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Saturday morning quotes 2.52: Live music is best

May 10, 2013

As the final post for our second full year of Saturday quotes, we tap into a few sources  – old and more recent – that have to do with the experience of hearing music.

The more we perform, the more we are convinced that the phenomenon of recorded music should be over. Done. Put to rest. What follows is a manifesto of sorts in favor of live music, complete with supporting words from enlightened commentators.

Why bother?

“The discipline of music is diffused through all the actions of our life.  First, it is true that if we perform the commandments of the Creator and with pure minds obey the rules he has laid down, then every word we speak, every pulsation of our veins, is related by musical rhythms to the powers of harmony.  Music indeed is the knowledge of proper measurement.  If we live virtuously, we are constantly proved to be under its discipline, but when we commit injustice we are without music.  The heavens and the earth, indeed all things in them which are directed by a higher power, share the discipline of music, for Pythagoras shows that this universe was founded by and can be governed by music.”

– Flavius Magnus Aurelius Cassiodorus, “Of Music”, Fundamentals of Sacred and Secular Learning, circa 520 AD

Does music really affect our senses?

“The very world and the sky above us, according to the doctrine of philosophers, are said to bear in themselves the sound of music.  Music moves the affections of men, stimulates the emotions into a different mood… It influences beasts also, serpents, birds, and dolphins, at its hearing…”

– Aurelian of Reome, The Discipline of Music, 9th century

How do we get some of that?

“To enjoy the effects of music fully, we must completely lose ourselves in it; to judge it, we must relate it to the source through which we are affected by it.  This source is nature.  Nature endows us with the feeling that moves us in all our musical experiences; we might call her gift instinct.  Let us allow instinct to inform our judgments, let us see what mysteries it unfolds to us before we pronounce our verdicts…”

– Jean Philippe Rameau, Le Nouveau Systeme de musique theorique (1726).

What sort of person bothers to play music?

“There’s a sensual pleasure involved in making sounds, harmonious sounds, that I just can’t get, and I don’t think anyone can quite get, from acting.”

Hugh Laurie

When did public concerts begin anyway?

“…here it was that the masters began to display their powers afore the wise judges of the towne, and found out the grand secret, that the English would follow musick and drop their pence freely; of which some advantage hath bin since made.”

– Roger North, An Essay of Musicall Ayre c.1715–20

What does it cost to attend a live concert?

“By setting prices at $170 (£110) for a cheap seat, $635 for a top seat or up to $2,000 for a VIP ticket, [the Rolling Stones] alienated blue-collar fans who have kept their tours profitable through the decades. Their 2005 tour grossed £350m.”

– Edward Helmore, The Observer, Saturday 4 May 2013

Can we get real?

Our concerts cost quite a bit less than the Rolling Stones, and we aren’t extremely old guys who wear spandex and pretend to be cool.

Live music is best. Recorded music is nothing more than an audible moment in time captured for posterity and, unless the musicians are ridiculous and unreasonable purists like us, it is usually severely messed with for commercial reasons.  Attending live concerts enables the listener to experience real sounds as authentic sound pressure and it also encourages musicians to continue creative endeavors by enabling them to partake of nutrition and pay bills.

Our music is best experienced live.  Check out the possibilities.

  1. Ned Mast permalink

    I cannot disagree with your statement that your music is best experienced live. Unfortunately, however, not all venues suit the performances held in them. On two recent occasions I’ve been very disappointed in string quartet performances; the sound was hard, bright, lacking in warmth and generally unpleasant. I found myself wishing I could hear these performances sounding as good as they would on recordings in my listening room at home. One venue was even a music school hall dedicated to musical performances (the other a museum room not designed for music). I know that you both are careful in selecting the venues in which you perform, but musicians don’t always have that luxury. I would not for the world stop attending live musical performances, but have learned that decent sound is often not to be expected.
    Best, Ned

    • Thanks for your comments, Ned. While we have even agreed in the not-so-distant past that perhaps recordings are a better way to experience lute music, the phenomenon of live performance can have a special quality that may even transcend the acoustical limitations of a performing venue – and perhaps even transcend the human imperfections inherent in live lute playing. Anthony Rooley wrote eloquently about this phenomenon in his monograph Performance: Revealing the Orpheus Within (1993), referring to an unseen presence that connects performers and audience. When we perform for more intimate-sized audiences, it can be a truly breathtaking experience when listeners allow themselves to be drawn into the music.

