A PROJECT BY MCICM
Studying aspects of Musicking Online
Sanne Lux, student Communicatie en Multimedia Design (Zuyd Hogeschool), onderzocht de beleving van klassieke muziek bij jongeren, en hoe ze als ontwerper daar een bijdrage aan kon leveren. Sanne was al goed op weg met het ontwikkelen van ontwerptools voor lokale orkesten om de fysieke en emotionele beleving van klassieke concerten te verbeteren, toen Covid-19 uitbarstte en we gedwongen thuis kwamen te zitten. Sanne moest haar onderzoek over een andere boeg gooien, en besloot te focussen op manieren om de interactie en de beleving bij online musicking concerten te verbeteren. Ze onderzocht de mogelijkheden van Augemented Reality en maakte prototypes van digitale AR-verhalen die bij concerten getoond zouden kunnen worden. Ze maakte een handboek en een whitepaper voor lokale orkesten die met AR willen experimenteren, en een website met uitleg en voorbeelden. Sanne werd begeleid door Ties van de Werff (MCICM).
Léïa Bonjean & Margaux Zandona
10 July 2020
The coronavirus pandemic thrust the musical sector, and particularly ensembles of classical musicians, into confinement. Concert halls and conservatoriums worldwide were forced to close, and musicians and their audiences in many countries followed governmental measures to stay at home. Interestingly, musicians turned to the online environment and endeavoured on adapting their practice to this new environment. Immediately, various instances of classical music appeared on social media and websites, such as heartwarming videos of musicians at balconies or renowned concert halls making recordings of previous concerts freely available for the public. These instances highlight Christopher Small’s (1998) conceptualisation of music as musicking, i.e., a social activity involving the audience as well as the artists, and could be considered as online musicking.
This crisis happened as the classical musical sector already faced previous challenges in the last years. Decreasing audiences and cuts in subsidies affected classical musicians more than any other cultural institutions (John Slodoba, personal communication, May 14, 2020). In this context, scholars and musicians had already been attempting to re-think how audiences experience classical music and how to innovate this experience. In today’s highly mediated societies, artists from different backgrounds use online platforms extensively to perform and share their art with their audience (Baym, 2015). However, classical music and classical audiences seem to be particularly late to follow that development compared to other of musical genres (Olsen, 2017, p. 20). Nevertheless, attempts to bring classical music into contemporary society by means of new media and the Internet can be addressed as crucial to the future development of the sector. As mentioned by Gadamer, the only way to keep art alive is to adapt it to its social context (as cited in Peters, 2019, March 29). Part of these developments lie in reinforcing the link between classical artist and audience, including via the use of new media and online platforms.
In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, we have conducted a project to understand how the situation was developing for the classical musical sector, how classical musicians were adapting to it, as well as how audiences were responding to the diversity of classical performances being posted online. This was done through an ethnographic methodology. On the one side, we followed the meetings of the Maastricht Center for the Innovation of Classical Music and of classical musicians from the Maastricht Conservatorium. On the other side, we performed several auto-ethnographies by observing a variety of classical musical performances online as audience. In this paper, we will discuss our findings from these auto-ethnographies as informed by all key concepts. At the start of the project, we gathered sources of online musicking in a database. This served to sample six sources of online musicking, reflective of the content available, for the individual ethnographic reports. Each report can be found in Appendix A. These are used to systemically understand our experiences as an audience.
Our project started with our attendance on the 6th of March 2020 at a concert of the Koninklijk Concertgebouworkest in Heerlen. This was a week before most of European countries engaged in strict measures to halt the pandemic. As classical music amateurs, for us this was a beginner experience in attending an orchestral concert, and we described this experience in two auto-ethnographic reports (Appendix B). One of the main results was the feeling of being immersed completely in the music in an almost meditative state. This introduction to the world of orchestra performances was prevented from further developments due to confinement policies that prevented social proximity, hence forbidding crowds and live performances. This project spurred as a consequence from this, as we turned our attention to the online environment performances became restricted to. We wished to understand how the live performance of classical music adapted to the online environments during the Covid-19 crisis. Moreover, while joining in on the meetings in the last months, questions were raised by classical musicians on their struggle with the shift from audiences to online audiences and to a different reception context. These meetings emphasized the importance of the audience for musicians, and the relevance of a reflection on our experiences as public of online musicking specifically.
In this paper, first we discuss the relevant literature and concepts which were used to inform the ethnographies. We then go onto a brief reflection on our first orchestra concert attendance, before diving into the online experiences of ‘attending’ classical musical performances. We discuss the reception context, the issues of technological mediation, and of the ability to experience the aura (see Benjamin, 1935). We conclude that the anxiety of the musical sector to be able to continue performing and offering artistic content to their audience can be dealt with by moving their practice online in a variety of manners, and that the aura can be grasped through online environments as well.
Music permeates human societies throughout the world, and as such musical practice and the ‘meaning’ of music have been widely theorised and researched throughout the years (see Peters, 2019). This project based itself on Christopher Small’s theory (1998), where he coined the term musicking to refer to instances of music in society. Small defined musicking as taking part “in any capacity, in a musical performance, whether by performing, by listening, by rehearsing or practicing, by providing material for performance (what is called composing), or by dancing” (Small, 1998, p. 9). He argues that the act of musicking is not a tangible thing which can be attributed one meaning, but rather a social activity or process people partake in. It includes both the performers of the music and their audience. The concept of musicking allows for an understanding of the musical performance as an activity actively involving a variety of actors (incl. the audience, the performers, the sound technicians) and happening over time. In this paper, instances of music online, specifically classical music, are referred to as online musicking.
The use of online platforms have become increasingly part of music consumption due to a shift in the use of media (Johansson, 2017; Olsen, 2017). Next to concerts and CDs, streaming sites are now the main source of music for individuals, although offline contexts continue to influence their navigating (Johansson, 2017). Van Dijck ’s ‘culture of connectivity’ depicts this environment where social media is growing more entangled, and encourages connectivity, i.e., social connections mediated by technology, rather than connectedness (2013). However, classical music and classical audiences seem to be particularly late to follow the shift to online environments compared to other of musical genres (Olsen, 2017, p. 20). During the Covid-19 pandemic, where live performances were no longer allowed, many musicians transferred to online platforms to continue being available to their audiences.
The role of the audience in artistic performances is crucial. Litt (2012) analyzes how the notion of imagined audience, referring to mental conceptualisations of the audience to whom they are communicating with, is highly relevant with regard to the arts. Indeed, the imagined audience has often guided artistic and writing processes throughout time. She notes how the concept gains a new relevance in today’s media-saturated and performance driven society. Due to the nature of mediated communication, artists producing content become increasingly reliant on the imagined audience. She argues that the less a concrete audience is visible or known, the more individuals become dependent on their imagination, as in the context of an online musical performance. As opposed to a concert hall where an artist might directly face their audience, when posting on a public online platform one often cannot see or interact with their viewers and more imagination is needed to visualise them. Litt (2012) specifies that imagination is necessary in both instances, but the act of imagining one’s audience is more challenging in the latter. The increase of the dependence on the imagined audience is partly due to the fact that social media platforms give individuals the opportunity to interact with large and diverse audiences. Moreover, social media impact the relation between the audience and the artists by allowing the latter to have a quantitative and statistical approach to their audience. In that way, they can track their audience’s demographics by numbers, nationalities, genders, and interests using media platforms. During the coronavirus pandemic, musicians moved their practice online, either via a website or social media. As such, they were forced into a position where they might not have had a proper idea of who their audience was. In that sense, they probably relied on imagination to grasp their audiences.
Furthermore, artists are generally expected to be available daily through social media (Johansson, 2017; Baym, 2015). Social media has been shown to remove the mysticism of the music star and paint them as closer and more familiar, creating a certain intimacy between artists and their audience, but also between the listeners themselves (Johansson, 2017). Nancy Baym argued new media platforms have led to the development of a new form of labour for artists. An important part of connectivity culture (Van Dijck, 2013) is the connection between users, and in this case the relationship between musicians and their listeners. In general, artists have to engage in relational labour (Baym, 2015), that is the use of social media to build a relationship with their audience, to maintain the interest of their audience by daily interactions. This type of labour is expected, as artists face pressure to be constantly accessible, but is rarely compensated and is rather seen as an investment toward building and maintaining an audience (Baym, 2015, p.14). The current importance of relational labour results partly from a societal shift to media that enables continuous interaction, higher expectations and engagement, and gives greater importance to such connections in shaping success. This type of media calls for new skills and expertise in fostering connections and managing boundaries (Baym, 2015, p. 16). As a result, to compensate for their ‘loss’ of a public, musicians in lockdown might have needed to build a relation with their audience to keep them engaged. Classical musicians, who often perform live in halls and in group, might have had to engage in relational labour (Baym, 2015).
Online platforms not only allow daily access to artists but also give users a vast availability of musical content. Olsen (2017) reported that online platforms such as streaming sites changed the relation the audience can have with music, as they are a click away from almost any record. As a result, she noted that people felt overwhelmed in facing too many choices, and often fell back to pre-made playlists or most popular videos (Olsen, 2017, p. 12). Johansson (2017) also noted participants in her study felt the instant and almost unlimited access to music was ‘daunting’ as well as positive. She noted how they returned to “pre-existing preferences” (Johansson, 2017, p. 48). Schwartz called this phenomenon the paradox of choice (Schwartz as cited in Olsen, 2017, p. 16). This phenomenon should be kept in mind as possibly influencing the reception context of the online audience. As we discovered while gathering examples of music online, there was a vast diversity and variety of choices available to users who might have felt this overwhelm. Especially as continuous consumption of online content in the context of the confinement policies (e.g., various video-call meetings) led to a communication fatigue for individuals.
Additionally, technological mediation is an important factor in online performances. Rofe, Murray, and Parker (2017) aimed to make classical musical performances mediated by online platforms more inclusive and accessible by developing the project Online Orchestra. This project aimed at connecting musicians from remote cities in the U.K. via the Internet. This was specifically so they would be able to practice music together, in particular because their geographic locations could not permit it. Rofe, Murray, and Parker (2017) referred to musical practices connecting various individuals online as telematic performances, “broadly defined as performance that takes place over telecommunications networks such as the Internet” (Rofe et al., 2017, p. 11). They outlined the main issues that classical musicians face if they wish to connect online such as the need for specialist equipment. Coincidentally, they paved the way for understanding how to adapt to the coronavirus pandemic when virtually every musicians was confined. Telematic performances often necessitate specialist equipment and broadband networks which are unattainable by regular individuals. For instance, they showed latency is an issue when dealing with various sources of sound, and that the main and most efficient platform to deal with this issue is LOLA, i.e., LOw LAtency audio-visual streaming system. However, it is only an option for specialist intuitions which can afford the high speed network connections which LOLA necessitates. They developed new software which made it easier for anyone to compose and perform music through online platforms. They note, with their solution, “the latency stopped functioning as an impediment to performance and instead became a part of the musical content” (Rofe et al., 2017, p. 25). Moreover, they exemplified how agency plays a role in performing and connecting online: they noted their choice for adding video communication to simply audio, as well as adding a conductor to the performances.
The topic of technological mediation also brings issues about the quality and ‘authenticity’ of art, as famously expressed by Walter Benjamin in his essay The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction (1935). Benjamin’s theory is still adequate today in discussing a world where the mechanical reproduction is one of the only viable options for musicians to continue to share their art to a confined audience. He argued the rise of mechanical reproductions, especially photography and film, had brought about “the decay of the aura”. The aura of a work of art is the element which incorporates its uniqueness and its authenticity, i.e., its presence in a specific space and time (Benjamin, 1935). It is that which allows viewers to contemplate art. However, according to him, a mechanical reproduction cannot be authentic, cannot be linked to a particular space and time or history, and thus cannot have an aura. Moreover, he associates the aura to tradition and to what he calls the cult value of a work of art, as opposed to its exhibition value. Both values are rooted in the audience perception of artworks. Mechanical reproductions of works of art no longer include a cult value, leading to the loss of their aura. Benjamin (1935) showed the epitome of such loss of the aura in films, a mechanical reproduction where the original no longer matters. In the context of this project, the film in Benjamin’s theory could be assimilated to the telematic classical musical performance. Comparing theatre and film, Benjamin argued movie spectators cannot thoughtfully concentrate on the film, i.e., contemplate it, “be absorbed by the work” (1935, p. 17). This is due partly to the constant shifts in perspectives and the edition of film. In the context of the technological mediation of classical music previous, during, and after the pandemic, the search for the aura, or that contemplative and connective element in art, seemed to be an issue both for the musicians and the performers.
