Thursday, 28 July 2016

The Magic of Music

By Ida Lichter

Have you ever wondered about the transmission between performing musicians and the audience?

This was one of the questions I discussed with classical musicians when I was exploring the function of music in society. Most of them were members of groups that played chamber music, a genre for the most intimate thoughts and feelings of some of the greatest composers.

Ida Lichter
Most performing artists are convinced that a live audience is required for maximum inspiration and communication. A creative interface exists between performer and audience, involving a reciprocal transfer of emotions where impromptu inventiveness can occur.

Occasionally, there is an exceptional moment. Referring to musicals, the composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim talked of the need for many laughs and a few moments to cry, along with one hyper moment when members of the audience are aware of a certain joy and a feeling they understand why they are there.

When the interaction between performer and audience is very powerful, listeners may glimpse magnificent, even ethereal beauty. However, the emotional impact of music is idiosyncratic and often depends on the listener’s state of mind.

This magical effect defies easy explanation but the musician’s vision is an important contributing factor. 

Performers are stimulated by the power of imagination. For a singer, the mind paints the picture and the vocal mechanism responds to give the voice colour. When the sound undergoes these changes, the audience reacts.

Re-experiencing a broad range of intense emotions in a safe, controlled environment seems beneficial for listeners and could be considered a form of therapy. Emotions in the music cover the full range from exhilaration to despair. They include love, jealousy, anger, and sadness, and as suggested by research data, even melancholic music can be beneficial. 

Music can engender a sense of mastery. Beethoven in particular, may stimulate feelings of empowerment. There is a majestic, heroic strength in his music, particularly evident in the slow movements of the symphonies.

Beethoven's Piano Sonata
No. 30 in E major, Op. 109
If a performance is convincing, it should trigger many personal associations, not only during a recital, but afterwards as well, if listeners are able to reminisce about the experience.

While listening to music, pleasurable feelings are linked to a variety of physical responses, including shivers and altered heart rate and breathing, probably associated with changes in brain chemistry and the neurotransmitter dopamine. No doubt, any music, whether classical, jazz, or pop can stimulate the brain in similar ways.

The three overlapping circles of a Venn diagram help explain how the emotional transmission is effected. One circle represents the composer’s creation and intention, the second one the artist’s interpretation, and the third the participation of the audience. 

When the three combine to form the overlapping sweet spot in the middle, intense emotional transmission can be realised.

Ida Lichter will be speaking about how musicians and composers use their art to transform our everyday experiences in her session 'Music makers, music lovers' with Stuart Coupe and Michaela Kalowski, on Sunday August 28, 5:45pm - 6:45pm at the Sydney Jewish Writers Festival.

Book today at!

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