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Learning from National Music Associations: Movement and Musicality 

Esther Lanting 

In June 2019, the American String Teachers Association (ASTA) Journal published a study titled “The Relationships Between High-Level Violin Performers’ Movement and Evaluators’ Perception of Musicality.” While accordions are not string instruments, many orchestral accordion transcriptions have 1st and 2nd Accordion parts emulating the violin and viola sections of an orchestra. Still, what drew me to this article was not that accordionists may play violin and viola lines but rather the general idea of movement and musicality.  

I’ve never been much of a “mover” when I play accordion, but I’ve been intrigued watching Michael Bridge’s movement while he performs a concert. And at last year’s ATG Festival as the UMKC Ensemble did their concert, I whispered to the person next to me, “Notice how Betty Jo Simon’s and Jane Christison’s body movement is right in sync with the other.” Perhaps there was something important to learn from this study about movement in general while performing. And, indeed, there was. 

In the study above, researchers Katarzyna A. Bugaj, (College of Music, Florida State University), James Mick (Ithaca College, New York), and Alice-Ann Darrow (Florida State University) examined possible relationships between the extent of musicians’ movement during performance and evaluators’ perceptions of their musicality. Their findings suggest that even accomplished musicians are subject to evaluation biases based on stage presence and physical behaviors such as movement.

The results of the study support the premise that increased movement garners higher expressivity ratings. The implications of this are that movement is an important part of a live musical performance for both soloists and groups, and it does affect the perceptions of the audience.

Movement allows performers to convey musical factors such as expressivity, emotional characteristics, and musical characteristics such as style and form. In addition, movement allows musicians to communicate their musical intentions to each other while performing as a group, which also contributes to an audience’s musical perceptions of the performance. 

Movement is one of the numerous factors that has the potential to influence an audience’s perception of a musical performance. Over forty years ago, research had already demonstrated that music perception and physical actions are related and mutually influenced.

Understanding that movements impact an audience, can help musicians and ensembles to be freer in their expression of movement. From this study, we know that performer movement 

increases audience engagement, appreciation, and perceptions of performances. 

Michael Bridge, Betty Jo Simon, and Jane Christison have modeled this very well.

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