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The history of listening experience – Part 1

What kind of movement would Mozart have expected from his audiences? What is the role of the conductor? Watch Hans T. Zeiner-Henriksen explain more.
We have seen that people move when they make music and when they experience music, but there are differences. And in this video, we’ll focus on the listening experience and its history. If we’re in a dance club, the focus on moving is explicit. Listening and moving is completely intertwined.
While if you’re experiencing classical music, the conventions are mainly to sit silently without moving too much, and applaud when the piece is finished.
Jazz is usually listened to while sitting down, applauding after solos, tapping your foot modestly.
While on a rock concert, you usually stand. Some dance more widely, while others are more standing still. [ROCK MUSIC]
So why these differences? A short historic backdrop that maybe explains some of this. While classical music today is often associated with sitting still, at the time of Mozart, around 1780, it was normal, normal with more spontaneous reactions. In a letter to his father he writes, “Just in the middle of the first Allegro, there was a passage which I felt sure must please. The audience were quite carried away– and there was a tremendous burst of applause.” [CLAPPING] So Mozart could see the effects of this music on his audience. A century later, this possibility was gone. A respectable audience by the 1850s was an audience that could control its feelings through silence. The old spontaneity was called primitive.
The author, Richard Sennett, argues that it was mainly to show distance to the growing working class, or maybe to foreign cultures that at the time were considered primitive, where music, dance, and movement were always connected. Another cause for this change has to do with the music and the idea of the musical work being an organic unity, with the musical theme, or motif, that are presented and then developed throughout the piece, but of course not finished before the final note is played. Susan McClary explains how this idea developed during the 18th and 19th century. The listeners were taught to delay gratification by waiting patiently.
To see a musical work as a unity has formed the most prestigious way of listening as a silent, concentrated task of following the structures of the composition. “Structural listening highlights intellectual response to music to the almost total exclusion of human physical presence– whether that of the performer or that of the listener.” And since the mid-19th century, the concert hall has been a place with seats where you sit down and listen, and reactions, applaud and cheering, are given at the very end. [PIANO NOTE]
[APPLAUSE] In a classical concert, does the audience sit completely still? Well, they seem to sit still. But in fact, they move quite a lot, I think. I actually studied this. I’ve done some research on this. I’ve been really looking at people sitting or standing still, and it turns out that they do move quite a lot. For example, for a person standing, they sway a little bit back and forth, with approximately five to seven millimetres per second. An interesting thing is also that music seems to also influence the way we stand still. So even though if people tried to really sit still and focus, of course, we live. We breathe. And we move.
there are moments even though they seem to sit still. Absolutely. Quite a lot of different types of movements, even. But they are small. And in the classical concert there’s also the conductor. What kind of role is that? Well, the conductor plays an interesting part in the performance, because in a way the conductor comes in and really embodies the performance itself as being kind of that dramaturg standing there. Moving and really controlling the music being played. But also, in a way, I mean, the conductor does not make sounds him or herself. But rather create sound through the musicians. And also the conductor is like a theatre performer, in a way, that really for example, holds after the orchestra has finished playing.
For example, continues to hold. When the conductor releases, then you get the clapping from the audience. Do you think it’s an important role for the audience? Absolutely, the conductor is very, very important, I believe, because the conductor is really the focus of attention. Everybody looks at the conductor and what the conductor does. So I really think that the conductor has an extremely important role. For the person as the conductor, do you think the experience of this movement together with hearing the music is a strong experience? Absolutely, I mean body movement is really the main element of the performance of a conductor. So in a way, it’s really the most important, I think.
And you see people also they act as conductors when they’re listening to music in their home. Because it’s connected to– It’s kind of like dancing. I mean it’s really liberating. And myself even, I think, I mean it’s fantastic. It’s a fantastic experience to move freely, to kind of play a conductor in the air while listening to music. Do you do it? Not too much, but that might be because I listen to other types of music.

Contemporary classical music listening is mostly sedentary and silent, with no spontaneous outburst or cheering from the audience. Has it always been like this? In this video Hans T. Zeiner-Henriksen presents a historical overview of the development of the classical music concert tradition.

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Music Moves: Why Does Music Make You Move?

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