Dear professional violinists: do you listen to music in your free time?

Edited: September 25, 2018, 5:52 AM · It may sound a little obvious question; of course musicians would listen to music every time they can, would think anybody; who else would be better suited for that activity, who else could pay attention to all the infinite nuances classical music has, who else could understand a violin concerto as well as a violinist, noticing details only musicians can?

Well, and this question is aimed to the musicians (violinists specially) that make a living out of the violin whether it is an orchestra, soloist, chamber or teacher, I've found out that professional violinists I know don't usually listen to music in their free time. By music, of course, I mean violin concertos, sonatas, symphonies, chamber music, pieces of the repertoire played by violinists you admire so you can get influenced, get new ideas, etc...

While you're commuting, in your home, in the car... specially moments were you would pay most of your attention, if not all, to the music.

Share your thoughts and day to day experience about this topic.

Thank you

Replies (94)

September 24, 2018, 7:28 PM · I'm not a professional per se, but I practise 4 hours a day and I perform sometimes several times each month.
I listen to violin music (solo violin or with violin as one of the foremost instruments) almost exclusively, and quite a lot.
Whenever I'm on the bus or have some free time with nothing left to do, I'll look for some new quartets I've never heard before, or recordings of whatever solo piece I'm working on.

Occasionally, I'll venture into newer genres where the violin seldom makes an appearance but I always come back to it.

Obviously, I'm a student and I can't speak for the working adults here, but that's my two cents.

September 24, 2018, 7:29 PM · I am not professional but a conservatory student. However, I teach & do paid gigs (weddings etc.) regularly.

I listen to classical music every day, mostly while travelling on public transport, also while studying.

Edited: September 24, 2018, 11:22 PM · I always think this is so interesting! I have a lot of pro musician friends in varying genres and I tend to sort them into two groups for this.

1. The fans. They got into playing music because they lived and breathed music to begin with, and wanted to imitate their idols. I rarely meet them without a pair of headphones, they always rediscover old songs or a new obscure recording, they can dance along to almost anything. They are like children in a candy shop with music.

2. The perfectionist. They are weirdly spiritual about what they do, they always struggle with that one line they are trying to get perfect, they obsess over every note, they are always trying to find that one harmony noone ever has heard before that might accomplish that goal of expressing that one specific mood. They in general have a hard time to find new music they actually like, and if they listen to music it’s their beloved 20 songs/pieces of collected wisdom that they have deemed as the only good music achieved so far. They are extremely passionate but also vulnerable and are the ones usually really affected by music they don’t like.

This is obviously a broad generalization :D

Edited: September 25, 2018, 1:37 AM · My experience is similar to Tim's in that not many of my friends and acquaintances who "do" music for a living (play or teach) are what I'd consider to be musical enthusiasts; attending concerts as audience members, exploring the libraries for rare repertoire or listening to music in their spare time. Absolutely excusably, when they get time to themselves they usually like to do something completely different. However, those that I've manage to entice into playing chamber music soon discover that playing music with friends can also be a great form of relaxation.

Not all of them. I recall the leader of a fairly eminent, long-established string quartet I was coached by who when asked to join an ad hoc group for a playthrough of Mendelssohn's octet said "I don't enjoy playing for fun". It was well understood that she did enjoy playing and coaching with serious intent.

September 25, 2018, 2:16 AM · When I was exclusively playing for a living, I'd had enough music and noise to be honest, and either listened to Radio 4 (current affairs here in the UK, no adverts either, you Americans should try it!) and I really enjoyed, and still do, silence! Also, sometimes, totally different music, simpler, plainer 'cleaner' - Palestrina, Gregorian Chant and so on. Now I teach mostly, it's different, I listen to music almost all the time.
Edited: September 25, 2018, 5:13 AM · I think the fact that very few pros have responded might be an answer in itself.
Edited: September 25, 2018, 5:54 AM · I can count the number of real "pros" on this website on one hand. It's likely they just haven't seen the post.

Anna V, that comment was uncomfortably accurate!!

September 25, 2018, 6:07 AM · What's free time?
Edited: September 25, 2018, 6:24 AM · Hahahaha, good one!

Well, free time are those 40 minutes of train commuting, or those 20 minutes of bus, or the time you stay at home. You know, any time you have the choice to put your headphones, forget about your environment and listen to classical music.

Are there really just a few pros here?

One thing is pro, another is being famous. I guess there are hundreds of professional violinists here, people that make a living out of playing or teaching.

Also, there's an interesting sub-question: to those that listen to classical music, do you listen to random classical music (radio, give me whatever) or do you precisely listen to pieces you want, after some research (for example, I want to listen to this version of that sonata, or this other symphony conducted by this)?

September 25, 2018, 9:42 AM · In an interview, Pinchas Zukerman says he does not listen to any music at all - and the only time he does is when he is working on an album and needs to listen to his own recording to decide what to do. (It's on youtube, it's an interview with him and his wife in Toronto.) The musicians that I know listen to very little music "in their free time" - whether that be cooking, cleaning, or otherwise.

I sometimes put the classical station on the radio (especially for my cats while I am at work). I have plenty of classical music at home on vinyl, CD's and mp3 to keep me content for many years to come.

I know enough from my vast collection to know what I am feeling like listening to on a given day, and will sometimes pick something random as well. This said, I do not listen to classical music exclusively.

September 25, 2018, 11:12 AM · Free time is the time you may or may not decide to practise the violin.
September 25, 2018, 11:23 AM · I think that for people to whom music is a serious thing, listening to music is also a serious thing. It is not free time!
Edited: September 25, 2018, 12:01 PM · Radio 4 also, though if any 21st century music comes my way I'll give it a listen.
September 25, 2018, 12:22 PM · I don't listen to music very often; I get enough at work. Usually I have NPR on in the car--news, or This American Life, or one of their other shows. If the news on NPR is too upsetting though, I will flip over to music--sometimes classical, sometimes oldies. It bothers me to have classical music on in the car and then have to turn it off mid-piece when I reach my destination.
Edited: September 25, 2018, 1:08 PM · "It bothers me to have classical music on in the car and then have to turn it off mid-piece when I reach my destination"

That not only bothers me, it kills me, and that's the reason I don't usually listen to classical music in the car, first because attention to the road, second because I know I will probably have to cut it in half and that's a sin for me, hahaha.

