can I evoke a specific feeling?

Is one of the prime purposes of instrumental music to create emotions and feelings? I think so. This suite of “feelings” for ten strings was a self-challenge to see if I could invoke specific, nuanced feelingsI constructed a method by which the audience could tell me what they were feeling during the performance.

See my blog: “Emotions are not the same as Feelings”

Based on the data collected during the performance, the majority of my audience members were not able to identify their feelings. They confused their feelings with observations and judgements about and reactions to their feelings. But most of the time, not the feelings themselves. My results may have resulted from the survey mechanism, or my audience not understanding the directions or confusion about their role in the experiment, but I belive the results had more to do with our modern cultural bias towards analysis and judgement.
To help the audience identify their feelings, a list of . The audience did not experience feelings I intended for each movement: forlorn, ebullient, guilty, ecstatic. Other reasons could be 1) the survey mechanism was not followed , or 2) the survey mechanism was therefore flawed, or 3) the inaccurate, under-rehearsed performance.
The following instructions were listed in the program:
  1. On your phone, go to
  2. type in 89 93 42 (no spaces) and hit Enter
  3. Listen to the music. Allow the music to evoke feelings.
  4. Identify the feeling using the lists (copied from Marshall Rosenberg’s book) Enter them into any or all of the 5 provided text fields. Submit as often as you want.
    1. The list of feelings, from Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication practice, can be accessed in two ways. One list is printed on tonight’s program (included at bottom of this page). The other can be accessed at This may be more convenient since you can scroll through the list and copy (tap and hold) them.
I encouraged the audience to: 1) stop thinking 2)listen 3) look for your reaction to the music for a feeling 4) identify that feeling.

1. forlorn

forlorn | fərˈlôrn| adjective     1 pitifully sad and abandoned or lonely: forlorn figures at bus stops. 2 (of an aim or endeavor) unlikely to succeed or be fulfilled; hopeless: a forlorn attempt to escape.

forlorn: the music

“forlorn” begins with a loud, accented fortissimo sforzando unison with 9 out of ten strings. The unison gets quiet and each instrument slides up to their highest playable pitch. Where the 1st violinist was once a part of a group, the group has left them alone, forlorn. This musician attempts to play a melody but has a hard time completing it. Timid, having to start over and over again, each time progressing only a little further. The theme is a pair of compliment phrases, finally heard completed at letter A.
At letter B, I experimented with a technique to enhance dynamics through the addition and subtraction of instrument at the unison. The group, seeming again to have noticed the forlorn violin came in to support it by playing it’s melody have left again, leaving Violin 1 as it did in the beginning, forlorn.

The audience’s response to “forlorn”

 The most agreed upon post, anticipatory, isn’t a feeling, but rather an observation of their reaction to their feeling, thinking that some kind of resolution was expected. How the listeners actually felt wasn’t quite identified. The second most posted word was tense, which is also an observation of their body state – a word that is closer to a feeling, but is mixed with observation. Their actual feelings may have been anxious, apprehensive, distressed, disturbed, fidgety, irate, irked, irritated, restless, troubled, uncomfortable, uneasy, unhappy, unnerved, unsteady, upset or uptight. The 3rd most posted word for this movement was anxious– which is a true feeling.
  • 26 feelings generated by the music: anxious disturbed unnerved concerned downcast fulfilled intense nervous amused apprehensive sad terrified curious fearful weary stimulated optimistic troubled pleased scared delighted confused eager tranquil anguished ouch (forlorn was my entry)
  • 31 observations/judgements about their feelings: anticipatory anticipation tense watchful goosebumps floating uncertainty distracted unsure trepidation mysterious stress stressed oh-dear centered longing deep lost uncertain melancholy about-to-burst waiting on-edge hopeless expectant gullible used engaged cold wonder open
  • 6 observations about the music: walking-bass bold floaty beautiful stringing-along what

2. ebullient

ebullient | iˈbo͝olyənt, iˈbəlyənt| adjective  1 cheerful and full of energy: she sounded ebullient and happy. 2 archaic (of liquid or matter) boiling or agitated as if boiling: misted and ebullient seas.

ebullient: the music

This second movement of feelings for 10 Strings more than any other movement was scored to take advantage of directional space. Throughout, figures move from left to right and right to left to make spatial movement a thematic element. The first of these figures appears in the opening bars, as 3 16th notes pizzicatos that move from Violi L1 to Violin L2, Violin R2 and Violin R1. An original element of the figures included a quick glissando on the third pizz. This was taken out for performance to improve intonation and rhythmic accuracy (not to mention playability!). I thought the gliss would add a bubbly element, a happy, funny ‘boing-boing’ sound. The pizz changes, giving way to hammer-on slurs and pull-offs, not common in the string literature, but made common by guitar music. That seemed to present little problem. Another important figure presented early in the piece was a fluid run of scalar material in 32nd notes under a single bow. Finally, the idea of sticking to a single major key center for a while – then moving from it up or down a half-step by surprise  – becomes apparent in the 4th bar. This happens quite often throughout the movement.
The introduction material takes us to the first melody, heard in the low strings: a set of 16th notes that start of on the 3rd of the home key triad, and expand via neighbor tones into a statement of the home triad. The melody statement does not continue, and the music goes back to the building of energetic short ideas, repeated, which is the predominate development of this movement.
At D, a new element of rapid multi-octave arpeggios are added to the texture, as well as the next statement of the melody. The textures build in dynamic energy until E where a fragment of the main melody idea is repeated in low strings tutti, playing with the half-step tonal center shifts. At F, new contrasting music consisting of a rhythmic, guitar-like strumming of chords in the violins accompanied by block triadic harmonies in the low strings.
These materials continue to build in intensity and a climbing tessitura until the end, where a solid C major chord is expected, but where we get a surprise Db major chord, instead. I thought this ending was really funny.

