What does seeing the performer add? It depends on musical style, amount of stage behavior, and audience expertise
The purpose of this study was to examine the effects of musical style, amount of stage behavior, audience expertise, and modality of presentation on structural, emotional, and summary ratings of piano performances. Twenty-four musically trained and 24 untrained participants rated two-minute excerpts of pieces by Bach, Chopin, and Copland, each performed by the same pianist, who was asked to vary his stage behavior from minimal to natural to exaggerated. Participants rated the performances under either audio-only or audiovisual conditions. The composer’s style had a consistently strong effect on the performance evaluations, highlighting the importance of careful repertoire selection. Moreover, the preferred degree of stage behavior depended on the style. The interaction between expertise, modality, and stage behavior revealed that non-musicians perceived differences across the three degrees of stage behavior only audiovisually and not in the audio-only condition. In contrast, musicians perceived these differences under both audiovisual and audio-only conditions, with the lowest ratings for minimal stage behavior. This suggests that varying the degree of stage behavior altered the quality of the performance. In addition, participants were asked to select two emotions that best characterized each performance. They preferentially chose more subtle emotions from Hevner’s (1936) Adjective Circle over the five general emotions of happiness, sadness, anger, fear, and tenderness traditionally used in music cognition studies, suggesting that these five emotions are less apt to describe the emotions conveyed through musical performance.