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The dog may prefer to be outside woofing to her heart's content; Huw prefers to stay indoors listening to good music around a crackling log fire...

January 2006

If music be the food of love... why do the record companies seem to have hearts of pure granite? This month Huw finds winners and losers in the 'digital download revolution' and discovers a remarkable singer who's giving away her recordings free!


These days I only ever listen to music on my PC. Which probably explains why I was so delighted when Sony’s virus-friendly ‘anti-piracy’ measures were brought to light, much to Sony’s ongoing discomfiture. It all started with the discovery of some nasty little programs hidden away on Sony audio CDs. When you play one of the CDs on your PC the program (known as a ‘rootkit’) secretly installs itself onto your hard drive, in theory aiming to prevent users copying the CD but in practice providing an easy way for other malicious programs to infect your PC.

Now, on the one hand, I can understand the problem which the music companies face. They pay a ton of money to record, advertise and distribute CDs and they expect to get a few tons of money back from sales. But now that anyone can make high quality copies and distribute them as MP3s, the record companies can see their potential profits evaporating before their very eyes.

On the other hand, I don’t really have too much sympathy. The plain fact of the matter is that too many record companies have been too greedy for far too long. Over the years, CD manufacturing costs have dropped greatly. But CD prices haven’t. Moreover, if people want cheap, instantly available MP3s, then that’s what the record companies should provide rather than artificially maintaining the market in expensive CDs.

We’ve seen the move toward online sales of MP3s in recent years with the rise and rise of services such as Napster and iTunes. You’d think the record companies would be pleased. But nope, already they are moaning that they want even more money from these sales. It’s no wonder that so many normally law-abiding people just go ahead and just share their music anyway. Since the record companies seem determined to play the part of The Enemy, perhaps they shouldn’t be surprised if people treat them as such.

The Best Things In Life…?

There are, of course, winners and losers in any technical revolution. On the whole, the winners of the rise and rise of online music sharing will be the people who embrace and exploit the technology; the losers will be those who fight it. The established record companies have a business which is based on sales of physical discs in physical shops - they would like to keep it that way but, frankly, they won’t be able to. Sony’s investment in rootkit software is one example of the desperation of a vast company trying to prevent the future from happening.

If those are the losers, then who are the winners? The listeners, obviously. Readily available MP3 recordings give to anyone with a fast internet connection access to a large range of music which they would otherwise never have had the opportunity to hear. Then there are new bands and young performers. If you have the talent you don’t need to hawk yourself around agents, managers and record companies any longer. Just record some MP3s and put them online at a musical showcase site such as iuma.com or (if you have already recorded a CD) even on Amazon.

And while you are visiting Amazon, you might as well download a few free MP3s too. These include substantial excerpts from commercial recordings. There are downloads in all genres - rock, pop, country, jazz, classical and so on.

I spent some time browsing and downloading from Amazon’s classical lists recently. What treasures are here! Maria Callas, Carlo Bergonzi, Franco Corelli - some of the finest singers of the last century performing arias by Mozart, Verdi, Puccini, Donizetti and more. It’s all legal, it’s all free and it’s all wonderful…

Digital Diva

I have wide-ranging musical tastes. My own CD collection includes works by artists as diverse as Kraftwerk and Dolly Parton, Queen and Glenn Miller. When I lived in London, I regularly went to the opera and was privileged to attend performances by some of the very finest singers - Pavarotti, Domingo, Carreras, Alfredo Kraus, Nicolai Gedda, Carlo Bergonzi, Montserrat Caballé and more…

For the past decade or so I have been living in the remote wilds of North Devon and, consequently, my ready access to live opera has somewhat diminished. Which makes the availability of great recordings on the Internet even more valuable to me. Recent discoveries include a site containing recordings of the American soprano, Beverly Sills, and two massive downloads of the recordings of the great tenor, Caruso: http://www.archive.org/details/Caruso_part1 and http://www.archive.org/details/Caruso_part2.

Now, I have to say that I was already familiar with all the singers mentioned above. I cannot claim that Caruso, Callas or Beverly Sills were previously unknown to me. I have made one tremendous discovery on the Internet, however. I don’t know how I managed to miss out on her up to now. All I can say is that it was my loss.

Sadly, I never had the chance to hear her sing in live performance. But thanks to her web site, I can now listen to the exquisite voice of Elizabeth Parcells any time I like as I sit here at my PC. What can I say? Thank you, Elizabeth!

Elizabeth Parcells is a wonderful ‘coloratura’ soprano - the kind of singer for whom complicated songs made up of dazzling staccatos of notes, often from the higher reaches of the humanly possible, hold no terrors. There are lots of sopranos - even some quite well known ones - who try to sing this stuff. There are rather few who truly succeed. Elizabeth Parcells is one of those few.

Sadly, Elizabeth no longer performs. She was forced to retire due to a serious illness. She decided to make recordings of her work available on her web site “to keep her music available to a listening audience and to raise awareness about the health threat posed by colorectal cancer today.”

If you have any love of fine singing, I urge you to visit her site. The downloads there are numerous, of high quality and varied in style. If you want to know what a good coloratura soprano sounds like, go right to the Opera page and listen to the virtuoso performance of the ‘Chanson d’Olympia’ from Tales of Hoffman and Gilda’s aria, ‘Caro nome’ from Rigoletto. If you prefer your singing with a touch of drama, go straight Act III, scene 1 of Donizetti’s opera, Lucia di Lammermoor. I was lucky enough, some years ago, to hear the great Australian soprano, Joan Sutherland, singing this role at Covent Garden. There aren’t many other singers capable of doing it justice; Elizabeth Parcells does. On other pages you will find vocal recitals, a performance from the repertoire of the celebrated 19th century soprano, Jenny Lind (‘the Swedish nightingale’) and a large number of recordings for voice and guitar.

All in all, this is a wonderful site. While the record companies may fight their battles to squeeze the maximum profit from their back catalogues, it is heartening to find a site like this whose generosity of spirit is matched by the quality of its music.

Footnote: It is with great sadness that I pass on the news of Elizabeth Parcells' death, shortly after the above column was published online. Her brother informs me that she died on the 29th of December 2005 after two and a half years of battling against cancer. My deepest sympathy goes out to her family and friends.


Copyright © 2009 Dark Neon Ltd. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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