While both music and visual art, including video, are powerful art forms in their own rights, both capable of eliciting emotional responses and memories of experiences of artistic work, their affects when combined are even more potent. While research in this area has largely been inconclusive, researchers have suggested that videos do influence a listener’s experience with music in several ways. The way in which this influence is present for a particular musical work depends in part on the type of video that is combined with the music.
In cases where the video is a graphic depiction of the lyrics, the lyrics are more likely to be noticed and more likely to be understood and remembered. In these cases, listeners are also more likely to approve of the meaning or message of the lyrics. In cases where there are no lyrics but only music, such as in classical music, videos tend to graphically represent the narrative. Where there is a preexisting story, as with program music such as The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, or ballet music, such as The Nutcracker, the video presents images that are understood as the story being told. Where there is no preexisting story, as with Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor, or the first movement of Beethoven’s fifth symphony, the video may present abstract images that represent musical events or elements, or it may present more concrete images that superimpose a story upon an otherwise piece of so-called “absolute” music. In these cases, listeners are likely to recall images from the video, or even view the video in their mind when they subsequently only hear the music. For example, many cannot hear Dukas’ The Sorcerer’s Apprentice without recalling the classic segment featuring Mickey Mouse in Walt Disney’s original Fantasia.
Video producers working with students to produce videos of images the children have imagined while listening to a musical work is an exciting prospect.
Researchers who compared responses of listeners to music presented with a video to the same music presented without the video have observed that the listeners without the video tend to give more technical responses, giving details about the structure, form, timbre and other elemental details, whereas the listeners with the video tend to give more narrative details. The use of pictures instead of videos has
yielded similar results. Children who were given music instruction on contour, instrumentation, texture, and expressive elements scored higher on a post test than children given the same instruction but without the pictures. When pictures are used as a way of representing musical form or structure in addition to the sounds of the music, the concepts are attached to both visual and aural memories, strengthening overall comprehension and retention. Younger children also showed a desire to listen to music longer when presented with a video than when music was presented without a video.
Verbal descriptions of music have been tied to kinesthetic and visual responses. People naturally respond to music with movement, and when they are not moving to music, as in a classroom, their descriptions of what they are hearing often incorporate visions of movement manifest in words like dancing, swirling, bouncy, running, jumping, and flying, to mention a few. One can suppose that imagined interpretations of the music can either be enhanced or limited by video, depending on whether the images in the video are similar or the same to the images the listener is imagining. If they are different, given the strength of memories of the video, one could argue that the interpretation given the video replaces that of the individual listener. If they are the same, one could argue that the interpretation given in the video bolsters that of the individual listener. If this is so, then using video as a means for students to express their interpretation of music would be a worthwhile learning activity. Video producers working with students to produce videos of images the children have imagined while listening to a musical work is an exciting prospect.
In a discussion of whether or not presenting videos at classical music concerts is a good idea, the foregoing studies suggest that it would come down to making one of two goals a priority. If the intent were to prolong the time young children will enjoy sitting and listening to music, to present a particular interpretation (as the Disney animators did in the Fantasia movies) or to have older children respond to the narrative aspects of the music, then presenting with a video would seem to be recommended. If, on the other hand, the intent were to encourage listeners to use their own imaginations to interpret and provide visual images of the music, or to respond to the structural and elemental aspects of the music, then presenting the music without a video would seem to be the better choice. Overall, this would lead to the conclusion that videos are best suited for less experienced audiences who would enjoy and benefit from learning how music is interpreted or understood through visual imagery, or how music as narrative can be represented with visual images. Finally, there is one more point that cannot be overlooked. There are times when video with classical music is just plain fun. Sometimes, that is all the reason we should need to include it in our presentations of classical music.
Kerchner, J. L. (2014). Music across the senses: Listening, learning, and making meaning, 147-148.
Colwell, R., Webster, P. R., & MENC, the National Association for Music Education (U.S.). (2011). MENC handbook of research on music learning: Volume 2. New York: Oxford University Press, 31-32.