Rena Sharon

Wall Associate




School of Music





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Rena Sharon

Rena Sharon is a pianist who is one of Canada’s leading collaborative performing artists and piano chamber musicians. She also stands out as one who is deeply interested in knowing what science can offer to an understanding of creative processes and her personal commitment to the relevance of music to the widest range of human conditions and endeavours. She is collaborating with lawyers to explore the keys found in music making that open doors to better interactions between people dealing with differences that require mediation and conciliation. Dr. Sharon is also working with neuroscientists on the theory that what is being learned in the study of the brain gains much from how the process of music making can be tracked to reveal unusual combinations of neural pathways. 

Recently she founded and now directs the Vancouver International Song Institute, a multidisciplinary entity with an annual festival committed to exploring all aspects of texts and musics of the song literature, and how the study and performance of song literature serves the human need to connect one to another.

Dr. Sharon received her undergraduate degree in Music from the Eastman School of Music and her Master of Music in Piano Performance at Indiana University. She taught at the Department of Music, Oklahoma State University, and at the Victoria Conservatory of Music, where she was Head of Collaborative Music before taking up her UBC appointment in 1982. In 2007, she led a Wall Exploratory Workshop, Art Song Anima.

Primary Recipient Awards

Rena Sharon – Arts-Based Initiatives – 2012
Rena Sharon – Distinguished Scholars in Residence – 2011
Dr. Sharon is planning a series of meetings at the Institute to begin identifying problems of image, perception, translation, and communication within the ranks of artist faculty. She hopes this will lead to a more formal workshop to consider ways of including artists in the expanding global interdisciplinary dialogue. Her Scholar in Residence presentation, "Art Song - An Endangered Species?" was given on January 25, 2012.
Rena Sharon – Exploratory Workshops – 2007
This workshop was held Jun 20-23, 2007. Song, the joining of verbal language with the language of pitched frequencies, is a fundamental mode of human expressivity and experiential archive. Its ubiquity suggests a primeval universal instinct with an enigmatic purposefulness. The familiarity of song as part of the social fabric is so natural as to appear unremarkable, and its diminutive structure can suggest insubstantiality. Rather, it comprises an immense store of information in a densely concentrated package: its role as aural chronicle is self-evident, with avenues for humanities studies from philosophy to anthropology, but song is also a container for information about human communication, cognition and neuroscience. Documented therapeutic applications in healthcare scenarios with Alzheimers patients offer intriguing examples of its efficacy and raise questions as to its deeper structure of meaning and usefulness to the brain and well-being.

Co-Principal Investigator Awards

William Forde Thompson – International Visiting Research Scholars – 2019

Known for his warmly inclusive speech style and remarkable skills in presenting complex research, Dr. Thompson will review existing research and theory on how music and other creative arts have been used to nurture social cohesion and community resilience across segments of society. Special attention will be directed towards the benefits of creative arts programs for disadvantaged groups, whether arising from physical or cognitive disability, social exclusion or marginalisation, or both.
Dr Thompson will present a framework for the investigation and promotion of intercultural music engagement (IME), along with an outline of its implications for education and social policy.

Dr. Thompson will bring extensive research insight on the psychosocial and neurological benefits of the creative arts for individuals with physical and cognitive impairment as well as innovative work on how music can impact intercultural understanding, issues related to refugees and recent migrants. Working closely with hosts, Ève Poudrier and Rena Sharon (School of Music), Silke Appel-Cresswell, Jon Stoessl and Robin Hsiung (Medicine-Neurology), and Christina Hoppman (Health Psychology), Dr. Thompson will help foster research and practice initiatives focused on disability and marginalization in multicultural societies, addressing questions of how engagement with the creative arts can increase cultural fluency and facilitate collaboration across individuals and communities.
Links between existing research groups will stimulate avenues of research that have gained momentum through the Centre for Brain Health (co-director, Jon Stoessl) and Brain Wellness Program (Silke Appel-Cresswell), and several Research Excellence Clusters.

G.Y. Robin Hsiung – International Research Roundtables – 2014

Bending the Knotted Oak: What do clinical Music Therapy and research in Music Cognition add to the Management of Neurodevelopmental Disorders?
Principal Investigator(s): Dr. Robin Hsiung, School of Medicine, UBC; Dr. Larry Frisch, School of Population and Public Health, UBC; and Professor Rena Sharon, School of Music, UBC.
In the last two decades, we have seen enormous advances in our understanding of how music is processed by the human brain. We now know that humans respond to music using specialized brain pathways that overlap with those involved with language processing, confirming the intimiate relationship between music and linguistic characteristic of poetry, chant, and song. As our knowledge of music cognition advances so too has the profession of music therapy strengthened its base in neurological science and clinical epidemiology. There is now a large and growing evidence base showing that music therapy has impact on a variety of neurodevelopmental and neurodegenerative disorders, including stroke and other acquired brain injury. Recognizing the increasing well-delineated therapeutic effect of music on brain disorders, many Canadian and US universities have established inter-disciplinary research institutes to bring together scholars with expertise in cognitive psychology, neurology, music, music therapy, and related discipline in order to expand our understanding of music cognition and of music therapy’s clinical efficacy. These institutes have created innovative research programs that have broken traditional barriers between the arts and medicine, and have led to new knowledge in basic science and clinical care. Much is known, much new knowledge still needs to find its way into daily practice, and a great deal remains to be discovered.
The purpose of this Roundtable is to determine the most relevant research questions around the science underlying the therapeutic applications of music therapy today and to define current best evidence for therapeutic benefit of music therapy in the treatment of neurological conditions as well as potential barriers to effective implementation of current knowledge in BC. It is also our goal to clarify physical and human infrastructure needed for UBC to become a significant contributor to new knowledge around therapeutic music interventions for neurological conditions. For instance, relevant academic disciplines within UBC and partner institutions will be identified to establish effective research collaboration across institutional.