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The Heath Quartet plays for a class of neuroscience majors on the stage at Robison Hall.

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Art Meets Science on the Concert Hall Stage

October 23, 2019


MIDDLEBURY, Vt. – “One of the things I love about art,” says Professor Mike Dash, “is the way in which the artist can play with our expectations to reveal ways in which our brain creates our experience of the world in ways that are not inherently natural to think about.”

Dash, an assistant professor of psychology who teaches a course on sensation and perception, had been helping his students understand how external stimuli shape the way we understand the world when he got a call from Middlebury’s Performing Arts Series director Allison Coyne Carroll. Carroll invited Dash’s class to join the world-renowned Heath Quartet on stage at Robison Hall for a private performance and discussion about perception.

For 75 minutes, the string players, who were in residence on campus for a week, filled the hall with music as the students listened and then discussed the interplay of art, acoustics, emotion, and perception.

“I think there was something really powerful about being in the room with the musicians,” said Dash. “Live music is fundamentally different than recorded music. There was something about the vividness of the perceptual experience that the live music was able to create and help remind the students and me that what we’re trying to explain in terms of sensation and perception is kind of a profound and magical experience. The musicians were really able to emphasize the power that these perceptual experiences can elicit within us.”