Emotion in Music and the Singing Voice

How do opera singers express emotion? Experts break it down and a performer demonstrates.

Event Details


swissnex San Francisco
730 Montgomery St., San Francisco, 94111 United States


May 16, 2013 from 7:30 am to 11:15 am America/Los Angeles (UTC-07:00)


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Session 3: Emerging Technologies in Music Research May 17 at 8:30 pm

Session 4: Film, Emotion, and Neuroscience May 17 at 1:15 pm

Voice and Strings: Conversations in Music May 16 at 7:00 pm

Meanderings May 17 at 7:00 pm

Feel the Music: NightLife May 9 at 6:00 pm

Snowsteps and Steffen Schmidt at ArtpadSF May 18 7:30 pm


Singing is found in all cultures. It is a powerful form of artistic expression that carries emotional weight. In Session 1 of “Feel the Music,” a forum on music and emotions, learn how opera singers use various techniques to express emotion, and experience a live demonstration of these strategies. Speakers compare the similarities and differences between the speaking and singing voice with regard to feelings and address the general challenges and opportunities of studying music and emotion.


8:30 am

registration and coffee

9:00 am

introductory remarks

Klaus Scherer, Director, Swiss Center for Affective Sciences, University of Geneva, and Christian Simm, Director, swissnex San Francisco

9:15 am

Emotion and Music: A Basic Affective Science Perspective

Robert Levenson, professor of psychology, University of California, Berkeley.

9:45 am

Heavenly Voices – The Expression of Emotion in Operatic Singing

Klaus Scherer, Director, Swiss Center for Affective Sciences, University of Geneva

10:15 am

 coffee Break

10:45 am

 What is Operatic Emotion?

James Davies, Assistant Professor of Music, University of California, Berkeley

11:15 am

 A singer’s perspective

Indre Viskontas, opera singer; professor, San Francisco Conservatory of Music; co-host of the science podcast Point of Inquiry. And Adam Flowers, tenor, San Francisco Opera Chorus.

11:45 am

 panel discussion and audience Q&A with moderator Klaus Scherer

12:30 pm

 lunch and networking


Robert Levenson

Robert W. Levenson received his doctorate from Vanderbilt University in clinical psychology. He is currently a professor in the department of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley. He currently serves as the director of the Institute for Personality and Social Research and of the clinical science program. He studies human emotion, focusing on the organization of physiological, behavioral, and subjective systems, the ways that these systems are impacted by neuropathology, normal aging, and culture, and the role that emotions play in the maintenance and disruption of committed relationships. He also is an avid musician, playing in several Bay Area jazz and rock bands and serving as conductor and musical director of the Albany Jazz Band.


Klaus Scherer

Klaus Scherer obtained a doctorate from Harvard University in 1970. He became a professor of social psychology at the University of Giessen in Germany. From 1985 to 2008, Klaus Scherer was a professor of psychology at the University of Geneva and the director of the Human Assessment Centre (Laboratoire d’Evaluation Psychologique). He is now a professor emeritus at the University of Geneva and the director of the Swiss Center for Affective Sciences. His research focuses on emotion. He has edited several collected volumes and handbooks and co-edits the “Affective Science Series” for Oxford University Press. He is a founding co-editor of the journal Emotion.


James Q. Davies

James Q. Davies is an assistant professor of music at the University of California, Berkeley. He trained as a pianist in Johannesburg, Manchester, and London. He spent several years in Cambridge (UK), completing his doctorate on “1829” in 2005. Davies is currently working on a book titled Romantic Anatomies of Performance that explores the political economies of piano-playing hands and operatic voices in Paris and London. He has authored articles and chapters that have appeared in 19th-Century Music, Opera Quarterly, Cambridge Opera Journal, Journal of the Royal Musical Association, Keyboard Perspectives, and The Arts of the Prima Donna in the Long Nineteenth Century.


Indre Viskontas

Indre Viskontas earned a doctorate in cognitive neuroscience from UCLA. She also has a Master of Music from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, where she is currently a professor and teaches aspiring professional musicians how to develop effective practice strategies using the neuroscience of learning and memory. She is a Cognitive Neuroscience Affiliate at the Memory and Aging Center at the University of California, San Francisco. Her scientific work was featured in Oliver Sacks’ best-selling book Musicophilia and in Discover Magazine. She lectures widely on topics ranging from Music and the Brain to the Allure of Mystery. She co-hosts of the popular science podcast Point of Inquiry.


 Adam Flowers

Adam Flowers has performed leading tenor roles and in Opera houses and Symphony halls across North America, Hawaii, and Japan. In July of 2006 he completed a five-year Artist-In-Residency for Opera San Jose, performing over 32 roles including Pinkerton, Manrico, Don Jose, Cavaradossi, Tamino, Nemorino, and Des Grieux. He is currently a member of the San Francisco Opera Chorus.Flowers completed his musical studies and received his B.A. in Creative Arts with a minor in Journalism from San Jose State University and studies voice with Deborah Benedict and Dewey Camp.



Photo: Myleen Hollero

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