Sunday, August 10, 2014

Updates, and lessons from home recording

It's been a long time since I've posted, so here's an update on some of what's happened and what's going on right now.

It's been a fairly busy year so far, including the premiere of some of a set of ten new pieces I wrote for euphonium and piano, as well as two concerts (one in White Plains, New York and the other in Goshen, Indiana) celebrating the 300th anniversary of the birth of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach.  I performed at a benefit for the Afghan Child Education and Care Organization, and at the first-ever Azerbaijani Novruz celebration in Philadelphia.

Another thing I've been working on is recording.  This is a fairly unambitious undertaking; the music will include at least two sonatas by C.P.E. Bach, as well as some J.S. Bach, and maybe a few other things according to taste and whim.  It springs naturally out of the home recording I've been doing for many years.  Recording and listening to myself have been two of my most powerful tools to keep growing musically, and from there it's a simple matter of asking two questions: what would make this worth sharing, and how do I get there?

One of the first things musicians learn after starting to make recordings is just how bad they sound.  The microphone (or its digital equivalent) is pretty unforgiving.  Mistakes and problems that you could sort of ignore while you were playing suddenly stand out and become unbearable.  One of the first questions you'll have is how to improve the situation, and the first and best answer is, improve your playing.

Another early lesson is that it's necessary to be really detail-oriented.  How, exactly, will that ornament be played?  Where are the dynamic changes?  How loud, and how soft?  The more you know, and the better you know it, the higher the odds that, when you are performing, it will come out as intended.

Which leads to another question, with its attendant lesson: when is it time to stop?  It's possible to work on a recording forever, honing smaller and smaller details, and never quite attaining that magical state of perfection where it's time to stop and release the results.  In normal studio recording, of course, the budget, and a good producer, will put strict limits on the amount of reworking that can be done.  It's always possible to find something wrong with a performance or a recording, and even more so when using a digital keyboard for Baroque and pre-Classical music.  A digital keyboard is not a piano (organ, clavichord, harpsichord, etc.), and while it can have worthwhile qualities of its own, it can never satisfy someone who expects to hear an acoustic instrument.

So the question is, when is it good enough?  When does it fairly represent what I can do right now?  And perhaps most importantly, when is it time to release this, and apply the lessons learned to the next project?

Because there will be next projects, and other recordings, and my most important reason for undertaking this one is to improve those.