20. April 2008 · Comments Off on Dynamics · Categories: Ramble

I had written earlier about a piece that was pulled from a concert because of the decibel level. Now there’s another article about that and more.

While the work they are discussing is loud because it is written to be loud, using a tape of a machine gun to begin, for instance (although I have read that that is the softest part of the work!) sometimes we just play TOO DARN LOUD!

Oops. Was I yelling?

I rarely wear earplugs: it’s too hard to hear myself, I can’t stand hearing my own tongue clicking (yes, I do hear that!), and I just feel out of touch. But I do put them in for the 1812 Overture if we have cannons, and I wear them on occasion if my ears begin to hurt. (We do have sound shields in our orchestra, although I’m not sure how well they work.)

But what about just “regular” works we play. MUST we make our fortissimos so loud? And why is pianissimo louder now than it used to be? Oh, for a conductor who would demand that wonderful hush!

“This is the problem you find in many places, that the conductors are conducting more and more loudly,” Ms. Käch said. “I know conductors who have hundreds of shades of fortissimo, but not many in the lower levels. Maybe the whole world is just becoming louder.”

I tell my students that a whisper, making the listener lean in in anticipation and even awe, is an amazing thing to do. Whispering, for instance, “I love you” in a hushed manner, is much more powerful that screaming, “I love you,” in someone’s ear. Really.

I was reading about this—and commented—on the newly found (for me) Freeway Philharmonic forum. I think you can read it too, even if you aren’t a member of the group. (If I’m wrong, or if this link shouldn’t even be here, I hope the manager of that site will let me know. BC? Just say the word.)

Playing softly is much more difficult than a non-musician might think. It requires a lot of control, and pitch can be tricky. (On oboe we have to blow slower air, so our pitch would go down if we didn’t make an adjustment with our embouchure, but we tend to over adjust and become sharp. This is one of the reasons I work with a tuner on long tones, playing a variety of dynamics.) I’m assuming bow control is more difficult as well. But it can be done. It’s just hard work. And work is great, even when you’re playing.

Maybe we should all become rebels with a specific cause, and play dynamics that are written. Wouldn’t that be something? Sometimes a whisper is so much more powerful than a scream.

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