Monkey See, Monkey Do? The Effect of Nonverbal Conductor Lip Rounding on Visual and Acoustic Measures of Singers’ Lip Postures
If singers, without prior prompting, mimicked a conductor’s nonverbal behavior and if this mimicry changed their vocal sound in less than a second, then such a phenomenon could interest vocal music teachers as a time-efficient pedagogical strategy. We tested this claim (“What they see, you will get”), which appears in choral methods literature, by measuring visual and acoustic responses to one nonverbal conductor behavior in a particular singing context. Specifically, we sought to determine whether singers (N = 114) performing the first phrase of Mozart’s motet, “Ave Verum Corpus,” would mimic a conductor’s rounded lip posture on two /u/ vowels. We also wondered whether conductor lip rounding affected these singers’ tone quality. Visual measures (within-subjects photo comparisons and photo grid analyses) indicated that more than 90% of participants displayed more lip rounding on both /u/ vowels in the experimental condition as compared with baseline. Formant frequency profiles indicated that more than 90% of singers lowered all four examined formant frequencies each time the conductor rounded his lips. We discussed these converging visual and acoustic data in terms of the study’s limitations, potential pedagogical implications of mimicry by vocal performers, and directions for future research.