Teresa Marrin Nakra (founder and president)
Immersion Music, Inc.
392 Main Street Haverhill, MA 01830
617-686-4898 (phone)
teresa@immersionmusic.org

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measuring emotion at the Boston Symphony Orchestra

see Music Perception Journal Vol. 32, No. 2, December 2014

In a first-of-its-kind experiment in April 2006, a team of scientists deployed a large-scale technical experiment in a live concert of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Researchers attached electrophysiological sensors to conductor Keith Lockhart, five members of the orchestra, and fifteen audience members, to measure their emotional reactions during a live concert in Boston's Symphony Hall. In addition, 32 audience members adjusted slider boxes in real time to indicate their emotional experience during the concert, which featured four pieces by Mozart and two by Robert Kapilow. A remote audience was similarly wired up in June 2006 at McGill's Tanna Schulich Hall, and experienced a high quality video and audio recording of the concert.

Working from an hypothesis that emotion, in the form of affective energy, is communicated and contagiously conveyed through the medium of a musical performance, the experiment was designed to reveal some of the mechanisms of communication between conductor, musicians, and audience. During the concert, many sensors (EMG, EKG, GSR, accelerometers) were worn by conductor Keith Lockhart in an updated version of the Conductor's Jacket. A month later, a high-resolution video of the concert was played at McGill University and another set of audience data was recorded. This project resulted in several research publications, an was featured in several television newscasts and an episode of State of the Arts by NJN (New Jersey Public Television):


This project was a large-scale collaboration led by Daniel Levitin of McGill University and Teresa Marrin Nakra of Immersion Music and TCNJ. The BSO team was led by Myran Parker-Brass, Director of the Office of Education and Community Outreach. Additional technical contributions were made by Gianluca DeLuca, Douglas Dione, Yuri Ivanov, and Jahangir Nakra.

The experiment was designed to address the following research questions:
1) To track the communication of emotion over time from the conductor, to the musicians, and finally to the audience.
2) To quantify differences in arousal and impact between being at a live concert and seeing a broadcast of one.
3) To characterize and quantify any differences in emotional levels and type of emotion experienced from the conductor to the musicians and the musicians to the audience.

This project was generously supported by Delsys Inc., Thought Technologies, Body Media Inc., and by grants from VRQ, CFI and SSHRC.