Yeah, funny, isn't it?

I guess we have finally solved the eternal question "Will I make it to be a soloist/make a living out of music?"

No, you won't, stop it, unless you don't listen to classical music during the day, in which case you will make it, go on!

September 25, 2018, 1:11 PM · Never.

By the way, "free time" is what everyone who is answering this post at 11 am on a weekday morning probably has too much of.

September 25, 2018, 2:36 PM · You do realize there are more countries than yours, do you?
Hahahah

Also, people have different schedules, some work by the morning, others by the evening, others during night.

Do you really never listen to classical music? How is so?

September 25, 2018, 4:22 PM · I am out of town visiting family for a few days. Back to work tomorrow.
September 25, 2018, 6:14 PM · I listen to the radio when I'm driving (sometimes classical, sometimes top 40 or NPR) and I'll go to concerts if someone I want to hear is playing, but other than that I mostly only listen to music when I'm trying to learn a piece. If I want background noise, I'll put on HGTV.
Edited: September 25, 2018, 6:44 PM · I'm not a pro, just a reasonably busy amateur, but driving a car is the one time I never listen to music of any kind - for me it's too absorbing and therefore dangerous. If my passengers want to listen to music then I request them to listen on headphones or not at all.
September 25, 2018, 8:24 PM · You're of my kind, Trevor.

But don't you get in trouble when you apply that philosophy?

A friend that looks at you weirdly when you say headphones or no music?

September 25, 2018, 9:52 PM · Perhaps this is only my experience, but having played so much classical music tends to make it so that I appreciate it less, from a "listening to it on the radio" standpoint. I tend to focus less on the music itself and more on "how would I play that? Are there mistakes I'm hearing, and how would I avoid them?" Etc... It's almost like being a cook and watching a cooking show on TV. You're analyzing far more than you are enjoying.

When I do listen to it, I need a period of silence both before and after, so that I can cleanse my mental palette to prepare. It's not something I can listen to casually, like I could with Pop music. It requires energy and intense thought, and if I can't give it the appropriate level of attention because I'm distracted, then I tend to get frustrated by hearing it and it tends to start being "noise" to me rather than music.

Edited: September 25, 2018, 10:06 PM · I'm not a pro myself, but I can see different types of professional musicians answering differently. I constantly look for music I haven't heard before or that I'm not familiar with... and yes, I do tend to think about it. But I don't think about how I'd play it, I think about form, structural elements, how I'd conduct it, and what composition insights I can draw from it, because I was a composer before I was a string player. I can easily see a professional composer or conductor being much more interested in listening to classical music than a professional performer would be.
Edited: September 26, 2018, 2:24 AM · I'm not a pro violinist either but I seem to be the only respondent here who actually LIKES listening to classical music - all ages, all instruments, all genres (OK, I'll pass on opera and madridals). I'm in the midst of converting all my CDs into mp3 because then I can play them via the TV without getting out of my chair. 1000 down, another c.1000 to go. Then start on the rock and jazz.
Edited: September 26, 2018, 4:01 AM · Erik! That happens to me as well, but not only with classical, it happens with all the music I really appreciate, I can't just pop it at any given time. I need to be ready and really into it. Many times I don't feel like listening to any of my library's, I listen to the radio (classical only), and I discover many new pieces.

About "the more I know or play, the less I appreciate it" thing, something similar happens to me, although not exactly like that. What happens to me is that when I learn a new piece and listen to it, many times ir losts for me its magic, like it's not that special now that I can play it. That happens to me specially with the guitar, not really with the violin. It's not I appreciate them less or can't enjoy them that much, but that the magic fact many times disappear for me. I guess the fact that you can't play one piece because it's hard makes you appreciate it more, like it's impossible or something. Once you can play it, you start to think it was not that unique or special.

And... that's the reason I've been stick 20 years playing Suzuki 1, thank you.

September 26, 2018, 4:06 AM · I remember a story once about a man refusing to stop his car for the police who had their siren on. In court his defence was that he had been listening to Mozart's horn concerto on the car radio and mistook the police siren for the horn part.
Edited: September 26, 2018, 6:40 AM · Hahahahaha, I can't believe that, hahahahahaha. I thought he would say that he couldn't stop and attend the police until the piece ended, that's a big solid reason for me!

I don't know how french horn players should feel about that new:
-Guys, do we really sound as police sirens?

Edited: September 26, 2018, 6:52 AM · Being a collector of vinyl Lps, I love listening to chamber music in between rehearsals,kids and concerts.I went over to the "dark side" in June,sold my Linn amp and preamp and bought a PrimaLuna Dialogue Premium Integrated HP tube amp.Im now torn between listening to great vinyl or practising for the upcoming Signature concert.
For those of you listening to solid state I cant say enough about the "fleshiness"and textures of tube amplification.
For 33 years as a professional player I always try to stay a week or two ahead of the schedule and be actively listening to the upcoming repertoire.
Edited: September 26, 2018, 7:11 AM · Richard wrote, "Radio 4 (current affairs here in the UK, no adverts either, you Americans should try it!)"

We Americans have NPR. In many markets there is a blend of music (mostly classical and jazz) and news-and-information. In the larger markets (including mine, based in Roanoke, Virginia) there are different stations for news and for music.

September 26, 2018, 9:32 AM · I believe it's important for both professional and amateur alike to put some serious time into listening to music, whether it be recordings or live performances.

Everybody is different, of course, and I believe I have a particular "advantage" in that most of the music I listen to is transferred from my CDs to my phone-which means I listen to music most of the time I am active with my phone with headphones or earphones (right now, some beautiful Vieuxtemps 3rd violin concerto.) I am addicted to music, and can't even contemplate a life without it-it also serves as perennial inspiration. Driving in a car it would be different-I tale lots of public transportation which allows me to "cheat" in listening to music much more constantly (I don't use my smartphone as a "Facebook"/socializing device, and have its sound off most of the time.)