This section discussed the theories and concept which could be applied to the musical sector in times of unprecedented confinement measures to halt the Covid-19 pandemic. It outlines the current online environment to which classical musicians and composers must adapt to continue reaching out to their audiences in the current crisis and in the future. We have shown, as Olsen (2017) mentions, how the issue of classical music adapting to the digital world can be tackled from different perspectives: from the musicians, focusing on the music industry and streaming services available, or from the audience’s perspectives of instances of classical musicking. The discussion of the next sections focuses on the latter, also taking into account the technical difficulties faced by musicians which also affect the reception by their audience. The ethnographic reports were informed by this literature. The concepts mentioned also reflected upon organically in the reports, which allowed us to elaborate on the issues of online environments, of the relation to the audience, of technological mediation, and of the search for the aura.
On the 6th of March 2020, we attended a concert in Heerlen of the Koninklijk Concertgebouworkest, a world renowned classical orchestra from the Netherlands. Since this was our first time going to an orchestra concert, as classical music amateurs, we reported on our experiences by each performing an auto-ethnography. The two reports can be found in appendix B. Eventually, when music halls were closed and individuals confined at home as a consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic, we used this first experience as a basis for a project into the musical sector’s response to the situation. Three main impressions can be discerned in both ethnographic accounts: attention to the skill of the musicians, contemplation during the concert, and its social dimension.
The fascination regarding the skill of the musicians and the quality of the music coexisted very closely with our feelings of immersion and contemplation. As we remarked the details on the stage such as the precise movements of the conductor, the keys moving inside the piano rhythmically, or the harmonious coordinated movements of all the musicians together, we felt emotional and fascinated. We were impressed by the high expertise of the musicians in playing their individual instruments and in connecting to the overall pieces. This helped us in slowly sinking into the experience and feeling at the edge of our seats. We felt absorbed, transported, and touched by the music. Our thoughts wandered in a contemplative manner and we fell into a state which we described as almost meditative. This could be equated with the feeling of the aura (Benjamin, 1935). It appeared to us as if the rest of the audience was in the same state of quiet astonishment and wonder, each probably with a different narrative playing in their minds.
In addition, we perceived the highly social dimension of the activity of musicking in a concert hall. In between the musical parts, there was a lively agitation and the atmosphere was warm, with people discussing, smiling, dispersed in a non-structured way, etc. This setting encouraged the mingling of people. In our case, we even encountered a friend of us unexpectedly. It was also accompanied by drinks in the foyer. During the concert itself, although being calm and quiet seemed crucial, the moments of applause created a bond between the audience members themselves and the performers. The public that night was very enthusiast and gave standing ovations to the musicians. This led to the conductor laughing and smiling, deciding to have two short call backs. This created a feeling of excitement for us which we later discussed fervently. Another social component consisted in the discussions we had before, during, and after the concert as we shared our individual experiences and thoughts.
In short, we felt the performance of the Koninklijk Concertgebouworkest was very powerful. We were most touched by the ability it had to propel us into a contemplative state. The ability to share this moment as a group also enhanced these feelings as we could discuss with and feel connected to other people who had shared the experience.
To understand the audience’s perspective in online musicking experiences during the coronavirus pandemic, we became audience ourselves by ‘attending’ several classical concerts and reporting in an auto-ethnographic manner. While joining online meetings of classical musicians of philharmonie zuidnederland in the last months, we remarked that musicians had many questions regarding their public. They wondered how their audience did adapt to online concerts, namely how the reception context had changed or who these viewers were. These meetings emphasized the importance of the audience for musicians and the relevance of a reflection on our experience as an online public. Before starting the ethnographies, we created a database of various instances of online musicking. A first finding was the vast amount of diverse content available as a consequence of the governmental recommendations to stay at home. Many theatres or orchestras had allowed access to their pre-recorded concerts and various telematic performances were appearing on social media. As opposed to a live concert, we could choose on the spot to watch a performance and be confronted with a large amount of content online. This led to a feeling of being overwhelmed, and especially a preference for certain videos over others (e.g., from renowned and well equipped institutions). Moreover, while staying at home, continuous use of electronics (e.g., videoconferences, webmail, social media) led to a communication fatigue affecting online platforms users. It influenced whether one chose to partake in online musicking at all. This vast availability and increased use of online platforms should be kept in mind when trying to understand the context of the online audience during the coronavirus crisis.
We performed auto-ethnographic observations of 6 online musicking experiences. These were chosen from the list we had gathered of the variety of content newly available on the Internet to try and represent diverse types of performances. First, we watched three concerts recorded before lockdown which had been made accessible freely by the institution. Two of these were operas by the Dutch National Opera and Ballet which were available for a window of time: Wagner’s Das Rheingold (Dutch National Opera & Ballet, 2020a) and Strauss’ Salome (Dutch National Opera & Ballet, 2020b). The third was an orchestra concert by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra of Liège (OPRL live!, 2020). In addition, we watched the live telematic performance by the string quartet Dafne in Teatro La Fenice in Venice. They had placed a chat-box visible on the side, where the audience could comment live during the concert. We also watched Le Boléro de Ravel as performed by the Orchestre National de France ‘en confinement’ (France Musique, 2020). This was an edited telematic performance in which each of the orchestra members had filmed themselves performing. Lastly, we attended a ‘hybrid’ concert, Los Caminos de la Vida, organised by John Sloboda and Rafael Montero (personal communication, May 14, 2020). It consisted in a videoconference via Zoom where the artist presented each piece before letting the audience listen to the pre-recorded performances. Participants were to go back and forth between the video-calling platform for the presentations and the websites containing the video performances. The ethnographic reports from these six experience can be found in appendix A. We can discern three main topics in our accounts of the experiences: the reception context, technical issues and decisions, and the extent to which we were able to contemplate (i.e., the aura). Moreover, we noted a constant unconscious comparison with the ‘original’ live experience, which for us was the recent and exciting memory of the orchestra concert in Heerlen.
The audience plays a role in the musicking experience (Small, 1998). In particular, we noted the importance of the reception context, i.e., the context in which the public is in when watching the performance, in influencing the experience. The setting of watching a concert online differs from the setting of attending a concert hall. The reception context at home varied depending on the time, place, and person. The online musicking experience could happen from one’s desk, on a living-room couch, or virtually anywhere else, as it was easily accessible from our technological devices. Moreover, while watching on the devices, for example on a laptop, one can do a second activity next to it, such as checking the phone or eating. There is also less social rules, pressures or expectations which make the setting more comfortable. For instance, one can have the orchestra experience while wearing pyjamas, laying under a blanket, with a cup of tea. This differs from the often fixed physical and social setting of concerts halls, and is more comfortable and intimate. It was also more practical and convenient in terms of control. Throughout the concert, it was easy to turn the volume up or down, press pause, know exactly when the ending would be in the case of pre-recorded performances, rewind, etc. There was also a possibility to stop it if one wanted to, and watch the rest another time or never. However, these various reception contexts also implied more distractions than when the public is quietly sitting in a theatre. The ability to pause a video, to text at the same time, or to discuss with the person one is with, can hinder the focus on the performance. There is also a higher chance of outside distractions such as the sound of cars outside or of family members around the house.
The social dimension of the reception context also varies from a live concert. The online musicking setting at home does not include going to a space to mingle with a group of unrelated people. In the case of the governmental measures to isolate at home, it also does not consist of meeting with outside family and friends for the online concert. Our accounts show that, in this context, one could choose to watch the concert alone or with the people one lives with (e.g., family members). In the case of the two opera concerts (Dutch National Opera & Ballet, 2020a, 2020b), we watched it with family members. We remarked that it made the experience more comfortable and entertaining than the times we had watched it alone. It gave the sensation of sharing the experience with our social bubble. Yet, it added a distractive element due to commenting and laughing out loud. In one of the two cases, however, the presence of one family member was not enough to distract too much from the performance, as they were equally concentrated on it. Moreover, even if alone at home, it was sometimes possible to be connected online with others: Los Caminos de la Vida (J. Slodoba & R. Montero, personal communication, May 14, 2020) included a group video-call, and the chat-box put in place by Teatro La Fenice (2020) allowed for live communication during the telematic performance. This highlights the culture of connectivity (Van Dijck, 2013) defined in the online environments. Nevertheless, similarly, these could constitute a distraction. For example, the live comments created a sense of community as an audience, and were very entertaining. However, at times, they attracted our attention away from the musicians, instead of creating a quiet atmosphere for concentration as in the live concert. This prevented immersion in the performance.
The new reception context of online musicking comprised positive aspects such as an increased level of comfort and intimacy, as well as the possibility to share the moment with others. However, it removed the social necessity for a calm atmosphere during the musical parts and brought about distractions such as noises, discussion, or phones. These eventually hindered the possibility for full immersion and contemplation of the pieces.
Technological mediation is another aspect which affects the online musicking experience, both for the audience and the performers. Making group music while separated, in the form of telematic performances, can prove to be difficult in terms of technology and equipment, namely due to the various internet speeds and latencies (Rofe et al. 2017). The measures to halt the coronavirus pandemic forced musicians into isolation, pushing them to turn to various forms of performances over the Internet. Consequently, they were faced with new issues due to the technological mediation of their art. During meetings with the musicians of philharmonie zuidnederland, we noted they struggled to ensure the mediated product of their performance would be of a good sound and musical quality for their audience. Technological mediation played a role in the ethnographic accounts of our sample of online musicking experiences either by unintended technical issues (e.g., sound problems) or intended filming and edition decisions by the authors.
Issues in the quality of the sound, and the quality of the filming or images when applicable, disturbed the general experience of online musicking. In particular, problems in the sound often hindered the music listening to an extent which disabled the musicking experience entirely. For instance, during the ‘hybrid’ concert (J. Slodoba & R. Montero, personal communication, May 14, 2020), the moment was enjoyable socially, the individual pieces seemed to be well performed, and the musicians had visibly dedicated themselves. However, the sound quality of the individual videos was very poor, and there was echoing from the video-call conversation, which made it impossible to concentrate on and be transported by the musical aspect of the experience. In another instance (OPRL live!, 2020), the issues came from the condition of the home equipment, specifically the speakers of the computer not being very potent and not resulting in a harmonious sound. Moreover, irregularities in the visuals could also disturb our appreciation of a concert by serving as a distraction. This was particularly the case while watching the quartet by Teatro La Fenice (2020). In this case, the recording of the concert presented a great quality of sound and image; the music came out as skilled and harmonious, and the theatre being filmed was beautiful. However, the transitions between the shots were quite poor. The main shot showing the four musicians was stable, but secondary shots showing the theatre or close-ups were brutal in transition, unsteady, and prevented the audience from immersing in the music. Moreover, in some shots, the camera man was in the frame, which broke the aesthetic bubble of the recording. We believed those shots could have been an opportunity to add to the recording by allowing the audience to let their gaze wander on details of the theatre or the stage. Unfortunately these odd and raw transitions seemed to abruptly end and distract from any meditative-like state. Hence, even a high quality of sound and image can be undermined by harsh transitions and trembling shots. Overall, issues in quality immediately broke the impression and hindered the experience. Nevertheless, one must remember that it is possible to produce a recording that does not account for any of these issues. For example, the recordings of the two operas were very professional in sound, image, and filming, and allowed us to be absorbed by the piece (Dutch National Opera & Ballet, 2020a, 2020b). Arguably, these formats of recording were used long before the confinement.
Technological mediation of classical musical performances also supposed a variety of presentational and edition choices from the part of the musicians or the institutions filming them. There was a variety of ways to present the concerts, whether it was showing the musicians performing (live or pre-recorded), in one or several shots, or showing images instead. When the visual showed the performance, the choices in perspectives and the variety of shots could sometimes appear odd and disturb the natural expected view. It obstructed our ability to let the eyes freely wander on the stage. For example, the concert by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra of Liège (OPRL live!, 2020) was filmed from above, behind, or next to the stage, and one could even see the audience members on their seats. This contrasted with the habitual view of the front of the stage in live classical concerts. It created a sensation of being alienated from the performance. Moreover, in the same concert, there were constant changes in perspective which were not harmonious with the music. The technological mediation became evident and forced our gaze to specific parts of the stage. This hindered the ability to feel immersed in the music. Nevertheless, the filmed concerts also allowed for close ups of the performers and these original views increased our fascination with their competences. Das Rheingold (Dutch National Opera & Ballet, 2020a) and Salome (Dutch National Opera & Ballet, 2020b) both presented the concert from the audience’s perspective, and the shots varied from closer to further from the stage. For instance, when the camera zoomed-out, it allowed the viewers to observe the orchestra and the conductor performing harmoniously in unison at the front of the opera singers. In both cases, because of the chosen frames as well as the high quality of the sound and image, it was easier to forget the distractions of the reception context and to be submerged in the music and narrative. It came closer to the live concert experience of contemplation connected to the fascination of the musical quality and of the skill of the musicians.
