Who Needs Performers?

The short answer to this question: I do.

I recently had a reading of my piano piece The Fall, written for and performed by James Praznik. He decided to perform from memory and drew criticism from another colleague who believed that playing from memory put yet one more barrier between the transmission from composer to audience.

Live performance is losing its value in the age of such technologies as Melodyne, a landmark tool that can correct any pitch or rhythm error in the midst of a dense musical framework. Audiences no longer have any tolerance for mistakes. Modern recordings eschew overt expression and will only come to fruition after multiple takes to get the music ‘perfect’ (for more on this idea, read “What Music Has Lost” by James F. Penrose).

I attended the final performance of the Columbus Symphony this past weekend and was confronted with what I might call a ‘routine’ performance. Don’t misunderstand me, I thoroughly enjoyed being there, but that was largely due to my enjoyment in watching the lively director, Junichi Hirokami.

If as a composer all you are interested in is the exact translation of your score to sound, I might simply recommend you use Finale software with its high-quality Garritan Sounds. The orchestral samples are uncannily real. You may also wish to move to electronic music altogether.

If, on the other hand, you—like me—treasure live performances, composers need to encourage performers to have some fun and not worry so much about ‘perfection.’

2 Reader Comments

  1. Robert Lunn

    I think performers are vital. It’s one of the great things about music that you get multiple interpretations of the same piece. As a performer, live performance is exciting/scary because you never what’s going to happen. The performance aspect allows the piece to breathe. I hope this makes since, I’ve got a child pulling on my leg while write this.

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