Do recommend for all of you to keep listening to new and old recordings when you are able. Never stop learning and getting inspired.

(If you cannot or won't, then it's fine. Just a personal opinion, not dogma.)

September 26, 2018, 9:40 AM · "Do you really never listen to classical music? How is so?"

Why does it have to be a given?

As said on on Seinfeld: "sometimes it's enough already and you just want to get some sleep."

September 26, 2018, 11:11 AM · Well, I can understand that one chooses not to listen to classical music in the free time, but you were like really positive about "never", so that's why I was surprised and I asked you "really?".
September 26, 2018, 1:27 PM · It doesn't surprise me that there are those who don't listen to music after a full days teaching or playing.

Things that never rest never renew. JMHO.

September 27, 2018, 4:30 AM · In response to Tim: magic shows are special when you can't figure out the trick. They invoke a sense of wonder and excitement. But once the magic trick is given away, it will be boring the next time you see it. But to everyone else watching, it would still feel like actual magic.

I think violin performance is actually very similar in nature to magic tricks. The musician knows exactly what they're doing to accomplish each sound, so the magic is gone for them. But to the audience, who can't surmise how such a thing could be humanly possible, it is still very magical and moving.

So once you've played a piece of music perfectly, that "magic" of hearing someone else do it will never quite be there again, because you know the trick already.

September 27, 2018, 6:49 AM · @Erik - Maybe you should try listening to Beethoven piano sonatas or just about anything that doesn't involve violin tricks?
Edited: September 27, 2018, 7:00 AM · I got to disagree on that, Erik. Your example is remarkable, I liked it, but it surely doesn't apply to music. I apply exactly that "logic" to films: when I watch a film for the first time, it is fantastic, if it's a good film. The next 3-4 times you watch it still you could find it amusing, but then you simply don't want to watch it again, unless it's some "classic" movie like "Home Alone" in Christmas or black n' white old ones.

In music, at least for me, the very first time I listen to a piece normally is the time I less enjoy it in my life. Even more dramatic, many times I don't even understand at all the piece, I don't know where to start, how to listen to it, what it really transmits, how to experience it; but I know if it has something or not. Later, the more I listen to it, the more it attracts me, the more details I find, the deeper I can go with the piece, the more I enjoy it. There are exceptions, of course. Some are pieces I don't find interesting and never will do. Also, beginner pieces that are very easy and once you've learnt them they become plain regular. Nevertheless that's not at all always the case, for example, the Vivaldi A minor concerto, even though I know how to play it well and one could say I would get bored listening to it, I don't, I still enjoy it as much as before, which is a lot. I can admit one could get more and more selective of the performer, you want to listen to the piece only if it's correctly played, or I should say VERY correctly played.

It would be an evil thing that once you can master Tchaikovsky's concerto, you won't be able to enjoy it anymore or find it magical and from another world. That would be my worst nightmare. I guess you can get less shocked technically, if you're a master violinists, when you listen to it. You know how to do it so all the artillery doesn't shock you that much.

About "the audience, who can't surmise how such a thing could be humanly possible", I got to highly disagree as well. Except for very few people, public that are not musicians couldn't ever be able to experience and enjoy a master piece such as a violin concerto or piano concerto or sonata as much and as deep as a musician, specially of the instrument being played, can. Ever. Only those that are well connoisseurs of the matter will appreciate so much the matter in question.

Any given person can get shocked by how fast and beautiful a $1.5M Bugatti Veyron is, but only a mechanical engineer can truly drop his jaw when seeing that master piece of engineering working.

Edited: September 27, 2018, 8:35 AM · I understand the cynicism of certain posters who don't want to burn out listening to music when that is their profession.From my view point as a professional player I am always " in the kitchen" preparing and serving these pieces to the public.It brings me great pleasure to get out of kitchen and sit in the restaurant(my stereo)and have someone (or some orchestra,quartet, rock band etc. etc.) serve me instead.
September 27, 2018, 10:45 AM · Nice example, Peter, hahahaha. A chef will always want some spare time while someone else does the dinner. I don't understand your first sentence though.
September 27, 2018, 12:20 PM · I just perceived some posts as cynical.Nothing wrong with that but again I understand being burned out listening to music.I usually ride home in silence after concerts.
Edited: September 27, 2018, 1:13 PM · I think there is some novelty in first impressions. I'm no pro but I am a musician..so if you don't think I'm qualified to reply then don't read this.
I don't think everyone is the same in this regard nor do I think it's fair to impose an accepted standard on everyone with respect to this. @Tim Repond is almost exactly the opposite of myself. I grow tired of repetition unless I feel I missed something.If I REALLY enjoy a piece of music I'll listen to it a few times, not religiously and not ad nauseum. There is a limit and I might put it on the shelf for the next 5 years. I have a paid subscription to Pandora and I can stream music all day if I want to. I seldom do that. When I'm in my car I'm often listening to podcasts or talk radio. If I listen to music it's floating around in my mind for a long time after the initial listen. I don't like this because it clutters up my mind.I could be thinking of original things instead. Putting things in all the time never lets anything come out.
I agree with the idea that music can have a kind of novelty effect on some people. Old songs are still playing on mainstream radio.People still listen to it after maybe 40 years over and over again. I don't fault them. That just isn't me. Maybe on occasion for nostalgia sake it's ok. It no longer impacts me the same way and frankly, I might be sick of hearing it.
I know musicians who play and play all week long. They never seem to tire of it. I believe this is because they derive more pleasure from the activity of making music than from listening to it. You won't find them listening, you'll find them happily playing all the time. Is it to put food on the table or because they love it that much? I don't know.
September 27, 2018, 1:41 PM · It's both Tim...
Edited: September 27, 2018, 2:42 PM · Timothy, first I think you misunderstood my "condition". I said this is specially aimed to professional players because 5 or 7 years ago I thought these were listening all day to classical. Then I noticed my violin teacher didn't at all, then my other violin teacher, then this orchestra violinist I met, so it kept kind of shocking me how it was possible.

You can totally express yourself about this topic even if you are not a professional, or you make out a living from playing or teaching. It's simply that I want specially them to reply.

