Clinical Center News
Spring 2019

Soprano and Opera Singer Renee Fleming speaks at NIH on the intersection of music and science.

Soprano Renee Fleming speaks at NIH.
World-renowned soprano Renee Fleming speaks at NIH on Music and the Mind. Dr. Collins said “Over the past few years, she’s become an expert on music and the mind; the neuroscience of music.”
Dr. Collins and Renee Fleming perform duet.
Dr. Collins and Ms. Fleming met at a dinner party, where he had brought his guitar. They went on to collaborate through a program that brings the NIH and the Kennedy Center together called “Sound Health.”
Renee Fleming visits Rehabilitation Medicine.
NIH leaders engage in a specialized discussion on the value of creative arts therapies including goal-directed art, music, and recreational therapies.

On May 13, the 2019 J. Edward Rall Cultural lecture (NIH only) brought world-renowned soprano Renee Fleming to the NIH Clinical Center to speak on Music and the Mind.

Fleming spoke about music evolution, research and music’s potential to improve health. One of her favorite music therapy applications is one for patients of stroke and traumatic brain injury called “Melodic Intonation Therapy” which draws on the brain’s neuroplasticity to regain speech.

In 2017, she even volunteered for an fMRI study at the NIH Clinical Center, where researchers tracked when areas of her brain lit up while she was speaking, singing or thinking about music.

“Throughout my journey as an artist, I’ve been so struck by music’s power to heal and transform lives,” Fleming said. “So many people, after performances, tell me that my music helped them through an illness or loss. The arts humanize us and bind us to each other.”

She and Dr. Francis Collins, director of NIH, discussed the creative process and the intersections of music and science.

The audience was then treated to a short musical performance, with Fleming singing and Collins on the guitar.

As Artistic Advisor-at-Large to the Kennedy Center, Fleming spearheads a collaboration with the NIH, in association with the National Endowment for the Arts, dubbed the Sound Health Initiative. It is a partnership exploring the intersection of music, health, and neuroscience.

To date, the initiative has resulted in a workshop at the NIH that generated research recommendations to accelerate the study of music's effects on the brain and implications for human health; two major conferences hosted by the Kennedy Center with neuroscientists, performers, and music therapists as well as additional programs, performances and activities at the Kennedy Center. 

The annual cultural lecture, part of the Wednesday Afternoon Lecture Series, honors the memory of J. Edward Rall, founder of the Clinical Endocrinology Branch (now within the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases) and the first Deputy Director for Intramural Research. He recommended in 1984 that NIH add a cultural lecture to its Director's Lecture series.

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