Wall Opera Project Receives Funding for 3rd Year

November 19, 2021

The Wall Opera Research Project has been approved for a third year of funding. The multi-disciplinary project team led by Profs. Nancy Hermiston (UBC Opera), 2020 Wall Scholar Lara Boyd (Brain Behaviour Laboratory), Janet Werker (Language Sciences), and post doctoral fellows, Anja-Xiaoxing Cui and Negin Motamed Yeganeh, are investigating the brain activity of students in the UBC Opera program to determine how the complex requirements of opera training affect memory, cognitive functioning and learning.

Cast of Don Giovanni, UBC Opera (Tim Matheson)

Researchers are measuring executive function and other learning capabilities in opera students, and comparing the results with control groups of students (from language training, non-vocal musical training, and athletics). An exploratory study, involving a small number of opera students, has been completed with standardized neuro-psychological testing and neuro-imaging before and after participation in an intensive opera workshop to stage Mozart’s Don Giovanni. The cognitive assessments suggested positive effects of opera training on executive function, auditory attention, and verbal and spatial memory. The COVID-19 pandemic severely impacted the researchers’ ability to recruit subjects and conduct in-person testing, however data collection resumed this fall when students returned to campus.

The project received an additional $241,750 from PWIAS for 2022-23, bringing the total funding over 3 years, to $665,750.

This work is completely interdisciplinary. Not one of the 3 principal investigators could run the study on her own. Our intent, from the outset, was to combine the sciences to study and understand a complex form of art.

N. Hermiston, L. Boyd and J. Werker

By studying the interactions of music and language training within opera training, and understanding more clearly how opera training impacts brain structure and function, researchers hope to develop a program of training or potential therapy for multiple types of individuals, including atypically developing young adults, and individuals with learning disabilities or neurological conditions.

For more information on this project, please visit this page.