      There is a rather perverse aspect of modern life that somehow encourages people to place a greater significance on audio and video recordings than on the live experience of music (“You’re nobody unless you’re on TV…”). We are doing our level best to counter this abstraction of authentic human interaction with music as the medium.

  2. Dan permalink

    Hear/here! Great blog post this morning- I share the polemical mood, of course- but must admit that I thoroughly enjoyed Paul O’s latest Francesco CD at the music store where I work part time yesterday. Not entirely thoroughly, as the recorded sound sucked & I voiced my disgust with it even as I enjoyed a fine performance I would never have heard otherwise. Being human is full of contradictions, ain’t it?

    Flavius Magnus Aurelius Cassiodorus’ manifesto is especially moving. Where do you find all this stuff? One can really understand Renaissance Europe’s obsession with things Classical.

    And of course I appreciate your wide ranging experience and taste; according with the late Edward Kennedy Ellington’s conviction that great music transcends genre, becomes something- in his words- “Beyond Category”.

    Going even more “beyond category” Aurelian’s quote makes sense of the universality of Music in it’s largest sense- both metaphorically and literally a basic component of the universe. Of course one also thinks of Ornithoparcus, Dowland, V. Galilei et al. in this regard.

    Now blogging onwards into your third year-



    • Thanks, Dan. Where do we find this stuff? We tend to read books, which are found shelved and stacked in nearly every nook and cranny of our miniscule abode – we even have a complete library-bound set of the New Grove which was amazingly withdrawn from an academic library and discarded. We make time to read because we don’t bother with TV, and are thus fairly ignorant of modern pop culture references.

      If it were not so tragic, it’s almost amusing to observe how most people have become convinced that music is nothing more than a superfluous commercial commodity. When you stop to consider, music is present in almost every and anyplace, public or private, and it tells us what to think, what to feel, and when to react in so many cases of daily life. But music has been completely absconded by Madison Ave. types and put to practical use to sell things to unsuspecting and uneducated people who don’t seem to mind their role as consumer-flunky. Go figure.


  3. Ned Mast permalink

    As you say, the qualities of live performances are unique. Recordings offer some advantages, but are missing that personal connection with the musicians which has to enhance the listening experience. A live performance yesterday even acquainted me with two pieces of music I was either unfamiliar with, or had no recordings of. Long live the live performance! (Or as the news bulletin of our local AFofM used to say, with puzzling/humorous semantic implications: “Always hire live musicians”.

  4. melonsoda permalink

    From the book “My Father” by Peter Bartok (son of the composer Bela Bartok):

    My father’s objection to radio went beyond his fear of unwanted musical sounds at home. (”My Father,” p.30)

    “Radio and phonograph,” my father talked about in a later lecture on ‘Mechanical Music,’ “may discourage people from making their own music, so they never experience the satisfaction that goes with music-making, even if clumsy.”

    That’s true, considering family life in Europe in the 1920s and ‘30s. In the days before such “mechanical music-making” became technologically possible, people made their own music at home, being actively involved in it, not simply the passive couch-potato of today.

    While conceding the usefulness of radio for sick or otherwise immobilized people, [the lecture] contained some critical thoughts: the easy availability of music coming out of a home loudspeaker at the flick of a switch – no need to dress up, buy tickets and sit in silent attention with some thousand others in a big hall – may lead to superficial listening: people can turn the music on and off at any time, make it loud or soft, and they ‘may even chat during the music!’ He characterized radio music for many as no deeper experience than ‘being caressed in a lukewarm bath.’ (”My Father,” p. 226)

    “Without laws, protecting the quiet of others, radio may become one of God’s curses on humanity.” – Bela Bartok (”My Father,” p. 227)

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