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The Sounds and Music of Open Space

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Posted by Patricia Zimmermann at 9:03AM   |  23 comments
steinway piano

Blog written by Jairo Geronymo, pianist based in Berlin, Germany


I will move to Berlin this summer.
So I began the hunt for the large, well situated, extremely comfortable, well designed, charming, impressive, and of course, reasonably priced apartment. 

The real estate market in Berlin is very different than what one would expect in such a large city.  I have heard horror stories from colleagues and friends living in Manhattan.  They have shared that to get the perfect apartment at a reasonable (…) price one must be smart and aggressive beyond any measure. 

Germany has strong laws to protect renters and only a few empty apartments come up for sale.  One would expect that they would sell quickly.  Quite on the contrary, they linger forever on the German version of ( 

I believe that in large cities, many people able to buy an apartment often remain renters because there is no risk and sacrifice in their comfortable but unprofitable renter experience.  My blog is not about housing politics so I will move on to the housing needs of our friend musicians. 

Practicing Undisturbed

Listening to a concert or a recital in a theater is a very different experience compared to listening to your neighbor practicing, no matter how accomplished the musician is.   Serious musicians practice for hours, with systematic and repetitive techniques that can bring the worst out of pleasant neighbors. The acoustic guitar, the harp and early keyboard instruments luckily can play on, undetected by irate disturbed neighbors. 

For their sound to blossom, all instruments need a certain amount of air volume.  If you play the Tuba or have a large grand piano, it would be better to move straight into a theater!  Colleagues that own houses sometimes have carved, through many creative artifices, the perfect place to practice undisturbed from neighbors and family. 

I was only once accosted in the elevator by a furious neighbor regarding my long hours practicing a Prokofiev Piano Concerto.  I was young and had the stamina to go on for hours banging away on the keys.  The concerto that I played so well, to the delight of so many, made my neighbor hate the day in which Prokofiev (or I) was born!  Today, luckily, I can learn music faster than my neighbors can get annoyed.  However, that takes a lot of planning!

In large cities, where most musicians live in apartments, the situation is worse.  Musicians need to consider carefully the architectural and psychological elements of their prospective nests.  Is there a way of having nobody living underneath me? Are the walls thick enough? Is there a baby living one floor above me? Can I practice at school?   Musicians that do not pay attention to these aspects can pay a high price.  A colleague of mine in Berlin is being sued by her neighbor and this summer will go through an extensive renovation in order to isolate her piano room acoustically.

Piano Shaped Object (PSO) and Patience

Like many colleagues I have at home a keyboard with weighted keys. Sometimes I use it late night or in the early stages of learning a piece.  However, this robs me of the sensual experience of discovering a new piece as it was supposed to be, free and unashamed of its powers.  New melodies, surprising harmonies and powerful climaxes do not sound the same on a plastic PSO (piano shaped object) and headphones cannot duplicate the acoustical experience of an instrument speaking freely where its sound can bloom.

Most painters do not work with the rarefied white light that fed old masters in Holland.  Most musicians cannot afford the perfect space for the sound of their instruments to bloom. 

So I plead with everybody that once enjoyed any type of music: be patient with your neighbor musician while she or he practices.  Their future audiences will thank you!


Something I guess I never had to think about before!
This just underlines the parallel universes we live amidst, unknowing

Dear Ann E,

There is a certain beauty about knowing that there are so many parallel universes!
I am sure that Madonna;s universe is very different than ours as much as Shakespeare's universe was different than ours.
We have much to learn...


The parallels are in the same temporal space - we are actual neighbors, without the refuge of time or history....

Hi Ann E,

I could not agree more! That is what makes life so interesting. Not to drink from the variety of ideas that life offers us is such a waste. Keep your eyes and mind open and life can be an eternal discovery! What an exciting ride!

Jairo Geronymo

I can't help but agree with both of your talk about different universes. Everyones reality is different, and no ones reality is reality its self. However, back to the whole evil musicians. If a dorm neighbor was constantly practicing their instrument i do not think i could take it after awhile. Even if they are the best i just would not be able to concentrate or anything. I would not go as far as suing them and i think that is a bit extensive, but is there not a limit to what a person can actually handle?

