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Classical Notes

Instrumental karaoke

Posted at 3:30 AM on May 26, 2006 by John Zech
Filed under: The blog

Q. What's the best recording of the William Walton Viola Concerto?

A. The Music Minus One version.

It's an old viola joke, but a short one (the longest viola joke: Harold in Italy...but, seriously folks...).

For musicians of my generation, there were these records called Music Minus One. They were typically sold in music stores, along with the scores of concertos, and the album gave you a recording of say, the Walton Viola Concerto on one side, with a good player as the soloist, and on the other side was the same recording without the soloist, so you could turn up the stereo and play the solo with the orchestra. They're still around, as a matter of fact.

Now there's a website that wants to get people to pay them a couple bucks for the chance to play along with the rock groups of their choice in much the same way. You can read about it here.

It also appears that commercial classical releases are getting into the act.

I got caught the other night on the air when I unwittingly played the wrong track on Nicola Benedetti's new CD. I intended to play her recording of the Meditation from Thais, but played what they called the "performance track" instead. Turns out that's what they call the version without her playing, so you can play along with the orchestra and pretend you're her (or Heifetz).

I kept waiting for the soloist to come in, and finally checked the CD booklet more closely and saw there were 2 versions of the Massenet Meditation and I got the Music Minus One by mistake. Oops! It happened at about this same hour of the overnight, when I could barely see straight anymore and wasn't ready for a curveball like that.