Concert Season

The fall concert season has begun at music halls around the world, and audiences are again sitting in rapt attention with their hands folded quietly in their laps.

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Question: What is your summary of the author’s main ideas. Post your own answer in the comments before reading those made by others.

The fall concert season has begun at music halls around the world, and audiences are again sitting in rapt attention with their hands folded quietly in their laps. Does anyone besides me find this odd?

Through tens of thousands of years of evolutionary history, music has nearly always occurred together with dance. Even today, most of the world’s languages use a single word to mean both music and dance. The indivisibility of movement and sound, the anthropologist John Blacking has noted, characterizes music across cultures and across times.

Music and dance have also always been a communal activity, something that everyone participated in. The thought of a musical concert in which a class of professionals performed for a quiet audience was virtually unknown throughout our species’ history.

Although the Greeks built amphitheaters, these were typically used for plays, speeches and other public events, not musical performance. The first concert halls for music did not appear until the 17th century in Europe. York Buildings in London is thought to have been the first, in 1678, followed by the Holywell Music Room, built in Oxford in the 1740s. As Anthony Storr, a professor at Oxford, once noted, the advent of concerts by a society’s most skilled performers separated performers from listeners. Listeners were no longer expected — or even allowed — to join in.

The ancient connections between music and movement show up in the laboratory. Brain scans that I and my colleagues have performed make it clear that both the motor cortex and cerebellum — the parts of the brain responsible for initiating and coordinating movements — are active during music listening, even when people lie perfectly still. Singing and dancing have been shown to modulate brain chemistry, specifically levels of dopamine, the “feel good” neurotransmitter.

Our species uses music and dance to express various feelings: love, joy, comfort, ceremony, knowledge and friendship. And each one is distinct and widely recognized within cultures. Love songs cause us to move slowly and fluidly, for example, while songs of joy inspire us to dance in a full-body aerobic way.

Our ancient forebears who learned to synchronize the movements of dance were those with the capacity to predict what others around them were going to do, and signal to others what they wanted to do next. These forms of communication may well have helped lead to the formation of larger human communities.

Some of the strongest bonds in our society are formed by people who march together in military units, as William McNeill, the historian, has pointed out. Members of orchestras and performing groups today likewise develop bonds. As Frank Zappa told me years ago, playing music with other people can be more intimate than any other activity. The turn-taking and accommodation involved call for great amounts of empathy and generosity.

Most of us would be shocked if audience members at a symphony concert got out of their chairs and clapped their hands, whooped, hollered and danced.

Children often demonstrate this nature at classical music concerts, swaying and shouting and generally participating when they feel like it. We adults then train them to act “civilized.” The natural tendency toward movement is thus so internalized, it is manifest in concert halls only as a mild swaying of heads. But our biology hasn’t changed — we would probably have more fun if we moved freely.

Music can be a more satisfying cerebral experience if we let it move us physically. When we hear a chord we like in works by Sibelius or Mahler, our brains want to shout out “Yeah!” When an orchestra builds the timbral mass in Ravel’s “Bolero,” we want to break out of our seats and dance and show how good it feels. Stand up, sit down, shout, let it all out. As the managers of Lincoln Center contemplate renovations, I say rip out some of the seats and give us room to move.

Adapted from nytimes.

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Jack Westin
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26 Comments


  1. We should be free to physically move with the play of ; music and movement are conjoined

    Reply

  2. music should be enjoyed with ‘dance’ not just listening to it.
    author backs his point with brain activity and children’s inherent response to music.

    Reply

  3. Dance is innately and biologically connected to music and it’s “odd” that we attempt to separate the two.

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  4. in an evolutionary perspective, music and dance has been tied together. it was only recently in 17th century europe where musicians and listeners were isolated by participation in concert halls. this is supported by the fact that the motor cortex and movement centers of our brains actually activate upon hearing music. babies also exhibit movement and dance with the presence of music. the author finds this recent human practice of listening to concerts quietly and motionlessly odd and believes we will have much more fun if we were to let go and physically move with the sounds.

    Reply

  5. Author describes music and movement as inextricably tied together, giving scientific evidence that it is in our nature to want to move as we listen to music. He gives evidence of this in children shouting, people waving their heads back and forth, etc. Therefore, he proposes at the end that concert halls should remove seats to allow for people to move.

    Reply

  6. MI: It is not in human biochemistry to separate music and movement- like modern-day concert halls do. Author tone: Positive. Feels that it would be more natural, therefore more enjoyable if the audience were allowed to participate with the performers.

    Reply

  7. The separation of music and dance as well as the advent of concert-style performances that prohibit audience involvement have internalized an idle composure in public settings instead of a natural free style.

    Reply

  8. The author let people know about the evolution history of music and dance. Music and dance are used to express feelings or building the bondings. People are intuitive to be hollered and dance when they like the music.

    Reply

  9. Music and Dance have always been linked from the beginning and it is in our biology to dance when we hear music. However, now a days society encourages us to be civilized when listening to music in concert halls instead of obeying our natural instincts to dance.

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  10. Music + dance = indivisible.
    Tone = positive

    Reply

  11. Author supports the idea that we are naturally going to shout out be wild and crazy and do things that are in line with music and dance. The author DOES NOT support the idea that music and dance should be separate entities. Further, the author OPPOSES speaking CIVILIZED! Author is a caveman who loves song and dance and HATES fancy stuff 🙂 ! (EK strategy thinking about stereotyping the author)

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  12. MIP: Music and dance are historically inseperable, and have influenced many different types of peoples, especially building social bonds.

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  13. Concert halls have changed how we respond to music. Music should be accompanied by dance because it’s natural and purposeful. Cerebral activation, bring society together, and musicians have been reasons in past

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  14. MIP: Music occurs w/ dance , Audience should move freely to the performance

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  15. music + dance = together, feelings, participation and best

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  16. Music + movement = better enjoyment, author believes music, especially classical music, would be more enjoyable if one moves with it

    Reply

  17. Author feels that we should appreciate music by moving our bodies (are again sitting in rapt attention….find this odd?) since music and dance as well as sound and movement are indivisible and this characterizes most cultures. Author attributes dates this phenomenon back to history (listeners were no longer expected……to join in). Author could be a doctor or radiographer (brain scans that I and my…) and he feels people should definitely dance and sing given that this produces dopamine. It is a natural instinct and we shouldn’t have it any other way.

    Tone: playful, informative

    Reply

  18. Music and dance = deep connection. Listen music and dance = more fun.

    Reply

  19. MIP: Music and dance = indivisible. Concerts and non-participation of audience = more recent construction (shouldn’t restrict dance (au), but does).
    Tone: Positive

    Reply

  20. MIP: music= togetherness not alone and music+ movement should be together

    Reply

  21. Music and dance are biologically intertwined in humans and have been mutually inclusive throughout human history. Only in recent centuries has dance been artificially suppressed in concert hall culture. The act of sitting still and passively observing music is socially taught behavior, as evidenced by children who are prone to swaying about during classical music concerts.

    Reply

  22. The author has a strong opinion opposing the division of music and dance. He/she believes we are physically wired to react to certain musical notes and dance. The author also mentions how music + dance => stronger community.

    Reply

  23. MI: Music = Dance/movement, which = natural

    I feel like the last sentence is who this article is intended for…. I believe the author wants to excite a base for change right before the concert season…. His type of language I believe lends to this point.

    Reply

  24. Music and Dance have an impact in our brains more than we realize.

    Reply

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