As a result of the new online environment for musicians, new forms of telematic performances appeared. Previously, recorded concerts, such as that of Royal Philharmonic Orchestra of Liège (OPRL live!, 2020) or of the Dutch National Opera and Ballet (2020a, 2020b), were available online, on the television, or on DVD. During the coronavirus confinement period, we witnessed as the classical musical concert was adapted to different platforms and how musicians created new original formats in which to present their performances.
Los Caminos de la Vida (J. Slodoba & R. Montero, personal communication, May 14, 2020) attempted a ‘hybrid’ format: part live presentations by the performers via video-calling, part pre-recorded musical pieces via a videos on a website. The musicians were visible and available in the video-call, but not in the videos of the music on the concert’s website. Instead, the videos often provided a slide show of related images and photos. This hindered the ability to focus on one particular frame. One of the images were of the music sheet; this was interesting because it allowed to connect and identify with the musicians. Nevertheless, the performers were an important part of the experience as they presented each piece in the call before we went to listen to them. Appart from the poor sound quality of the videos and the complicated simultaneous conference call and website videos, the experience was enjoyable because of the choice to have the performers present. This allowed us to relate to the music and sympathise with the musicians regarding the difficulty of achieving high quality online music content. Moreover, the decision to add contextualisation to the piece was made in other instances. In the case of Wagner’s Das Rheingold (Dutch National Opera & Ballet, 2020a), which had been classically recorded previous to the coronavirus crisis, they added a video giving an introduction by Pierre Audi (Online Team, 2020). The presentations and additional information were often useful by helping to connect to the piece, to understand it better, or to empathise with the musicians.
A new form telematic performance, reflective of the confinement situation to halt the Covid-19 pandemic, was the ‘video-calling concert’. This new format of video, exemplified in our sample by the five minutes long performance of le Boléro de Ravel (France Musique, 2020), consists of a montage of all the musicians of the orchestra playing from their homes. It reflected the current context of the audience as it was visually similar to a group call on platforms like Zoom or Skype. The fact that it was short but still possessed a high sound quality made it very popular: the video had 2-3 million views on Youtube. This is a good example of an instance of classical online musicking that fits current standards and formats of social media content. The fact that the musicians were playing in their homes also created intimacy and proximity with the audience as most people could identify with this stay-at-home context. Moreover, other short videos acknowledging the lockdown situation which were more comedic and entertaining were created. For example, the series of videos titled Missing my Audience made by Christina Buttner from philharmonie zuidnederland empathised with the loss of the audience for musicians in isolation. Similar videos appeared on social media such as displaying the bloopers of creating online musicking videos or building a humorous narrative. These new format videos are less relevant regarding the impressiveness of the musical performance or immersion in the music but they served a different important purpose. Short videos acknowledging the media and the lockdown created a connection between artists and their audience. By doing so, artists were engaging in a direct form of relational labour (Baym, 2015). They allowed continuous engagement of the audience with their performances, namely by allowing them to relate to them and their struggles. Moreover, as the struggles represented in these videos are directly linked to the coronavirus crisis, which the audience is experiencing as well, it created a sense of community and proximity between the artist and the audience.
The difficulty in concentrating, contemplating, and being immersed in the music was much discussed in our accounts of online concerts. We often returned to a comparison with the aura of the first live concert of the Koninklijk Concertgebouworkest in Heerlen. On the one hand, technical issues or poor editing severely hinder the achievement of the contemplative state brought by the aura (Benjamin, 1935). This is difficult to deal with for musicians, because of the need for expensive technologies and expertise to bring the experience from the hall to the screen. Moreover, the more these online musicking instances become commonplace, the less we are willing to ignore poor quality technological mediation and rather, go for the concerts which will allow us to experience the aura of the performance. Similarly, the reception context, which is out of the control of musicians, also highly influences the manner in which the public will receive the performance. Distractions can be the reason behind the inability for the viewer to grasp the aura.
On the other hand, one must remember that it is eventually possible as an online audience to immerse ourselves in the performance. In several instances, such as while watching the second part of the performance of the string quartet (Teatro La Fenice, 2020), or in Wagner’s Das Rheingold (Dutch National Opera & Ballet, 2020a), we were completely immersed in the music. We achieved a meditative-like state, where our minds could wander, similar to how we had felt during the live performance of the Koninklijk Concertgebouworkest. We were able to let our minds wander, get lost in thought, and feel transported by the music. We also had the same stimuli reactions as during a live concert, such as shivers and surprised responses. Therefore, it is possible to safeguard the aura of a musical piece in the online environment.
In addition, the new videos created a link between the artist and the audience, but did not seem to create a sense of the aura similar to that of the live concert. These videos acknowledging the media and the confinement situation due to the Covid-19 pandemic allowed the audience to relate to the musicians and created communities of interests. However, due to its shortness and entertaining factors, this new format is not efficient if one’s aim is to recreate the aura of a live performance in online videos. For example, le Boléro de Ravel (France Musique, 2020) created in us feeling of excitement about the new form of artistic performance, but it was short and rare in terms of sound quality. It did create a strong sense of musicking as a social activity involving various actors (Small, 1998), as we were excited and felt connected to the musicians and the other audience members.
Conclusively, issues hindering the immersion of the online audience in the performance include poor sound, image, and editing quality, distractions, and edition choices that alienate the audience. There seemed to be a similarity between our contemplation’s connection with the appreciation of the skill of the musicians at the live concert, and the importance in online musicking of high quality sound, image, and editing. Importantly, although artists can address these issues, there are also partly the responsibility of the audience. Indeed, distractions due to the reception context, such as texting or talking excessively during a performance, should be addressed by the viewer wishing to experience the aura.
This ethnographic discussion of online musicking resulted from the musical phenomenon during the Covid-19 pandemic in which musicians being confined at home, unable to perform live, transferred to online environments. We considered the challenges regarding the adaptation of the classical music sector to online platforms and provided an auto-ethnographic account of online concerts from the audience’s perspective. This essay began by outlining the societal and academic relevance of this discussion, as well as the key concepts and theories informing our project. It continued by describing our experiences of a live orchestra performance, based on our attendance at the Koninklijk Concertgebouworkest concert in Heerlen on the 6th of March 2020. It highlighted the importance of contemplation of the music and fascination over the musicians’ competence, as well as the social dimension, of the live concert. This paper then reflected on our auto-ethnographic reports as an online audience of a sample of six concerts. It allowed to compare and contrast with the live performance, as well as making clear the challenges preventing the audience to experience a quality performance online and the aura of a technologically mediated performance.
This project built on the need to bring classical music into our contemporary society by innovating the traditional experiences. By extension, this supposed that classical music needed to adapt itself to online platforms and social media. An important concern in the classical music sector seemed to refer to the aura of classical music and the fear that the online environment would undermine the immersion of the audience in the music. Through our ethnographic reflection we can conclude two things. Firstly, if the classical music sector intends to establish an online presence, it must produce both quality recordings of performances and short videos creating a sense of intimacy with the audience. Moreover, musicians and institutions must engage in relational labour and produce content on social media, such as these short -possibly comic- videos, to maintain their audience’s interest. Secondly, it is possible to get the audience to feel the aura of a piece through recordings posted online. This should appease and encourage the classical music sector to embrace online mediums of reproduction. Although the aura will never be exactly the same as the one of a live performance, as we experienced, it is possible to immerse oneself in a piece as an online audience.
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Dutch National Opera & Ballet (2020a, May-June). Das Rheingold by Richard Wagner. Retrieved from https://www.operaballet.nl/en/online/opera/streaming#das-rheingold
Dutch National Opera & Ballet (2020b, June). Salome by Richard Strauss. Retrieved from https://www.operaballet.nl/en/online/opera/streaming#salome
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- Le Boléro de Ravel par l’Orchestre national de France (2020), ethnographic report by Léïa Bonjean.
- String quartet in Teatro La Fenice (2020) in Venice, ethnographic report by Léïa Bonjean.
- Salomé by the Dutch National Opera and Ballet (2020a), ethnographic report by Léïa Bonjean.
- Adagio pour Quatuor d’Orchestre by Guillaume Lekeu and Symphonie n°1 by Chostakovitch by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra of Liège (OPRL live!, 2020), ethnographic report by Margaux Zandona.
- ‘Hybrid concert’ by John Sloboda and Rafael Montero ( Slobodan & R. Montero, personal communication, May 14, 2020), ethnographic report by Margaux Zandona.
- Wagner’s Das Rheingold by the Dutch National Opera and Ballet (2020b), ethnographic report by Margaux Zandona.
- Le Boléro de Ravel par l’Orchestre national de France (France Musique, 2020), ethnographic report by Léïa Bonjean.
What surprises me first is that the video is quite short. It was posted on the 29th of March 2020 and has 2-3 millions views on Youtube.
The musicians first introduce themselves in a few seconds. Each musician says its name, you hear some people sharing a last name and we can guess that they are related or even confined together. They still appears in the video separately though.
When all the musicians are presenting themselves, it is not the backgrounds of their houses that strikes me but their voices. I have not had many experiences of live classical concerts, but I guess we cannot hear the voices of musicians often. Moreover, I personally really appreciates people’s voices in general so my interest was sparked easily on that matter. Some musicians had very soft voices, others very low voices. To have them speak their names quickly one after another gave me the feeling that it was very musical already to hear all of these voices.
The piece by Ravel starts gently with a few instruments. I love Ravel and the Boléro is one of the rare pieces of classical music that I can recognise. The video started with around five musicians, the drums playing softly and the clarinet leading the way. One of the musician was sitting in her room on her bed and we could see a glimpse of a very colourful room, with pink bubble lights on the bed frame. This made me smile. I then started to notice that most videos were of very good quality. The setting in which the musicians filmed themselves, the colours, the lightening were good in general and really good in some instances. I appreciated that a lot as the aesthetic and the visuals of a classical music live concert often add to the beauty of the experience. This attempt, intentional or not, to present a visually beautiful piece even online and in confinement was well executed for the circumstances.
Throughout the whole piece, we only see onscreen the musicians that are playing, only the recordings of the active musicians. These videos are edited together so that they seem to be playing together, each in their little boxes, arranged so that they all fit on the screen.
The fact that we can see the musicians playing “together”, at the same time and that the video is of quality allowed me to smile at some of the visuals. At some point, the two clarinets players turned their clarinet around at the same time. I am guessing it was not on purpose and it is simply part of how they play their instruments at that moment of the piece. But the fact that they both moved at the same time in the same way made it feel as if it was choreographed. Most importantly, it gave the impression that they were together, while obviously they are each playing alone from their homes.
I had a similar thought towards the end of the piece when many musicians were sharing the screen. Each musicians appeared in a box of a few centimetres on my screen. Interestingly, all the violins were placed one next to the other in a similar position. The first musicians were placed in slightly different angles from their camera; one was standing, the other sitting, one closer to the camera, the other further. This is also because they have different needs regarding their positions depending on the instrument they play. The violins at the end of the piece were all facing the camera in a similar frame. This allowed me to enjoy the synchronisation of their movements as the piece got more energetic. Once again, this gave the impression that they were together and reminded me of the visuals of a live concert, when all the musicians seem to move as one. However, the movements were not as perfectly synchronised as they can be in a live concert. This made this aspect of the video a bit comedic and nostalgic at the same time. The visual of them playing together seemed a bit crooked, although the sound was perfectly good. And to notice that reminded me of how beautifully synchronised the movements are the musicians are in a live concert, which made me nostalgic.
The design of the Boléro, with an increasing number of musicians joining in as the piece goes on, allowed for an editing of the video that supported this crescendo. As a viewer, the energy of the music rises and at the same time, the number of musicians entering the screen rises. This would be tricky to apply to a live concert, where typically, all the musicians are sitting ready to start playing. Once they start playing the sound and the movement on stages increases, but in the video, they were literally entering the “stage” (the screen) as they started playing, which added an extra factor to the feeling of crescendo.
