Memory Slip - a do or die situation? Does it matter?

September 10, 2006 at 06:32 AM · Memory Slip - a do or die situation?

So Jinjoo Cho's memory slip is quite a controversy. But lets help Gringolts out...

So there are how many dimensions to a violinist?

Okay, There's...



X Factor (the I don't know what the hell they are doing but it's getting me off)

and the Barenboim Factor.

Would you be more impressed with, The last three sans technique? I wouldn't

How about 1-3-4 but not 2? I would, but music is not about that.

How about 1-2 and not 3-4. Yeah, I would and juries like that combination as well.

Well from what I've heard of Jinjoo's playing I think she would have 1-2-3, and would the fourth dimension of playing really matter after you've so greatly shown that you have 1-2-3?

As my Biz Org professor would say, "Should it? Really really?"


Replies (48)

September 10, 2006 at 04:46 PM · I may have missed a prior discussion, but I'm interested in the Barenboim facotr. What do you think it is?

It's better not to have a memory slip, but things happen and it's happened to everyone. My first was in a competition. Prizes have been lost that way, but that's the nature of those events. If someone's playing is clearly more effective than another's, then a memory slip shouldn't doom him. But usually there are a number of great players in a competition. Execution matters a lot in the overall impression one gives. I don't have a problem with that, just like I don't have a problem with a fall knocking someone out of a figure skating medal. That's what makes competition exciting! Fortunately, there are other avenues to a career than just competitions. :)

If you have a sensitive jury with open ears, you will end up with winners that truly deserve the prizes.

September 10, 2006 at 09:22 PM · I'd rather hear a heartfelt performance with memory slips than a flawless but soulless one without them.

September 10, 2006 at 09:33 PM · Not me. I'd rather hear a dull performance than one full of interruptions and distractions.

I somehow don't think that a person who had several memory slips would give a really great performance.

September 11, 2006 at 04:37 AM · Here we go... After much thought, I have good arguments why a memory-slip should not be dispositive to winning or losing a competition.

Okay, so we all agree that memory-slips are likea "luck" thing right? I mean, do people actually think they prepare prepare prepare a piece just to forget it? No, it just happens, so sh** happens.

So if Jinjoo was meant to win the competition absent the memory slip, then why should she be penalized for it. Are we suppose to reward those that can remember Pi to the 1000th place and penalize those who can't, and yet penalize also those same people who bring us more joy in listening to them laugh and speak?

Where do we cross the line in saying this sort of mechanistic detail to playing the violin is more important to us than what comes from within, the heart or the mind or wherever. Is Steven Hawkings any less a genius just because he can't name Pi to even its 100th place (I bet he can't even do that)?

And Roger says it the best, just because other competitions award this sort of aspect, why should we? Why should tennis allow coaching - this is what makes it special. And music, of all things holy, is a very very special thing in that we promote artistry and "feeling".

If you can't feel the music -- well if you can't feel your toes, what is its then use and value?

Just a thought...


September 11, 2006 at 05:28 AM · It must depend on the situation and degree of the mistake. I'm sure there have been memory slips that have ruined performances regardless of the quality of the music that was played. Then again, Kreisler was known to have memory slips relatively often and any person on this forum would have loved to have been able to see him perform.

September 11, 2006 at 08:05 AM · Well, I didn't have a problem with JinJoo winning, it's the incoherence of the judging panel that was strange to me... Ye Eun Choi wins 2nd, which says that the jury was looking for a technically dazzling player, who perhaps didn't understand Shostakovich and didn't have the same set of artistic priorities as the others.

Considering they rewarded people who had slips (which by all means they should, this is music, not gymnastics), it's just a bit inconsistent with how the placing panned out. Given JinJoo as the winner, both Corine Chapelle and Dan Zhu should have been in the top 3 instead... to me, that looks like some voting clashes, wherein almost half the jury voted strongly for the technical one, and a bit more than half overuled by giving the nod to JinJoo.

