Visual and Aural Modes of Perception in Choral Performance Evaluations
Author(s)Selvey, Jeremiah David
Contributor(s)Boers, Geoffrey P
Keywordsbi-modal perception; choir; choral expressivity; conductor; ensemble; expressivity
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AbstractThesis (D.M.A.)--University of Washington, 2014
A live musical performance is influenced by both the visual and aural information associated with that performance. A growing body of literature has demonstrated that the experience of a live musical performance is largely dominated by the visual information accompanying and/or associated with that performance, despite the common assumption that music is mostly or completely a sonic experience. This study extended in several ways prior cross-modal research that examined the effects of visual and aural information on aural performances by wind ensembles (Morrison, Price, Smedley, & Meals, 2014) and visual performances by conductors (Bender & Hancock, 2010). First, the study used collegiate choral performances, rather than wind ensembles. Second, the study broadened the target population. Prior research involved secondary and college students who were in ensembles or music classes, while the current study involved adults from the larger population who had ensemble experience. This broadening of the participant pool also resulted in a much greater range of experience (from 2 to 25+ years) in a conducted music ensemble than prior research and included not only singers and instrumentalists (as in prior research), but also conductors. Finally, this study was the first in this line of research to use an online platform instead of a classroom environment. There were four primary quantitative purposes for this study. First, the researcher proposed a fully crossed experimental exploration of the effects of conducting expressivity conditions (low vs. high) and choir expressivity conditions (minimal vs. maximal) on the perception of both choral and conductor expressivity, using identical musical passages and identical conducting conditions for comparison. Additionally, the researcher sought to understand how choir and conductor ratings would compare across presentation modes (single vs. dual) of visual and aural stimuli. Third, the researcher tested for correlations of conductor and choir scores in each of the paired expressivity treatment conditions. Finally, the researcher wanted to understand the predictive contributions of various collected factors on the conductor and choir expressivity assessment scores. The purpose of soliciting qualitative comments was a phenomenological inquiry into the construct of conductor and ensemble expressivity. This inquiry produced emergent ideas regarding the construct of expressivity in an ensemble performance and illuminated how people might differ in their evaluation processes of conductor and choir expressivity. Adult participants with prior or current experience in a conducted music ensemble, rated conductor and/or choir expressivity on an anchored scale from 1 (low) to 10 (high) and, if they desired, commented on each of their ratings. Additionally, participants were asked to share any additional ideas or thoughts regarding choral expressivity. The results of the quantitative data indicated a dominance of the visual mode in a bi-modal exploration of musical performance. Results revealed that both conductor and choir ratings were significantly impacted by the four paired expressivity conditions that resulted from the fully crossed design. The study also demonstrated that low-expressivity conducting is deleterious to the perception of both minimally and maximally expressive performances, while the perception of low-expressivity conducting is not influenced by a university choir's expressivity in performance. Two multiple linear regressions revealed that neither experience (2-25+ years) nor role (conductor, singer, instrumentalist) predicted choir or conductor ratings; furthermore, in the case of both conductor and choir ratings, conductor expressivity was a stronger predictor of the scores. Among the qualitative findings regarding choral expressivity emerged two lenses--cognitive and affective--through which participant observers seemed to evaluate expressivity. The quantitative and qualitative results of this study resulted in the Model of Choral Expressivity, which illustrates the interplay of visual and aural information between choir and conductor in performance and between these performers and the audience, accounting for the two primary lenses of interpretation that emerged from the present study. Aural and visual research in ensemble performance may consider this model, including the expanded role of conductor as a visual performer, for future explorations.