I remember the first time I attended the symphony.
I had to attend a concert and write a review on it for a class that I was taking at the U of R, and the RSO was performing a couple program pieces one evening, so I went. Both were favourites that I thought I knew well. The first was The Sorcerer’s Apprentice by Dukas. The version with which I was most familiar was from the original Leopold Stokowski version featured in Disney’s Fantasia, with some added narrations by Sterling Holloway. The second piece of the evening was Mussorgsky’s Pictures At An Exhibition, originally a solo piano tribute to the visual art legacy of a deceased friend of the composer, this had been popularly orchestrated by Maurice Ravel and I had at least two orchestral versions plus a rocky version by the virtuosic art rock trio, Emerson Lake and Palmer and a strange synthesizer version by electronic music pioneer, Isao Tomita.
No amount of listening to recordings could prepare me for what I experienced that night, however, because for me the recordings had represented false experience. I thought I knew the music but I didn’t because I had never heard it live. It’s not that the arrangements were noticeably different or that the musicianship was in any way superior. It was the dynamics. I had never heard anything like it.
Recording dynamics tend to be compressed so that the listener can comfortably encounter the music without having to either strain to hear the softest pizzicato pluck or brace themselves for the full force of a shot from the orchestra. Members of a live audience find themselves in a musical environment. They do not simply encounter the music, they are engulfed by wave upon wave of the composer’s original sonic intentions. It’s marvellous.
I’ve read in liner notes many times that it can be a struggle for a band to capture the magical quality of a live performance on record. I believe that this is at least partly true because of how the dynamics of music are typically narrowed to seemingly fit into the grooves. Thursday’s Thread at 3:00 boasts expanded dynamic range, featuring songs that are hard to listen to in your car because they drop to near silence and then, much like the surprise shot in Haydn’s Symphony No. 94, shred the speakers with authority- either by the full band or just one featured instrument.
So let’s make a game out of it. Keep a tally of how many times you have to adjust the volume during the show. I’ll post on The Common Thread’s Facebook page how many times I increased or decreased the volume on my end.
The Common Thread airs every Thursday from 3:00-4:00 on
91.3 CJTR- Regina’s Community Radio