Effect of Virtual Reality Exposure on Eye Contact, Directional Focus, and Focus of Attention of Novice Wind Band Conductors

Article excerpt

Abstract

The study examined the effect of virtual reality immersion on eye contact, directional focus and focus of attention of thirty-eight undergraduate conductors. Subsequent to pretest conducting of a live ensemble, experimental groups were immersed in a virtual ensemble environment with (n = 13) or without (n = 12) motion-tracking. Control participants (n = 13) received no virtual reality exposure. All participants completed focus of attention questionnaires and live ensemble posttest conducting. Results showed a significant increase (p < .001) in mean eye contact and directional focus from pre to posttest for all groups; however, there was no significant difference among groups, nor was there a significant interaction (p > .05). While nonsignificant, questionnaire analyses showed virtual reality participants with motion-tracking focused their attention more on eye contact than participants of the other groups. Results should help guide future decisions regarding appropriate adaptations of virtual reality for music teaching and learning.

Effect of Virtual Reality Exposure on Eye Contact, Directional

Focus, and Focus of Attention of Novice Wind Band Conductors

Professional conductors, musicians, practitioners, and music education researchers have all identified conductor eye contact with the ensemble as a necessary skill for effective rehearsals and performance. While there appears to be almost universal agreement that more rather than less eye contact by the conductor is desirable, differing rationales can be found addressing why this is the case. Many explanations are provided as advice from experts, while others are the result of empirical investigations. Regardless of the knowledge source, it appears that eye contact is generally regarded as a primary and effectual means of nonverbal communication for the ensemble conductor.

When referring to this mode of communication, experts describe eye contact as necessary for delivering expressive intentions (Bakaleinikoff, 1938; Rudolf, 1995), establishing psychological "closeness" and added control over the ensemble (Bakaleinikoff, 1938; Blahnik, 1968), a general enhancement of communication (Koshak, 1985; Mills, 1980), effectual conducting (Wickes, 1978), and as an important method of cuing (Green, 1992). Since communication in its most simplistic form requires a message sent and received, conductor eye contact in this context would require eye contact by the performer(s) as well. However, while not disagreeing with eye contact as a means of communication, McBeth (1990) provided a different and intriguing reason for a conductor maintaining eye contact with an ensemble when he stated that ". . . the eye and ear do not work together. Once the eye goes to the page, the ears shut down about 40% (p.l I)." When considering how to acquire this skill, most experts seem to believe there is a direct relationship between the ability of the conductor to maintain eye contact with the ensemble and the conductor's knowledge or memorization of the score (Battisti, 1988).

Empirical research methods have been used to investigate recognition of and preference for eye contact, effect of eye contact, effective means of increasing eye contact, and occurrence of eye contact under varied conditions. Fredrickson (1992) presented a review of the empirical research on eye contact covering both nonverbal communication and social ramifications, along with its implications for conductors. In his review of nonverbal communication as it relates to conducting, Ostling (1997) cites research that shows the expression of the eyes can be understood without direct eye contact, thus he concludes that direct eye contact is unnecessary in some conducting situations. However, Julian (1989) states in his review of nonverbal communication literature that "[t]he conductor, likewise, shuts himself/herself off from a group and diminishes communication without direct eye contact (p. …