Friday, August 18, 2006

Classical Musicians and Cosmetic Surgery:

I've only had a little bit of cosmetic surgery, so I feel entitled to complain about the many people who are turning to surgery to look as good as the movie stars. For starters, the movie stars don't look that good until they've been majorly airbrushed, so the whole effort can be viewed as a chase after false gods of beauty.

But it occurred to me that something similar happened long ago in the world of classical music. I've enjoyed the results there, but from the moment I discovered that similar revolution, I've been uncomfortable about it.

As soon as there were recordings of classical music, wrong notes on recordings seemed horribly out of place. Mid-century musicians accepted the goal of playing good classical music with almost no wrong notes. Sometime in the 1930's, musical engineers added the equivalent of the airbrush, splicing “takes” to produce note-perfect performances. And even before that, piano rolls were edited to remove wrong notes. The mid-century generation of musicians were aware that most recordings were edited, but the note-perfection they heard became their routine goal. And what could be wrong with that?

What could be wrong is that it has become much harder to be recognized as a great musician if you play many wrong notes. That means that a good bit of humanity need not apply for the virtuoso title; it also means that some great musicians can't let themselves go emotionally for fear of finger failures; and as a result we're losing opportunities to hear some wonderful interpretations of classical music from geniuses who are not sure-fingered enough.

As we watch some Hollywood stars' faces freeze with Botox, we must know we're losing opportunities to see them express wonderfully apt emotions. They're trying to emulate their own, airbrushed selves, and it's a shame.

And now, for some moderate examples of touchups, try this website: Click Portfolio, agree to the disclaimer if you can, click before/after, and enjoy.

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