Hence, from my perspective, the visuals of the video and the editing were very satisfying to watch and benefited the performance.
Regarding the sound, I listen to the video with my headphones on from my computer. I think my headphones are of a correct quality and the experience was very enjoyable. When I compare the sound of the music to the sound of a live concert, it is different. I would not say it was worse because the experience and the situation are not comparable.
Relatively to other videos one can find on the internet and social media, the quality of the sound was very enjoyable and I could feel the energy and the beauty of the music. For example, on another day, I listened to a violin concert video on Instagram and the sound made me cringe. The musician was a professional and talented but the quality of the sound was not very clean. Compared to that experience, the video of the Orchestre national de France was very enjoyable. Then again, I am guessing that the orchestra has access to better technology and tools than the solo violinist performing in her living room. To edit several videos together like they did is not the most complicated thing, but I am very curious about how the orchestra managed to edit all the different sounds together. I also wonder what tools the musicians used to record themselves with such good sound quality.
- String quartet in Teatro La Fenice (2020) in Venice, ethnographic report by Léïa Bonjean.
The video was livestreamed on Youtube on the 2d of March 2020. At that moment, the coronavirus crisis had just reached Italy and the full confinement measures were not in place yet.
I am not watching the video live, but the recording of it. I am sitting in front of my computer after a full day of studying. We are the 24th of May. The video of the concert is 56 minutes long and I wonder if I will be able to watch it all without doing anything else. I also notice that the video has 12 390 views. I find it interesting that this number is a lot more than the number of people who would have been present had the theatre been full, but at the same time, it is not exactly what you would call a number representative of a popular video on YouTube, as far as I am aware. This is what crosses my mind before I press play. I keep the video in cinema mode, which is not full screen. I am not sure why, but maybe I want to leave the possibility to myself to do something else without having to reduce the size of the video during the concert.
I pressed pause to swap the video and the word document on which I am writing from one of my screens to the other. I am sitting in front of two screens, one playing the concert and one with this document open. I will not write full sentences during the concert but small notes.
Starting the video.
The concert start with a shot of four empty chairs on stage, in silence. The musicians enter. We hear their steps on the wooden floor of the stage; this sound is nice to hear. The recording makes it sound like sound effects in a cartoon. Then one of the musicians drags the chair to sit and it scrapes the floor, which was not a nice sound. The musician warm up and then there is a silence that feels like a “Set? Go.”.
The first thing I notice is that I am hearing two different things in each of my ears. My left ear seems to hear the sound of the left of the stage and vice versa. I quickly come to think that the music is beautiful. Throughout the whole concert, the music was gorgeous. It was very harmonious, the four musicians and instruments seemed to be breathing together. I notice that the violins just moved one after the other and that it looked like a wave. It is nice to see all the musicians in one shot rather than those mash up videos made in confinement where sometimes you see some musicians for only a short amount of time. I see them well in this video and I like it.
I am thinking that we might not see the empty audience so I am trying to remember that they are playing in an empty theatre. After some larger movement from the musicians, I notice that there is a short gap between the sound and the image of the video. At that moment, it feels frustrating. Even though I am not live streaming this video, the live chat is there and they “replay” some of the messages that were sent on the 2d of March. The comments are a distraction and an entertainment at the same time. I am not sure if it makes the experiences feel more like a live stream. I know that this is not live and even the comments do not make it feel like one. I see many clapping emoji in the chat during the whole video.
The image-sound gap is hard on me and I am thinking that I would rather only listen to it and not watch it at the same time. Hence, I try to look at the curtains in the background of the video and not at the musicians. By focusing on the background, my gaze stops on the woman violinist’s arm. The other three musicians are wearing long sleeves. Her arm is beautiful and we can see her muscles flex as she moves to play.
Many comments are in Italian, which makes sense since it is a theatre in Venice. The pictures on some of the profiles of the people commenting look young. Although it does not mean that they are actually young, it is something that caught my attention.
So far, I am enjoying the concert a lot but looking at it hurts my eyes because of the image that is a bit late. It is frustrating because I really love to look closely at the musicians as they play in live concerts.
I am looking at the time and 8 minutes passed. I feel like it goes by fast because it feels like the video just started. However, it also feels slow because I know that there is almost 50 minutes left.
The camera moves for the first time. It was surprising, the shot is zooming onto the musicians but the image is out of focus so it is very blurry. This shot that is very amateur-like contrasts strongly with the professionalism of the musicians. It looks like one of those fan videos that people take during other types of concerts.
The first part ends, the lack of applause feels a bit strange. I am thinking that it must be even weirder for them. One of the musicians looks at the camera and smiles with a smirk. In retrospect, I know that they ended each piece with a different shot from the main one, which ruined the mood for me every time. That is mainly because the shots other than the main one were filmed quite poorly. The image was either unfocused or very unstable. The shots of showing the theatre were usually very good, I am referring here to about half of the secondary shots.
With this the second piece starts, I immediately thinks that it is beautiful. It starts with the violins playing the same notes one after the other like a cascade. There is a new shot, the camera moves on the left of the musicians; we can see them really up close. The woman’s arm seems even more sculpted from here. Then, for the first time, the camera shows us the empty theatre. It is really fast, once again the camera was not very stable so it felt weird to see all the empty seats but the unstable image made it less emotional. A few minutes later, the camera shows us the empty theatre again, for a longer time. The theatre is amazingly gorgeous. It is out of a fairy tale, the shot goes over the whole room and ends up facing the stage on which the musician seem very small and far away. The room is huge; there are many seats.
At that moment, my gaze is attracted by the comments. I notice someone whose name is “Dr Justine Dr Justine” and I cannot help but thinking that she must be older and messed up her name is the making of her profile. The music is beautiful, I am feeling the same way as in a live concert regarding the delicacy of the musicians at times. I can feel the sound of the instruments played very softly and slowly getting lounder. At that moment, it resonated in me like it would have at a live concert.
The third piece started with the camera zooming onto the musicians and moving around them. It is nice the see them up close but the camera is very unstable and it hurts my eyes. I notice that I do not hear different things from each of my ears anymore. It might have gotten used to it or the sound is more harmonious by now. I am wondering how they are recording and I notice three microphones positioned in a triangle in the middle of the four musicians.
I am thinking that it is very different to take field notes on an online concert than it is for a live one. On the one hand, it is good because I really record my raw impressions of the video in real time as I am taking short notes as the musicians play. On the other hand, this might have an impact on how immerged I am in the music and the performance. Moreover, it would be very rude to take so many notes during a live performance in a theatre. These notes that I am typing right now are in a chronological order. I did not organise the text by theme but I elaborated on the short notes I took during the performance. Hence, this text is literally, what I thought of during the concert.
Someone in the comments just said that he knows the violinist. I do not know which one of the three he is referring to but the comment made me smile.
Once again, the music gets soft and I am enjoying it a lot. Then, a zoom onto the musicians that is out of focus disturbs my immersion in the performance. When we go back to the main shot, we can see one of the camera man in the frame. We see him for a bit of time, standing there in the left corner of the screen next to the musicians. It is comedic but it ruins the mood of the performance a little bit.
The third part is done. The musician smile at each other. We can see in the looks they share that they find this experience weird but comedic. They have that look that says, “This is a bit weird right? But we are doing it!”
The fourth part starts with a quick rhythm and a nice energy. Then I wonder if they are at 1,5 meters distance from each other. It does not seem like it. These sort of thoughts would not have come into my mind if it were not for the contemporary context. I never asked myself before how far the musicians were to each other when they perform.
I notice that the gap between the image and the sound bothers me less then at the beginning, maybe I got used to it. The musician are playing one after the other again and the music sounds like a cascade of notes.
There is another shot of the empty room from the stage this time. This perspective makes it more emotional. To see the musicians on stage facing an empty theatre. At that moment the tempo of the music slows down a bit, which made the shot even more emotional. I am still in complete awe and focused on the beauty of the theatre itself. We come back to the main shot and the music still feels a bit melancholic. It is followed by a lighter melody that feels happier. The sequence of the music at that moment felt like they were telling a story and explaining that the situation is sad and nostalgic but that they are trying and having fun.
Then, there is another shot that comes very close to the musicians’ faces. They are extremely focused, they don’t look at the camera once even when it seems to be very close to them. At that moment, I am thinking of social distancing and how the camera man must be way too close.
The piece ends, they stand up for the first time and salute. They all have big smiles on their faces, almost laughing. I guess they find the situation laughable, to salute an empty theatre. The two musicians on the left exchange a few words and tune their instruments. Then, the two musicians on the right do the same.
The fifth piece starts. The music is still as beautiful. I am thinking that seeing the online concert in real time, when it was live streamed, must have been an emotional experience. Moreover, it was streamed at the beginning of the confinement, very early on in the COVID-19 crisis. At that moment, some people were not realising what was happening yet and seeing that concert in an empty theatre might have help them realise the new reality of these past few months.
I am completely immersed into this piece. As I realise that, the sound went off for half a second, which “woke me up”. Then, there is a shot of the empty theatre again and I notice a crying emoji face in the comments. I guess some people are either sad not to be able to assist to the concert in theatre or sad for the musicians performing without an audience.
The camera then goes behind the musicians, which is a perspective you would never have in a live concert. I notice the lady musician looking at another violinist with a smirk. I guess she felt like that camera coming so up close was weirdly funny. Then the camera stops for a few second on the partition. Seeing the partition as the musician are playing is also an unusual experience for the audience.
I notice a comment saying “Standing O from NYC”. It is impressive to think that people in New York are watching the concert at the same time. Follows another shot of the empty theatre again. This place is truly beautiful and that is what I am most shocked by every time I see it, instead of the lack of audience.
The fifth piece is done. I truly notice now that it might have been intentional to end each piece with a different shot from the main one. Although I love to see the theatre and change perspectives, I feel that the choice to do it systematically at the end of each piece breaks the bubble that is created when you are immersed in a performance. Especially at the end, I want to be able to focus solely on the music and let the piece be put down gently or ended up with an explosive note, whichever way it is written.
However, I notice that I took fewer notes and that I was more immersed in the music compared to the beginning of the concert. Moreover, the image-sound gap does not bother me anymore. In retrospective, my experience is similar to a live concert in the sense that I immerse myself increasingly as the concert goes on.
The sixth piece starts and shortly after, we have a shot of the ceiling of the theatre. It is the first time in the concert that we can see the ceiling so clearly and I am in complete awe. The theatre is insanely beautiful and those shots rarely make me think of the lack of audience as I am too distracted by the architecture. I am thinking that if I had seen the concert live in this theatre I would have spent half of my time looking at the architecture. I also notice that I would never have sat in the position I am currently sitting in had this been a live concert.
A motorbike passes in front of my house and it is very noisy. This sort of events are also barriers regarding how immersed I can get in the performance.
Then, there is a shot from the perspective of the middle aisle. The beginning of the shot is half-black so once again it breaks the bubble of the performance a bit. In retrospective, I think it could have been avoided to a certain extent by editing the transitions between shots differently and not have such abrupt transitions. This shot broke the mood of the performance for me, once again at the end of the piece. This was frustrating because I was really absorbed into the performance at that point.
The seventh piece starts. I realise now that I did not numbered it right in my notes. I am more into the performance and the music that at the beginning. In retrospective, I would say that at that point I was in that meditation-like state many people experience in live concert. However, I would say it was less intense than it can be in a live concert. I am thinking at that moment that I am truly enjoying this experience and the concert. I do not know whether I would do it on my own initiative but I am thankful to this project for making me do it.
There is a shot very close to the musicians’ faces again and one of them raised an eyebrow and looked straight at the camera with a smirk. I really think that the camera wandering around them in a live streaming setting makes them slightly uncomfortable and exacerbates how weirdly funny the experience is.
A close up of the ceiling follows and I am in complete awe again. This theatre is gorgeous.
I appreciate really how beautiful the music is. It is harmonious, it sounds like the violin are telling a story and talking to each other. The notes and movement are fluid. Follows a shot of the balconies, giving us a panoramic view of the theatre. From my perspective, those shots enhance the quality of the performance. It may be an attempt to create a similar atmosphere as in a live performance. I am guessing that when assisting to a concert in that theatre, the setting is creating a very peculiar and almost sacred atmosphere. Seeing a video where the performance is taking place in this “sacred” setting makes it closer to a live experience (in comparison to confinement videos filmed in musicians’ living rooms).
