van Mersbergen Featured in Fleming's Music and the Mind Series

by Tori Wolfe

On September 7, Assistant Professor Miriam van Mersbergen was an invited speaker for the Music and the Mind series presented by Renée Fleming, world renowned operatic soprano and advocate for music and health. The series follows Fleming to cities around the country and the world. It highlights research on how musical training, activity, and experiences can augment medical treatments and promote health and well-being. Dr. van Mersbergen presented a talk entitled, Mind, Body, and Voice that described her research in voice, cognition, and emotion and how singing influences emotional well-being. We spoke with Dr. van Mersbergen to learn more about this event and her research.

Through her work with the UofM Institute for Arts and Health, Dr. van Mersbergen was connected with Ms. Fleming. The Institute was created in 2021 to encourage transdisciplinary research by bridging the arts, humanities, social sciences, digital technologies and STEM areas. Dr. van Mersbergen’s main area of research is the relationship between cognitive and emotional status and how they influence voice production. Currently, she has two SLP graduate students, Josh Hyde and Kyleigh Hazelton, researching how voice production affects our cognitive and emotional well-being. In her talk, Dr. van Mersbergen explained what her research has revealed about how the voice and the mind are connected. She originally believed that singers and actors were the primary individuals whose sense of identity was specially attached to their voice. She found that she was wrong in that assumption. Everyone has a special relationship with their voice. Dr. van Mersbergen states, “When you lose your voice, you lose a big part of who you are. That really struck me as a clinician.” 

Dr. van Mersbergen said the most notable thing about participating in this event was the variety of people that attended. It was truly an interdisciplinary event, with psychiatrists, artists, music educators, scientists, etc. Since the event attracts people from a wide variety of backgrounds, the potential outcomes of the Music and the Mind series are endless. For healthcare providers, the outcome could be gaining insight into the use of music in the healing process. For musicians, the outcome could be the understanding that music is more than just an activity—it is something that influences health and well-being. Dr. van Mersbergen states, “It doesn’t matter where you come from, you are going to walk away [from this event] with something.”

There are also important takeaways that our readers can learn from this event. Dr. van Mersbergen argues that art is the ultimate mind-body connector which means engaging in artistic expression is a great way to promote healthy aging. She encourages everyone to get involved, regardless of their background. She says, “Some sort of artistic expression that involves your body: dance, painting, pottery. Something that engages your brain and your body in a creative way is really important for health and well-being.”

Music and the Mind panel