Loud, Louder, Loudest: How Classical Music Started to Roar (New York Times)

Loud, Louder, Loudest: How Classical Music Started to Roar (New York Times)

Last night, The New York Times published an article by Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim, “Loud, Louder, Loudest: How Classical Music Started to Roar.” She reached out to me a little over a year ago, asking if she could interview me for a planned story about the trend toward excessively loud dynamics in symphony orchestras. You will find several quotations from me in her article.

The subject has interested me for many years and I was pleased to speak with Corinna; I think her article is insightful and thought provoking. And I must say that I think that Michael Waraska’s illustration that accompanies Corinna’s article is absolutely superb.


[Above: illustration for The New York Times by Michael Waraksa, 2020.]

Waraksa’s image is in the spirit of a much earlier one that addressed the same issue of loud dynamic levels at classical music concerts. In 1845, Jean-Ignace-Isidore Gérard, who was known by the pseudonym Grandville, published a caricature of French composer Hector Berlioz. A year later, German caricaturist Anton Elfinger, known as Cajetan, adopted (and colorized) Grandville’s drawing; it was published in Allgemeine Theaterzeitzung (Jahrgang 39, No. 81, Vienna, April 4, 1846). This issue has been before us for a very long time, as Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim describes in her superb article.


[Above: illustration for Allgemeine Theaterzeitzung, “Satirical Concert; a Concert in 1846!”, by Anton Elfinger after Grandville, 1846.]

To read Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim’s article, click its title under Michael Waraska’s graphic below, or click HERE.

I have written several essays on this subject that appear on my website. The first, Me, Myself, and I: Are Brass Players Losing the Concept of Being Team Players?, was first published in the International Trombone Association Journal in 1997. It was subsequently reprinted in the T.U.B.A. Journal (now the Journal of the International Tuba Euphonium Association) later that year. My friend, Gene Pokorny, tubist of the Chicago Symphony, wrote an encouraging response to my article that also appeared in the T.U.B.A. Journal. You can read both my article and Gene Pokorny’s response by clicking HERE.

Then, later in 1997, I wrote another article which appears on the FAQ section of my website. I wrote an article that addressed this question:

I’ve been reading about problems with people complaining about excessive “noise” levels on stage in orchestras and bands, leading some players who sit near brass players to complain of hearing loss. What insights do you have on this situation?

The impetus to write this article came when a member of the Boston Symphony Orchestra—of which I was bass trombonist from 1985-2012—filed a complaint with the Unites States Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) about excessive noise levels on stage during rehearsals and concerts in Symphony Hall. That report and my commentary on the issue be viewed by clicking HERE.

My articles have generated a huge amount of discussion in the nearly 25 years since I first wrote them. They have been reprinted in dozens of blogs and they appear on many websites. I’m very happy that this important discussion is ongoing, and I salute Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim for her superb contribution to the conversation.