Music is an essential component in any serious conference programme. Scientific research has shown that music activates certain areas of the brain and provides a feeling of fellowship.
Illustration © iStock.lekkyjustdoit
Music at a meeting is not just for fun or as part of a cultural programme. There is increasing evidence that music affects the perception of a conference. A musical touch frees endorphins and enhances the experience of fellowship. Live instrumental music works best here and that is, therefore, also the most important trend.
The influence of music on human beings appears to go much further than we previously thought possible. According to several American studies in recent years, music therapy can ensure that the brain creates new connections around damaged brain tissue. The most famous success story is the healing of the American Congresswoman, Gabrielle Giffords. She was shot in the head and music therapy has made a significant contribution to her healing. By working with music, she regained her ability to talk and she is now back at work in the House of Representatives.
Activating the brain
Meagan Hughes is a music consultant / therapist and has worked at the University of San Francisco. Currently, Leiden is her home base. “When you listen to music, certain parts of your brain are activated. This also happens with the participants at a conference when music is part of the programme. If the sounds are pleasing to them, that frees endorphins which increases their sense of happiness. That works well, for example, at a meeting where the intention is to motivate the participants for something. Experiencing music together can also increase the feeling of solidarity.”
“Companies that I advise often now have music turned on at the beginning of a small meeting; at, for example, a management team meeting. And that often comes from just a simple hi-fi set. Even that can provide more solidarity, for example when decisions have to made on topics where opinions are divided. Live music actually works even better because it stimulates more senses. The experience is more intense.”
Tuning in together
But what kind of music is the best to offer and at which moments during the conference?
Hughes: “In general, instrumental music works best. Sung text, can actually limit the listener in his perception of the music to the content of what is being sung. With instrumental music, your perception and your association can be allowed to run free. Optionally, you can choose music with lyrics in a language that most people in the Netherlands do not understand; Swedish, Italian or whatever. Music works individually the best if falls within the taste of the listener, at least a bit. Mainstream music is therefore the safest bet for a large group. For a motivational meeting, something rhythmic is also good. Body and spirit of the whole group are then attuned to the same rhythm.”
According to Hughes, music works well at the beginning of a session: “It sounds very inviting if you walk into a room and there’s music playing. After the word of welcome, it can also work well. That gets everyone in the mood right away. A musical interlude during a break is also an effective choice. Apart from all the benefits of music, it helps to shift your senses after listening to all those, most probably, serious speeches. ”
Not as a finale
Leon Kruitwagen, who is also the director of the Society for Event Managers and Platform Museum Locations advises not to programme music at the end of a conference.
“If, after a long, intensive conference day, you are confronted with three pieces of music on the conference stage, it no longer works. At the end, people just want to go home. You can certainly have it during drinks, but not so loud that people cannot understand each other. Then it backfires completely.”
Kruitwagen has also experienced what music can do. He held his New Year’s gathering this year in the music Mecca of the Netherlands, the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam. “Music did not have a supporting role here, it was the main attraction. First coffee, then a beautiful Mozart piano concerto and then lunch. I heard from many people – and I also experienced it myself – that the atmosphere was even better after the concert. If you see and/or hear beautiful art, it changes you. You experienced a moment of quiet together.”
“That applies, as far as I am concerned, also to art. The previous New Year’s gathering was in the Rijksmuseum. Both the music this year and the art last year were overwhelming. Beautiful and splendid for everyone. It does not need to be your style. You can always listen to a Mozart concerto as a professional and know it very well composed and performed. Thus, you can experience it in different ways; emotionally or technically, or both. But you do it together. And such a collective experience is also a bonding experience.”