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Centre for Music and Science


Musics, selves and societies: a workshop

Musics, selves and societies:

the roles of music in effecting change

A Workshop at the Faculty of Music, University of Cambridge, 25-26 June 2018

"Music is a form of living, influencing and influenced by every other form of living"

Diserens and Fine (1926)

Music has been held to have profound effects on selves and on societies, from Plato and Confucius to the present day.

In recent years, music's effects on our cognitive functioning, on our emotional worlds, and on our experience of the social world have been subject to an increasing amount of scientific research, with results supporting the view that music can have significant consequences in all three domains.

There is also a growing acceptance, largely impelled by an ever more substantial weight of evidence, of music's value as a therapeutic and clinical tool.

At the same time, music is more and more marginalised within our education systems; funding for the arts is radically reduced; and there is mounting pressure on practitioners and researchers to adapt to a utilitarian agenda in which music's value is reducible to its direct benefits to the economy as a component of the cultural and creative industries.

This tension between views of music as valuable primarily in economic terms, and music as having values that can extend into almost all domains of human life, is a primary motivation for a two-day workshop, which is the culmination of a three-year project — funded by the Sir John Templeton Foundation — exploring a potential role for music in enhancing empathy in children (see

The workshop brought together researchers and practitioners to explore theory, research and evidence on whether, and how, music can effect individual and social change. It considered the following three questions:

  1. Can music effect individual and/or social change, and what evidence is there pro or contra?
  2. What types of beneficial changes can it generate and how durable are those changes?
  3. How can we harness music's powers for change?

Over the two days of the workshop, panel presentations and intensive discussions involved a wide range of world-leading practitioners and researchers centring on music's effects and roles in the domains of education, therapy and social action, concluding with a session on how public policy should and might be developed in the light of the evidence and preceding discussions. Participants included: Karen Burland; Pam Burnard; Jörg Fachner; Fabia Franco; Satinder Gill; Assal Habibi; Tommi Himberg; Jillian Hogan; Beatriz Ilari; Kathryn Jourdan; Elaine King; Miriam Lense; Ori Leshman; Marion Long; Psyche Loui; Ray MacDonald; Clemens Maidhof; Sam Mehr; Susanne Metzner; Nikki Moran; Adam Ockelford; Helen Odell-Miller; Stephanie Pitts; Simon Procter; Suvi Saarikallio; Cat Snodin; Lauren Stewart; Alex Street; Martine van Puyvelde; Jonna Vuoskoski; Katey Warran; Joe Watt; Graham Welch; Matthew Woolhouse; and Ann Wright.

The programme and position paper abstracts can be accessed through the links below.



Ian Cross, Tal-Chen Rabinowitch and Rebecca Whiteman, Workshop organizers