Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Participatory vs. Presentational Performances

Until reading Thomas Turino's Music As Social Life, I was unaware that there was a classification for music-making other than genres. The book talked about participatory, presentation, high fidelity, and studio audio art music-making. I found the contrast between presentation and participatory to be the most interesting as well as the two types I associate with most.

Participatory music-making is my favorite, hands down. I'm a very visual and active learner. I've always been drawn towards music, dancing, and singing. This may have come from my siblings and me having dance parties in our kitchen growing up. It was not an uncommon occurrence for me to join along in song and dance with the radio, a band, or another group of people dancing/singing. For me, (almost) all types of music-making are participatory.

The thing that I found the most interesting yet sad was more cosmopolitan areas/countries don't emphasize participatory music. In areas of the world such as South America and Africa, participatory music is an integral part of their culture and celebrations. Those cosmopolitan areas prefer presentational performances; they solely want to be entertained. Although I do enjoy presentational music-making, I still manage to make it participatory for myself. Either I know the production or group that is performing and I start participating in my own way. Of course, I don't become obnoxious with my participation because I'm still restricted by the social norms of presentational performances.

I find it disheartening that we've lost the desire to favor participatory music. In some areas you can find it, but for the vast majority of the U.S. you won't. I know that many people do not like participatory performances because they're unrehearsed, impromptu times of music-making that "stifle" the progression and ingenuity of artists. Even though this may be true in some cases, I think you'd be hard pressed to find someone who would speak negatively of their participatory performance music-making. This is because participatory music-making is designed to welcome all levels of talent yet still provide a simple, challenging engagement for everyone.

Presentational performances do the opposite. Yes, an individual or group can better express their musical talents, but the pressure and expectations of presentational performances are much greater than participatory. Many artists never make the transition to presentational performances for this reason. As a presentational performer, you are subject to critiques and feedback from your audience. I've performed on numerous occasions with my choir in high school as well as the band. Even though I was in a large group, the expectation to do well was high. Our shows were exclusively presentational. The weeks leading up to a concert were always filled with lots of rehearsing and tweaking to ensure our performance would be "perfect." It was nice to showcase our work to the community, but I found this type of performing to be my least favorite. Shows were always successful; I just preferred to let loose, be myself, and enjoy the music, which I couldn't do in presentational performances.

I can't rightfully say presentational is better than participatory or vice versa. Each person has their own music-making preferences. I gravitate towards participatory performances yet I enjoy attending presentational performances. It could be suggested that a blending of the two would be beneficial, but I don't think that it would be. It just adds further confusion to the audience as to what they should be doing. Do I just listen or do I need to get up and move? I've been to numerous performances that are of this type--participatory and presentational. I do enjoy the participatory sections; however, they are sometimes distracting. It's also evident in many of the audiences' faces that they were not expecting such a turn of events. The two music-making styles should continue to be somewhat separated. I just hope (wish) that participatory music-making becomes a larger component of our society.


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