Recording

by carl coetzee

(Author's note: This piece is part of a duo of narrative companion pieces, the first being "Masterclass" and the second being "Recording".  Both are set in a fictional violin studio and explore events as they pertain to individual students. They were written jointly as part of a Creative Writing course and are meant to be read in tandem.

The shag carpet tickled David’s feet as he walked into the room to unpack for his lesson. He ducked on the way in; ever since he had hit his growth spurt, he was too tall to fit through the door normally. On the other side of the room, Ms. Law sat in her usual large brown armchair, responding to email and sipping an hours-old cup of cold tea. As she noticed David’s arrival, she looked up and smiled.

“Hey, David.”

“Hi, Ms. Law.”

“How was your week?”

“Fine. Busy as usual.”

“Good. Are you ready to play?”

“Almost. Give me a second.”

David unpacked in silence, thinking about what he would say next -- and how. Though he did not look it, his thoughts weighed heavy on him that night. Luckily, Ms. Law broke the silence once more.

“So, do you like your recording?”

“Yeah.”

“You proud of it?”

“...yeah.”

“Good. Believe me, it’ll get you into any music school you want.”

“I’m sure it will. About that…”

“What?”

David thought intensely on what to say next.

“... I was watching the recording, Ms. Law. I’m not so sure I want to send it in.”

“Why? What’s the problem? Was there a mistake?”

“No, no, no-- Actually that’s the problem right there. There are actually several mistakes I remember making when I recorded-- like that high note in measure seven, I completely butchered it -- and when I watched the video, it’s completely perfect.”

“Oh, that’s just Steve. Isn’t he great?”

“Steve? I thought he was the engineer.”

“Well, he is, but he’s also the editor.”

“What’s that mean?”

“After you finish recording, he goes into the audio and cleans it up a little.”

“Like how?”

“Removing background audio, taking out scratches, timing errors, fixing pitch-”

“-fixing pitch? Like with autotune?”

“You ought to see it. He has this amazing plugin that can lay all of your notes out on the screen, and you can even adjust the out-of-tune ones to--”

“So… autotune.”

“Look, you know that this recording counts for ninety percent of your application.”

“Yeah.”

“Don’t you want to get in?”

“More than anything. But--”

“But what?”

“I don’t know. Seems dishonest.”

“Everyone does it, you know. If you listen to a CD of Vengerov, his performance is absolutely perfect-- not because he necessarily did a perfect take, but because they spliced and edited together several takes to create the finished product.”

“That’s a commercial release, though. This is an audition tape. Wouldn’t this be unfair?”

“I told you, everyone does it. If you don't, that'd be unfair to you.”

“Still, I don't know.”

“Look, if you really want to, you can always re-record without editing. But I’d advise against it. Strongly.”

“Hm.”

“Look, we’re losing lesson time. In time, you’ll see that I’m right. So let's stop talking and start playing.”

 

Reluctantly, David turned towards the stand and started into his piece.

-----

“Look, if she says you should, you should.”

David stared at his bacon and eggs, which laid cold upon his plate. Although he was looking down, he could still feel his father’s stare from the other side of the table.

“I mean, this is what you’ve always wanted! Ever since you were young, you never shut up about that school.” his father argued. “Why shoot yourself in the foot?”

“I still want to go. Dear God, I do. But not like this.”

“Look, you’ve never done a recording before. She has. If she says it, she’s probably right.”

“That’s my point, though. I’ve never done a recording before. Every single competition, I get there and perform live. It’s honest. They know it’s me. If I’m good enough to win those competitions, I’m good enough to get into music school without sacrificing my integrity.”

“David, be reasonable. You know better than I do that the music scene is a vicious one. Hundreds of kids from -- well, hell, from this city alone -- are fighting tooth, blood and nail for this spot. Do you think they’re worried about maintaining some false sense of authenticity? This is college. People will do whatever they can to beat out the guy next to them.”

