Songs without borders: complex interpretative song worlds and the audiences that inhabit them

Campbell, Stewart (2022). Songs without borders: complex interpretative song worlds and the audiences that inhabit them. University of Birmingham. Ph.D.

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The genre of music commonly referred to as art song often elicits emotionally charged responses in accounts of audience experiences. However, scholarship has largely neglected the object of inquiry where these responses and experiences materialise: the live art song event. The principal research task in this study is to investigate audience experience of live art song events in the UK. The audiences and events at the centre of this inquiry coalesce around the work of the art song promoter Oxford Lieder. Using a mixed method approach (questionnaire, diary methods and guided interviews), statistical and thematic analysis, and Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis, is applied to a dataset that utilises 82 individual participants’ experiences of live art song events, including regular attendees and those experiencing live art song for the first time.

To frame the findings of this inquiry, this study establishes the concept of complex interpretative song worlds: defined as a collection of interactions that audience members draw upon to construct their experience of live art song events, through a dynamic and multi-faceted interplay with the system of possibilities afforded by live art song environments. In this study, complex interpretative song world theorising takes place across three levels of audiencing:

(1) Interactions with the live art song domain (the norms, behaviours, and conventions of live art song environments) are gathered under three themes. Collecting activity sees a desire for participants to scrutinise song objects, embrace familiar artists and repertoire, and adopt a connoisseur-like approach to knowledge acquisition. Connecting activity reveals a prized sense of close psycho-social resonance, which takes place between songs, performers, spaces and everyday experiences. Venerating activity foregrounds a view of songs as inviolable objects, where perceived changes to songs are deemed heretical by some, examined through the (re)introduction of sung English translations into the live art song corpus.

(2) Interactions with live art song objects (the lexical and musical features that make up songs) reveal the ways audience members process words and music, and prioritise either, or both features during live art song events. The presentation of these materials in ways that blur senses (sights and sounds), and time (before, during, and after performances), are shown to be as additive to audience member conceptualisations of the nature of lexical-musical relationships as they are disruptive.

(3) Interactions with live art song actors (performers, producers, and audiences) reveal processes of role formation at work, where vocal acts, non-vocal acts, and fixed and non-fixed traits complicate the way audience members derive impressions of performers. Art song’s hybridity as a genre, which is not a dramatic form, yet ‘not not’ a dramatic form, reveals the imbricated way audience members construct identities of performers: as professional musicians; as human beings; and as inhabitants of roles defined textually through a song’s poetic content.

This interdisciplinary study draws predominantly on three overlapping areas of scholarship, and makes new contributions to knowledge in all three. For musicology, this inquiry develops deeper understandings of live art song objects to complement the hegemony of hermeneutic, musico-analytical and historiographical research that typifies much of the existing art song literature. For audience studies, these findings provide new audiencing insights, by examining an art form not yet analysed by empirical audience research methods, and one that simultaneously combines both words and music as a mode of expression. For translation theory, this inquiry responds to calls within the existing literature for more research to understand the reception of translation in music. This study also generates dividends outside of the academy, providing new insights for performers and promoters of art song to inform approaches to programming, presentation, production, marketing and audience development.

Type of Work: Thesis (Doctorates > Ph.D.)
Award Type: Doctorates > Ph.D.
Licence: All rights reserved
College/Faculty: Colleges (2008 onwards) > College of Arts & Law
School or Department: School of Languages, Cultures, Art History and Music, Department of Modern Languages
Funders: Arts and Humanities Research Council
Subjects: M Music and Books on Music > M Music


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