessons with me almost two years ago, and she is going strong. I believe the soul takes nourishment wherever it is found.
Hmm, I would suggest that the "aural tradition" as one might describe it, is still alive and kicking in the relationship between pupil and teacher? In what other art form is there such a close interchange of ideas (or traditions if you want to call it that) - as the teacher demonstrates passages from the piece we are studying, suggests ideas that may well come from their teacher, and in turn from their teacher's teacher and so on and so on...
I would also say that our musical "influence" has increased so much in a positive way since the advent of DVDs, CDs, etc etc, whereas say 50 years ago one might be lucky to live in a city where great name musicians passed through during the course of a season, and of course also lucky enough to have the money to buy a ticket and go watch them live. But how many people lived too far away from the main concert tour venues? They were restricted to records or the radio, and if keen could certainly gain an insight into a wide range of fine musicians, we all know parents or elders who got their love of music that way... and of course, one can play these recordings over and over again to pick up each and every nuance, unlike the once only live performance.
Yes, live performance is vital, but I hesitate to call it the main "medium" where an aural tradition is transmitted - I still believe that happens during the teaching process, whether individual lesson, masterclass, or orchestral rehearsal... If you are taking part in the live performance - as a student subbing in a good orchestra maybe - then yes, you are absorbing the aural tradition that way - just as the Scottish fiddlers passed on their unwritten repertoire to the youngsters joining a ceilidh for the first time.
I really like what Rosalind wrote. When I've heard my teacher play what I'm working on, and worked with her, it feels like the passing on of tradition that you describe. But I don't get the same intimate feeling from a big concert hall and a big name performer. I feel like that situation creates distance, even if I'm sitting relatively close to the stage.
In some ways, I feel like listening to a recording can create more intimacy: you can listen repeatedly, you can be in a comfortable environment while you're listening. You don't have to get dressed up or make an "event" out of it. Your mind can wander or you can cough and you don't have to worry about offending or bothering anyone. You also can sidestep the whole marketing-based "s/he is a famous, important violinist and I'm just a lowly audience member who shelled out the bucks" dynamic.
To me, the advent of Youtube was a very exciting thing because it brought great masters -- many of whom who will never be seen live again -- into my home for nothing (if it's wrong, I don't wanna be right). Not only do I hear the music, as with a recording, I can see the bowstroke and the fingering too. Now you can find just about anything on there, all but the most obscure. I still attend concerts and recitals, but Youtube in particular has been a tremendous resource to me as a musician.
I am working on the Schumann Violin Concerto, and no, I have never heard it performed live. But that piece is not standard rep, so I am not holding my breath. I would very much like to hear it performed live. DVDs, CDs, and the Youtube are wonderful, informative resources, but they are no substitute for experiencing a live performance.
Laurie, I think your choice of words is interesting: "Is it important to see live performances...". There can be a certain magnetism in the best live performances that transcend the visual, and that is why live performance can never be replaced by electronic media.
I'm learning Korngold's "Much Ado About Nothing" Suite, which I heard performed live by my own teacher, actually. A live performance makes you think about the whole picture when you're learning a piece: technique, phrasing, timing . . . even facial expressions and movement, which are all part of the experience. I'm also learning the Bach a minor sonata, which I saw Gil Shaham play last year. It was amazing! Such an amazing tone and clarity of line, especially in the 3rd mvmt (which I can't wait to learn! I'm working on the Allegro for juries).
Anne, actually I didn't think about that word choice, which I suppose makes it all the more revealing! I think that music affects all five senses; I even get a certain "smell" if I'm having an aesthetic experience, though I'll admit it doesn't have to be from a live performance. But the visual and "feeling" aspect of it are rather different live.
Two things have made me think of this, one is talking to Mark O'Connor, who has tapped so amazingly well into a true aural fiddling tradition. Another is Gustavo Dudamel, the young conductor whose experience in the Venezuelan "Sistema" was so first hand. I remember the conducting students when I was back at Northwestern, studying scores in the listening library and conducting to imaginary orchestras in cubicles. Then you see how Dudamel simply grew out of an intense youth orchestra experience, taking up the baton at age 11 and learning his craft by doing it with live musicians. That's what gave him such a palpable sense. No doubt he studies scores and recordings, too, but....
Anyway, more 2 cents from me! Carry on!
I voted yes, but I am working on more than one piece right now and haven't heard all of them performed live.
1. Beethoven Concerto: heard live many times. Live performances by Itzhak Perlman, Luis Haza (NSO violinist), and Emmanuel Borok (Concertmaster- Dallas Symphony).
2. Beethoven Romance in F Major: Never heard live but have heard all my teachers play parts of it at one point or another.
3. Bach Unaccompanied Sonata #1: Have heard live in its entirety from many sources. Performers include Peter Haase (NSO violinist), and Pavel Sporcl
4. Joachim Romance in C for viola: never heard live. Just a vintage recording of Joachim himself playing it on the violin.
5. Paganini Caprice #24: Have heard live. Performers include Itzhak Perlman and Eugene Dovgalyuk.
6. Schubert Quintet in C: never heard live.
7. Borodin Quartet #2: never heard live.
Laurie, its sound as if you have synesthesia. Pretty cool actually. I'm jealous.
I agree totally with Rosalind. the teacher/student "aural tradition" is really the best way to learn violin even if it is always good to self-taught things by exploring the net, looking to youtude, concerts or wonderful recordings. In my opinion, music can not really be taught in intitutions like universities etc (I mean group courses or lessons). I'm not talking about learning to play in an ensemble where you obviously need to play with others, but about the technical issues of the instrument. I'm not selfish but I believe that private lessons is more efficient and that if every music student could have a private teacher for a few hours a day (I know it is impossible nowadays + too costly!), every student would come out a wonder player! just to show how I find it is the best way to learn... But, it doesn't mean that recordings and technology is not important, I love to listen to great violinist who have unfourtunately passed away and am very greatful to the technology! This discussion couldn' t exist without technology after all!
Unfortunately, I have yet to hear my current piece performed live. Pity really! But I do think that there are many things to learn from a live performance. You can physically see what is happening, even though this may not mean that you understand what is happening. You can watch the connection between the soloist and the orchestra; eye contact, body cues and general stage presence. Since no piece is ever performed live perfectly, look for mistakes. Do they recover? How do they recover? Then there are lots of technical things that only nerds like us would look for such as bow position, posture, left-hand technique, etc. Bottom line is, it's good to see a live performance of any piece, but especially one you are studying. It's simply another perspective brought to the table, giving you more possibilities and ideas about how to approach a particular piece.
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