mutual tuning-in.


pat metheny, side-eye tour, orchestra hall, detroit, michigan

detroit symphony orchestra paradise jazz series

october 2021

amazing experience

We’re all familiar with the sense of wonder and joy we experience when we hear a song or piece of music we love, but there’s something even more magical about hearing that song performed live. Although many artists offered streamed performances online during the pandemic, these didn’t quite leave us with the same enchanted feelings as concerts. So what makes live music different? Columbia associate music professor Mariusz Kozak explains why live music is so powerful.

Live music allows us to experience what philosopher Alfred Schütz called a “mutual tuning-in.” This term refers to the phenomenon where we experience the passage of time and emotions with others. This is part of the reason humans need social interaction to thrive. When we attend a concert, we’re experiencing the tone of the music—fast, slow, happy, sad—with others around us. This creates a sense of intimacy with the crowd around us. This is also why research shows that babies who are bounced in time to music with an adult display more altruism towards that person.

This pleasurable effect gained from synchronizing with those around us is what makes live music and dance so powerful. Although most people probably relate to this feeling when remembering their favorite concert, this feeling is not limited to conventional music. It can also be experienced through collective visual synchronization. In the deaf community, facial gestures and movements are to convey emotions in music performance. The collective interpretation of the emotions behind these facial gestures also promotes a sense of unity.

The Blackfeet in North America use the same word to refer to music, dance, and ceremony, indicating the essential role of gathering to fully appreciate the benefits of music. Close friends can even experience this synchronization when walking or talking together.

Experiencing music in the presence of others cultivates a feeling of unity and empathy within us which exceeds anything we could experience by ourselves. As we head back to in-person concerts and relish this feeling once again, know that the true power of the music you’re hearing might not come from the artist, but in fact your fellow concert goers.

– Mariusz Kozak, Associate Professor of Music and Music Theory, Columbia University


41 responses »

  1. such truth – as a musician/singer/music fan (all of them on a very low level but huge enthusiasm) I totally agree. One of our choirs gave their latest concerts last week and it was such an intimate experience. Only 40 instead of the usual 70+ singers, no bought-in soloists, ‘only’ the music with a tremendous pianist and a wonderful conductor – it was a feast on earth and unforgettable. No conserve (sorry, tinned/canned music) can ever match an imperfect but ‘coming-from-the-soul’ music.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I love the concept explained here but my experiences were completely different. I did not like the pushing and shoving of the crowds, the beer breath and body odour. It actually ruined the concert for me. When I was able to be apart from the crowd but near, I did enjoy the concert.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. For most of my life I’ve been one of the lives in live music. Performing is very much part of how I define myself. The experience of unity and togetherness is intense for the artists too. The whole room creates its own light. Great post. Metheny has been a self-given gift to the world.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Haven’t heard the name Pat Metheny in ages but was reminded instantly that he had a song I loved. Had to look it up. See one-of-a-kind “The Last Train” home on YouTube. I’ve only been to two concerts in my life (never anyone to go with) but the second one was memorable — Billy Joel and Elton John together in their Face to Face tour. Fabulous.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. One of the beauties of activities like concerts and sporting events is one when looks around you see all kinds of colors and ethnicities enjoying it together. I also recall the feeling of kinship when I see another person wearing a t-shirt to a concert we both attended.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Nothing beats hearing music live! It’s far more than the music itself. Honestly, I feel the same way about seeing art live, and children hearing books read aloud live. Even a sporting event live.

    Liked by 2 people

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