Should it matter? Absolutely not. Her Shostakovich was one of the best. I think Zhu's was the best (combined the precise performance as well as what I felt was a wonderful way to play the Shostakovich), but maybe he was too supressed for the jury. There could be no question that he was the most mature of the lot (and that's not saying any of them are the diametric opposite).

Marty, I can assure you that there wasn't much of a feeling of disruption... with the quality of Jin Joo's playing, you forgot about it right away if you have anything beating in your chest. Unless you're some depressed stickler for the quantifiable details of performances, the playing was beautiful and there was hardly any loss in coherence.

September 11, 2006 at 08:55 AM · Vincent--

Since the general level of technique in modern violin playing has risen so sharply, most juries have to be rather unforgiving towards a memory slip. And strangely, the blame is partially on us. Our complaints (many times justified!) that competitions are overly political led to voting systems that strive towards objectivity. So while the panel can quibble over tuning systems, style, and interpretation, the easiest thing to agree on (and logically so) is who played the most number of notes correctly! So we can't always win...

But it reminds me of an odd phenomenon that doesn't seem so commonplace anymore. There used to be contestants who had memory slips due to a bad day and contestants who had memory slips because their expectations of getting to the next round were so slight, their 1st round material was better practiced than their 2nd round material. I think we can agree on which of the two types is more pardonable, although today we normally only encounter type 1.

September 11, 2006 at 01:18 PM · Are the criteria for playing in a competition the same as just playing a concert? It seems that memory slips are unforgivable in a competition because the criteria are those of the judges. Whereas playing in a concert the criteria are those of the audience (OK, and maybe a critic or two).

And, by the way, Heifetz has had memory slips.


September 11, 2006 at 03:11 PM · I think the comparison of a memory slip to a fall in figure skating is not fair. A fall is 90% a deficiency in technique (except when the skater lands on a loose patch of ice or something like that) where as a memory slip is entirely preventable if playing with scores were allowed.

Because playing from memory (exept for certain things like sonatas) is a requirement for many competitions, memory slip should, like it or not be considered as a technical error and result in a deduction. If one really cares JUST about the music, why not allow competitors to play with scores? Then there will be no controversies on memory slips. I have seen some performers play concertos with scores. I think playing with scores should be an option.

September 11, 2006 at 03:58 PM · Hi,

Actually Sander, Heifetz had only one memory slip in his entire career. It took place in the 1950's during a performance of the Beethoven Concerto in Dallas. How do we know? Because people made a fuss and newspapers headlines from it, along the lines "Heifetz Forgets!" - Crazy, isn't it?

As for the rest, competitions and concerts are two different things. Competitions and careers too. Juries have a mind of their own and results are the decision of a group of people considering a host of factors, both objective and subjective. Better not to speculate.


September 11, 2006 at 03:20 PM · Some thoughts:

I don't have too much of a problem with Cho winning, although part of me still says that the grand prize is inappropriate for someone who makes such a slip, unless everybody else makes an even more egregious error.

One memory slip might be a luck issue. More than one is just unprepared, I would say.

Just as an experiment, I got out the tape of her performance, put on my sound editor hat and edited out the entire minute and a half false start she made on the second movement. It's definitely a performance worthy of first prize.

September 11, 2006 at 04:30 PM · For what it's worth, I had a violin teacher who was a multiple competition winner who told me that memory slips are not a big deal. Of course, that was in a masterclass!

September 11, 2006 at 04:50 PM · My comparison to figure skating was less about the cause of the glitch than about the drama. Whether a technical error or just something that happens, it happens to the best skaters just like it happens to the best players. One may still feel that the "falling" skater is better than the "non-falling" one, but on that particular day the fall would be one of many things considered.

Anyone who goes into a competition is aware of this and you don't reach the late stages of an international contest without a certain amount of thick skin. Yet another good reason why these big events have multiple rounds; better to get it out of the way before the finals!

