No, not the big bad gas guzzler.

hummer n. One that hums.

I was listening to Sibelius No. 5 by Colin Davis and London Symphony Orchestra at work, and noticed in the music several times something like humming. At first I thought someone close by happened to be talking in a similar tune, or my headphone was picking up some radio noise (no that’s not nonsense: the headphone cord acts like an antenna. At my previous job my headphone used to pick up radio and walkie-talkie all the time). But the noise was too closely related to the music for too many times. Could it be the conductor humming along?

Some Amazon UK reviewers confirmed my suspicion: yes (e.g. 7:00-7:45 of the first track, the same span in the 2nd, or 1:40-2:00 in the 3rd), and Sir Davis is kind of known for it. If there’s a mic hanging from the ceiling in the center of the stage, which is usually the case, conductor’s humming will be easily picked up.

Davis can’t possibly be the only humming conductor. Lenny Bernstein seems to do it too. Glenn Gould’s legendary humming is of course a hell lot more noticeable, and unfortunately branded as his “trademark”. I find it distracting, but not too obnoxious. It’s very understandable why they can’t help the humming–they shouldn’t. But the recording engineers should try to reduce/eliminate it whenever possible.

I recently bought a wonderful 4-CD collection set of Segovia, and the booklet says Segovia likes to keep the fingering sound (finger moving along strings on the fingerboard) in the recording, while some other guitarists would do anything to remove them. I actually like that sound because it’s idiosyncratic and part of guitar’s natural sound.

Comparably, the sound of piano pedaling is natural, although a pianist should learn early on how to avoid making it excessive, unless a crazy composition actually contains something like “bang your feet on the pedals while playing this chord”. The conductor’s only natural sound is the whole orchestra, maybe also the sound s/he makes whipping the baton like mad or jumping up and down on the podium as if it’s a trampolin.

Humming, on the other hand, is not natural for a pianist or a conductor in a performance. Unless, again, the crazy composer asks for it; or, well, you’re Glenn Gould.