Can Musicians Affect the Music Preferences of their Audiences?
The Effect of Pre-Performance Informational Presentations on Music Preference

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An investigation explored the influence of pre-performance informational presentations on audience preference for classical piano works. Using a latin-square experimental design, three treatments were compared: (N) no introduction of musical work, (ID) introduction of musical work by discussion, and (IP) introduction of musical work by a short dramatic play involving audience members. Subjects were students (lower elementary, upper elementary, middle school, and high school groups; n = 48, 48, 78, and 255, respectively) and audiences at four concerts open to the public (n = 253).

Results showed that, for the aggregate of all audiences studied, works receiving treatment ID received a significantly higher preference rating than works receiving treatment N. For the aggregate of elementary and middle-school audiences, treatment N was associated with the lowest preference ratings, ID produced higher preference ratings, and IP produced the highest preference ratings. The difference (ID + IP) - N was significant but ID - IP was non-significant.

Response of different age groups to the treatments was investigated. For audiences at public concerts, the results were consistent with the aging stability model of attitude change, which posits a steady decrease in attitude changeability with age. For school groups, younger students showed more response to treatment ID than older students; this finding did not rise to the level of significance but does suggest that the impressionable years model of attitude change (a strong hardening of musical attitude after the impressionable years, approx. age 10-13) may apply to school groups.

School groups' aggregate response to treatment ID was significantly lower than that of concert audiences of similar age; the difference may be attributable to the fact that recital audiences were self-selected and interested in classical music. Different age school groups responded differently to treatments ID and IP, suggesting that matching the type of presentation to the interest and capacity of each age group increases effectiveness.

Reasons are put forward for the hardening of musical attitudes over the lifespan: the neural network model of learning suggests that decreasing changeability of attitude over time is necessary for the development of discriminating taste. Yet, a very slow decrease in this changeability of attitude is preferable for developing both broader and more accurate knowledge. Implications of this and other findings are discussed from the point of view of both the music educator and of the music performer.

General Discussion

The results of this research show that

1. It is possible to affect the music preference of audience members and students, at least in the short term. The changes in music preference are different for various subgroups but, in general, modest in size.

2. Activities that involve audience members actively can be somewhat more effective than simple lectures. Activities used and concepts presented should be appropriate to a particular audience's interests and cognitive level.

3. With school audiences, performers and educators should strongly consider using introductory activities. In these groups, introductory activities always increased preference ratings, either by smaller or larger amounts, so it appears that introductory activities are likely to be helpful in many situations and unlikely to be harmful.

4. For some subgroups within the recital audience, informational presentations cause a decrease in music preference ratings. With such audiences, a different type of presentation may need to be developed. Many audience members expressed a preference for brief comments; perhaps these audiences prefer no spoken presentations at all (although free-form comments by audience members seem generally supportive of the idea of spoken presentations during concerts).

5. Some groups are more receptive to introductory comments and the effect on their music preference is greater. In general, the younger the audience member, the more music preference may be swayed. Those who self-select as being more interested in the particular style of music will be more likely to have their music preference increased (above its presumably already high level). Those who have a pre-existing social connection with the performer may be more swayed by the performer's comments.

6. For the musical works and treatments studied, response of school groups seems to fit the impressionable years model of music attitude, with students approximately age 14 and younger more open to influences on the music preferences and students approximately age 15 and older quite set in their preferences.

7. For the musical works and treatments studied, the response of recital audiences seems to fit the aging stability model of music attitude. Audience members age 6-40 were all quite open to influences on their music preferences and only above age 40 were musical opinions set and unchangeable.