I found myself going off on tangents in thought today while I chaperoned my two youngest kids classes to the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra’s Elementary School Concert.
Tangent on a Tangent
It’s funny how time fogs the memory. I remembered promising myself not to chaperon another of these field trips a couple of years ago. The concert was fine, but they let the audience out one school at a time.
When you have over 2,500 seats, forcing an orderly school-by-school exit takes a LONG time … especially when you’re one of the last schools to be called and you’re responsible for keeping 5 eight-year old boys from climbing on the seats.
Back to the Point
The concert itself was fantastic – even though it was aimed at children, the whole thing was done quite well.
I thoroughly messed with the kids minds before the concert:
- “Aren’t there kazoos in an orchestra?”
- “Sometimes, the tuba player likes to stuff a cat down the bell and shoot it out in the audience”…
Besides all that, I think they all enjoyed the concert as well.
Bramwell Tovey, the music director of the VSO, led the session and conducted the concert. He’s a cheerful British fellow, who, I think, could probably have been a part of the Monty Python troop if the music thing didn’t work out.
What I found myself doing during the concert was thinking about some of the “deficiencies” of a live orchestra performing a concert.
I chuckled to myself as well.
Live Ensemble “Deficiencies”
There was more than one point in the performance where I was thinking: “What if I could just push a fader or adjust a pan pot to get that instrument / section to stand out a bit more?”
You obviously can’t do that with a real orchestra – in a an adequate hall – and in a real concert situation. Unless the orchestra is playing in a HUGE venue that needs microphones and further amplification to transmit the sound of the group appropriately, you get what you get.
Even when I’ve had my music recorded by real orchestras, the recording / mixing engineer and I have been able to adjust balances appropriately to get the sound I’m looking for. It’s not as much control of things that are available with sample libraries, but you CAN do things to bury or focus elements of the mix.
In a live situation – you get what you get and it’s tough luck if something goes wrong. You’re at the mercy of the musicians (and the conductor) to appropriately interpret and self-balance.
Not to say that’s necessarily a BAD thing, but on the continuum of amount of control one has over their music – live orchestral concert situations are a few notches below the “absolute control” mark.
For centuries, composers had to live with a very limited set of music notation tools to control what their creations would sound like. The only way that their music could be heard was through live musicians. Dynamic and articulation markings got the musicians in the ballpark, but interpretation was a big factor. If you were writing for a large ensemble, such as an orchestra, you weren’t entirely guaranteed (and you’re still not) how many musicians you’ll get for each section … and what caliber of musician you’d get!
That got me thinking: Would I have been able to “take it” living in an era where modern music creation / recording tools weren’t around. Would the “inadequacies” have bothered me?
Living With It
Think about any songs you’ve recorded / mixed (assuming you’re one of “those” people) – now-a-days, it’s an accepted part of the “process” to be able to go in and surgically fix … pretty well anything.
Personally, I like both sides – I like the control that’s available to me with modern tools, but I also like and welcome the unexpected in my music. Sometimes that’s me messing up and discovering one of those “happy mistakes”, other times, when collaborating, it’s someone else’s interpretation or ideas.
In the end, it really depends on what style of music you’re looking to end up with. Modern pop music is getting to the point where it’s pretty well edited, mixed and polished to death – there’s nothing wrong with that, and there’s obviously a market for it. I, personally enjoy something in between over-auto-tuned-edited music and free-form jazz.
Timing give and take, dynamics and … mistakes are fine for me.