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Music and the mind

If you hear a well known piece of music being played slightly off key at the University of Aberdeen next month it is meant to sound that way.

It will be a highly acclaimed violinist, lecturer and broadcaster attempting to illustrate what is happening in the minds of people with dementia.

The unusual performance will feature in a public lecture being given by Professor Paul Robertson, who is a firm believer in the role of music as a therapy for people with conditions like dementia, as well as their carers.

In his performance, the founder leader of the internationally acclaimed Medici String Quartet plays a recognised piece of music on his violin out of tune to give an insight into the altered perceptions of people with Alzheimer’s disease.

The Professor is in no doubt that music can unlock memories where recollections appear locked away, temporarily helping to reconnect people suffering from dementia, at least while the music is playing. This in turn, has benefits for their carers.

The internationally recognised musician has spent more than two decades working alongside leading scientists, exploring the neurological and scientific basis of music. This work reached a wider audience with his much lauded Channel 4 television series Music and the Mind, which was an exploration into the healing power of music.

Professor Robertson said: “I have long been fascinated with how it is that music carries meaning. Why do we have music, what purpose it serves, why we are moved by music, how it evokes memory, why people are more open and communicative when music making, how early do we establish musicality and why?

“I started to explore all of that and I began to realise that if you can lift the lid on music itself then it can provide a map of how the whole human being is constructed – the brain, the body, the emotions that go into music making.”

Professor Robertson will give some vivid examples of the healing power of music in his talk which, along with performances on his violin, will be interspersed with musical bursts from CDs, as well as film clips.

Footage shown will illustrate how music can help people in a clinical setting as well as those in other contexts, such as societies which are fragmented by war.

Professor Robertson will also explore the monumental role music plays in our lives, often at a subconscious level.

The Professor always travels with his rare 17th Century Montagnana violin which he will play during the evening.

He said: “I’m likely to do something which tracks the role of music in our lives from before we are born to our death – how music underscores life even though most of us are not aware of it.“

Professor Ian Booth, Director of the University’s Institute of Medical Sciences, invited Professor Robertson to appear in Aberdeen after he heard the musician on the radio discussing his innovative project Swansongs - a moving musical and storytelling production which gives an insight into Alzheimer’s disease.

Professor Booth said: “Professor Robertson is an inspirational speaker. Alzheimer’s disease is something that is likely to touch all of us at some stage of our lives, whether it is observing the disease in a loved one or a close friend or relative.

“Understanding how patients feel and react is as important as searching for a cure. Professor Robertson’s work in this area provides us with an important avenue to understand the disease and its consequences.”

Music: A Journey in the Mind is a free event which begins at the Elphinstone Hall at 7pm on October 10. Refreshments will be served beforehand, from 6.15pm onwards, accompanied by live University music.

Professor Robertson added: “I hope people will go away with a greater appreciation and regard for the significance and potentiality of music. I also hope people will give themselves permission to “attend” to music just a little more often.”

To book free tickets for Music: A Journey in the Mind please contact the University’s Institute of Medical Sciences reception on (01224) 555700 or email

* Professor Robertson is also doing a more scientific talk aimed at University staff in the Auditorium of the University’s Polwarth Building at 4pm on October 10.

To arrange an interview with Professor Paul Robertson please contact Maggie Banks on (01789) 262333. A jpeg of Professor Robertson is available – contact Jennifer Phillips in the University’s Communications Office to arrange – (01224) 273174.

To speak to Professor Ian Booth please contact Jennifer Phillips (01224) 273174.

Further information about Professor Robertson’s work can be found on: and

Professor Paul Robertson, founder leader of the Medici String Quartet for nearly 35 years, is Artistic Director of the Music Mind Spirit Trust and is an eminent international lecturer, performer and broadcaster.

He holds many positions and titles, which include Fellow to the Royal Society of Arts, visiting Professor to the Universities of Kingston and Bournemouth, adviser to a number of research groups in universities worldwide, and he is also a member of the European Cultural Parliament.


Notes to Editors

Issued by the Communications Team, Office of External Affairs, University of Aberdeen, King's College, Aberdeen. Tel: (01224) 272014.

Issued on: Wednesday 14th of September 2005

Ref: 1783music
Contact: Jennifer Phillips

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