On Live Music

My tabby cat
Salami, the best cat ever
A lot of people say that music is their life.

Well, I wouldn't go quite as far as that; while my life does consist of cool things, like music, experimental physics, my wonderful, loving boyfriend, and the best cat ever, it also consists of less cool things like chores and familial arguments. But I still love music - not in the sense that I get my panties wet over yet another manufactured idol with shitty hair, but...well...

...Let me tell you something about myself. My mother was a music teacher, pianist and chorister for years, and as a child I grew up with a piano in the house that I would plink and plonk at until I actually learned to play. I also grew up with one of those old record players in the same room as the piano, and I distinctly remember dancing around to an LP. My dad also loves music - OK, so his taste is crap and now mine is forever crap too, but the point is that both my parents got me to love music. It was always playing in the house when I was younger.

Black upright Yamaha piano
Not my piano, but a similar model
When I started going to secondary school, I was offered singing lessons and a chance to join the choir. Six years on, I've passed my Grade 8 Singing with Distinction; for me, this means I've finally worked out how to carry a tune.

In the meantime, I've sung by myself. I've sung with other people. I've sung in churches and cathedrals both in the UK and abroad, and I've sung in the open air. I've sung in concert settings and under Menin Gate. I've even sung at Abbey Road Studios with the Really Big Chorus, something I'm incredibly proud that I did.

Live music
And while I treasure all the musical experiences that I've had, in the end I've got to say that I prefer live music to all the rest. While as a vaguely musical person I can appreciate the hard work artistry that goes into recording pieces, and the effects you can get in a recording studio that you can't get live on stage, live music will always be my favourite.

Firstly, live music is possibly the highest definition you can get, as it doesn't have to be compressed - and you hear it with your ears. The sound is coming at you from all directions, everywhere, and you're just swimming in music (well, if the acoustics are halfway decent). No matter how hard you try to replicate that with your lossless compression, something will get lost along the way. It's not the same.

Live music
Secondly, I find live music to be better for interaction. How does that even make sense? Well, recently I went to an exhibition of Vermeer's artwork at the National Gallery...I'm a snob, I know, but I love artwork and especially artwork of musical instruments, even if art critics apparently can't tell the difference between a cello and a viola da gamba. It didn't hurt that they had real Baroque instruments on display either, or that they had short performances by the Academy of Ancient Music - short performances that I wish had lasted longer, as I'd have gladly stood up for longer just to hear them perform more.

Live music
Now, while I love Baroque music and heartily disliked the crowd taking up most of the seats, who seemed to be middle-aged pseuds, I can't help but think that I enjoyed it more because of the interaction with the musicians, who took the time to go into more detail about the pieces they were playing and the instruments they were playing it on, such as the Baroque violin and the theorbo. These are not things I would have been able to pick up on in a recording.

Live music
That's my view as an audience member - but what about my view as a performer? I'll go onto what I feel is most important in a little bit, but for now I'd like to talk a bit about audience interaction. I don't just like to sing and then fuck off; what makes performing really special for me is when people come and stroke my ego afterwards, and when we get to meet and chat a bit about music and the dynamics of being in a choir. It feels really great to be on somewhat more equal terms with the audience; I don't like the idea that the performer imparts something to a passive audience, and I like group singing because I feel that it helps to draw people closer together. That's just me being silly and possibly hypocritical (I mostly perform art music, where the audience generally has to shut up and applaud), though.

Live music
Finally, what I like most about live music is that it only happens once. You hear a note once and then - gone. You only get one shot at doing it right. And that's what makes it so challenging and so beautiful for me. That's actually what I found most unsettling about recording: in a studio, you get far more than one shot. You get two shots and three shots and five shots and as many shots as they care to give you, so that they can tweak it until it's just right and tweak it even more once you're out of the room. Some people like that - and that's fine. That's their preference. But it all seems a little too perfect and clinical for me.