At that moment a person in the comment is starting to ask for silence. I am summarizing that aspect in one paragraph because coming to it chronologically in the same way I structured the rest of the text would be redundant. A man sent messages throughout the rest of the concert such as: “Silence please”, ‘ufff the noise”, “shhhh”, “irreverents” and “shhhhh” again. This caught my attention and was very unusual for me. At first, I thought it was a joke but as he insisted I realised that something was really bothering him. I thought that maybe this person had an alarm on for the chat and did not realise that he could turn it off. I was confused as to why he was asking for silence on the chat. He could also have been just one of these persons who like to complain on the internet, but it seemed unlikely. For me, that man is a good example of someone who does not understand the format of the live streamed concert and expected it would be more similar to a live concert. His comment saying “irreverents” really reinforced my idea that he was expecting the same type of sacred atmosphere as in a live concert. For example, he was maybe expecting people to comment only between the pieces and not during. The online experience is indeed different from a live concert but I believe it can be good enough, even for someone who is used to live performances. If the issue here was a technical incomprehension, it could be addressed by including instructions on orchestra’s websites offering live-streamed concerts.
I will now continue with the chronology of the concert. It was now into the seventh piece. There were more shots of the theatre and I was still in complete awe, forgetting the fact that it was empty. However, a shot from the side of the theatre, at the level of the audience followed. This shot showed the musicians facing the empty audience and there the emptiness of the room stood out.
I thought at that moment that if I did not take notes I might have been more absorbed by the performance but I might also not have watched it.
The seventh piece ended. Although it ended on a weird shot again which I think is a pity, the music is gorgeous.
The eight piece started and I noticed a comment asking “is there anyone in the audience?” Clearly, that person had just arrived. In retrospective, this is also something that would not happen in live. Joining a live concert that is close to finish. As the eighth piece played, the man who was not happy about the comments kept on sending messages.
The music had this back and forth sequence between the two musicians on the left who played higher notes and the two musicians on the right playing lower notes. It sounded like a dialogue and beautifully executed.
At that point in the concert, the shots showing the theatre felt empty. I might have gotten used to the beauty of the place to some extent, which allowed me to notice the emptiness more.
The silences in the music were beautiful, it sounded like the violins were breathing. There were some more shots up close to the musicians. The camera man was carrying the camera in its hands and did not do a good job of keeping the image stable.
At that moment I noticed that the chair of one of the musicians was standing on two levels, which I hope was not uncomfortable for him.
The eighth piece ended and the musicians stood up to salute again. Then, they exited the stage and I only realised then that it was over. I genuinely thought that there was more to come. Time flew by. The camera followed the musicians backstage, were they hugged. Once again, I thought of social distancing. After that, the camera walked us back to the empty stage to face the empty theatre as if we were standing on the stage. This shot was very powerful. I was already in a state of surprise as I did not think the concert had went by so fast, but then seeing this beautiful theatre empty made me feel calm and nostalgic. Moreover, the absence of applauses and response from an audience at the end of the concert was strongly felt.
After the concert ended, I stared at my screen for a little bit and started writing these notes. In retrospective, I am surprised that I watched an hour-long concert without feeling time passing by. It makes me hopeful that online concerts can be a very good option for orchestras to share their music with wider audiences. The experience was not as sacred or intense as a live concert. However, I am confident that it has the potential to be. I was partly concentrating on writing down things, but in the future, I will attempt to watch the concert video without doing anything else. With musicians as good as the ones of this concert, it could be closer in intensity as a live performance. However, I admit that I do not think it could be as intense as sitting in a theatre facing an orchestra. Moreover, I am not an expert in live classical music concert and people with more experience of it might feel the difference a lot more.
I included an annexe comprising the unedited notes I took during the concert as part of this exercise. They are written without looking at my screen so they mostly don’t make much sense. However, they are an interesting trace to have regarding the experience.
Angle set camera moves and zooms on four empty chairs no sound
We hear their step on the wooden floor, really nice sound
A chair against the floor, less nice of a sound
Musicians wamring up
Sound from one ear and the other since headohine ones
Two violon’s movement live waves one after the other
Nice to be able to see musicians
We wont see the empty audience but I am tryng to remember that they are playing in an empty theatre
Image and sound don’t match and it shows in strong movements, a bit frustrating
Chat republished at the same time even if not lvie
I would rather listen to it only rhan watch it at the same time since image don’t match music
The lady’s arm is beatufiul shadow
Lots Italian in the comments
Pics on people commenting seme young but don’t mean much
I am enjoying it very much but looking at it hurts my eyes, while I love to look attentively at musician in live conernts
8 minutes, slow and fast at the same time
Wooo camera moves but out of focus
End first part lack applause feels weird, must feel even weirder dor them, one of the musician looked at the camra and smirked
The music is truly beatuful, love the beg of the second one, in canon
Change of plan again! The lady’s arm is even more ebautifil
Oooooo empty room fr a short time felt a bit weird but htose plan out of the main one are not very stable so not as motional as it could be I think
Again room for longer time this time, the theatre is soooooo beautiful, out of a fairy tale, on they seem so small only the four of them in the stage, and so far, all the empty seats, so many seats!
Just saw someone named Dr Justine Dr Justine and I thaught she must be old and mest p her name
Plan other side profile, the musician has a different han I though he had
Delicacy of the violon on the left!!!
Music so delicate!!
Can feel the sound soft and louder, took me to the troat love ending second part
Third part starting
Zoom, cool when doesn’t move, hurt head when moves, nice to see them ipclose
I just tough that I don’t hear different things from each ear anymore, less still do but feels less
I see three microphone in triangle in the middle of the four musicians
I am thinking it is very different taking field notes on an online concert at home, I take lots of notes, everything I think of so good bec really have raw impression but at the same time I am less immerge in music + would be so rude to do that in live conert
Haha someone just said he knows the violinist (which one no clue)
Wooooow music sooo soft
Zoom again, out of fucs
Haha camranman in the frame, we see him!
He is still there for a buitµ
Third part done, two musicians smiled to each other
Wooooo fouth starts quick ntes and ryhtm
Are they 1,5m distanced?
Does not seem loke it
Image sound gap bothers me less for some reason, gotused to it?
Whoooo sound like rain, in cascade so pretty
See room emplty from the stage! Soooo pretty and was at a moment when music when down a bitn, felt emotional
Even after music is a bit maelancolic then guillerette again so feels a bit like they are saying it is sad but we are trying!
Zooms on each, they are so focused! They have a fucking cameraman super close (social distancing zero)
Woooooooohooooou they salute they smile but don’t talk big smiles ah the two on the left speak they accrode their instruments
The two on the right accorde with each toher now
And fifth one starts, beautiful!
Seeing it live with the shots of the empty room must have been very emotional
This one I amreallly in itand right when I said htat sound cut for a sec
See the public from the stage agin
Ah someone cries in the comment
Shot goes behind then could see muscle back of the lady !! fit!
Haha shadow of camera man on the right
Ahw culd see the lady looking at the first violon with a smirk
Woooo shot of the partition!
Haha comment standing o from NYC
Theatre from stage again, trly georgous
Five done, I was way more into it, stoped taking notes and sound omage gap does not bother at all anymore
Ceiliiiiiiiing omg omg omg omg
This theatre is insane! Never think of missing audience bc too stoked by theatre itself
I would have spedn the live concert looking tat the architecture
I am in position in would never be in in live
Walking in middle way on seat shot, beg pourri half black it woke me up front eh music when I was really into and then 7th finished, kinda ruined the mood
Wayyyy more absorbed into it than at the beg
Main shot tiny bit asymetrcial
Don’t know if would do this alone but feels great! Thankful to the project for making me do it
Haha zoom in the musician again and one raised an eyebrow and looked at the camera, with smirk I think
Close up ceiling
Music is so beautilf perfect harmony sounds amazing
Sounds like violon are talking to each other, telling a story
Zoom walls theatre
Hahahahha one comment was silence please!!!
Partition shot again
So beautilfuk its insane
Shot face a face where I felt emptiness audience
Paradox, if I did not take note I might have been more absorbed but I might also not have watched it
Again ending on a weird shot a pity
But beautiful gorgous music
Nine? It is? Yes
Haha one comment is “is there anyone in the audience” that person just arrived
Same person “ufff the noise”
“shhhhh” same one
Maybe he put on alarm for chat and doesn know how to tunr it off, or just doenst like comments
Heer he goes again: irreverents
Music sounds like left and right speaking to each other
Each play aft the other then all together
Or a dance
View theatre feel empty now, use to beauty maybe
Silences are amazing
Close up camera a l’epaule so not stable
Guy again shhhh
Chair one of the violon on two levels must uncomfortable
Stand and salute again omg it s over omg I did not see it pass by, the last time I checked I was 22 minutes in
Oooo you see them backstahe, they hug, social distancing zero, camera comes back onstage empty room + silence there you feel itzoom on decoration theatre
- Salomé by the Dutch National Opera and Ballet (2020a), ethnographic report by Léïa Bonjean.
I have watched the opera Salomé by the Dutch National Orchestra on the 8th of June 2020 in my living room with my family. The audience accounted for three persons and myself. Overall, the experience was widely different from what I would expect a live performance would be. This was mainly due to the audience and the fact that Salomé was not the best choice for my tastes. Notes of my thoughts were taken during the performance and this report was put together on the 28th of June 2020.
Regarding the opera itself, the stage design was really well made and interesting. I particularly appreciated the moon that was rising up and down above the stage throughout the whole show. It evolved like it would evolve in one night, which was a really nice touch. The opera was set in modern times regarding the costumes and the decors, except for Salomé’s dress with seemed more neutral time period-wise. The stage design was aesthetically pleasing to me as the stage was oval and a rectangle behind the oval stage acted like a window to another smaller part of the stage, where side characters would witness the story from afar before joining in. Jakanaan the male protagonist, was imprisoned in the story, which was illustrated by the singer singing from a pit on stage. Hence, his voice came from below, which gave a nice nuance to the sound. Musically speaking, I might have chosen the wrong opera for my taste. The music was very melodious and sounded much spoken. The text itself was still full of beautiful writing and metaphors.
I had forgotten that Salomé is a biblical story. Hence, the text surprised me at the beginning. Once I gathered that the story was biblical, it made more sense. However, I am not very aware of biblical stories, hence some parts of the opera were hard to follow. The story is quite dark and bloody and the opera decided to illustrate that with the last act, in which the singer playing Jakanaan was covered in blood and Salomé proceeded to cover herself with the blood while singing.
Another choice regarding the stage design attracted my attention. The singer playing Jakanaan had tattoos. Personal tattoos, that were not part of the character design but that the singer had. I personally love tattoos, but I thought they were off putting regarding the opera and the character of Jakanaan. Another aspect about Jakanaan stood out to me. Jakanaan is described as gorgeously beautiful, young and fair-skinned man. However, the singer playing Jakanaan was not exactly a young fair beauty. This stuck out to me as Salomé declares her love for Jakanaan extensively during an act, and the contrast between her very idealistic words and the very real singer was a bit comic to me.
Other aspects of the opera made it comedic to me and somehow prevented me from immersing myself in the story. For example, at some point, a side character in the background looked like he was texting on a phone. I became really focused on him, wondering if he was really texting or pretending to text and if whether this was a choice to include it in the opera. Another example is the dance section in the second part of the opera. Although the music was beautiful and more melodious at that moment, the dance was a bit too abstract for me and I could not really immerse myself in it. Moreover, the singers were dancing and some did not seem as comfortable as others did.
All the singers were extremely impressive, some even sang while lying down at some points. The most impressive was the singer who played Salomé. Not only did she sing really well, she was also a very talented actress and dancer. At some point in the opera, when her anger grew along with the crescendo of the music, her face was almost scary. She really made the character of Salomé and the whole opera come to life. Moreover, her dance with scarfs was beautiful and I felt like I was immersing myself a bit more at that moment.
Regarding the experience of watching the opera in my living room with my family, I am confident that an important reason for my lack of immersion in the opera is the audience. My family watched the opera with me but they are not used to watching operas. The lyrics in German made them laugh and they were commenting on the performance extensively. We even paused 29 minutes in to get ice cream from the ice cream truck that passed our street at that moment. Watching the opera with a not-so-interested audience was clearly very different from watching it alone or from what I expect it would be to watch it in theatre. The aspects of the opera that I noted as comic made them laugh a lot. However, they still greatly appreciated the skills of the singers.
