First-Impression Syndrome

November 8, 2008

First-Impression Syndrome (FIS) is the tendency for some people to favour the first interpretation of a piece of music that they hear over any subsequent ones.*

Now, of course, if the first rendition heard was really subpar (for example, overhearing me hack through Beethoven’s “Pathetique”), then yes, other versions will sound much better. But assuming that this is not the case, and one is listening to a legitimate recording performed by professional musicians, the situation, I think, becomes much different. More often than not, the first recordings I listen to remain superior in my preference, even though I really do try to appreciate other interpretations.

Two possible explanations for this phenomenon:

1. If one becomes familiar with a piece by initially listening to only one rendition, he/she becomes accustomed to that particular version. The listener subconsciously learns to associate the version with “the norm”, the “correct” way that the piece should be played. I propose that this is not dissimilar to the way in which traditions and customs are ingrained: a fondness for familiarity, a sort of reverence for the tried and trusted.

2. Something akin to divine guidance leads me to unknowingly pick out the best recordings right off the bat, and thus, all other recordings are literally just worse.

Of course, this does not happen 100% of the time, and there have been cases where I do have epiphanies with different versions, but the relatively low number of occurrences with which this occurs just strikes me as a little weird. Thoughts?

*FIS is by no means a legislative trend, nor does it have any scientific backing (or perhaps it does, but I haven’t bothered to look). It is purely a thought I had while sitting around trying to fill up some time.

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