Saturday, October 27, 2007

Music and dance

Daniel J. Levitin, professor of psychology and music, writes in the New York Times (login required) about the relationship between music and dance. Apparently, the way we do music today, segregating those involved into performers and a passive audience, is counterintuitive. He tells us that Children (see also the Joshua Bell experiment) naturally participate in music, and even when adults are quietly sitting and listening to music, the parts of the brain that control and coordinate the muscles are active. Classical music in particular expects its audience to be passive, and I would suggest that this is part of the reason that classical music is less popular than modern rock and rap-related styles.

I love dancing to any kind of music, and I hate concerts with seating. At a recent Nickel Creek and Fiona Apple concert, with a particularly danceable style, I couldn't stand sitting still during the first half of the show. Finally in the second half, I left the seats and danced on the side lawn under some trees. I couldn't hear the music as well, but it was worth it.

The most profound fact: "Even today, most of the world’s languages use a single word to mean both music and dance." Let's go to more concerts with dance floors and participatory activity.

How to find participatory concerts:

Style is the most important indication of how much you can participate. Folk music and rap (which, in its less commercial forms, is an urban folk style) tends to be more participatory. Blues, jazz, country, and rock and roll skew folk and attract more participation than classical music. "Indie" music, with its younger audience and its relation to folk, attracts less participation than I think it should, perhaps because it is often quiet and introspective, emphasizes the lyrics more than the sound, or attracts more intellectual/high-class, college-types. Perhaps I've just gone to the wrong indie concerts.

Smaller is better. Small music clubs generally have open seats; larger auditoriums tend to have seats. There are exceptions: Detroit's State Theater (now the Fillmore) has no chairs on its main floor, while the intimate floor of the Ark, a folk venue, had chairs out when I attended. High prices, such as classical concerts and big classic rock names, tend to draw an audience that skews older and upper class, which believe in staying still and acting dignified. More significantly, the high prices seem to indicate an experience that is valued more for its audiovisual experience than participation. Free, open-air venues, which eliminate concerns about space and seating, are the best, such as the lawn in front of a jazz band at the farmer's market. I particularly recommend large music festivals such as the Warped Tour, with a variety of independent and alternative rock acts from punk to acoustic to ska. They feature large, open-air audience spaces that invite singing along, crowd surfing, and great dances such as moshing.

link to "Dancing In The Seats" article

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