ebullient: The audience responses

The most posted word for this movement was celebration, which is an observation about the music – since we don’t feel celebration but observe and react to it. The next most posted words for this movement was energized – which is version of the feeling energetic, playful andhappy. 29 feelings were posted, the rest of the posts were not as useful.
  • 29 feelings generated by the music: playful happy moved jittery proud enthusiastic gleeful curious invigorated joyous effervescent involved bubbly good-humored euphoric nervous carefree excited confident hopeful alive eager dazzled invigorated enthused inquisitive astonished breathless grateful adventurous free
  • 46 observations/judgements about their feelings: hyper jovial childish hurry preorgasmic delighted vivacious light-hearted whimsical awake brave focused delirious accomplished motivated exuberant playful engaged distracted groovy giddy live dizzy empowered lit fun distracted caffeinated plucky spirited overstimulated  holiday striving sleepy hype cheeky young mirthful insecure yasssss preoccupied tease touched remembering bow-dacious whole
  • 15 observations about the music: celebration dense morning-market A1 movement busy whirlwind fiddle flowing-stream accelerated steady scattered go deer buildup
  • 2 observations about the event: distracted-by-words look-a-squirrel

3. guilty

guilty | ˈɡiltē| adjective (guiltier, guiltiest) culpable of or responsible for a specified wrongdoing: he was found guilty ofmanslaughter • justly chargeable with a particular fault or error: she was guilty of a serious error of judgment. • conscious of or affected by a feeling of guilt • involving a feeling or a judgment of guilt: a guilty verdict

guilty: the music

This movement 3. guilty, is slow with a pensive intensity. The melody is wide ranging, often as a pentuplet as first heard in the solo viola, agains plodding chords on the beat. That melody is the song of a troubled person. The guilty event/thought that is causing unrest has its own theme, a 4 or 5 note figure: 3 staccato statements of the same pitch followed by a fall of a minor thirdAt the end, most of the ensemble plays the guilty theme at different tempos simultaneously, to create a ‘guilt cloud’. This didn’t quite work out, as the ‘cloud’ effect needed more voices.

“guilty”: audience reactions:

38 feelings were posted, the rest of the posts were not as useful. The audience was getting better at this!
  • 38 feelings generated by the music: peaceful wistful mellow alive weary intrigued despondent serene troubled suspicious gloomy fatigued lonely sorrowful mournful sad irked apprehensive curious hopeful carefree uneasy forlorn confused anxious concerned fearful despairing numb withdrawn calm depressed harried disturbed aloof annoyed afraid scared
  • 56 observations/judgements about their feelings: sadness tired stressed tentative calming pastoral remorseful cautious nostalgic sadly-nostalgic mom morning thinking reflective remembering emptiness sentimental grief haunted contemplating mourning eerie dreading unsure wanting moody detached meditative emptiness unfulfilled awaiting pondering darkness touched grieved candid worry lost anticipation loss disaffected disquieted resistant whimsical praying angst creepy serious empty lost distraught unsettled chill burdened bueno resolved
  • 13 observations about the music: stream sensitive ponderous interesting beautiful moving tenderhearted blue reminiscent nightmares discordant introspective pensive
  • 2 observations about the event: processing courageous
  • ? diasporic gucci gassy whistle

4. ecstatic

ecstatic | ekˈstadik, ikˈstadik| adjective   1 feeling or expressing overwhelming happiness or joyful excitement. 2 involving an experience of mystic self-transcendence.

ecstatic: the music

4. ecstatic uses drone techniques of simple harmonies and a stream of repeated rhythms that I watched win over audiences at Big Ears 2017. The work develops through obvious accumulation and worked well for this feeling.

ecstatic: audience reactions

31 feelings were posted, the rest of the posts were not as useful. Maybe they were getting tired of the fun and games and forgot that this was serious research!
  • 31 feelings generated by the music: happy elated effervescent warm alert proud nervous fascinated wonderful contented buoyant enchanted puzzled exultant adventurous thankful dazzled light grateful hopeful hopeful stimulated enlivened gleeful eager joyful joy snappyhappy love encouraged loving
  • 44 observations/judgements about their feelings: beginnings tense smarter fortunate resolute togetherness spring make-it-happen dreams-to-reality content accomplished amazing fascinated fire victorious purpose lively connected waking-up persistent anticipatory vindicated community determined hope birth focused self-doubting awakened exhilarate alarming victory take-charge expectant able zealous pumped striving energetic excitement birth strong longing spirited
  • 22 observations about the music: journey emergent soaring celebrating shining joyride possibilities impressive Gaelic competent robust accomplished airy busy congratulatory motivation unstoppable freedom beautiful future impressed organized
  • 3 observations about the event: thanks-Keith successful fruitful
  • ? the-bells tomorrow belms bells  run
I’m grateful to Beatriz Ramirez-Belt and Natalie Grata (and F.C.Belt, our conductor) for making this happen, and especially the Alterity Chamber Orchestra musicians’ time and passion.


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