New Centre for Music and Health established at Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music

The Centre will spearhead research and evidence-based practices to advance the use of music for health and well-being.

Mental, emotional and social well-being are increasingly prominent topics in public awareness today, thrown into relief by recent trends such as student mental health issues and loneliness among elders. Alongside existing medical interventions, music is leading the way internationally as an alternative holistic approach to supporting health and well-being. This has been recognised at numerous levels, from bodies such as the World Health Organisation and United States White House through to ongoing community engagement initiatives across Singapore.

To further the use of music to improve lives in Singapore and the region, the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music (YST) at the National University of Singapore (NUS) is establishing a new Centre for Music and Health (CMH). The CMH will be the first of its kind in Singapore and Southeast Asia to develop evidence-based music programmes to support health and well-being, as well as research methods to inform and evaluate the efficacy of such programmes.

The Centre will be helmed by Dr Kat Agres, Assistant Professor in Music Cognition at YST. Speaking on the motivation behind founding the CMH, she shared, “We have the fundamental belief that music and the arts are crucial for supporting a healthy, thriving, socially inclusive society. Across my experience as a cellist and research scientist, I have been able to witness first-hand the powerful impact of music on individuals and communities, and have observed an increasing global momentum in the field of music and health. I am excited to further drive efforts in this area, working alongside other arts, academic and government organisations.”

Drawing on NUS’ strong research capabilities and YST’s position as one of Asia’s top conservatories, CMH aims to become leading centre for music and health in the region.  It will investigate interdisciplinary practices and spearhead new musical interventions, deploying them in health and well-being settings. It also seeks to be a platform for community engagement, involving NUS students and partner organisations. With funded research projects and further recruitment already under way, the Centre is well-positioned to house a vibrant spectrum of activities and gearing up for more.

Dr Agres further shares that the CMH will focus on three areas: mental health, student well-being, and care for the ageing population. She said, “Music has been found to improve mental health; build confidence, identity and self-esteem in youth; and promote social engagement and quality of life, among many other benefits. Participating in music activities has even been shown to boost the immune system and mediate the cardiovascular system. While traditional approaches for supporting mental health, such as seeing a counsellor or using pharmaceuticals, may carry social stigmas, the use of music for mental wellness does not have such associations. For the elderly in particular, music activities such as group singing and drumming can also improve physical well-being, and decrease social isolation, which is linked to mortality.” She notes that in a review of 28 different studies examining the effectiveness of music interventions to treat depression, 93% of them found a significant reduction in depression in the music intervention group compared to the control.

­Prof Peter Tornquist, Dean of YST shared, “The Centre for Music and Health sits at the intersection of music, research and community engagement, which are all important areas for YST. We are excited to collaborate across other related research areas in NUS such as medicine, public health and computing. Working alongside partners across and beyond Singapore, there are rich possibilities for benefiting lives through music.”

Prof Chen Tsuhan, Deputy President (Research and Technology) and Distinguished Professor at NUS shared, “Health and well-being are rich, multi-faceted subjects that relate to each and every individual. Through the CMH, we look forward to bringing the best of NUS’s expertise across music, STEM and social impact, to create innovative solutions for tomorrow.”