We watch many recordings of musicals at home. Hence, the fact that it was a recording of an opera was not a big differential factor. I believe that since we are not used to operas, let alone operas in German, it was more complicated for us to immerse ourselves in the story. Moreover, the stage design was sometimes a bit modern and impressionistic. This came across as strange and reinforced the lack of seriousness towards the piece for certain members of the audience. However, the experience of watching operas at home could be widely different with a genuinely interested audience or an opera that fits more the taste of the audience.
This experience made me realise the influence as this ritual-like setting that is a theatre. The fact of entering the theatre, sitting in the dark and looking at the stage, in keeping silent as it is expected of you creates an atmosphere that allows the audience to easily immerse itself in the piece. I believe that if I had been to the theatre to see this opera with my family they would have been a lot more serious and immersed in the piece. However, it is questionable whether they would go out of their way to go see this opera in real life.
- Adagio pour Quatuor d’Orchestre by Guillaume Lekeu and Symphonie n°1 by Chostakovitch by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra of Liège (OPRL live!, 2020), ethnographic report by Margaux Zandona.
At home, during the confinement period imposed by the government due to the coronavirus situation, I was able to watch a classical music concert online. To begin with, the experience was very different from going to see a live concert, since all it took was for me to sit back on my desk chair and turn my computer on. Moreover, I also had the possibility to choose right on the spot from a variety of concerts (the availability and diversity of online concerts and performances has increased due to the crisis). I first looked at a rendering of Boléro of Maurice Ravel by the French National Orchestra, which consisted of a very short video of musicians each playing through video calling. Then, I chose to watch a concert by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra of Liège (OPRL live!, 2020): they played Adagio pour Quatuor d’Orchestre by Guillaume Lekeu and Symphonie n°1 by Chostakovitch. The concert had been filmed by Mezzo TV in 2018. That concert and several others can be reached through a link on the orchestra’s website, from a page which proposes alternatives to going to live performances during the lockdown of the theaters.
First, the concert could have been experienced in many different settings : on the couch on TV, while cooking, etc. but I chose to watch it on my computer in my bedroom office. I sat down at my comfortable desk chair, prepared some tea and biscuits, and put the computer on the desk. The home setting made it much more comfortable than a live concert. Not only in terms of settings, but also in technical terms. Indeed, throughout the concert, I noticed how it was very easy for me to turn the volume up or down, press pause, know exactly when the ending would be, rewind, etc. I also had the possibility if I wanted to, to stop it and not watch the end. However, the computer setting also brought some technical problems with it, when at some point there was no sound at all. Moreover, the whole social dimension I had experienced at the live concert was gone, even more so because I had decided to watch it alone. The (non-live) online concert experience seemed to have taken away the social dimension, and with it the social rules did not seem to apply. For example I was able to move to the sound of the music.
Furthermore, the view available from the screen was from the side of the stage, not from the audience. One could even see the people sitting in the chairs, since this was a screening of a recording made previously to the crisis (as opposed to recent concerts respecting social distancing guidelines and playing without audiences or concerts through video chat). Moreover, the view was constantly changing which made it more clear that there were different cameras positioned around the stage. I felt ‘forced’ to focus on the parts the screen showed me instead of letting my mind and eyes freely wander the stage. This gave me a feeling of alienation with the performance as a whole. Nevertheless these angles added a dimension to the listening of the orchestra by sometimes showing the entirety of the instruments at once and showing the conductor from the front, and by often zooming to focus on the different instruments. Paradoxically, this made me feel closer to the musicians’s performance on its own, and appreciate better each one’s contribution to the holistic sound coming out of the computer. I could clearly see their expressions, their use of their instrument, and how some of them followed the music sheet with their eyes. For instance at one point I noticed clearly one musician’s cheeks blowing in their wind instrument to the rhythm of the music. Consequently, this manner of attending a concert was very interesting and impressive in terms of the visibility of the skills.
In addition, the ability to be transported by the music was also hindered by this setting. In particular, the sound quality of my computer’s speakers does not allow for the music to fill the room as it does in a concert hall. After a few minutes I wished I had headphones to maybe be able to immerse myself in the music more. There was still a sense of wonder in the music and a sense of meditation/contemplation as during a live concert but less heightened. It did give me time to sit back, and reflect, although I drifted to thinking about schoolwork. I wondered if this was a biased effect related to my own use of classical music as background and tool for studying. I myself was much less alert because I was in my own home in a relaxed setting with many distractions (e.g., my phone, everything scattered around my office room, etc.) and only the small screen and speakers of my laptop computer. Moreover, in some moments I preferred to listen to it without watching the screen to enjoy the music better.
In some ways, the experience was very alienating. As I was watching, and taking notes, it felt more as an analysis of a primary source rather than a collection of experienced data. For instance, I felt no connection from the musicians to me as their audience and I did not relate to their audience either. I could see the actual public from the time of the performance when it was recorded, and they were obviously not playing for me – or any imagined audience- but for their physical public. I observed their applause when I could not clap, I even heard some audience members cough, and that made me feel a break. I felt more like a ghost hovering over the concert and being able to watch from different angles than a public of a performance.
Finally, when the concert was over, the recording simply stopped during the audience’s applause and then that was it. I closed the tab and returned to my school work. This felt strangely unsocial in comparison to usual cultural events where one shares and even has a drink afterwards. In general, I recognized much from my experience at a live orchestra concert and continuously made comparisons. In the context of the coronavirus crisis, this was better than nothing, but it still made me nostalgically wish to go to ‘an actual’ concert. It was pleasant, and it worked its entertainment and meditative purposes, and especially during this time of confinement it gave me a structured allotted time to sit back. Yet it made me wonder strongly about when outside events would be allowed again. I wondered if this feeling was cause by the fact that this was a recording previous to the regulations and which filmed a lot of the social dimension of the concert as well as simply the musicians. In hindsight, it could have been related to the melancholic tone of the music as well.
- ‘Hybrid concert’ by John Sloboda and Rafael Montero ( Slobodan & R. Montero, personal communication, May 14, 2020), ethnographic report by Margaux Zandona.
On the 14th of May I attended an online seminar through Zoom which included a curated concert. This seminar consisted of academics as well as musicians. It was presented by the professor John Sloboda and the tenor Rafael Montero. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, they had been unable to perform these rehearsed pieces. Therefore they had prepared six recordings of their music while socially distancing which they had posted on a website. The website was very welcoming, with a picture of the tenor and the pianist at the top and explanations surrounding every video. It also noted the contribution from members of El Parnasso Hyspano Kate Smith (soprano) and Veronica Chacon (mezzo-soprano) in making these small concerts. For each video they had recorded themselves playing separately in their homes. Then they had edited the separate recordings to appear as one. Our experience of the concert consisted of playing the videos one after the other following a short presentation for each of them by the tenor and while remaining on the video-call. Because of the academic nature of the meeting, the concert was preceded by a short lecture by professor Sloboda on the Covid-19 crisis’s impact on the cultural sector of classical music. The concert was also followed by a discussion on each and everyone’s impressions.
First, during the lecture the professor described this type of concert as a ‘hybrid’. Indeed it combined pre-recorded classical music with live presentations by the performers through video-call. They began by presenting the tenor Rafael Montero who then presented the first musical video. He explained the reason behind the organization of this website and experience as well as the reason for their initial choice of the pieces. The concert consisted of classical music from the Latin and Indigenous American tradition which included choir singing in Spanish as well as Quechua. The tenor recounted his connection to the music: he is of Native American origin and speaks Quechua. There was also a technical introduction in which he asked us to mute our own microphones as to not disturb others in their listening of the videos. The professor then asked us to please log onto the link he had sent us previously to play the first video, and to pay attention to the relevant questions which were written at the top of the website.
Viewing the first video proved slightly stressful technically at first because I could not follow the link immediately by clicking on it. Thus had to hurry in copying the link letter by letter while all the others were already watching. This empathized the divide in the collective experience as we could not exactly be synchronized in watching the concert. Nevertheless, once I managed to get onto the website and press play on the video, I found it did feel like a grounding experience. The music resonated with me and I was able to immerse myself in it and enjoy it. There were lyrics sung in Quechua which I found original as well as touching because of the previous story told by the tenor. I had never listened to anything similar in terms of music from Latin America. Moreover, the sound quality was fluent and clear considering it came from different recordings from different homes. Later during the discussion they noted it was the only video which had some additional sound editing adding echo similar to inside a church.
However, the song only lasted a few minutes which I found quite short. It made me unable to take the time to listen to the music properly and contemplate like I would have wished to. Notably all the videos throughout the concert were only minutes long. Another instance which prevented me from fully contemplating was a slight anxiety regarding the idea of having my webcam on while not being able to see anything else or anyone else. I was positively affected by this concept of a collective musical experience especially in these times of isolation, but I felt a bit odd at removing myself from Zoom page while knowing that I was still visible and part of that video-call.
Once the first video ended I returned to the Zoom page and waited for the rest of the participants to finish their listening as well. I could see the little boxes with everyone’s video on it and thus we waited until everyone seemed to be looking directly into their webcam again rather than simply at the computer. Once on the video-call again, I wished to be able to clap and I could see others wanted as well. Yet, it proved a little awkward in practice as some tried, others did not, and I was unsure of wether to do it or if the performers were actually seeing it. This showed that the rules for online concert etiquette have not yet been laid in stone. I would have wished to be able to follow the natural impulse of clapping throughout the different concerts which I think would have also empathized this collectivity feeling. I wondered if maybe an icon of clapping such as that of the raising of the hand could be devised on the video calling app. Towards the end of the concert one of the participants used the emoticons that can appear on their screen to show the clapping hands emoji. I thought that would have been the easiest manner in the absence of a clapping button or of an agreed upon clapping at the end of each video. Nevertheless we were able to congratulate and applaud and thank the performers at the end of the call video call thanks to the following discussion and to their presence.
The tenor then held another short presentation for the second video. When I started listening I immediately remarked that the sound quality was lower than in the previous video. This made it very difficult to immerse myself in the music. Indeed, the sound was very fragmented, it came out as similar to on an old recording or as if the piano had been silenced. I found this very unfortunate because the piece seemed enjoyable and well performed and it was obvious the performers had put effort into the experience. In addition, once I had returned to the Zoom meeting again, I also noticed that other participants had disabled their webcam while they watched the video. They turned it on and off during the concert, so as to be visible while the presentations and discussions continued. I eventually decided to do the same and I felt much more comfortable in attempting to immerse myself in the music.
For the presentation of the third video, the musician told a personal anecdote explaining his choice for the piece that was about to be played. I found this very endearing and humanizing. In knowing this story, it made me want to discover and appreciate the piece. In general, the explanations were very interesting and awakened a curiosity to listen to the piece. As the tenor shared the musicians’ connection to and the reasons behind the pieces performed, I felt an engagement to the music as well and was committed to experiencing it. Moreover, I found that it created an additional connection between the group by directing us all in the same direction and action with similar a priori information. Unfortunately, there were technical problems involving echo in the sound. This came from an issue in the muting of the microphones of participants the video-call. Inevitably I also worried that I might have forgotten to mute the microphone and I consistently went back to verify it. This made it hard to focus on the music. Moreover, all the videos so far had been very short, which meant there were many breaks and going back and forth from the website to the zoom meeting. This added to the distractions and to the difficulty to immerse myself in the listening of the pieces.
In addition, throughout the concert the musicians performing the music were not visible in the video. Instead there were slide shows of different related images. For example, in the first video we could see music sheets and other old documents. In other videos there were images of a church or pictures from the performers’ own travels to South America. I personally did not connect to these images and therefore found it difficult to lock my gaze on anything in particular. The image I found most enjoyable and focusing was the music sheet in the first video because I was able to read the sheet at the same time as listening to the piece. The issue of what to put as visual in these types of videos was discussed more in depth during the feedback session following the concert. There were also short texts surrounding the videos on the website: translations and transcriptions of the pieces that were being sung, explanations on the history of the piece, etc. We did not have time to read the texts but we were informed of the context of the pieces in each presentation. In each case I found it interesting to feel more connected to the music. We could also read the translations as the music was playing and I believe knowing the meaning of the lyrics could help to listen better. Yet due to some website layout problems the videos were blocking most of the text and I was not able to read most of the translations.
Lastly, we continued to finish listening to all six videos (there were seven available on the website but we skipped one which they said was more directed to a Spanish audience). Following the concert, there was a discussion on everyone’s impressions and feedback. I remarked that the discussion revolved more around the technical problems than the music itself. As the discussion grew longer, some participants left one by one from the video-call because they had other meetings to go to.