Also, I said I sometimes don't understand the first time I listen to a piece, but other times some pieces are so easy to enjoy and appreciate that you just enjoy them along. Nevertheless, most of the times that's not the case, I need always various repetitions until I start to really enjoy them. When I said the more I listen to a piece, the more I enjoy it, that's 100% sure, but don't think I am listening to Brahms concerto day after day, not at all. There's a moment for each piece. I understand what you say, I know not everybody experience music as me, we are all different. For me, it would be really bad news that I find less and less amusing a piece after each time I listen to it until it becomes dust to my ears.

I love that I am this way because I've calculated that when I hit the 60 or 70, every classic classical piece that I surely have listened thousands of times will be a piece of heaven for me, will be Jesus cooking me dinner, will be Trump leaving the presidency, hahahahaha. I might die because of the happiness when I play Tchaikovsky's or Bach's double when I'm ugly and old.

September 27, 2018, 3:50 PM · I think it's individual-a sort of gift of wanting to live and breathe the violin. But one does not need to conclude that, while there are many pros that do not have the time or inclination to listen to their "job" music on their spare time, there should be plenty that have this unique disposition of "violin music nerdiness", that keeps them going for more, even "after work".

Worth noting that you can indeed love violin and the repertoire without listeningto i tall the time-remember recordings are a "recent invention", and music was heard live instead.

To be fair to Mr. Ripond, when I was younger I always wondered why many pros superficially appeared to "not like" their instrument that much. BUT I also knew of some that were avid collectors and listeners, so we should not generalize-and if they do not enjoy listening to recordings, at least you do, so pay it no mind.

September 27, 2018, 3:51 PM · Everyone is making many good points, although there are certainly some differences when it comes to things like listing to the same piece many times. I'm one of the ones who can listen to a good piece (watch a good movie, walk along a trail, etc.) over and over, getting deeper into its details every time. There's something satisfying to me about going over familiar material, walking a familiar path, etc. - an anticipation and enjoyment in skillfully following things I know well.

As for listening in the car, most of the time I listen to recordings of the pieces our orchestra is working on for our next concert. This gets me more and more familiar with it, and in tricky passages I even envision the fingerings I'll need. I think it makes up somewhat for the practising that I have too little time for.

September 27, 2018, 3:58 PM · Tim,

Being a "professional" means that what you do is your life. That means that your off-time usually involves something else.

Many decades ago when I finished High School I became a professional cook (Back then the words celebrity and chef never appeared together in a sentence and Emeril Legasse was watching "The Flintstones" learning how to say: "BAM!") I was a good cook and worked in a high end restaurant. On my days off did I cook fancy stuff for myself or go to a restaurant? No. That was work and I was too critical to enjoy a restaurant meal unless I was looking to steal something.

I suspect that professional musicians are similar. Yes, they will attend the occasional concert (probably of a student or colleague) but to have the local classical station all day long... not so much.

Amateurs are different. Music is our passion but not our living. So, we listen intently, go to concerts, and are awed by the professionals.

I know people who "like to cook" and they run around to restaurants, experiment with all kinds of foods,... I could be bothered. My personal tastes aren't for the fancy stuff, even to this day, I know how to make the stuff that people love but personally I prefer simple stuff. It was my living, not my passion.

September 27, 2018, 6:42 PM · But the thing is... playing in an orchestra is something quite different from listening to Bach sonatas, piano repertoire, violin concertos of your favorite violinists...

I understand that if your job is to walk, when you have free time you won't walk, but I think music is different in this aspect and you can't rely on those very simple examples to prove your point.

September 27, 2018, 7:05 PM · I hate background music. And I hate listening to music in the car. If I'm listening to music, I've got it going through the high quality speakers, and I'm not doing anything else- I'm focused on what I'm hearing. I may stop, rewind and replay if I like what I hear. Otherwise, I'm listening to NPR or some podcast about murderers.
September 27, 2018, 11:13 PM · --not nearly as much now as when I was young.
Edited: September 28, 2018, 1:25 AM · It seems sad to me that many or most professionals have apparently lost the capacity of being blown away by music, whether they're playing it (not a good thing) or listening (a very good thing). Over the years much of the standard orchestral and choral repertoire (we aren't talking just violin music) has gone somewhat stale on me too, but the old feelings can usually be revived by a good performance. Plenty more pieces remain as exhilarating as ever, whether listened to live or in the home. Absolutely not in the car! If you turn it up loud enough to hear properly you're probably a menace to other road users...
September 28, 2018, 4:53 AM · So I think there might be another element here that I didn't previously consider:

To professionals who are used to hearing literally the *highest fidelity version* of pieces possible, in person, with the sound coming at them from all directions and even being *part* of the sound through their own participation, a simple recording will never compare and thus becomes very two-dimensional and boring when juxtaposed against the real thing.

Some people love watching sky diving videos. To them, it's enjoyable. But a skydiver would find them super drab.

Edited: September 28, 2018, 6:49 AM · Nice point, Erik, but I don't think the reason why almost all my violin teachers don't listen to music at all is that hey find very poor to listen to these master pieces through speakers instead of the real thing. Indeed, that wouldn't shock me in the first place, if that was the reason I would be even more surprised: wow, not only they want to listen to music "all day", but they also want the music to be superb quality, in other words, live. They don't want to go down and listen through dead electronics.

Not the reason because I've proposed many times my teachers to go with me to a very renowned orchestra concert or even soloist, and they all say no, they are not into going to concerts anymore. I have this violinist friend that is becoming a professional, I proposed him to come with me to listen to the Mendelssohn's, and he said no. Even many times they didn't have to pay because I had extra tickets.

By the way, I've many times gone to live concerts and my seat was very far away from the musicians. These concerts, I have not enjoyed them that much, If I go to a live concert I must get a seat that is close so I can listen loud and properly everything, otherwise I feel uncomfortable and annoyed, I can't feel the nuances in sound, everything comes wasted and dead, plus you get the noise sounds of many people. Frustrating. Indeed, once I've experienced Zukerman (to name one) 8 meters away, I will never ever go to a concert of a soloist of that caliber if I don't have a seat almost that close. I prefer to stay at home instead of listening to that piece of heaven dozens of seats away and noticing how it becomes dead and plain to my hears.