I have personally found myself in this terribly awkward position on multiple occasions; i feel the urge to practice but feel I cannot without disturbing my neighbors for the hour is too late, or I simply feel too embarrassed to project my music into the quite space of others. I wish there was an understanding amongst the general populous that artists need to practice and should feel free to practice when they feel inspired; however, the artist must respect the comfort of others to some degree and limit their creative expression in situations of close proximity where annoyance is an extreme possibility.

I have actually just experienced this very situation within the last week. I live in a dorm on campus, and so I live in very close proximity to many people. Just the other day I was trying to read 50 pages of a very dry history book when one of the students next door began playing his guitar. Of course, this immediately made my extremely boring reading assignment even more unbearable, because I wanted to stop reading and listen to the music. As a musician myself, I can understand the need to practice in one's own room if needed, so I couldn't get mad at my neighbor, but the timing couldn't have been worse for me. I feel like there must be some agreement that can be reached between musician and listening neighbors, even in the "real world" where neighbors aren't a 15 foot walk down the hall.

I, too, have been experiencing a situation like Alex Wolf's here are school. My neighbor is a Music major and tends to play her guitar around midnight. She lives in a crammed triple, so with a bunk bed and a lofted bed, the acoustics are terrible. It is sometimes hard to tell if she is actually playing a song or just messing around. Being a musician myself, I try to cut her slack and not let it get to me, but on those late nights when i just want to finish a paper or a some reading, it does get a bit distracting. But, we have to remember that these people are part of a group of entertainers who bring us the joy of music, and where would we be without music?

I don’t think there isn’t a person on campus that hasn’t faced a problem with fellow musicians playing their instruments at wee hours.

However, I feel that this type of situation can be circumvented if the college were to construct a special acoustically sound room in each dorm hall, which would either cancel any or all noise made by an instrument inside that room. This would be beneficial in many ways, as a musician wouldn’t have to travel far from their room to practice and could rehearse at almost any hour of the day without disturbing his fellow roommates. Nonetheless, this is only beneficial to those musicians who have their own portable instruments, so those wanting to practice the piano may find this idea unhelpful.

Though, I do have a roommate who owns his own guitar and plays it very often, and I find it soothing enough to be able to work in that environment. Then again, I do normally require music to do any (home)work. It really depends on the musicians’ skill and what they are playing, and if that music is compatible to what type of music you normally listen to!

As I used to play in a school band and now simply own a few instruments to "rock out" out when I feel the need to escape, I totally understand this. I am also a cinema major who enjoys making movies, especially the creation of sound in movies. I experience this issue of creating a universe to listen in when I am editing a movie as the ambiance of a room can affect so much of the feel of a film. Yet, at the same time I get complaints about volume and the annoyance of others. I realize that this blog is focused on music but I feel that the plea for understanding needs to really apply to all arts. Everyone appreciates at least one of the arts, and they need to respect the work and practice that goes into them, essentially enjoying both the roses and understanding the thorns.

Mr. Geronymo, I feel your woes. As a connoisseur of most genres of music, from classical and jazz to heavy metal and old school rap, the only way for me to thoroughly enjoy the enriching experience of the harmonies and melodies is to put my THX certified sound system up and drown out all other noise. Because i am currently in an apartment-like dormitory setting, this gets me into some trouble with the resident advisers from time to time.
It often makes me wonder if purchasing noise-canceling/dampening foam would be a viable answer to keep my RA's and floor mates from having to hear my music and movies and allow me to continue fun, albeit loud, hobby.

Being a trumpet player myself, I have definitely had to deal with noise issues not only with neighbors, but also with my own family. Throughout my 18 years of life I have played four different instruments, violin, piano, double bass, and trumpet. The last two causing the most "racket" within the house. In order for me to practice my instruments I would have to play in the basements with all the doors closed in a sound proof room, even then it still admitting noise. My sister would always constantly complain that I was playing to loud or I would have to limit my practice time which affected my playing ability. The irony of it all is that my sister is the one who suggested that I play the trumpet in the first place.
Even though with other things limiting my time to practice I ended up find time even if it was only for 10 minutes, to practice small scales or tricky parts in music and ended up excelling at playing my trumpet.