“But I can do it, though.”

“Don’t be naive, David! Look, you need to get into this school. Where else are you going to go? You spend all day practicing, your grades are subpar, and that’s been okay so far because you knew what you wanted to do. But no matter how hard you work, or how good you become, it won’t amount to much if you can’t get into a school that’ll put you on the right path. To me, it would be sacrificing your integrity if you -- after all this time, money, and energy --  threw everything away during the final stretch! Can’t you see that? David?”

David said nothing and looked down at his plate. What his father didn’t understand was that this went against everything he stood for. If he agreed to artificially improve his submission, he would no longer be the hardworking lone wolf who single-handedly worked his way to the top of the Law studio. He would not be the self-sufficient maestro who required only an instrument and a room to master any challenge that came his way. He would be a sham.

-----

That day, David had a competition across town. As per usual, he was going to audition in person, so around noon David walked out of the apartment building and took the subway downtown. As he travelled, he contemplated what his dad had said during breakfast. Am I being stupid? Should I just swallow my pride and send in the edited recording? No, I’m right. Right? This is just like a competition. I’ve won plenty of those. And I didn’t need any help to do that. So this is the same, right? Right?

The bronze doors slid open, and David walked off of the elevator into the competition waiting room. He sat for a bit, wearing a pensive frown. Suddenly, a voice rang out from across the room.

“David?” exclaimed the voice.

“Pierre?”

“Wow, it’s been ages!”

Pierre, another violinist, had been in a group with David years ago. Well, until he wasn't. David never really was sure why he was kicked so suddenly but hadn't questioned it at the time. It was just kind of something that happened.

 

“It’s been too long! How’ve you been?” asked David.

“Can’t complain. How are you? You’re probably applying to colleges, right?”

“You know it. Tough business.”

“Sheesh, don’t remind me. It’s been two years since I applied, and I can’t forget fast enough.”

The two of them, both waiting for their audition, sat down and began to catch up. It didn’t take long, however, until the conversation shifted towards David’s recording dilemma. To his surprise, however, Pierre did not echo Ms. Law’s assertion that David had chosen wrong.

“What is she talking about?” asked Pierre, incredulously. “You’re telling me that she’s having her students autotune their applications now?”

“Wait, so people don’t normally do that?”

“Hell, no! I didn’t, and I got in.”

“Really? That’s strange. Why would she lie like that?”

“Honestly, man, it’s Law. What do you expect?”

“What do you mean?”

“Classical music is a tight-knit community. She has a reputation.”

“Reputation? What reputation?”

““First of all, she’s vindictive. If you disagree with her or don’t let her have her way, she will use whatever influence she has to smash your reputation. Surrounds herself with people who will do whatever she says, no questions asked. Any indication of disloyalty or disobedience and BOOM, you’re out of her circle. I would know.”

“I see.”

“But most of all, she definitely has no qualms about cutting corners if it benefits her. So I can definitely see her telling her students that they need to heavily edit their recordings. And I know for a fact that most people don’t.” The conversation paused for a minute as David processed what he had heard.

“I feel sick.”

“Don’t worry, though. I know you. Even after I left the studio, I kept hearing about you. You’re good. Good enough to get into whatever music school you fancy.”

“Thanks, man. But what do I do now? Everybody wants me to submit the edited recording. They definitely won’t let me do another one.”

“Tell you what, man. I’m friends with a guy who runs a studio near my dorm. I can get you in during the off hours, if you want.”

“Really?”

“Really. I want to see you succeed, man.”

The next week, David made one final recording. Although the recording studio wasn’t as high-tech as Law’s, it allowed him to record for as long as he needed; in the end, he recorded seven takes and used the fourth. The next day, he secretly switched the recordings on his application and sent in the form. A month later, he received a message asking him to come in for an on-campus audition.

David was happy. He always preferred to perform live.

© 2020, Carl Coetzee