I remember some years ago thinking... why would people pay $140 to seat in front of the musicians if you can get a $25 ticket up there and the sound is almost the same?

Edited: September 28, 2018, 4:48 PM · I agree with you Erik that nothing beats a live performance.A similar analogy is taking a photo of a family member is not the same,regardless of the camera quality, as having that person beside you.Nonetheless a photo is a wonderful reminder of that person even if they are not present.
Audiophile equipment can strongly hint at three dimensionality along with the energy and intensity of a great performance.Im finding this out with this new integrated amp that Ive recently acquired.Is it as good as live? Not quite but like a picture, it is a wonderful reminder of the piece even if I'm not playing it live.
September 28, 2018, 11:08 AM · As time goes by I'm less and less bothered by the reproduction quality of recordings. In the past I was inclined to be seduced and thrilled by the sound, now it's the music. In the case of "historical" recordings it isn't the sound that puts me off but the style of performance. I guess I'm thoroughly conditioned by present day practices.

Live performance is certainly best and I agree with Tim that it's great to be up close to a string soloist. In other repertoire the same doesn't apply. London's Festival Hall almost always has ranks of cheap seats available at the back, which is quite close enough for a Shostakovich symphony.

Sitting and playing inside the orchestra is a different experience entirely; often viscerally exciting but with balances totally distorted. And you don't get much opportunity to relax and enjoy the music.

September 28, 2018, 12:15 PM · We went to see David Finkiel and we had front-row seats. At intermission we were able to move farther away and it was much better. I saw Josh Bell from the mezzanine and Yo-Yo Ma from off to the side, and both were just fine. Roanoke Symphony is better from the Mezzanine. I think it depends on the hall. These concerts were all at Virginia Tech's Fife Theater (Moss Center), which has fabulous acoustics. This coming Sunday we will see Perlman there.
September 28, 2018, 4:49 PM · Can you elaborate on what you mean by "historical" recordings Steve?
September 28, 2018, 5:01 PM · I've never seen Perlman perform, I really hope to do it soon as I get a chance. You're very lucky PAUL!

Peter, I guess he means the recordings of the 20's, 30's, 40's, 50's and even 60's. Nowadays it's normal to listen to a concert from late 70's to now.

I feel the same way, I can enjoy so much an old recording if the piece is played as I like it. The problem is, in many old recordings, pieces were performed differently. Just today I listened to one of my favorite performances of a piano sonata and it was from 1934 or 1936, I can't remember. Enjoy it everytime just as much as any 2018 record.

September 28, 2018, 6:00 PM · There are many great vantage points to this discussion. Some of you are very good at painting word pictures. I'm not sure how a violinist differs from any other instrumentalist in this regard.The type of music and exposure or level of immersion seem to be more pertinent. Maybe time playing, that kind of thing.Even given the same condition different individuals might respond in a different way.

I believe there is a difference in a composers mindset and a person who plays composed music.The composer is like the painter, they need to paint, not visit the art museum.

The closest association I have with the feeling that things are getting old and need some new breath is being a church music leader and instrumentalist/vocalist. We rotate some of the same 75 or so songs and I've been at it since the mid 90's. I integrate new material into our lineup and drop some of the old but it takes a long time for them to get the new songs and most seem perfectly content to sing the older music. My wife commented I'm tired of it because I practice it and they sing it once a week. I am so tired of some of it I could literally puke. It's so bad I'm thinking about quitting. The music holds meaning. Beyond that It feels like beating a dead horse sometimes.

I recently watched a documentary about the Doobie Brothers. A group that was big in the 70's. They were all worked to death on tour and things kind of disintegrated for the band. They had decided to have one more tour. The members all commented that they couldn't wait until it was over. They really didn't care toward the end and their musicianship suffered because of it. Lots of traveling groups were the same. Either on tour or in the studio all the time. This was why many of them resorted to coke so they could keep up with the hectic schedule. My examples are extreme but I think it makes a good point.

One other thought I had on this, Art draws from experience. If one never gets to experience life their art will suffer IMO. By doing nothing else I think our art suffers because we draw creative potential from the other experiences of our lives.For some this might be listening to a wonderful piece of classical music at a concert. For others it might mean an exposure to something else entirely different than that.

I think the key is to keep your mind alive and always thriving. For me that means a change up every now and then.
I need to try something different or try things a different way occasionally for sanity sake, but that's me.

September 28, 2018, 8:01 PM · Good post Tim.
September 28, 2018, 8:38 PM · Thanks Peter.
September 29, 2018, 2:36 AM · @Peter. The "historical" recordings I can't get along with for stylistic reasons are mostly pre-WWII. Violinists of that era sound so different from today's breed. Even great chamber music groups like the Busch Quartet I'm afraid leave me cold. Schnabel's Beethoven? Perhaps a bit wanting in steely precision. Elgar's recordings of his own works, on the other hand, still possess an energy and passion that transcend any sonic limitations and Albert Sammons is quite my hero. Of course this is all IMHO.
@Timothy. Yes
September 29, 2018, 8:24 AM · Thanks for clarifying that Steve.I have audiophile friends who take great pleasure in listening to these Lps and one of these people collects 78s.Not my thing...
I have a few albums of Prokofieff,Shostokovitch ,Britten ,Delius etc. playing their own works and they're good recordings from the early sixties(early sixties is the golden era for great vinyl recordings).I think I have some Elgar also.It's fun to find recordings that "transcend any sonic limitations" as you say.Well said!
September 29, 2018, 9:02 AM · I am not a fan of super noisy recordings, but every violjn playing era has its place and lessons for us. When I was young I respected the old recordings, but also did not favor them vs modern. Nowadays does modern rarely surprise me, though there ARE many good recordings, even as of late. Kreisler, early Heifetz, etc. is super old and still sounds great to ne (perhaps I have bad musical taste.)

There's plenty "bad" digital recordings out there. Not all "new" must be better, in my opinion.