I almost forgot, the issue of playing with the music... I know that a memorized performance makes a much bigger impression on me than one with the music (live, of course!) and if music were optional I still think most people if not all would opt to play without. Also, competitions exist to identify players who may (!) go on to big careers as soloists, where it is the norm to memorize concerti and unaccompanied pieces. I have seen Gidon Kremer use the music for a standard concerto, but in general it's part of the show business.

September 11, 2006 at 05:18 PM · Actually, an orchestra member is quoted as saying that what happened in Jinjoo's performance was that the conductor screwed up..... not a memory slip on her part

September 11, 2006 at 06:09 PM · Hi,

Terrific post Nathan!


September 11, 2006 at 06:10 PM · Pieter, you was here, thats it really happens?

September 11, 2006 at 06:17 PM · I was told a great story of the famous violinist Carl Halir slipping up while playing the Chaconne...his method for correction was to pretend he was having a sneezing fit!

September 11, 2006 at 06:38 PM · Wow, I'll have to remember that trick...

Anyway, I haven't gotten around to watching the videos from the last few days of the Indy so I can't comment on Jinjoo's playing, but IMHO a memory slip should not be a big deal at all. It doesn't necessarily indicate poor preparation--could have been a misfiring neuron or something, s*** happens. Also, if a violinist is able to recover quickly from a memory slip and quickly draw the audience back into their performance so they forget it ever happened, it can end up showing the musician in an even better light.

September 11, 2006 at 06:42 PM · by the way, Vince, what the heck is the Barenboim Factor??

September 11, 2006 at 06:48 PM · Luis,

The conducting was a disaster on several occasions. The first Sibelius performance was a total disaster.

September 11, 2006 at 07:39 PM · Hi Nathan,

In other words, you're saying that musical performances are not just about music, it's also about showmanship. Otherwise, why would a memorized performance give you a bigger impression than one without if you could enjoy the exact same music in the same hall with your eyes closed?

Sometimes, I have to close my eyes during a live concert because the performer's physical movements (e.g. facial grimaces, body sways etc) are too distracting for me. I guess different strokes for different folks. A flawed performance is a flawed performance, even if it moves me to tears. (In that case, it will be a moving flawed performance. LOL)

September 11, 2006 at 10:53 PM · The soon to be former conductor of the Chicago Symphony is known to conduct without score. Everything he does is from memory. Too bad he's not such a great player, ie. Brahms Sonatas with Perlman.

What's up with all these South Koreans doing so well? Paegopa!


September 12, 2006 at 01:06 AM · Concerning Heifetz, a late 1950's article in the NY Times discussed a slip that occurred in the last movement of the Sibelius (in the dotted rhythms). He had to start over. Heifetz was quoted as saying the same thing happened to him in 1919. I'm sure there were other instances. They happen to everyone.

In the finals of the 1981 Naumberg Competition (won by Nadia Salerno-Sonnenberg), one now well know violinist, had a disasterous slip on the 2nd page of the Tchaikovsky. I noted that Leonard Rose, who was one of the judges, immediately put down his note pad.

I once saw the great pianist Earl Wild play about 45 seconds of Jeux d'eau terribly (like he was making it up on the spot). So he sneezed and started over. After another 45 seconds of equally bad playing he stopped, turned to the audience and said, "I've forgotten it."

After the audience finished laughing, he went on to the next piece!


September 12, 2006 at 02:56 AM · In jazz, there's no such thing as a memory slip!

September 12, 2006 at 02:56 AM · In improvisational jazz, there's no such thing as a memory slip!

September 12, 2006 at 03:54 AM · Vincent, Maestro Barenboim conducts the things he knows the best without score, and others with. He has a prodigious memory, but he's not married to a principle either. And your comment about his playing is ill-informed at best. I've been there for so many live performances it's not funny, and I also disagree with you about the recording you name. If you have something specific to bring up, maybe it has merit on another thread but I won't let Barenboim be minimized on a competition thread.

