What Happens to the Words? Choristers and Audience Members Perceptions of Texted Choral Music

James F. Daugherty

Abstract


The purpose of this investigation was to survey perceptions of choral singers (N=289) and audience members (N=89) in two natural contexts (actual choral rehearsals, actual concert performances) with respect to their remembered focus immediately after singing or listening to live performances of selected choral compositions, as identified by participants agreement or disagreement with statements of five identified theories of music-text relationships gleaned from neuropsychological and philosophical studies. This particular investigation, in other words, treated these five theoretical constructs as hypotheses and assessed broadly their potential explanatory capacity by asking these 378 participants, in effect, to what extent their self-reported, remembered focus (music, lyrics, or some configuration thereof) conformed to what various philosophers and neuropsychologists have proposed would be the case.
One of five compositions from available repertoire was sung or heard before each survey administration. Participants selected one construct best descriptive of their remembered focus while the choir was singing. Significant differences (p<.01) obtained in (a) distribution of descriptor responses in each administration, (b) comparison of chorister and auditor responses to the same composition, and (c) comparison of response distributions over three administrations with the same ensemble using different compositions. No significant differences were found according to demographic variables of sex, voice part sung, age, musical experience, or prior language study, though some sex-specific trends were noted.
Results indicated that (a) choral music-text relationship was likely composition or genre specific among participants surveyed, (b) descriptors of music-text relationship were generally shared as a whole by choral ensembles surveyed, and (c) choristers and auditors possibly perceived music-text relationships differently. It was noted, however, that in no case did participants appear to ignore either the lyrics or the music altogether. Results were discussed in terms of limitations of the study and avenues for future research, particularly in terms of music-text integration in choral settings, a need for dialogue between philosophers of music and neuropsychologists, and the implications of such dialogue for the philosophy and practice of choral music education.

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