September 29, 2018, 9:52 AM · Peter - I too really enjoy the sound of recordings from the early stereo era, some even going back to the mid-50's. I think the simple microphone placement and mixing techniques manage to preserve an integrity and immediacy that more "sophisticated" methods sometimes lose. And I also agree with Adalberto that digital doesn't necessarily entail an advance over analogue.

As it happens I've just been listening to a recording of the Ravel quartet made by the International String Quartet in 1923. Much of the playing is fine and quite modern-sounding, but the portamenti! Still, it was approved by the composer so maybe that's how everyone should play it today

Edited: September 29, 2018, 10:14 AM · There is a long history, by the way, of top classical performers enjoying jazz in their spare time. Artur Rubinstein loved to go and watch Art Tatum, for example. Rubinstein was very much in awe of Tatum's skill. Imagine what that means. Composers have always sought out folk performers for inspiration, especially where folk traditions are strong (where aren't they?). Nowadays you've got top players who are known to enjoy everything from bluegrass to heavy metal. And of course there is opera. But after hours of rehearsals from Bach to Bartok, I can imagine going home and listening to the latest recording of classical violin or symphonic music might not be relaxing because, well, it's just not different.
Edited: September 29, 2018, 12:34 PM · That's very true Paul.For the sake of variety I love putting on percussion ensemble pieces such as Eduard Varese's "Ionisation" on Columbia Masterworks MG31078.Anothr fabulous Lp I found at a used vinyl store is Angel and Pepe Romero with the Academy of St.Martin in the Fields playing pieces by Guiliani and Rodrigo .Its on Philips #6500918 from 1974.Sensational recording and different from all the stuff that I play.I love hard British rock and blast Catherine Wheel "Happy Days".Sounds great with the tube amp.A true classic that I play constantly is The The "SoulMining" .A stereo "show off" album.
I think you're right about the recordings of the mid fifties ,early sixties Steve.In that era "less is better" was the recording philosophy.Most of those Living Stereo albums are recorded with only one or two mics but are absolutely fantastic sound quality.
We recorded the Brahms Serenade in D Major about 25 years ago on CBC SM5000 series.They had about 15 mics along with three or four reverb mics out in the hall.The sound is compressed,over manipulated and arificial.I mentioned the Living Stereo concept to the producer and he just shrugged it off saying "that was the old way of doing recordings". New doesnt mean better....
You're exactly right Steve and Adalberto...
September 30, 2018, 4:11 AM · Peter mentions the issue of dynamic compression (not to be confused with data compression, e.g. between WAV and mp3 formats). This has become practically universal in the popular music business and now often gets thoughtlessly applied to classical music also, to the extent that the quiet bits often sound just as loud as the loud bits!

The prevalence of car listening is probably a contributory cause, because in order to listen to music with its dynamic contrasts properly preserved above a substantial level of background noise those of us who don't drive perfectly sound-insulated supercars have to suffer ear-shattering climaxes in order to be able to perceive quiet passages at all. I don't think constantly tweaking the volume control (maybe also taking ones eyes off the road) is an acceptable answer.

September 30, 2018, 7:16 AM · Steve I agree, I know this as as compression and limiting. Even though Classical music as a general rule usually has the lightest touch in mastering, when it gets transmitted from radio station though it can be further compressed.

There are new standards in place designed to prevent this. In addition to RMS , there is the K system which I think they might have used as a reference for the UK LUFS system. I interviewed Bob Katz, the man behind the K system when I had my podcast. Material can be rejected on the basis of too high LUFS. The ME ( mastering engineer) can still over compress/limit and have what is commonly referred to as a "brick" because that's what an over compressed waveform looks like graphically. The highs and lows are all squeezed into a small space killing dynamics. The TV and radio stations then keep it to the proper LUFS. Sounds terrible.

It seems to me the ME on some classical music material don't know what they're doing. If done properly you can use small doses of multiband compression/limiting and side chaining with product like the McDSP ML4000, and ML8000. Fabfilter MB, PSP Xenon...all plugins designed to selectively and judiciously lower only the parts that are interfering without toying too much with the dynamics. Basic compressors and limiters usually won't do the job. I have the McDSP ML4000. A nice plugin.If done correctly you can hear everything and not loose the dynamics provided your listening system is up to the task.

I still tend to make my mixes WAY too hot. On my last mix I had to remove and re upload the track because it was too aggressive, especially for the type of music it was.

So I think it's the fault of the ME if you can't reasonably hear everything without turning your volume wide open.

September 30, 2018, 8:09 AM · When you say "way too hot " Tim,is this a reference to the amount of gain you have?
September 30, 2018, 6:00 PM · Sorry Peter I rend to use so much jargon that no one knows what I'm trying to say. Yes too much gain for the type of genre and maybe too much compression at times. I would rather have the listener turn the volume up to 30-50% in order to comfortably hear the track or turn the volume down for background music and not be blown away at 50% volume. They also have the option to turn it up from there.
October 1, 2018, 3:54 AM · For LPs, I understand that manual, realtime compression was essential since the neither the tape nor the disc could cope with the huge dynamic range of real music. The sound engineer had to be an even better score reader than the conductor!
Edited: October 2, 2018, 6:46 AM · I've had the same thoughts regarding recording engineers of that era Adrian.Ive gone "full geek" and seek out Lps by certain recording engineers.John McClure is one of my favourites from Living Stereo.
Richard Mohr is another famous engineer with that label I think.
Another "geek" thrill is to listen to recordings in triode or ultralinear configuration with my tube amp.Each mode has it's own sonic characteristics (triode=wider soundstage and lush midrange,utralinear= less luciousness but incredible detail)
October 1, 2018, 7:13 AM · Compression also recognizes the reality of the home listener. At a live concert, guests sit in chairs for two hours to enjoy the tiniest whispering pianissimo from the violins and the crashing thunderstorms of the tympani and the 9-foot Steinway. The poor guy who coughs during a soft part is rewarded with dirty looks from his neighbors. In contrast very few people listening at home are sitting in recliners wearing headphones for entire albums at a stretch. They're doing other stuff meanwhile.
October 1, 2018, 7:50 AM · Good point Paul.I'm searching for a good set of headphones since I FINALLY have a built in headphone amp on the PrimaLuna.Does anyone have advice for headphones in the $700 to $1000 price range?
October 1, 2018, 4:18 PM · I like highs, most "audiophiles" do not. So my opinions are tempered by that bias. The "air" that treble can add to most recordings just sounds "right" to me.

