IF YOU PLACE A STRAW into a glass of water, it appears to bend because the light is refracted. One must learn to accept this reality, and not start believing one’s straw is bent. Something similar happens when we try to record choral voices. The microphone often distorts the sound, making it seem harsh and discordant.
This problem is not nearly as bad when it comes to piano recordings. I’ve spent a lifetime studying recordings by Gieseking, Rachmaninov, Horowitz, Friedman, Tiegerman, Hofmann, Schnabel, von Sauer, Godowski, Cortot, Lamond, Lhevinne, and many others—and I can say that the piano generally comes through much more satisfactorily than human voices.
I am not speaking here of recordings done by professional sound engineers. Over the last 100 years, some really clever sound engineers have found ways to reproduce choirs with reasonable success. I’m speaking of “home” recordings done by pocket recorders—such as the iPhone—or even expensive recording equipment operated by non-professionals.
I can now prove to you that what I say is true.
The following recording—made during a recent rehearsal—completely distorts, perverts, and corrupts the true choral sound. I know because I was there, and listened carefully. 1
The actual choral sound which I heard with my own ears was much nicer than what you hear: blended, not harsh, and sung with sensitivity.
This truth regarding microphones and choral sound is something I cannot emphasize enough.
By the way, photography can do something similar. I’ve seen photographs of people that do not represent their faces accurately; and sometimes it looks like a completely different person.
NOTES FROM THIS ARTICLE:
1 When you’re listening, please ignore the part where my son walks in and says “Can I have a doughnut?” At another point, some of the children can be heard singing along. Please ignore this. (The children come to rehearsal with the mothers who sing.)