As a musician I understand the difficulty in finding a good spacer that doesn't disturb others. Musicians practicing in their dorms is almost like a linebacker practicing with his teammates for the big game in his dorm. That would be ridiculous but we must respect other peoples spaces in the same way. On the other side of the coin, If someone is writing a paper and is disturbed by their environment, they should try and remove themselves from the situation first before trying to change other people. Where does this balance lie?

People should learn to live with the music in their lives, not condemn it, suing people for practicing is just absurd and superfluous. Music is just another form of art like cinema and painting, although this form just makes noise. People should learn to appreciate this beautiful expression and maybe even find a way to spice up their lives. And think about it this way; if you hear music being practiced and it is not so good, it will sooner or later become very pleasing to the senses and the soul.

As someone who has lived in the woods for most of her life, I have never had the problem of hearing a neighbor practice. I have, however, been the practicing musician and have had to hear my entire family practice their instruments almost all day, and I can safely say that it is not a bad or annoying thing to me. True, when musicians are practicing one run over and over it could get annoying, but people should learn to embrace music into their lives.

I have experienced this same issue many times. When I was younger I too played the piano in the comfort of my own home. Often times the people it would aggravate would be my very own family members! But as a musician I do understand that it can be frustrating to hear the same keys and melodies over and over. Now, living on campus and in a dorm I can relate to my families old feelings. Many of my neighbors play their instruments and to be honest I really do enjoy it. I often hear the guitar, but mostly the cello. They really are quite talented and I don't mind. My one concern is that the abide by the quite hours in the residence halls and don't play during them. But any other time of day I'm glad to hear these other students fantastic abilities.

I consent with Jairo Geronymo; music should be allowed to resound ‘free and unashamed of its powers’. Just as civil engineers have found it imperative to mitigate the seismic impacts in building structures through seismic vibration control, they should indeed, on a mass scale, get on to erecting apartment buildings and dormitories that employ acoustic resonance control (as impractical as that sounds); because it seems to me the bittersweet ‘plague’ of the ‘evil musician’ is just as rampant as that of the seismic wave.
It would be a great way to elude many a discontented neighbor [and lawsuit!].

*I concur

Well as enjoyable music can be, I do know what it's like to be annoyed by a neighbor's music. It definitely depends on what the music is, and when it's being played. For example I was not at all happy when a month ago a group of people starting playing bongo drums at one in the morning right outside my window. I was also very annoyed at the people who live above me when they were blasting hip-hop music while I was trying to get my homework done. To be honest, I don't think i would mind a piano, but there's no way a piano would fit in a dorm room so it doesn't really matter. It's nice of you to think about your neighbors before you start practicing, and perhaps warning them could be helpful, I know the people upstairs certainly didn't think about bothering me before they played their music. But since it is your job, it's essential that you have a place to practice. I don't play an instrument so I've never had to worry about practicing but I can understand your frustration. Best of luck!

As a college student I can relate to this issue having to practice some patience and understanding for those who want to practice their musical skills and those who want some quiet time in the dorm. If we show respect for one another we can figure out ways to satisfy both parties; those who need to study and those who have more time for fun. In this situation it would be helpful if there was a dorm on campus that was designated for performance arts students who may be more understanding to the situation. As someone who is musically inclined, it would be nice to be able to play the guitar whenever I want to, but I try to be considerate and respectful of those living in close proximity as I would hope they'd consider my wishes.

I completly agree with your argument, and I'm glad that someone could write about this to make sure there is awarness of the artists talent. I think there is so much in music that most people don't understand. I can see how a neighbor can hastily jump to conclusions and want the music player to go somewhere else! However there needs to be a broader respect for musicians because practice will only make the music better and more meaningful epecially if its natural and loud.

Great article, thanks.

Thanks for this great article, right to the point.

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