The red pencil

1st December 2012 | Concerts, Musings | 0 comments

Winter weather has suddenly arrived in London. There is ice on the smaller ponds frost on the bushes, and low winter sunshine striking dramatically through the trees.

This week Erich Hoebarth and I – me in London and him in Vienna – are trying to go through all the ‘live’ recordings that were made of our Mozart Series in Perth last season, in the hope of finding enough material to put together some kind of e-album, which we can make available for download. It seems too sad to let these recordings sit on a shelf. The concerts were such fun!

But I hate listening to recordings of myself, and always avoid it if I can. I’ve got lots of my own records I’ve never listened to after they were issued. I always found it hard to go from the role of performer to the role of observer/judge of my own playing. It feels like going from the role of giver to the role of taker – and as everyone knows, these can be two very different experiences.

When I was teaching a chamber group recently, one of the players commented that when she was playing, the tempo seemed just right, but when she was listening to others in the group playing (at a moment when there was nothing for her to play) then the tempo suddenly seemed mysteriously less satisfying. Too fast, too slow, whatever.

We agreed that producing the music onself, being influenced by one’s own heart beat, adrenalin, emotion and so on, makes it a subtly but crucially different experience from the one which the listener is having. Things that feel exactly right when you’re making the music may seem less convincing when you’re sitting, as I have been this week, with a notebook on your lap and a red pencil to pounce on wrong notes, intonation slips, coughing from the audience, and the like.

At any rate, I find that listening to my own recordings is a bit like watching a scary film through one’s fingers: you hardly dare to look. Though now and then I realise I’ve just heard something really nice; I can relax and not feel separate from the person who played. Yes, it sometimes worked as I hoped!  My red pencil stays poised in the air as I listen, and at the end of the movement I just write ‘yes’.

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