Friday, June 01, 2007

Can You Just Stand In Front Of That Cannon For Me A Moment...

At the risk of beginning to sound like some cranky libertarian wierdo, please tell me this is a joke...

"12 British orchestras have undertaken - or are currently scheduled to receive - intensive training in the area of noise exposure and how orchestras can take practical steps to reducing exposure levels and minimising risk".

Alas, it appears not. I can just see it now... at the next Fireworks Concert in Princes St Gardens, some Keith Lard-type will burst up on to the stage after they've played 'Ride of the Valkyries', to insist that before we get the 1812 Overture, canons and all, we'll have a burst of the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, because it's nice and quiet and there's tinkly little bells in it.

The whole point of pieces of music like 'Finlandia' is that the brass is very, very loud, and that the percussionist knocks seven shades out of the timpani to the point of a coronary attack. That's what makes it exciting, interesting, life affirming. That's what makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up every time I hear it, and causes me to shiver with pleasure when the French Horn plays over the top of the strings just before the finale.

The light and shade comes through the music itself, or the skill with which the programme is selected. It doesn't come from bureacratising the music profession or conducting silly little 'risk assessments'. Just for that, I'm going to stick the Karelia Suite on extra loud on my way home. Followed by AC/DC. Write that down on your clipboard...


Richard Havers said...

Richard, it's true and just about impossible to believe at the same time. I'm fairly certain that within five years all cars will be grey, so will clothes and so will life. In fact grey will be the new black,

Richard Thomson said...

Grey cars are good. They don't show up the dirt as much.

Cursed Tea said...

I am a classical musician in an orchestra and I have to disagree with you. I totally understand the survey - it has nothing to do with your wonderful self as a patron - yes it should be loud and you should hear it thus. It is to do with preserving the hearing of those of us who make a living out of using our ears. Classical musicians who sit in orchestras are subject to a mammoth amount of noise - try sitting three feet from the bell of the principal trumpet during Finlandia - it's hell!!
In the US the musicians union is very good at trying to enforce laws and rules to protect musicians - we have earplugs on hand and a plethera of glass screens to protect those players situated very close to brass and percussion.

The British musicians union has very little clout and influence - so the move to having more to do with this subject in Britain is a good thing - especially as British brass play really really loud - in a British orchestra when the brass go full pelt you can't hear the rest of the orchestra - in the US you can - neither is better - both just different ways to play!

I'm very happy and glad to know you like the music I love and am empassioned to play and excited to have a job in!!

Best Wishes

Richard Thomson said...

Hi Kirsty,

I don't make a big thing of it in my profile, but I've worked professionally as a musician myself for 20 years. I've done the lot from small ensemble work to leading orchestras to TV and radio to playing highly amplified sets at rock festivals to performing right next to bagpipers and snare drummers, so I'm not exactly writing here from the perspective of the semi-cultured know-it-all 'patron' sitting in row 1 that we probably all know and loathe :-)

Of course health and safety is important. It always has been, and as you say, musicians have always taken measures to ensure their own comfort. However, it doesn't alter the fact that there's a creeping risk-averseness in society, which increasingly defies any sense of proportion, and which is dressed up in the most tedious, sententious, spirit-crushingly dull language imaginable. This story seems simply to be the latest, and for me possibly one of the most depressing, outbreaks of the phenomenon.