Everything is part of the performance... and audiences go to concerts for different reasons. That's why there are phrases like "a violinist's violinist".

September 12, 2006 at 04:26 AM · Greetings,

I like the self deprecating anecdote Misltein writes in his autobiography in which he started the Chaconne....completely forgot it but fortunately noone noticed because he segued into the Bach e major prelude.



September 12, 2006 at 05:40 AM · I thought that was funny, too. Wish I could've been there to see it.

September 12, 2006 at 09:57 AM · Christian: Yes, Heifetz had only one "reported" memory slip, but I'm sure he had others. After all, contrary to popular opinion, he was human.

:) Sandy

September 12, 2006 at 12:55 PM · Hi,

According to private sources Sander, this was the only incident. And yes, he was human, and apparently deeply hurt and at a loss to understand why everyone made such a fuss about it. I simply pointed out the incident not to emphasize a superhuman quality in him but maybe our own ridiculousness at times...


September 12, 2006 at 01:52 PM · Aw, poor Heifetz! That was pretty rotten thing to do, make such a fuss over one mistake. :(

September 12, 2006 at 02:03 PM · That's the price you pay for being very good.

September 12, 2006 at 06:23 PM · Nathan, I have a question. How do you yourself memorize? I think my way of memorizing almost amounts to purely muscle memory. I think I developed it early on while memorizing very simple pieces. I'm coming to a realization that maybe that method is fine for simple things, but not as workable for complicated things, more notes, longer pieces. It does work for complicated pieces - but - they have to be fresh in my hands, hot off the press so to speak, or they just aren't there. In fact my normal way of ending something is to go "Well, that's all I know of that." :) Which is fine for what I myself do, but it's obviously a big limiting factor.

September 12, 2006 at 08:44 PM · Hey, maybe it's Heifetz who should have said that famous line, "I've never made a mistake; I thought I did once, but I was wrong."

If we overfocus on mistakes, then that's all we're paying attention to, and it becomes the tail wagging the dog.

Anyway, in the grand scheme of things, we shouldn't be too concerned about mistakes on the violin. We shouldn't even call them mistakes; we should call them "fluffs" or "boo-boos" or "glitches." Now, when Napoleon decided to invade Russia, THAT was a mistake.


September 12, 2006 at 09:01 PM · lol NAPPY.

Mistakes are ephemeral. As long as they don't just keep coming, you just put tehm out of your mind (as a listender) and go with the flow of time. Only outside the ilusion of the flow of time do they become permanent.

September 12, 2006 at 10:39 PM · Greetings,

I think Casals was the artist who tuck it to the pedants the best. He generally recorded things in one take. Then when an engineer pointed out a mistake he would just smile and say `Yep, that`s the way I played it.` The only way he was persuaded to do retakes was to tell him that the mike hadn`t been switched on or similar.



September 12, 2006 at 10:57 PM · I don't have an absolute system, more the "keep plugging holes in the dam" approach! With a new piece, I write in all fingering and bowing changes right away. That way I don't have to keep stopping to mark them in piecemeal. Of course, some changes become apparent only after some playing, and those will naturally come later.

With a well-fingered and bowed part, I can really begin. First the tricky passages have to be worked out, each in its own way, and that's the subject of many other threads. But once I can play everything in basically one tempo, I repeat big sections as long as I have good concentration. There's no shortcut that I've found for good repetitions. That's how I learned those Suzuki pieces way back when. That plus listening to the record about a thousand times, to the dismay of my parents. :)

When concentration runs out, I either take a break or switch to technical work on small passages. Then it's back to big sections. After a few days of that, I try without the music. At the first stop, I look at the part and play from a few measures before the stop until a few after. Of course I do it many times! Then I go on without the music until the next stop, and so on. If I find that I'm stopping too often, I go back to repeating with the music for a while and try again the next day.

