Seeing is Hearing – Doug Bauman

Behold what wonders I observed last night. Seeing and hearing brought several new dimensions to this experience. Listening to a live performance gave a magnificent dynamic range to my ears. Not only is this range greater in frequency, but subtle changes in volume, attenuated on a recording, are often intensified at Heinz Hall. Sounds not heard on the radio the night before, were easily detected and enjoyed. For instance, the beginning of the Mahler Symphony was so slight, that I did not hear it at all on the radio until it was well underway. Then came the three trumpet calls from well off stage. That was barely audible on the radio, easily heard and enjoyed at the concert.

Try this: go to a symphony concert and watch an individual instrument throughout a performance, see the sounds. Somehow our minds are able to focus, and seeing becomes hearing, as astonishing as this may seem. For instance, in the Titan Symphony, I watched the harp from time to time. The beautiful plucking was easy to perceive once my attention was so directed. Later, I would automatically know that sound, and know it was the harp, even without seeing anymore. This became a memory of the sounds and an association, perhaps a visual association, which stuck around and built upon my knowledge of the orchestra and individual instrumentation. Watch the string section. Their fluid rhythmic motions bring sweet harmony and melody alive. I’ll hear their phrasings on one side, and pizzicato on the other, then sometimes reversed. Occasionally the principals will play a section of the score, their motions pronounced along with the music, accenting and drawing my attention. Seeing is hearing.

So many different instruments were used with the Adams composition and the Symphony. This amazing array and assortment is fascinating to peruse. If seeing is hearing, then it is also true that hearing is seeing. In the Adams: ‘Short Ride in a Fast Machine’ I am instantly hearing, then seeing the amazing score driven initially by a wood block making time. There were 2 flutes and piccolos, 2 oboes and English horns, 4 clarinets, 3 bassoons and contrabassoons, 4 horns, 4 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, woodblock, triangle, xylophone, crotales, glockenspiel, suspended cymbal, sizzle cymbal, snare drum, pedal bass drum, large bass drum, large tam-tam, tambourine, 2 synthesizers, and strings. What fun it was to see and hear each of these being played in such a synchronized form, making the difficult seem like a breeze.

Again, in Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto, I was able to see the music, only this time it was the soloist Joshua Bell that drove this point home. He made his red violin sing for joy, bringing it figuratively alive. The notes stored in his mind have become more than a simple sequence, but a fluid continuity of form brought out.

And finally, it was Maestro Honeck who epitomized the ultimate universal language of motion and form, conducting the entire whole of the symphony as if the sounds were emanating from the very tip of his baton, and merely reflecting through the musicians and amplified back to the audience, in a sublime metamorphosis which transcends temporal reality and enters the realm of the interminable. Come to the symphony, and see and hear for yourself!

1 thought on “Seeing is Hearing – Doug Bauman”

  • What an interesting experiment, to listen to the performance on the radio and then attend and see the same works performed live by the same people. With music that ranges in dynamics like these did, you would expect to have a different perception of course, but experiencing it must bring it home.
    I also like your idea of watching a performer and gaining an increased sense of their part. My mother and I talked after the concert about how much we preferred sitting up high, so we could see the percussion and horn sections. At the Butler County Symphony we often sit with friends very close up, and then we get a wonderful view of the violins and cellos up close, but we miss out on those in the back. We felt it was a worthwhile trade to get a full picture of everyone.

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