In conclusion, as an audience member, I found this concert to be very interesting and enjoyable. The whole experience was and is deeply embedded in the current situation following the Covid-19 pandemic and it acknowledges it. In my opinion, this made the collective activity more strong, especially in times of isolation. One think that I remark about my own memory is that I remember much of it in terms of “we”. I felt part of a shared group moment. In addition, I believe that not only watching together was important but that the presentations of the pieces by the performers were crucial as well. I found it to be humanizing and to increase our motivation and engagement to the music as an audience. This is important as the discussion amongst classical musicians currently revolves much around the need to connect with the audience and grasping their attention. However, unfortunately there were many technical issues and uncertainties such as low sound quality and echoes which heightened the feeling of the online and made it harder for me to enjoy the music.
- Wagner’s Das Rheingold by the Dutch National Opera and Ballet (2020b), ethnographic report by Margaux Zandona.
On the 7th June, I decided to watch the opera by Wagner Das Rheingold at night, as a well deserved break in between intensively working on my bachelor thesis. This was not a planned decision, but rather a spur of the moment one. I asked my mother whether she wanted to join as I connected my computer on the TV screen. She said she would join for a bit and then go to sleep as it was already around 9pm. I made some tea, grabbed several cookies, and lay down on the sofa under a blanket before pressing play on the opera.
We began by watching the recommended introduction video by Pierre Audi. It was a bit weird, as I was not used to having a presentation previous to a concert, especially not like this. The introduction video was simple, not a marketing one, but rather like a youtube video where the presentation had filmed himself on his couch giving some information about the opera. At some point, the presentation said some emotional words about the current coronavirus situation which touched me. I appreciated the little information given by the introduction, yet still took the time to check wikipedia for more information. I then got up to fit the strong lighting in the room to set the mood to a lower lit cinema room. I felt content in how the Sunday evening was going, as I was excited to watch an opera for the first time and I felt happy to share the moment with my mother.
I immediately noticed some distractions which had not been there when I watched concerts alone. For instance, I could hear my mom chew her cookies, and had to tell her not to talk so much. Especially at the beginning, as the piece took a very long time to start where the sound quality was a little deceiving. During that time, I regretted not being able to go see it live. I also wondered if I would bee able to last for the whole time as I was feeling tired, and discussed this with my mother. We noticed the computer would not last that long and my mother went to connect it to the charger.
As she was getting the charger, finally a performer appeared on the stage. It seemed to me to be a fish and immediately intrigued me. Now all my attention was accorded to the screen, and I was more irritated by strong distractions. I was surprised by the dance moves , so similar to ballet, and wondered how they had made the stage (which was at a around a 40° angle) non slippery. Moreover, I was concentrated on the subtitles. I enjoyed having them there because I could follow the story. I also appreciated hearing German because it reminded me of when I studied it and I tried to grasp a few words here and there.
I remarked that I was really focused on the story, trying to understand what was happening. I also reflected again and again on the logic behind them not falling from that angle. I wondered if there were anti-slippery patches on the costumes. Moreover, as I was deeply immersed in the opera, I felt that the music fell very naturally in the background. It was almost as if ‘I had not noticed’ the music was there, although it did have a strong effect in guiding the narrative and my focus. Throughout the first act I kept enjoying the story and reading the subtitles. I felt fully submerged, apart from the rare moments when I was distracted (e.g., when I had to remove my dog from getting the cookies).
I laughed out loud and thought to myself I could not have done it in the theatre. At one point, my mom gasped out loud and commented surprised on an element of the story. I wondered if maybe the lack of subtitles in the theatre would have made me focus more on the music or the dancing, as I could not understand the language. I equated that to when one watched ballet (in which there is an unspoken narrative) or a show in a language one does not understand. I noticed my mother looking at my notebook and pen: was I bothering her with the noise? I remarked it was unusually quiet in the room, as if we were holding our breath in anticipation for the opera, and the only sound was the TV and my pen.
I continued to wonder about the costumes throughout the concert. As a theatre performer, I was fascinated by the quality and originality of the sets and the costumes, and kept letting my eyes wander in awe of all these details. I remarked the plans/shots had been changing in a very organic manner, without me noticing. I did start reflecting at this point on my enjoyment for particular shots. For example, one close up of the front of the stage in which one could see the characters smaller at the back of the stage. There was also one from far away where we could see the whole stage, including the conductor and how the orchestra would follow him. I was f ascinated by the violins sticks going together harmoniously & rhythmically. In one of these shots my mom even imitated the conductor. Moreover, I was also very impressed by the skill of the singers, the high notes literally gave me chills as if I had been present in the theatre with them. It gave me the sensation of watching a musical or theatre performance, rather than a concert or a ballet. The music felt like a soundtrack to a movie, and emphasised the immersive experience. I even felt touched my a moment in the song where he mentioned love.
During the ‘musical break’, I checked my phone and was happy to send a picture of the TV to my friend who liked operas. I reflected it was unfortunate I could not invite them over to watch it with me. It would have been nice to have someone passionate with who to discuss.
During the ‘second act’, I felt as engaged as in the previous. I made a lot of hypotheses and reflections about the story, the costumes, and the music. I caught myself a few times not taking notes for 10-15 minutes at the time, having completely forgotten my notebook and being fully absorbed by the opera. I noted that there were no distractions in the images themselves: good view, no audience directly visible, good transitions, as well as good sound quality and no technical problems. Furthermore, the anxiety inducing social rules of the theatre context were gone and I felt comfortable. Even my mom who had said she would leave to go to sleep remained there after two hours.
At the third act, I started feeling tired and started paying less attention to the screen and the translations, and checked my phone a little. Yet, I did not wish to press pause and leave the room to go to sleep because I wanted to know how it ended. I realised I was really into it. I waited for the end and then went to sleep after chatting with my mom about the concert.
- A first experience at an orchestra concert by Léïa Bonjean
On Friday 6th of March, I went to see the Koninklijk Concertgebouworkest. When we entered the theatre in Heerlen Johanna and I, the first thing we walked into was a sort of café-bar where people were having drinks and sitting at tables. On our right, there was a coat check, but it was not free so we decided to keep our vests and bags with us. I had received a free entrance to the concert but I would still rather not pay for things that I do not consider essential. We walked around the theatre, there where beautiful posters of dancers on the upper floor. Along the stairs, there were some pieces of clothing, colourful and interesting. They made me think of two things: the Carnival in Maastricht and those weird high fashion shows where clothes make you look twice at their strange design. I really liked a piece in particular: a blue dress that looked like a cotton candy.
After our little exploration upstairs we went back to wait for the others by the entrance. We were looking at the crowd that was going to be the audience of tonight’s concert. As I was expecting, many people seemed old enough to be grandparents. A quarter of the audience were adult who seemed to be in their fifties and few people were around my age. However, what struck me the most was how homogeneous the crowd was regarding colours. Although I was not really expecting something else, most of the audience members seemed to be Caucasians. The audience started to go inside, we were still waiting for the others to join us. Out of the people passing by us to enter the room, I have heard some Spanish from a group of people our age. It turned out that Margaux knew them and they were students from the conservatorium in Maastricht.
Shortly after that, Margaux arrived and we entered the room. We easily found our seats. There was a buzzing sound of conversation throughout the theatre. We were sitting in the fourth row from the stage and we could see the stage really clearly. The theatre itself was an interesting building: the three walls around the stage were made out of clear wood. This was unusual for me, as I had been used to theatre with black curtains as walls, designed for theatre plays. It was very beautiful and elegant; the floor of the stage was of the same colour.
We talked a bit with Margaux before the concert started, we turned around and we noticed how we could see younger people at the front of the theatre and less at the back. I thought that it might be because it is more usual for older people to come to the theatre to see orchestras and hence they either had a pass that gives them access to the cheapest seats for each performance. Or, if they had seen many concerts such as this one they did not feel the need to pay to go sit all the way at the front anymore.
At 7 pm, the musicians entered the stage. The audience applauded. The applause were dense and loud but felt very contained. They felt strong rather than energetic. I believe (however I am unsure) the musicians settled on stage first. Then, when the conductor entered the stage, they stood up. The conductor thanked the audience by a few salutes and they started their first piece.
The first piece they played was Sostenuto by Wolfgang Rihm. At the moment they started playing I thought “They are starting strong!”. The piece was very powerful and a bit aggressive to me. I felt like I was in the middle of a storm at sea. It was beautiful. In retrospective, I can tell that I had not completely entered the experience yet. I had a more complete and a more emotional experience with the rest of the concert. Although it pushed me into the experience of the concert a bit aggressively, the piece really showed me the quality of the orchestra. The energy that was emanating from the orchestra, the musicians, the conductor was breath-taking.
When they finished their first piece, the audience applauded. I remember that at some point in the concert the audience did not applaud at the end of a piece and it felt weird to me but I believe it was later on. While the audience was applauding, they had a change of setting. They put a piano that was sitting on the right side of the stage in the middle of the stage and the musicians re-ordered themselves. Some who were in the third row moved back and viceversa. I am unsure whether the first row changed as well. Once the new setting was in place, Jean-Yves Thibaudet entered the stage, saluted the audience and sat at the piano.
He was there to perform Maurice Ravel’s Pianoconcert in G majeur, which included three pieces: Allegramente, Adagio assai and Presto. I enjoyed the Maurice Ravel performance more than the first one. I believe the longest I was sitting in the theatre, the more I enjoyed the concert. This part reminded me of my childhood as my grandma used to tell me stories that had a soundtrack and many of them were from Maurice Ravel. The three pieces felt lighter and delicate. The second one I believe was way slower and delicate than the others. It was beautiful because from where we were sitting we could see the reflection of the pianist’s hands on the piano. This second piece involved the orchestra a bit less and it was fascinating to look at the reactions of the musicians from the orchestra while the pianist was playing. They seemed to understand what he was doing differently than me, which makes sense taking into account their profession. This second piece really stood out to me because of the slow tempo and the atmosphere of respect emanating from the musicians listening attentively to the pianist. The finished the Pianoconcert with Presto which was very alive. This last piece had me smiling throughout the whole performance.
I believe that between the three Maurice Ravel’s pieces, the audience did not applaud. This surprised me at first. I understand that it might be because it was a set of three pieces. However, I accepted it without really understanding the reason for it. At the end of Presto however, there were lots of applause. The pianist saluted the public and the orchestra and went off the stage. As the applause continued, he came back to play a short melody. I do not know if it was some sort of improvisation but he did not precise the name of the piece.
Afterwards, the break started. I believe the conductor announced it. However, I am unsure. I noticed the pianist, the conductor and one of the first violinist discussing together and shaking hands. This violinist seemed important, as it seemed like he had his own sort of salutation from the conductor at the beginning of the concert.
During the break, Margaux and I mainly stayed in the theatre while the others went outside. We discussed the audience, the concert, the setting of the theatre. We were mainly in awe at the quality of the performance. We were also curious about some form of electronic device that was on the partition holders on stage. We could not figure whether these were microphones, recorders, lights or else. I went outside for a bit, most of the audience had exited the theatre for the break. When I came back in, a few musicians started coming back. They were playing their instrument, it seemed like they were warming up. The piano was on the side of the stage again.
When the conductor came back in the musicians stood up once again. They then started playing the Symphonie in d by César Franck, which included three pieces: Lento. Allegro non troppo, Allegretto and Finale. Allegro non troppo. This part of the concert was the most intense for me. I had slowly sunk into the experience during the first part of the concert, but during the break, I could not wait for them to start playing again.
These pieces seemed very long to me, which I was very content with. The music was beautiful and I was completely fascinated by the musicians. I observed their movements closely, paying attention to one person in particular after another. In retrospective, I noticed that I did not observe the conductor much. I was more fascinated by the musicians.
Johanna told me before we came in, during an orchestra concert you never end up just sitting and listening to the music. Your mind wanders and you think a lot, it is like therapy. I could not agree more. Especially during this last part, I was feeling relaxed and at ease. I know that I was thinking about many things but I cannot remember what in particular. This last part was also the most emotional for me. I felt a lot more than during the first half of the concert.
When they finished the last piece, there was lots of applause. The musicians slowly stood up to welcome the applause. The audience soon stood up as well, giving the orchestra a standing ovation. I was really excited, I had enjoyed it so much I was really happy to stand up for them and to see that the whole audience agreed. Two musicians in particular captured my attention during the applause. They were a duo who had a shared a partition for the second half of the concert. All the musicians were organised in duos and sharing one partition for two on stage. This particular duo was chatting and talking to each other during the applause. While facing the public, they seemed really happy and proud of themselves. As we were applauding, I said to Margaux to pay attention to those two musicians chatting together and she told me that they were all talking, but the others with their eyes.
