Classical singers judged by actions not voice

Never mind the quality of the singer's voice, audiences judge performances on what they see rather than what they hear, according to a new study.

Natalie Wheen's Great Performers, Classic FM

When it comes to classical singing, actions are louder than words; a new study suggests audiences judge performances according to a singer's stage presence, rather than their voice.

Dr Chia-Jung Tsay of University College London gave 886 volunteers recordings of top three performances in international singing competitions, measuring their responses to video-only recordings, audio-only recordings, and recordings with both sound and pictures. Passion, drama, and emotion - some of the key aspects of a successful performance - were more easily picked up in a singer's facial expressions and actions than their voice.

The participants held a wide range of musical abilities, from musical novices to professional performers. Only 20.5% correctly identified the competition winners from their voices alone, compared with 46.6% who guessed correctly based on silent videos.

Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences , the results highlight our natural dependence on visual cues, and how visual information has a powerful effect on our day-to-day lives.

Dr Tsay said: “It’s unsettling to find – and for musicians not to know – that they themselves relegate the sound of music to the role of noise.”

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