The Sound of Science

Inaugural Northwestern music therapy conference brings together neuroscientists, clinicians, and artists to explore healing potential of song

By Roger AndersonMarch 19, 2018

Last summer, with an orchestra behind her and opera great Renée Fleming to her right, Nina Kraus began to serenade the Kennedy Center audience with science.

“That event showed me how the intersection of music and the way the brain makes sense of sound can bring individuals from the arts and sciences together in new ways,” says Kraus, Hugh Knowles Professor in the School of Communication and director of Northwestern’s Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory.

Cosponsored by the National Institutes of Health, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Kennedy Center, “Music and the Mind” held last June in Washington, DC, combined artistic performances with presentations by leading scientists to explore music’s interaction with the brain and potential implications for music therapy. 

The event also served as a springboard for Northwestern’s first-ever Music Therapy Conference, to be held May 11 on the Evanston campus. Presenters will discuss issues relevant to clinicians, faculty from the humanities and sciences, clinicians, musicians, therapists, and sound artists. The general public is also invited to attend. In recent years, music therapy has emerged as an internationally recognized approach to the treatment of medical disorders such as dementia, stroke, post-traumatic stress disorder, autism, movement and emotional disorders.

“My expertise is not in music therapy and that makes me that much more excited to attend this event,” says Kraus, who is directing the conference. “The daylong event will bring together experts on autism, movement disorders, economics, music, brain health, and interventions in disaster recovery, and will highlight how music can be used at the intersection of medicine, society, and our personal lives."

Under Kraus’ direction, researchers at the Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory are studying musicians from childhood to old age and discovering how memory, attention, and everyday sound-based activities, such as listening to speech in noise, are altered in the musician’s brain.

The Conference on Music Therapy aims to generate awareness and excitement about this under-utilized intervention in human health. It also promotes collaborations for team science to advance the knowledge base for helping those who may benefit from music therapy. The event is sponsored by the Knowles Hearing Center, NAMM Foundation, Music Institute of Chicago, and the D’Addario Foundation, as well as Northwestern’s School of Communication, Bienen School of Music, Office of the President, the Roxelyn and Richard Pepper Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, and the Sound Arts and Industries master’s program.

Registration is required.

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