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The whole sum

The cliche is still among us: music is made up of melody, harmony, and rhythm. That, alas, (or not!) is not at all how the ear works. Unless, of course, the ear has been so preconditioned by over-simplistic pedagogy and/or lousy recording or playback engineering that total sound is nowhere in evidence. In fact, the ear hears a totality, all the time, regardless of style or setting.

I was reminded of how this works yesterday as I recalled my shock on first hearing live a performance of Benjamin Britten’s Serenade for Tenor, Horn, and Strings, a piece which I had heard hundreds of time on a mono recording back in the 1950’s. I had furnished the bass sonorities out of my own musical brain: they were simply not present on that recording. But live!!! I will never forget that impact, which continues to inform my ear.

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