Optimal performance requires a relaxed concentration which is incompatible with experiencing certain emotions (Juslin, 2009). This research aimed to explore the extent to which performers emotionally engage with music during a solo recital, from the performer’s perspective.
The research project was a qualitative study, using interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA). The research participants consisted of eight concert pianists (four students and four professionals), each of whom performed solo recitals lasting 60 -70 minutes. The pianists were interviewed by means of semi-structured, in-depth interviews immediately after their performances. The interview data was collated from the semi-final round of the 2011 National University of South Africa (UNISA) piano competition (student pianists), and professional performances in South African concert halls in 2011/2012 (professional pianists).
The results suggested that the performers experienced two categories of emotions during performance: musical emotions which relate to the emotional content of the music, and performance-related emotions which relate to the performance circumstances. Musical emotions appeared significantly more complex and nuanced than emotions experienced in an everyday context. Performers preferred to represent musical emotions perceived to be in the score rather than experience them directly (induced) during performance. The performers maintained strict emotional control during performance, as excessive musical and performance-related emotions impacted negatively on a performance.
An intense dialogue evolved between performer and composer when preparing for a performance. This manifested in performance as a stage persona, and was experienced by performers as a cognitive-emotive duality. During optimal performance, the performers appeared to transcend reality and enter a “zone”, or state of altered consciousness. The heightened elation experienced by the performers when in the zone was synonymous with a state of Flow (Csíkszentmihályi, 1990). Several factors facilitated or inhibited musical Flow, but did not guarantee its occurrence.
In conclusion, the research suggests that the performers’ engagement with musical emotions (perceived and induced) during performance is incidental and does not play a significant role either in the successful representation of musical emotions, or the performer’s experience during performance. The euphoric “high” which performers experience during optimal performance does not relate to musical emotions, but reflects rather the altered state of consciousness experienced during Flow.
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