The concert experience: how we form connections through live music

MU students and professors discuss the impact of live music and their hopes for concert-goers in the future.

Human connection can be found through spending quality time with loved ones, forming meaningful relationships with others, and for some, listening to music. Since these connections are lacking for some throughout the past year, many are yearning for any form of interaction — especially the kind found at a live concert.

At first glance, the chaotic scene of a crowded music venue can be intimidating, but the experience appears to have a hold on people from all backgrounds. The universal art form possesses much power over its respective listeners, who can connect with complete strangers on a vulnerable level, Amy Knopps, a music professor and band director at MU, said.

“Music is the expression of the human condition,” Knopps said. “We connect with the performer, our fellow listeners and enjoy the energy.”

The element of surprise comes into play as well.

“No performances are perfect nor the same. Often the performer will feed off the energy of the listener, which only elevates the performance,” Knopps said.

This not only creates an engaging set for listeners but also builds a bond between the performers and their audience as they sense the emotions and deeper meanings that the performer conveys.

“Seeing my favorite artists perform live brings them to life,” MU sophomore Karsen Erickson Idelman said. “I feel much closer to [the artist] after sharing an experience with them.”

The deeper connections felt by most attendees may have deeper roots. According to a study from Frontiers in Psychology, as adults move synchronously to the beat of music, they are apt to remember more about each other and have greater levels of trust, cooperation and fondness than after moving asynchronously.

A crowded music hall also houses a very intimate experience between fellow audience members.

“There is a shared understanding between us because we have all been affected by the performer in some way,” Idelman said.

For some, the unique experience can not be replicated on a screen in the comfort of a living room with social distancing protocols. Many are seeking safe alternatives, such as rewatching archives of live performances and finding the experience to be underwhelming or simply not the same.

“I believe that music is something that people do; an activity as opposed to an artifact,” Assistant Band Director Christian Noon said. “When people attend live performances, they become as much a part of the activity of music as the performers on the stage.”

According to Frontiers in Psychology, when the sound is stripped down to solely the recording, the piece exhibits less meaning to the listener.

The concert experience is about more than just creating human connection, it is also about reflecting inward and uncovering a deeper understanding of the self.

“The exchange of energy and feedback between performer and audience creates the atmosphere where people can feel deeply connected with themselves,” Noon said.

Music can act as a mediator between self and emotions and even helps individuals overcome their struggles. According to the Frontiers in Psychology study, the therapeutic process is validated by attending a live concert, which is also proven to reduce stress hormones and protect against cognitive decline among attendees.

Despite the pandemic, many still possess hope for normalcy in the future and the continuation of live concerts in order to create and deepen human connection.

“I think it will be a joy that will be more deeply felt than in pre-pandemic music performances,” Noon said. “I think a lot of good can come from that.”

Edited by Angelina Edwards | aedwards@themaneater.com

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