Music on the Brain: It’s Not Just for the Birds

The early 20th century Danish linguist Otto Jesperson wrote “In the beginning was the voice. Voice is sounding breath, the audible sign of life.” No matter how remote or isolated, there is no human culture that does not sing. The earliest songs were likely individualistic and improvisatory, an imitation of the sounds heard in nature, and while it is unknown when vocalization of meaningful, communicative sounds began, singing was no doubt a crucial step in the development of spoken language. Neuroscientist and Zuckerman Institute principal investigator Dr. Sarah Woolley’s research of song birds is helping decode how the brain interprets sound — and what happens during development when those sounds are disrupted.

Join the Zuckerman Institute’s 2019 Artist-in-Residence jazz pianist/composer Helen Sung and Dr. Woolley for a special evening discussing her latest research highlighted by jazz music inspired “by the birds.”

Music on the Brain is a collaboration between the National Jazz Museum in Harlem and Columbia University’s Zuckerman Institute with the support of Jazz Foundation of America.

Helen Sung

Helen Sung is an acclaimed pianist/composer. Winner of a 2021 Guggenheim Fellowship, she has served on the faculties of the Juilliard School, Berklee College of Music, and Columbia University, where she was the inaugural jazz artist-in-residence at the Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute. Based in New York City, Helen maintains a schedule of performing/touring, teaching, and recording: her latest project Quartet+, made possible by a NYFA NYC Women’s Fund grant, was released on Sunnyside Records in September 2021. In addition to her own band, Helen has performed with such luminaries as Clark Terry, Ron Carter, Wayne Shorter, Regina Carter, Terri Lyne Carrington, and fine ensembles including the Mingus Big Band and Cecile McLorin Salvant’s Ogresse. Helen is a Steinway Artist.

Sarah Woolley

Sarah Woolley is a Principal Investigator at Columbia’s Zuckerman Institute and a co-director of the Center for Integrative Animal Behavior. Dr. Woolley received her bachelor’s degree in biology and psychology from the University of Colorado Boulder. She holds a Ph.D. in neuroscience and behavior from the University of Washington School of Medicine. In 2014, she became an elected member of the Kavli Institute for Brain Science and Principal Investigator at the Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute. Her research is supported by the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health, and Columbia Research Initiatives in Science & Engineering (RISE). Dr. Woolley has helped decode how the brain interprets vocalizations — and what happens during development when those sounds are disrupted. By studying how experience and brain circuits interact to give songbirds their unusual capacity to communicate via song, Dr. Woolley is also gaining insight into what happens when vocal communication is impaired. Her research could shed important light on developmental disorders associated with speech and communication.

Thu, Apr 25
7:00 pm

National Jazz Museum in Harlem

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