At that moment, the orchestra really seemed like more than a well-oiled machine and looked like a tight group of people who were like comrades. The applause went on as the conductor exited the stage and the musicians sat back on their chairs. The audience was still standing and clapping. It was not long before the conductor re-entered the stage and announced the piece that they would be playing. It was Petit Mari, Petite Femme by Bizet. The public sat back. The orchestra started playing again. I was really happy that it was not finished yet. I enjoyed this a lot and I noticed that some musicians seemed more relaxed. They seemed like they were having fun goofing around and were just as happy as I was.
They finished the piece and the audience applauded and stood up again. The conductor exited the stage, the applause went on and on and he came back once again to do a second come back. They played another short piece, which I fail to remember the name of. After this last come back, the audience stood up again, the conductor saluted, the musicians stood up as well. After a minute, the conductor exited the stage and the musicians started packing their stuffs. I am not sure whether it was usual but they were very efficient and quick to leave the stage. They had to go back to Amsterdam right away so I guess that they were in a bit of a rush.
We slowly exited the theatre. The others asked Margaux and me whether we liked it. I was ecstatic. I was in love with the experience. I was in awe at the quality of the orchestra; at how the sound was so precise, sometimes delicate sometimes powerful and at how much control over the music the orchestra had for such a large group. Johanna told me that indeed the orchestra was very good. I told Johanna that since I had been introduced to classical music with an orchestra of such quality, most of the following performance I was going to witness were going to be lesser in a way. This comment was more of a joke that an actual concern. I have no doubt that I would enjoy other classical music and orchestra performances.
- Going to the see the Koninklijk Concertgebouworkest in Heerlen by Margaux Zandona
On Friday 6th March 2020, in the context of a university course, I was able to go to see the Koninklijk Concertgebouworkest at the Heerlen theater. This was the first time I had gone to an orchestra concert, although I had been to other types of classical musical performances previously. In general, my personal experience expanded beyond the moment from when I arrived at the building and the moment I left the building. I felt that it was related to my previous experience and knowledge, and that it continued in a manner afterwards for example in discussing, remembering, or recounting the experience.
The concert started at 19h00. Because of the importance of punctuality in such concerts, and because the theater was unknown to me, I tried to arrive at least 15 minutes previous to the starting time. It was raining when walking to the building and the friend accompanying me commented that she would have to wait for long under the rain. I recommended she enter the building and wait at the entrance, but she replied that she did not have a ticket and was not dressed appropriately (i.e., jeans and a large bag). I noted that going to an orchestra concert to a theater was thus accompanied, at least for me and my friend, by a feeling of high social rules of how one should behave. I myself had taken the time to choose an appropriate dress and was slightly anxious at entering the building. At the entrance, two smartly dressed attendants were checking the tickets before entering the theater foyer. There was a lively agitation: a group of people were lining at the attendance desk on the left while the rest were dispersed in the foyer. The atmosphere was overall warm. People were chatting, relaxed, dispersed in a non-structured way, etc. I soon found the group of people I was attending the concert with and we headed directly to the concert room. I did not know where it was, but I followed the people I was with, and the rest of the people who were also going the same way.
Inside the theater, we found our assigned seats. The theater walls, floor, and seats were of a bright red which gave it a vintage and warm flair. There were different levels to the audience. Our seats were on the second row to the right in front of the stage. This means that we were able to see it very clearly. On it, there were already the instruments, the chairs and partition holders of the musicians. On the partition holders were some kind of cable. We attempted to look at them more closely during the break, but were not able to elucidate their function. Although the back of the stage was less visible to us, I remarked the separation in ‘factions’ by the types of instruments, with strings such as violins, cellos and a piano at the forefront, and winds and percussions seemingly at the back. Because of how the rows of seats were positioned (i.e., in an slightly arched manner), my gaze fell naturally on the middle of the stage to where the conductor was later standing. The entrance to the stage was delimited by wooden walls fitted with doors. During the break we even saw a glimpse of the backstage through the open doors. This striked me as different from a dancing or theater performance, where the entrance and the backstage are usually invisible. There was a turmoil in the audience as well as there had been in the foyer. People were finding their seats, discussing, etc. They seemed excited and impatient. Many of them carried the leaflets detailing the programme and additional information, and some of them were looking at it.
The audience was composed largely of elderly people. Although, especially on the first two rows, around us, there were younger people (between 20 and 40). I did not see any children. I wondered about the reason of the age groups. One group of youth came from the Maastricht Conservatorium, and another younger group came to see a musician they were acquainted with (they showed this through discussing about him, and applauding loudly and wooing him positively). We were there mainly under the context of university. These younger attendees and ourselves thus had a ‘reason’ for going to see the orchestra. In addition to the age demographic, one person commented on the whiteness of the audience as well.
Once everyone was seated, the musicians entered through the different doors. The focus shifted to them and the audience applauded as they were entering the room. Several people, including us, hurried to turn their phones off. It reminded me of the conversation we had on the difference between a pop concert where phones are allowed and a classical concert. In general, the concert hall was very quiet, we could hear any slight sound. It seemed in fact crucial that there be no outside noise to be able to fully enjoy all the small sounds of music and be immersed in them. Thus it seems logical for me to turn the phone off to avoid disturbing the artists and the other attendees, as opposed as during a loud pop concert. This same assumption made me feel a little anxious about moving in my seat or coughing, similar to when I am seeing a theater piece in a small room.
After entering the stage, the musicians sat at their assigned places. They started using their instruments. I remembered all the times I had seen this exact action in popular media and in televised concerts. However, even having studied music, I could not explain what exactly they were doing, and I assumed they were tuning their instruments. Regarding the different musicians, they were of all ages (probably 20-60) and genders. I was astonished at how young some of them were. One particular musicians sitting just a the front on the right seemed in his early twenties. I understand it takes great skill and training to be able to play in an orchestra, especially one such as the Koninklijk Concertgebouworkest. It was thus impressive to see young musicians, close to my own age, on the stage. Moreover, there were both males and females on the stage, although the main focuses (conductor, first violin, pianist, and composers) were all male. All men were dressed in a black tailcoat suit with a white bow tie and glossed black derbies. Women, however, were dressed differently. They were each wearing their own attire: black dresses, skirts, or pants, and black derbies.
Soon after the musicians had positioned themselves, the conductor entered under strong applause from the audience. He was looking at the audience and smiling, already slightly bowing to the crowd. I was somewhat confused at the coming and going of the conductor. He seemed to enter and exit at unexpected moments during the whole concert. At that moment, after entering, he then left to come inside again a few seconds later accompanied by an additional musician. The newcomer was welcomed with a praise and he sat down at the front to his left. I assumed from previous basic knowledge of orchestras that he was the first chair violin. They positioned themselves to begin with the first piece of the night, Sostenuto by Wolfgang Rihm, as the audience grew quiet and still. Afterwards they would perform Pianoconcert in G majeur (Allegramente; Adagio assai; Presto) by Maurice Ravel and, after the break, Symphonie in d (Lento. Allegro non troppo; Allegretto; Finale. Allegro non troppo) by César Franck. Throughout the concert the conductor would re-enter before each piece accompanied by the main musicians. This included the first violin, and the pianist performing the second piece.
During the pieces, my thoughts wandered. As soon as they started playing, I was extremely impressed by the musicians’ skill. I found myself wishing to observe more closely and be able to understand exactly the movements creating the sounds. They all seemed so very focused on their own instruments; and yet, only one melody was conveyed to the audience. I was impressed both by their individual playing skill and by the coordination of all their music together. During the Maurice Ravel piece particularly, I was hypnotized by the large grand piano. From our seats we could see the reflection of the inside of the piano, and thus I observed the rapid rate at which the various keys were being hit. My wonder when faced particularly with this instrument might be influenced by my own learning of the piano. Indeed, I reflected on how difficult playing this instrument, and especially such an important mature piece, must be. Moreover, the pianist was not only performing on his own, but also connecting with the rest of the musicians. I experienced it as a brilliantly executed discussion between the piano and the rest of the instruments.
Furthermore, there was a feeling that the music was conveyed and linked beautifully to the public. It appeared to me as if every member of the audience was in the same state of wonder and quiet astonished listening. I equated that to a narrative being told to a public, although probably a different one in each person’s mind. I myself, when I was not focusing on the musicians and their practice, was absorbed and touched by the music. As is normal, there were variations in the music, i.e., the piano would go slower, or all the instruments played loudly in unison. Through the different textures in sound, I felt different things, whether it was shivers, joy, energy, or slight unease. Moreover, the music evoked several ideas in my mind. It transported me, as if I was alone with it, meditating, in a dream-like manner. In this way I felt the most how my experiences previous to the concert affected my perceptions. I had had a stressful exam week, and the concert felt like a pause, filled with emotions, and which was overall extremely positive.
In addition, the whole feeling of a holistic experience was empathized by the conductor. In this regard, I felt the most the difference with my previous experiences having attended solo concerts. As I observed him, especially during the last and third piece by César Franck, I noted all the different curious movements he was making. Very simple gestures were reflected in the music and a flow in the orchestra sound was created (e.g., if he was facing the right side of the orchestra and suddenly turned to the left and gestured with his hands, I could feel the sound of the instruments playing on the right go while they grew louder on the left). I wondered about what each of them meant, and about what he heard in the resulting sound. Indeed, his work entails perfect musicality and it seems difficult to me, observing him, to fully comprehend what is invisible. It was as if he was playing the musicians. The orchestra was wired like a clock, every instrument played its part in the music, and yet I could still distinguish the different factions. I also questioned whether I would notice a difference if one musician made a slight mistake, or if I was listening to a less experienced or renowned orchestra or conductor.
Furthermore, I wondered about what the musicians and the conductor were thinking and feeling as they were playing. The conductor notably expressed contentment and excitement. Especially during the César Franck, and during the call-backs, he was not neutral in his expressions. He even seemed to exchange some private looks with his musicians. The musicians also showed various expressions, but it was not possible to know their thoughts. I also noted sometimes exchanges of inside looks between the orchestra members. In that manner they showed a group dynamic and an enjoyment of performing the music. During the in-between clapping from the audience I even observed how two of them were talking and seemed to be happily laughing at each other’s comments.
At the end of each piece, the audience would clap enthusiastically. Personally, I did not know when to clap. Along with Leia, we were surprised when the music stopped (in between different parts of the same piece) and almost nobody clapped. After the first time, most people who had clapped, and ourselves, had understood the audience was only supposed to clap in between the three pieces. We did not know prior to this the rules of decorum involved in classical musical concerts.
At the very end of the concert, there was more coming and going of the conductor and of the main musicians. They bowed and received flowers. They received so many flowers that they even had a surplus which they then themselves gifted to the other musicians. I noted that the musician to whom the flowers had been relegated to did not seem to want them either, and passed them on in their turn to another musician who also seemed uneasy. I thought it was funny and interesting, and wondered about the reason for the behaviour. This all happened under thunderous applause from the public. The audience was very responsive and gave them a long standing ovation. Some even wooed them to express their appreciation. Upon such enthusiasm, the conductor played for two additional ‘call-back’ short pieces. I sensed a feeling of euphoria in the audience following this decision.
Finally, the whole orchestra bowed again under the applause of their public, before exiting. The concert hall was lively with movement and discussion again as the public also left slowly. Whether in the hall or in the foyer, people seemed to linger to discuss and enjoy the moment. Part of the experience of going to a concert seemed to me inherently social. Already during the break people met each other and discussed in a warm and positive atmosphere, maybe even over a drink. While the concert itself is a time for quiet and self experience, the time outside that, including before the concert in the foyer, seemed to be about sharing and meeting. Personally, I was very excited and wished to discuss everything about the moment with the people I was with and get their own perspectives. I even unexpectedly encountered a friend from Maastricht. On the way back to Maastricht me and the people I had attended the concert with discussed our impressions and reflections: we were still feeling the excitement and wonder of the music we had heard. Notably, Leia and I discussed how the whole experience allowed us to understand better the concept of Musicking described by Christopher Smalls (1998). I believe it is during the orchestra concert with all its different aspects and parts that the holistic notion of Musicking is best felt. I personally perceived a connection between everyone present there, all gathered together by the musical practice.