Saturday, June 5, 2010


The word persona comes from the Greek for mask, specifically the ones actors wore in dramas. Somewhere along the line I remember seeing that besides hiding the face, they somehow altered the voice of the actor as well.

 ~~~ Update - Just checked Wikipedia and found:
This is an Italian word that derives from the Latin for a kind of mask made to resonate with the voice of the actor (per sonare meaning "to sound through").

The latin word derived from the Etruscan word "phersu", with the same meaning, and its meaning in the latter Roman period changed to indicate a "character" of a theatrical performance.~~~

In psychology, and I think Jung in particular, persona is the term to describe the face we present to others and how they perceive us. It seems as well a handy term to describe how musicians present themselves to their audience.

Jeffrey Agrell has two great posts up talking about the non-musical aspects of performance here and here that I've read several times and been meaning to post links to. 

Then today came across another of those botox inhibiting emotional intelligence stories here.

"Our facial expressions reveal social context by mirroring expressions of those around us, giving us insight into their emotions, states of mind and future actions," he says. The Botox study, he says, suggests that our facial expressions also guide how we interpret language.

The new findings fit with the increasingly accepted theory that aspects of higher thought, such as language, judgment and memory, are shaped by our bodily sensations and movements, says Paula Niedenthal, a psychologist at Blaise Pascal University in Clermont-Ferrand, France, and a leading scholar on the role of the body in emotion. According to this "embodied" view of cognition, which has gained popularity over the last decade or so, the brain makes sense of the world at least partly by simulating action.

Connecting with an audience while making music means a lot more than simply getting the notes right, and Jeffrey's posts are a great survey of what's involved, and your persona as perceived by the audience is as important as the music itself. Part of what's going on has to do with mirror neurons.

One thing I've noticed recently in working with these ideas and trying to keep a more relaxed and personable face while performing (and practicing) is that my facial expression affects the tone and emotional content of my singing voice way more than I'd realized. It's obvious, really, but a lot about music making is obvious only when you give it some attention.


  1. Most people are not aware of it, but we all have virtual PhD's in reading body language and facial expression. It's easy to lie with words, but it's very difficult to lie with body language, so we always believe what we see rather than what we hear concerning how people are feeling. Think of the chilling retort "Nothing" from your spouse/partner when you ask what's wrong. Your instrument panel is flashing yellow and red warning signals from their body language - pursed lips, crossed arms, turning away, sighing, the whole catastrophe, but they don't or won't confront you directly with it. Actors are trained to use body language make the audience feel a certain way, either enhancing spoken text or creating such dissonances as opposite meanings expressed with words and body language. It's a wonder and a mystery that something this basic is to be found in zero instrumental methods - it's all technique. And then we are astonished when we stand up there and the instrument turns into this treacherous foreign cantankerous lump and there's an elephant on our chest and whatthehell? I practiced and practiced!! Why is this happening? It's too big a topic for here, but the root of the problem is that things that are hard to write down or are part of aural tradition or education are usually omitted in favor of things that are easy to write down (or grade), not matter how important they are. It's up to enlightened teachers to pass on these important unmentioned keys to performance.

  2. Hi, Jeffrey - Thanks for the comment, to which I say, "Yes!" In particular to the, "It's too big a topic for here". Every time I go back and read your posts, all sort of new angles pop up, which is why it took me so long to do this post, which is really just a marker. Thanks again for bringing all that info together and adding your insights. Just being made more fully aware of the issue is a great first step in getting a handle on it.