Some pieces need special memory tricks, or even mnemonic devices if you like those! ABACA or something like that. Bach C Major fugue is notorious, or the end of Prokofiev 2 last movement. But in general, the slow-and-steady approach makes the memory last. Mechanical like you said, Jim, but effective.

As far as combining with other methods, it's not unlike memorizing a story or a joke. You can probably retell even a long joke after only one or two hearings. That's because you remember the "important" turning points. You may change some details, but the joke comes across. Every piece also has such points. The fact that the standard of memorization for a piece is "perfection" rather than "approximation" just means that by the end, the entire piece has importance or meaning. The more pieces I play the easier it is for me to attach importance. For example, what starts as 2 meaures of solid 16ths becomes easy to memorize once I recognize it as a pair of arpeggios that link from one key to another.

Thanks for an interesting thread!

September 13, 2006 at 06:51 AM · Jeez Nate, calm down. I'm allowed to have an opinion and my opinion is that Barenboim is not such a great pianist.

You don't have to defend everyone in the Chicago Symphony... S*** happens and life doesn't revolve around revering every person you meet. If you did, there would be no artistic progress and there would be no difference between people. Oh, and there would be an excess of suck-ups!

And this is my thread, so you should start your OWN thread, and not complain about every little thing. Nagging violinist are even worse than violinists who have their heads up their butts.

Please don't take this personally, cause I know you just will anyways. Vince

September 13, 2006 at 07:24 AM · I think Vincent Vuong is Keith Hernandez.

September 13, 2006 at 12:06 PM · Hi,

Pieter - Hmmm... possibility? Hmmm...

Nathan - thanks for your post on memorization. Very interesting!


September 13, 2006 at 01:18 PM · Thanks, and now that I've seen the light I can also see the troll.

September 13, 2006 at 03:56 PM · Now Now, I am not Keith Hernandez. And get over yourself Nathan...

September 13, 2006 at 04:00 PM · Shgrsshshshshshsshshshsfwwwwwwwashhhhh!

September 13, 2006 at 04:02 PM · What?

September 13, 2006 at 08:15 PM · Interesting thread. There is however a single principle here--Life isn't fair. There are moments in one's life when there is no room for error. This is one of them. I lost a chance for a contract at the Deutsche Oper am Rhein because of a horrific memory slip. i realize that it was a way my body saved me but it took time to realize I didn't want to be a Jewish boy working in Germany. Mistakes happen for less life shaking reasons but regardless the consequences are real. Maybe it's a simple loss of concentration and a cigar is just a cigar, maybe there is more going on than is simply apparent at first blush. Maybe it's a way to escape a grueling success. Sometimes the joy is in being able to play at that level but in not necessarily performing at that level. Carol Sindell was a great childhood prodigy of Gingold's--she chose not to have a career because she wanted a different kind of life.

September 13, 2006 at 10:52 PM · Well, the idea that "life isn't fair" is a neutral one. As we saw, life isn't fair because Jinjoo won even though there was a complete restart in the second movement of Shosty.

Though life isn't fair, we have to dissect why it isn't fair. Why did the judges go with Jinjoo and not with Choi, who by the way made the finals of Indianapolis with very solid playing?

Even though we have an idea that could go both ways and has no polarized posture -- so life isn't fair, I won a million, or you lost a competition -- we have to give thought to human behavior, and in this cause the judging aspect.

But then again, when we know life isn't fair, we have to determine how fair, was it erroneously unfair? or just harmless... It is good to look at these things because human behavior focuses on these things.


September 14, 2006 at 12:25 AM · Hi,

Time will tell... really; that's the only answer.


September 17, 2006 at 02:33 PM · Nathan, I've been experimenting using your thoughts on memorizing. It seems to be real similar to what I already did, except that it's done by someone who does it like their livelihood depends on it. It seems like a key thing is the phrase "good repetitions", which for me would mean keeping the sheet music or recording close at hand. It's interesting that you made no mention really of trying to memorize the notes themselves (letter names, visualization of the page, etc.). Thanks for the insight.

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