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Music and Childhood Development

Music and Childhood Development… Recent announcements have positioned the University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music as a leader in research about the role that music plays in childhood development.

This fall, USC Thornton announced that Peter Webster, professor emeritus and director of the PhD program in Music Education at Northwestern University’s Bienen School of Music, will join the Thornton faculty in Fall 2013.

“Peter Webster is an acknowledged leader in the area of musical creativity in children,” said Robert Cutietta, Dean of the USC Thornton School of Music.  “We are thrilled to welcome him to Thornton.”

In July, USC Thornton announced a groundbreaking new partnership with the USC Brain and Creativity Institute (BCI) led by Hanna and Antonio Demasio, the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association (LA Phil), and Heart of Los Angeles (HOLA) to investigate the emotional, social, and cognitive effects of musical training on childhood brain development.

Beatriz Ilari, assistant professor of Music Education at USC Thornton, and Assal Habibi of the USC Brain and Creativity Institute, designed the five-year project, which will give USC researchers an opportunity to provide new insights and add rigorous data to an emerging discussion about the role of early music engagement in learning and brain function.

“I’ve been doing research with children for more than 10 years, but this opportunity to research the brain is new to me.  The exchange has been very rich and very interesting,” said Ilari, who joined the Thornton faculty in 2011.  “Habibi is a neuroscientist and pianist who also worked with children, and with Antonio and Hanna Demasio’s encouragement, we designed the study.  Our goal is to look at a population that would represent Los Angeles and seldom appears in music psychology and science literature.”

In September 2012, neuroscientists at the the USC Brain & Creativity Institute and music educators at USC Thornton began working with students in the Heart of LA’s Youth Orchestra (YOLA).  The project, which began with students who are about six years old and encountering musical training for the first time, will provide critical data on how intense musical training affects brain development in children.

“With the new study, new faculty, and the new partnership with the USC Brain & Creativity Institute, the Music Education program is poised for spectacular growth,” said Cutietta.  “Thornton is in a great position to lead the research of childhood musical development for years to come.”

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