From Sennheiser, I have and love the HD700, but the HD600 may serve you just as well (very different sound signature-HD600 slightly more "neutral"-the HD700 makes old stereo Grumiaux sounds natural and modern!) HD800 is usually recommended, but I never even tested them because of the price (might be on your radar, though.)

I would also highly recommend the $150.00 massdrop-made HD58x Jubilee... amazing bargain, very high quality sound for such a relative pittance. Less soundstabe than HD700, but excellent tonal timbre.

I don't have $700-$1,000 headphones, but the HD700 were $999.00 when they were first released. If you can test them, great. They have an amazing sound for almost anything, but you may prefer something else.

Audio Technica R70x (not the closed back x) have an amazing, natural sound worthy of great speakers. Chamber music and everything sounds so life-like. 470 Ohms. Great, great sound. Tempered highs (clear and airy, but if you are highs/treble-shy, they won't kill your ears.)

I currently only own the following, in no particular order of preference:

HD700
HD58x Jubilee (massdrop)
E-Mu Purplehearts (massdrop)
HD599
DT-990 "Edition", 250 Ohms
R70x (not the M70x)
Grado SR60i (messed up, but still working.)
Grado SR125e (love these despite not being neutral in the truest sense.)

I also have Final Audio Heaven V in-ears, and PSB M4U 4 in-ears. Lost my Adagio V last year.

Maybe someone else can help you with the more super high end stuff (Focal Utopia, etc.) The differences are real but subtle at times, so "you get what you pay for" does not necessarily apply-and high end headphones are always more affordable than high end speaker systems.

Best Wishes! Many good headphones out there.

October 1, 2018, 4:47 PM · Wow! Thanks so much for that Adalberto!
Some friends of mine suggested Stax.Arent they electrostatic? I know nothing about them.
October 1, 2018, 9:18 PM · I listen to violin music every day but it's not always classical. And any time I'm in the car and there's classical music on, I'm in on it! But it's SUPREMELY annoying when I reach my destination and the piece is not finished.
October 2, 2018, 3:27 PM · The sound system in a friend's car has a switchable compressor so you can play recordings with dynamic range (good for home listening) and make them listenable on the road. Excessive compression has made many recordings almost unlistenable; I've heard CD remixes of wonderful old vinyl recordings that sound horrible. Some of this is due to a misguided "more is good" philosophy that drives people to make recordings sound loud so they stand out from the competition. There's a good Wikipedia article on this so-called "loudness war".

(And yes, I hate getting somewhere with a classical piece only half done. That's why I sometimes sit in my driveway for a while.)

October 2, 2018, 3:55 PM · Thanks for that link Charlie....
October 3, 2018, 2:13 AM · Charlie - the switchable compressor is such an obvious idea I wonder why it doesn't feature on all car sound systems?
Edited: October 3, 2018, 10:35 AM · I use a pair of ATH 50X headphones for rough mixing at night when I don't want to bother the rest of the household. They are studio monitoring headphones. I only do this in a pinch and always listen again on studio monitors. I use the headphones to get me in the ball park.

The thing with headphones is none of them are totally accurate. This is why they make products like this-

https://sonarworks.com/reference?gclid=Cj0KCQjw0dHdBRDEARIsAHjZYYC-3KZPqNuRsTEpdRln8sGlcYTvVd3R9W5QqBLEp_ZFJcFReQVLIvQaAtYdEALw_wcB

Tests have proven that people don't really want an accurate headphone. They want hype in certain areas and this is why consumer headphones tend to do that.

Ear cavity differences and individual hearing ability make everyone different in this regard.. Even though the technology is there to make fantastic drivers in headphones, making them fit an individual is still a kind of black art. Listening fatigue accounts for a change in everyone's hearing response over the time listening. You begin to hear differently over longer periods of intense listening.

Audio Technica, Sennheiser and Sony all make nice high end headphones and I wouldn't be afraid to buy any of those.A few things I have noted in my own experiences are that closed headphone designs are warmer and can become uncomfortable during long listens. The ATH M50X's I have can begin to feel like winter ear muffs. My ears actually begin to sweat.Larger cans with open designs are more comfortable. The bass behaves differently in each of those designs. Smaller cans can be uncomfortable for people who have larger ears, larger cans are usually a better decision.

You loose some dimension with headphones and in ear designs because the sound seems to come from inside of your head which throws off your echo location. Not anywhere near as keen as a bat but we all use it to determine where the sound is coming from. This makes mixing reverbs especially difficult. In a headphone mix the sound is still 2D even though you will hear the reverberation of the concert hall.It won't ever be quite the same as being there. The closest thing is probably to record the concert in surround and play it back through a surround system. Believe it or not I have seen surround sound headphones. I don't know how well they work.

An ME can mix a 2D stereo track into surround by passing certain elements
to the different channels and fool a lot of people. Still, a well done concert recording is a magnificent thing if well done, even in basic stereo. In the old days they used a technique called Mid side recording or M/S which does a convincing job of stereo. Many still use the technique because it doesn't require a lot of outboard gear, just a few mics in the right places.

Edited: October 3, 2018, 10:35 AM · ditto
October 3, 2018, 11:06 AM · Excellent post Tim and thank you!
October 3, 2018, 11:21 AM · Timothy - you mention surround sound headphones; are you referring to the so-called binaural technique which is even supposed to preserve sound source location information in the sagittal (up/down) plane? I'm completely ignorant as to how this works, other than that it seems to involve directional microphones placed on either side of a dummy head. It's been around for ages and certainly has its adherents although has never cracked the commercial world.
October 3, 2018, 1:19 PM · TBH Steve, it's been awhile since I seen those and I forget the exact details. I could go looking online to find it again.I don't want to give out misinformation here so I'll be safe and with hold my comments on the details until I know more about it.

