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Music, Emotions and Well-being Conference

International Conference, 20 June 2014,

Robin Brook Centre, Queen Mary University of London

Organised by Penelope Gouk (Manchester), James Kennaway (Newcastle),
Jacomien Prins (Warwick), and Wiebke Thormählen (Royal College of Music)


Louis Moritz, The Music Lesson (1808)

Louis Moritz, The Music Lesson (1808)
Conference theme

Music is commonly treated as an emotional stimulant that can calm, console or energise. That music can and frequently does contribute to an individual's sense of well-being is commonly accepted. This relationship between music, the emotions and well-being has been studied from two different perspectives. It has been the subject of historical investigations problematizing what emotions are and exploring historically variant practices of using music as an emotional tool. Secondly, studies by psychologists and, increasingly, by neurologists have produced exciting results by measuring music's effect on the emotions in physiological terms that appear universal and a-historical. We aim to bring these two seemingly incompatible views of music's emotional effects together to search for research strategies that can incorporate ideas of cultural conditioning into scientific research methods. As such, the symposium addresses both the role and potential of music in well-being, but it also raises the bar for medical humanities by investigating how its research areas can impact on research questions and strategies beyond the humanities. Delegates will present their views from the fields of neurology, cognitive psychology, music therapy, history and musicology. The symposium will be based on pre-circulated papers to allow maximum discussion time.


In this interdisciplinary research symposium we will bring together historians, musicologists, psychologists, music therapists, and neuroscientists, to look beyond influential yet often un-theorized views of music and ‘emotion’ to explore how music can function as a strategic tool in establishing individual well-being. The relationship between music, the body and the nervous system is the subject of intense interest both in a medical context and in the humanities. While neurologists have researched the impact of music on the brain, musicologists have rediscovered the significance of music's physical effects in historical and present-day contexts.

These investigations into music's relationship with emotions and with well-being fall broadly into two categories: scientific understandings of music's emotional effects commonly take both music and emotions as unproblematic, universal categories; while historical approaches show these categories to be culturally contingent. This duality is entrenched in different methodological approaches which appear to necessitate the duality, yet at the heart of the opposition lies a fundamental discrepancy between different disciplinary groups' modes of understanding data.

We aim to question the duality's necessity and explore new ways to merge research questions by investigating how postmodern theories of social and historical conditioning can influence the formulation of scientific research questions. Through this symposium we aim to further an understanding of each field's research questions and methods, and to explore new collaborative projects.  

Practical information 

Location: Queen Mary University of London: Bainbridge Seminar Room, 2nd floor in the Robin Brook Centre, St Bartolomews Hospital, London EC1A 7BE . You will find a map, showing the location of the Robin Brook Centre (number 2 on the map, which is very near the Barts Pathology Museum) together with the necessary practical information, on the following website:

Registration: PARTICIPATION IS FREE OF CHARGE BUT REGISTRATION IS REQUIRED. Registration is at a first come, first served basis and space is limited! To book a place please visit:

Conference Programme  here

Conference Abstracts here

Conference Flyer here

Review of the event by Penelope Gouk in Remedia: The History of Medicine in Dialogue with its Present (24 July 2014): here

Conference Organisers: Penelope Gouk (Manchester), James Kennaway (Newcastle), Jacomien Prins (Warwick), and Wiebke Thormählen (RCM)

Contact: For any other queries, please contact us on the following e-mail address:

Supported by:

Wellcome Trust +++ Society for the Social History of Medicine (SSHM) +++ The Royal Music Association (RMA)

Institute of Advanced Study (IAS), University of Warwick +++ Centre for the Study of the Renaissance (CSR), University of Warwick

Centre for the History of the Emotions, Department of History, Queen Mary, University of London +++ Music & Letters Trust 

IAS logo wellcome_trust.jpg Renaissance Logo R symbol-thumbnail sshm logo
Queen Mary London Music and Letters Royal Musical Association