Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Is what you see what you get?

As musicians we are trained differently than other people. Our uniqueness is to make quite detailed distinctions with our ear. This informs our own experience of the world with meaning. And it's brought to us through what is our dominant sense organ: the ear. Turns out however that what we think we hear, its significance and the interpretations we give to it, are often quite distorted by another sense organ: the eye.

The article below explains this phenomenon in more detail. Take just one impression, that of age. In this area many of us musicians might relate to what I'm talking about. However inaccurate, fact is older looking musicians appear to be less capable of fine music making in the market place. As a music booking agent I notice this happening all the time. Add to that, preconceptions about gender. An example of both age and gender is that many dance band leaders today are acutely aware of finding a front singer who is both young and female in order to appeal to a younger demographic making wedding plans. And, key to my comments here is how what we see can actually color what we hear.

As recently as 1980 there were only a few female members of the Munich Philharmonic least of all one who passed the 'blind' trombone audition and turned out to be a woman. Similarly until just a few decades ago the London Philharmonic had no Japanese until one stunned the audition jury with his soulful playing (of Western Music) from 'behind the screen'. While these cases eventually had to be adjudicated in a court of law, sensory displacement is still a problem even today. I often see some performers of my own instrument, the cello, and have to wonder how on earth can they produce the beautiful tone I am hearing while seated in that playing posture which is "all wrong". Glen Gould with his low piano bench is another case in point.

Before you protest, read this short essay: "Listening with Your Eyes: The Lessons of Blink by Malcom Gladwell.


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