Can you remember the first time you heard a live performance of a symphony that you love? I recall hearing the Beethoven Ninth for the first time in a live concert. I was in my last year of high school and heard it performed by the Honolulu Symphony. It was a galvanizing experience!
Now, perhaps this is common and perhaps not, but I already knew the Beethoven very well, as my love of classical music came from through listening to recordings. I suspect nowadays most people hear classical music for the first time as a record. When I was a junior high and high school student, I had a set of complete Beethoven symphonies which I listened to over and over again. But what a difference a live performance made!
I thought about these things as I read this article in today’s New York Times about the low quality of playback evident in the MP3 players that everyone now owns.
But iPods and compressed computer files–the most popular vehicles for audio today–are “sucking the life out of music”
states an audio engineer in the article.
In fact, there is a long tradition of worry and hand-wringing over the advance of recorded technology infringing on live performance. Does a player piano, for instance, have the musical soul of a live performer? Does a record? This was one of the big concerns of Theodor Adorno, who cautioned about the commodification of music through easy reproduction.
I won’t offer any polemics here in favor (or not) of Adorno’s argument. After all, Beethoven was exposed to me via record because, as a youngster, I did not live near a symphony orchestra. In other words, without technology, I might have missed out on classical music all together.
But I will quickly add that nothing can replace the experience of a live performance, so while you may spend lots of time listening to radio, TV, internet streaming, or whatever, be sure to get yourself to a live performance every now and then. You might be surprised!