Visual Music: Part 2

ImageThere are so many amazing things to discuss about music, but so often conversation centers around the audial rather than the visual. The visual aspect of music creation is critical to consider, because we humans are such visual creatures. Connecting what we hear to what we see is an unconscious but vital act, and it undeniably adds interest. Consider Fantasia—famous works of music set to cartoons. Children (and adults!) are given something concrete to watch, and the musical stories become much easier to appreciate. Attempting to make a 5 year-old sit still for even half an hour while listening to a symphony on CD would be very difficult. But pop Fantasia in the DVD player? Now you have a captive audience.

And this is why it is sooooo incredibly important that classical music concerts continue. With audiences for classical music dwindling, symphonies and opera houses folding, and musician-mimicking technologies on the rise, it’s easy to see how live performance has become an endangered event. But aside from the purely aesthetic reasons for live acoustic music over canned, we cannot lose the visual connection to classical music. You cannot have the same experience at home listening to a beautiful choral work, that you can at a concert hall where you can see every face, watch every orchestra member, feel the music with the conductor’s motions. (And since it does always come back to sound, no system in the world can replicate the intensity—the most delicate pianissimo or the crushing wall of sound—of a live performance.)

Additionally, physical gesture in music is more easily interpreted if you are watching the artist move. And in the case of singers, the way we present ourselves overwhelmingly affects the way our performance is received. In fact, these issues of performance and the way it affects observers have been validated in this recent study published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the full text of which is available here:

There are definitely downsides to this visual world in which we live, particularly in this era of High-Definition television and photoshopped fashion magazines. HD broadcasts, for example, are causing the industry to favor “attractive” people over beautiful music.  (They are also not the same as attending a live performance, though they can be a good substitute in a pinch.)

But as foolish as it is to rate music solely based on non-musical aspects, it is even sillier to try and ignore them altogether. Ideally, they exist in a happy medium where each adds to the other. So go to a concert—watch and listen—and recognize the beauty of theater inherent in live performance.