Visiting Canadian researcher Julie Orlando takes student Phillip Ranieri through singing with different emotions.
Visiting Canadian researcher Julie Orlando takes student Phillip Ranieri through singing with different emotions. Rob Wright

How singers orchestrate emotions

RESEARCHERS are putting Coffs Harbour singers to the test, trying to work out how vocalists convey emotions in their performances.

A visiting fellow from the University of Northern British Columbia in Prince George, Canada, Julie Orlando is working closely with psychology researchers in Southern Cross University’s (SCU) School of Health and Human Sciences.

“I am a senior lab instructor in the psychology department at home and my personal background is in music and music theatre.

“My Masters degree brought these two things together and then the opportunity arose to come here and continue that research,” Ms Orlando said.

Her project, which will involve singers from the Coffs Harbour Regional Conservatorium, will look at how emotions are conveyed through song.

“I have a number of singers who are going to perform pieces of music with specific emotive intents – for example to convey happiness or sadness.

“I will be playing these performances back to volunteer participants and then have the participants rate the emotions they observe to see if they have the same emotional interpretation as intended by the singers.

“We want to be able to identify whether the signers have been successful in conveying the emotions.

“Once we have completed this first stage we will be able to investigate further what influences the response to a song, whether that is the sound or the facial expressions for example.

Associate Professor Rick van der Zwan, from SCU’s School of Health and Human Sciences said this was an exciting new project.

“Non-verbal cues to how we are feeling are much more difficult to control than things that we say.

“Music is an emotive medium and understanding how it is that performers convey emotions will help us unlock what cues are important,” Professor van der Zwan said.

“This is the first step in understanding how the human brain processes not just music, but the content of music.”


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