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Dr Edward Wickham: The Science of Hearing

Dr Edward Wikham held a seminar-style session with senior school faculty about his research, which explores why texts are difficult to hear or make sense of in Music. He is an Affiliate Lecturer at the Faculty of Music in Cambridge and his research interest is currently the examination of modes of text understanding and intelligibility within a range of choral repertories.

During the seminar, he discussed how the study of and research in Music at university is increasingly interdisciplinary. The topic he presented was Musicology, combining research in Music, Language, and Psychology. Music provides an understanding of culture, history and is a central communication resource for all of us.

Dr Wickham’s presentation explored the different reasons why we often do not hear the words of a song correctly due to, for example, cognitive load, why vowel sounds are distorted, and why lyrics with punctuation are easily misheard or misinterpreted. He used several current and medieval examples to illustrate the key areas of his research and asked the audience to try the ‘Brungart test.’ During this ‘test,’ Dr Wickham asked us to pretend we were air traffic controllers, listening out for instructions for a particular person (Frances). The audience had to identify the name ‘Frances’ and instructions for ‘Frances’ were increasingly harder to hear with each round as multiple sets of instructions for different people were called out at the same time. This exercise demonstrated that when text in music competes with other ‘auditory streams,’ we find it much harder to understand the text accurately. We also concluded that many of us in the audience would not have made suitable air traffic controllers!

Students and faculty enjoyed the interactive session, learning about his research and getting an insight into the breadth of research topics students studying music could consider. Dr Wickham also judged the Musician of the Year competition at the School and we hope to host him again for future workshops and seminars.

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