The Toronto Symphony Orchestra (TSO) Visual Listening Guide is a new way for people to discover a symphonic masterwork in a visually engaging and comprehensible manner, regardless of one's musical background. Created by musicologist Dr. Hannah Chan-Hartley, the Guide’s blend of graphics, colour, and text aims to help listeners structure their aural experience—and thus enrich their understanding—of the music. The Guide is not a comprehensive representation of the musical score, but rather, is like a map of important sonic landmarks, showing when the main musical themes are presented, developed, and recur, thus leading listeners through the overall structure of a symphonic work.
The Visual Listening Guide was introduced into the TSO’s house programme book, “Key”, (of which Dr. Chan-Hartley is managing editor), beginning with the 2015/16 season, as part of the book’s redesign to make it more integral to the live concert experience. Aimed to encourage audience engagement beyond the reading of traditional text-based programme notes, the Guide is intended for use in “real time” during a live performance (or later, at one’s leisure, with recordings).
Eight Visual Listening Guides were created for the TSO’s 2015/16 season (Beethoven Symphony No. 5, Debussy “La mer”, Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 6 “Pathétique”, Mozart Symphony No. 41 “Jupiter”, Berlioz “Symphonie fantastique”, Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 4, Brahms Symphony No. 4, and Beethoven Symphony No. 3 “Eroica”). Eight more Guides will be released over the course of the 2016/17 season (those completed so far include Dvořák Symphony No. 9 “New World”, Sibelius Symphony No. 7, Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 5, Mozart Symphony No. 40, and Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 5 “Emperor”).
The Visual Listening Guide has garnered much international interest from the classical music and graphic design industries, including acclaim from Creative Review, DesignEdge Canada, Classic FM, and WXQR. It recently received a 2016 Kantar Information is Beautiful Bronze Community Award (based on public vote) for excellence and beauty in data visualization.
What the nominator wrote:
The visualisation of music has long been the dream and fascination of the musical world. From video games to synthesis study, from multi-media concerts to Disney's Fantasia series, man has spared no effort in making listening experience a feast for the eye, and graphics a reference to the music. But none has made it so serious and vivid as TSO Visual Listening Guide. Developed by a musicologist, the Guide has struck a delicate balance between knowledge and accessibility, fun and comprehension. It offers a scholarly rendition of the structure of a music piece where colours indicate themes, and dashes and dots indicate the up and downs of a musical line. The guide acts as a loyal and amusing companion to the actual listening experience, be it live or recorded, for music lovers and students alike to understand the basic structure of a piece with a glance or two. The TSO Visual Listening Guide is strongly promoted and publicised by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra within the online community, reaching people far beyond Canada. It makes music appreciation more accessible in a user-friendly way to the general public.