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students know who has the third or seventh of a triad, both of which usually require significant adjustments to achieve just intonation, that also can alter their aesthetic distance.

Ask the students questions during rehearsal With the pressures of upcoming performances and finite amounts of rehearsal time, it can be very tempting to forego the time required to ask students meaningful questions about the music. From a classroom management standpoint, proctoring a classroom discussion, particularly with the logistics involved with most ensembles, can be challenging. It can also be well worth the effort. Questions do not need to be abstract or existential, but can be as simple as, “Please raise your hand if you sing/play the melody.” Over time the questions can evolve into more complex items. One of my favorite questions, which does creep into the existential realm, is, “Why do you think the composer would write this particular item in this fashion?” Whatever their responses, it is important to be open to their answers since typically, but not always, this can be a way to decrease the aesthetic distance of the students.

Compare recordings and interpretations of works, including your own

Again, taking the time to listen to music in rehearsals can sometimes fall to the bottom

of our list of priorities. However, when comparing interpretations of works, or even sections of works, hearing other musical opinions often makes us question or reaffirm our own. Further, recording rehearsals and performances then listening to them in class can be very illuminating. Very often it serves as an opportunity to increase the aesthetic distance, because the recording isn’t biased and doesn’t lie. It is objective thus providing students with not only an aesthetic distance alteration, but also an opportunity for authentic assessment.

An educational festival for elementary, middle, and high school students in band, choir, and orchestra

Talk to the audience during a concert As I once explained to my daughter when dining at a local Mexican restaurant when she asked about the bottle of hot sauce on the table, a few drops can literally spice up your meal; too much though can have disastrous consequences. The same is true for interacting with the audience at a concert. Some brief comments offered to the audience about some feature of a piece to be performed, a short playing of an important theme, or just a personal story germane to the piece can be a very effective way of altering the aesthetic distance of your audience. Presumably, you have already done this with your students. While I don’t talk before every piece at a concert, I continue to be surprised by the number of audience members who tell me that they enjoyed a particular remark about a piece or that it helped them to better understand the music. While I know I am in the minority, I think the model which many professional and collegiate conductors employ of not talking to the audience is a mistake. This only serves to increase the distance of our audience at a time when our profession definitely needs our audience to feel connected and invested in what we are doing as musicians and educators.

Conclusion or call:1-855-766-3008

Aesthetics is a branch of philosophy that is concerned with the nature and appreciation of beauty. It can be a daunting subject to consider since its roots stretch back to Aristotle and beyond. However, as esteemed music educator Edward Lisk noted in the previous issue of ala breve, “Through music study, students experience the beauty of musical expression….No other discipline


addresses such ‘living or life priorities’ in the manner which music does.” Attempting to alter the aesthetic distances of our students doesn’t mean we dictate their responses to music; rather it provides students the opportunity to diversify the way in which they experience music. As music educators we have the capability of facilitating and presenting wonderful and artistic performances and musical experiences; carefully and thoughtfully balanced with objective precision and attention to technical details while offering our students, our audiences, and ourselves, the opportunity to be musically and emotionally vulnerable and therefore completely present in each moment. Admittedly, this is a difficult, perhaps even a little scary, but tremendously exciting goal worthy of our continuing efforts.


Ben-Chaim, D. (1984). Distance in the theatre, the aesthetics of audience response. Ann Research Press.

Arbor, MI: UMI

Bullough, E. (1912). ‘Psychical Distance’ as a factor in art and as an aesthetic principle. British Journal of Psychology, 5, 87-117.

Dawson, S. (1961). ‘Distancing’ as an aesthetic principle.

Journal of Philosophy, 39(2), 155-174.

Stewart, D. C. (1975). Aesthetic distance and the composition teacher. College Composition and Communication, 26(3), 238-243.


Dr. Timothy W. Oliver is the Director of Bands and Coordinator of Wind and Percussion Studies at Arkansas State University.

February/March 2015

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