What Can Music Reveal About the Brain? A Symphony of Possibilities

What can music reveal about the brain?

The Global Brain Health Institute (GBHI) with the UCSF Memory and Aging Center (MAC) and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music (SFCM) are investigating this question. On May 5 at the “Future of the Brain Summit: Improving Lives with Breakthrough Approaches to Brain Health,” a special event held by UCSF, they had an opportunity to share their findings.

Speakers Maria Luisa Gorno Tempini, Charles Schwab Distinguished Professor in Dyslexia and Neurodevelopment, GBHI faculty; Bruce Miller, A.W. and Mary Margaret Clausen Distinguished Professor in Neurology, GBHI Co-Director; Bill Seeley, Zander Family Endowed Professor in Neurology, GBHI faculty; and David Stull, President, San Francisco Conservatory of Music, guided the audience on a journey to the intersection of brain health and the arts. 

They shared the story of how a degenerative neurological disorder afflicting two people— French composer Maurice Ravel and Canadian scientist Anne Adams—sparked a dramatic change in their creative work. Also, how Ravel’s mesmerizing Boléro surprisingly connects these two artists separated by an ocean and half a century. The session concluded with a special performance of “Boléro" by the SFCM Chamber Orchestra conducted by Edwin Outwater.

Boon Lead Tee with audience and slide

Atlantic Fellow Boon Lead Tee presents during "Unravelling Bolero" at the San Francisco Conversatory of Music in June 2019. Photo by Elisabeth Fall.

Exploring music, creativity and brain science

In 2019, GBHI, UCSF MAC, and SFCM joined forces to explore the intersection of music, creativity, and brain science. Through an ongoing series of public talks and musical performances, the partnership explores key concepts of brain health equity, including dementia, through the lenses of neuroscience and music. Bringing science and music together can lead to new insights, discoveries, and understandings that neither area would be able to achieve on its own.

Through this innovative collaboration, the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and the Global Brain Health Institute with the UCSF Memory and Aging Center strive to make brain science accessible using the power of music. 

Learn more about the partnership

Learn more about “Unravelling Boléro”