In one of my favorite letters of all time, Thomas Jefferson wrote to Maria Cosway about a debate between his head and his heart. If you are not familiar, I encourage you to read the letter written by one of the great masters of the power of the word. In the spirit of this debate, I would like to share with ScienceBlogs readers an account of a personal special event. Yes, ScienceBlogs is about the logic of our heads, but sometimes the heart has something to say. There is a connection with science: namely, the importance of acoustics in our lives. Music has touched each of us in various ways. But the way we receive this gift can be damaging. Indeed, the Norwegian Rock 'n Roll Federation planned to "distribute 100,000 earplugs at rock concerts, so fans can enjoy the loud music and still hear what's said after the show." Based upon a recent concert with my young daughter, I believe this campaign is well founded. What do you think?
Below is my account:
Driving home from a Justin Bieber concert (November 17, Izod Center, NJ) to which I brought my daughter to celebrate her birthday, I thought to myself "I am officially old". In my "pre-children" days, I reveled in live concerts, ranging from Peter Gabriel, 10,000 Maniacs (before Natalie Merchant went solo) and Sinead O'Conner, to Jessye Norman, Itzhak Perlman and Isaac Stern, to name a few -- yes, I am through and through a music lover whether pop or classical.
Nothing substitutes the organic connection between audience and performer; no medium competes, whether it is an LP, CD, mp3 or iPod. Knowing that live performances can still fill arenas like the Izod Center (capacity 20,000) makes me feel good, regardless of who's performing. It was a pure delight to experience vicariously the joy of that immediacy with my daughter -- it was her first concert.
Even though I am far removed from the intended audience of teens and "tweens," I can understand the allure of Justin Bieber's performance. He presents himself with utter simplicity and authenticity -- you can tell he's having fun, sharing his born talent. Much of it, unsurprisingly, was clichÃ© -- dance moves reminiscent of Michael Jackson (whose music was played during costume changes); Bieber sings timeless love songs of which audiences seem to have an insatiable appetite.
"Any girls out there?" he asked coyingly. "Any single girls? Lonely girls?"
Does the sun not rise everyday? But he delivers his songs with purity of voice and with an authenticity necessary to connect with an audience.
Every artist wants to connect with their audience. Some famously hurl themselves into the crowd, inviting their fans to catch the fall with their adoring and faithful hands and might. But Bieber used a different approach. He asked the crowd, "Is this cool?" as he strapped himself into a huge heart-shaped apparatus reminiscent of a swing set (Intentional? Videos of his first tentative musical performances as a toddler are shown during intermission). It lifts him high above the crowd, allowing him to perform acoustic songs with his guitar as he rotates back and forth giving each portion of the arena a moment of his personal attention, floating with his music amidst a roar of screaming girls (and maybe a few moms and dads).
At first, my daughter seemed to be overwhelmed by the experience -- after all, the average decibels at a pop concert is 115, the same level as sand blasting ( and an approaching subway train is about 95 decibels). I brought her ear plugs which she willing used after the first two opening acts -- don't worry, you can appreciate the performance perfectly well without auditory damage. But Bieber's acoustic, rotating performance released her from her reticence. She became fully engaged along with the thousands of fans, joining them in raising hands, swaying, singing and yelping -- a single, larger being emerged beginning with an individual's experience of the performance, becoming something bigger, something more meaningful: pure joy.
It was in this moment that I felt Justin Bieber's simple message: "You know why I like when you smile?" he asked the crowd, "Because it makes me smile."
I feel like a King when I make my daughter smile. Imagine how a performer feels when they accomplish that for 20,000 fans.
A version of this article was originally published on The Huffington Post.
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