19 June 2012

The Musician's Dilemma

Here's a thought for you. Of all the arts, music is unique in that the music heard by the audience is not the music the musician hears. No, I'm not talking about those Beethovenesque composers who hear the music inside their head and then write it down. I mean the physical performance of music.

As I practice violin, my mom or I will occasionally comment that "Oh, Ignatius [my violin] is really singing today."  Mom's comment never fails to make me feel good about my playing, but I have absolutely no idea what she hears.

What mom means and what I mean when we talk about my violin singing are two entirely different things. I can only assume that mom's reference means that Iggy sounds very rich and full, and comparatively well played. I don't hear that sound though. When Iggy "sings" for me, it feels as though he's breathing. The gritty sounds the bow makes as I draw it across the strings; the feeling of the string vibrating underneath my fingertips, the booming, hollow sound as the chamber amplifies the sound of the strings - these all add up to the experience of a violinist. I hear surface noise and notes: mom hears music.

All of the factors that I experience as a violinist add up to the sound that mom hears and calls "singing," but some aspects are amplified and some die away. From six inches away, you can hear the surface noise, but remove yourself by three feet , and all you hear is a sweet, sweet melody.

To approach it another way, when someone first hears a recording of their voice, they almost always feel shocked. I sound like **that**? NO WAY. As speakers, we feel the air forcing sound out of our throats, hear the sound reverberating through our nasal cavities and mouth, hear the small noises made as the words are formed, and feel the entire process from start of breath to formation of sentences. Our experience is unique: while everyone else hears pretty much the same voice, only the speaker (or singer) hears the parts before they're combined as a whole.

When a musician plays guitar, they hear the sound of the pick slipping and grabbing the strings, feel the frets, hard and unforgiving under their fingers, and feel the body of the guitar resonating in time to their picks and strokes.

If this is true, and I strongly believe it is, it raises an interesting question.

Musicians frequently speak of "being in love with their music," but they don't really hear the music they make. So does this mean that they're in love with the idea of making music, or are they in love with the performance? More specifically, are we enamored with an idea (that other people will enjoy what we make), or are we addicted to the creative process? Are we focused on the enjoyment of an audience, or the sheer power of skill  used well?

1 comment:

  1. I believe as human beings we are addicted to the creative process and all want to be a part of that. If its listening, using or creating something new. We where made to create.:]