Adding multiple drivers seems to be the rage in IEM technology right now. You can buy IEM's with individual drivers. It doesn't surprise me that similar headphones are available. Is it some kind of snake oil? Maybe. The advantages of multiple driver IEM's have not been shown to be a whole lot better than less complex IEM's.

You will likely read the terms pseudo or quasi a lot when some of these claims are made because all kinds of crazy things can be done now to trick your brain into believing that what you're hearing is real with respect to the mixing/mastering end of things.Pretty much any space or situation you can imagine can be achieved artificially. I'm not familiar with the exact methods you brought up, but I think I have a pretty good idea. These aren't bad things. On the contrary, they are quite nice if they are used correctly. I have plenty of examples I can post but it's probably TMI here and drifting from the subject.

Basically when you close your ears off to the outside and rely 100% on mixing and plugins to achieve the realism in a live performance you need to trick the brain's binaural receptors into believing the environment. This is much less difficult listening through speakers, and this is ironic because the GP is generally migrating more to the headphones/ear buds than ever before.Classical music is probably the LEAST affected here. I mean, it's mostly a strategically mic'd space and it picks up whatever goes into the mics. You get a reasonable facsimile of that in stereo.

There are categories of listeners. The ME wants accuracy warts and all. They need to correct the warts. The average living room or commuter listener only cares about how it sounds. If that means their headphones accentuate or hype some parts of it, that doesn't matter to them.The advantage to an accurate mix is it translates well to every other system, so that if they want to use their tone control to change it they can.

Bass is more difficult to hear sometimes compared to the mids and high mids, so it makes sense to maybe accentuate the bass because the listener can listen at lower levels and hear everything better. Many consumer headphones are designed to hype the bass.

Edited: October 3, 2018, 9:06 PM · Do you have any experience with with electrostatic headphones Tim?
Im looking into Stax at a local high end audio shop.
October 4, 2018, 2:25 AM · I wonder if anyone still wears Jecklin Float (I think they were called) ES phones, like small loudspeakers on either side of your head!
October 4, 2018, 9:05 AM · Peter I have no experience with those headphones. Made me curious though so I Googled them and read a few reviews. I looked at reviews on several models from Stax. They seem like a very nice set of headphones and a solid choice for classical music. One reviewer commented that the bass seemed a bit anemic compared to his other high end headphones. I suspect that this was because the Stax are highly representative of the actual recordings.The same reviewer also had listening fatigue on the high end over a long period of time. Once again probably because the high range extension is so good it began to sound tinny at certain high frequencies.
I would need to hear them myself to decide. Sometimes bass is more felt than heard. IOW the brain fills in the parts it didn't hear but knows are there.Low enough bass is "felt". It would seem that other more common designs compensate better for this in some material.The listener who is accustomed to hearing the full cello /bass experience in the lower registers on say, a movie soundtrack, might be less than excited to hear a more accurate representation on those headphones, though I don't see why you couldn't simply bump the EQ up in those ranges on the STAX.

One possible drawback to a faster response is the sound might have an excited effect. The BBE sonic maximizer is a good example of that. People went around calling it an exciter. It isn't an exciter per se though it has that effect. It's a frequency alignment device.The alignment of certain frequencies has a sharpening effect we call excitation.
Classical music is mostly played in spaces with wonderful inherent or designed acoustic properties. What does this do? The reverb takes the edge off of some of the sound, gives it a pleasant quality. This is mostly noticed in the mid/high ranges. If everything were blatantly apparent the music wouldn't sound as good overall, the reason they don't make bathroom tiled concert halls :) We all know how violins sound right under your ear.

So believe it or not extreme frequency alignment and response can have a potential negative effect.

October 4, 2018, 4:38 PM · Back in the '70s I remember reading about experiments where recordings were made with microphones in a simulated human head, complete with ears. The convoluted shape of our outer ears isn't just for ornamentation, after all. We had the chance to listen to a recording made with such an apparatus (with headphones, of course). The spatial perception was amazing. When a truck went by outside the hall in which the recording was made, we took a quick look out the window - even though we were in a 9th-floor apartment at the time. And we jumped when someone in the recording dropped something to the floor with a loud clatter.

Subtle phase relationships carry a lot of information - which is probably why I so hate the phase distortion which is so common (and accepted!) on cell phones.

October 5, 2018, 1:51 AM · This is what I was remembering - must get down and read it!
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Binaural_recording
I believe it's the phase information that gets sacrificed when the signals from multiple microphones are mixed, causing a spatial smudging of the stereo sound image and a loss of immediacy. One of my psycho-electro-acoustic research areas concerned what is most properly termed interaural time difference discrimination. Wearing headphones, most people can detect time differences of less than 50 microseconds by a slight shift in the location of the sound image. The localization of sounds in the horizontal plane depends partially on this (for frequencies less than about 1.5kHz) and partially on the sound shadow cast by the head (for higher frequencies). I still don't understand what part the pinna plays in this but maybe wikipedia will enlighten me
Edited: October 5, 2018, 9:18 AM · Steve, seems you and Charlie are talking about the same things. I read the wikipedia article twice to make sure I absorbed most of it.Very interesting.I plan to learn more about it.

Audio Technica and Sennheiser both use simulated dummy heads for headphones tests on their standard headphones to get approximate details on how they would react on a real human :)

Along those same lines here's a few plugins that are crazy useful for this kind of thing. The sense of space is pretty darned good even in 2D stereo.

Here's an example of Brauer motion using a gospel track I did. I applied the Brauer motion only to the organ for a rotating kind of leslie effect.The rest of that mix is artificial reverb.The effect on the organ is subtle here.

https://soundcloud.com/starise/all-my-hope/s-MwdH2

October 5, 2018, 10:25 AM · I think Tim the OP has probably given up on his thread. But it's great to learn what weird and wonderful things absorb people in the music world!
October 5, 2018, 10:53 AM · Yeah Steve. I don't know when to stop. Oh well.
October 5, 2018, 11:30 AM · Im fascinated Tim and Steve.Thanks for all your info.It will be useful in my headphone quest....
October 5, 2018, 11:30 AM · Also thank you Adalberto!

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