U of S and symphony capture brains on music

University of Saskatchewan researchers are trying to answer key questions about the benefits of music by peering deep into the brains of performers with the Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra.

Performance to screen brainwave data of violinists

A violinist with the Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra plays while connected to an EEG that is measuring his brainwave activity. The results will be broadcast to an audience at a performance later this month.

Music soothes the heart and brings people together, but how?

It's a question that researchers at the University of Saskatchewan are trying to answer by peering deep into the brains of violinists with the Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra.

I am always curious about what's happening in our brains.- Eric Paetkau


"You will see a depiction of each person's brain," promised U of S assistant psychology professor Janeen Loehr in an interview with CBC Radio's Saskatoon Morning.

"The colours represent the degree to which the performers are focused on themselves versus focusing on the rest of the group."

Brainwaves live in concert

The brain activity will be broadcast to a live audience up on a screen and synched with the symphony as it performs on opening night later this month in Saskatoon.

"I am always curious about what's happening in our brains," said SSO musical director Eric Paetkau.

The brain activity was recorded earlier as U of S researchers used an electroencephalogram, or EEG, connected to four SSO violinists as they played Élan by Canadian composer Derek Charke.

There is a lot going on in this study. The goal, Loehr explained, is to understand not just the emotional impact music can have on the listener, but also on the performer, and how individual musicians are able to co-ordinate their efforts and achieve harmony.

"This idea that we can make this link between synchrony between musicians during performance and changes in brain activity that are linked to benefits of music performance hasn't been looked at before."

Eric Paetkau, left, the SSO's musical director and U of S assistant professor Janeen Loehr say they are excited to show the audience what happens in the brains of musicians as they perform together. (CBC)

SSO musical director 'enthralled'

"Oh wow, there actually is a lot more to this," said Paetkau.

"We are emotionally involved; whether we like the piece or not," he added. "There is some part of us that is emotionally involved … of course it's not just for the audience; it's about how our brain reacts to this or changed I guess in certain ways."

On opening night, U of S researchers will be there to answer questions, and the EEG equipment will be on hand to give music lovers a sense of how the data was collected. The SSO is promising a night that will leave the audience "thinking differently about classical music and how you listen to it."

With files from Saskatoon Morning

About the Author

Danny Kerslake is an award-winning journalist who has worked in radio stations across Western Canada. In his career with CBC Saskatchewan, Danny has reported from every corner of the province and has lived and worked in Saskatoon, Regina and Prince Albert. Danny is a newsreader and digital AP for CBC Saskatoon.