Montclair State University Hosts The Second International Health Humanities Conference: Music, Health, and Humanity – by Brian Abrams, Conference Chair

From August 9th-11th, 2012, through a collaboration among the Colleges of the Arts, the Humanities and Social Sciences, and Education and Human Services, Montclair State University hosted the Second International Health Humanities Conference.

The Health Humanities, a relatively new area, applies humanities disciplines (arts, literature, languages, law, history, philosophy, religion, etc.) to discourse about the promotion and enactment of  human health and wellbeing.

The MSU Conference was only the second of its kind in the world; the first was held in Nottingham,UK, during the summer of 2010.

In attendance at the three-day event at the Montclair State Conference Center were professionals and graduate students from various disciplines: medicine, psychology, literature, arts, music, and music therapy; and from universities and health care agencies and other human services organizations hailing from the USA, Canada, the UK, Norway, and Japan. Participants’ interests included research in behavioral health, the arts, narrative inquiry, and sociocultural processes; as well as applied work in medical care, psychiatry, arts, and music therapy.

Key topics of presentation ranged richly and widely, including metaphor, inter-subjectivity, archetypes, the developmental lifespan, cultures, communities, creativity, literacy/fiction, fantasy, suicide, grief, wellness and self-care, education, supervision, interdisciplinarity, and technology.

Plans are underway to produce a peer-reviewed volume of publications based upon conference presentations.

On day one, the conference opened with words of welcome from Daniel Gurskis, Dean of the MSU College of the Arts, Marietta Morrissey, Dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, and Robert Cart, Director of the John J. Cali School of Music. Conference attendees and invited guests then enjoyed a special appearance by guest celebrity Kate Pierson of the revered American rock band, The B-52s. She shared inspirational words underscoring the vital role of music in the health and well-being of individuals and society.  She also shared her music, including the public premiere of an original song. Following the performance, Paul Crawford, Professor of Health Humanities, University of Nottingham (UK), served as the conference’s first Keynote speaker.

On day two, the Keynote presentation featured the life and work of Pulitzer-nominated and Grammy-winning contemporary composer Joel Thome, as well as the work of music therapist Benedikte Scheiby, who worked with Thome following his stroke.  Thome’s arduous journey —including his stroke, recovery, and new compositional style based upon the trans-cultural, circular “mandala” — is featured in the recent documentary by filmmaker Chris Pepino, “Inside the Perfect Circle: The Odyssey of Joel Thome.” All three shared their perspectives and experiences during the Keynote presentation held in the Jed Leshowitz Recital Hall at the John J. Cali School of Music, featuring a mandala-based composition by Thome performed by two of his former composition students. A plenary presentation by UK psychologist and scholar Victoria Tischler followed.

On day three, the conference concluded with a Keynote presentation by Brian Brown of DeMontfort University (UK), as well as a co-presentation by Music Education scholars David Elliott (New York University) and Marissa Silverman (Montclair State University), who helped illuminate praxial understanding of the value of music as a resource for personal and cultural wellbeing.

The Third International Health Humanities Conference will be held under the auspices of the Arts and Humanities in Healthcare Program at the Center for Bioethics and Humanities, University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, in August, 2014. The theme will be Envisioning the Health Humanities: Film, Media, and the Visual Arts.

For more information on the summer 2014 conference, contact Therese (Tess) Jones, PhD, at, or 303.724.3995.

Significant support for these conferences is provided by the International Health Humanities Network (IHHN), providing a global platform for innovative humanities scholars, medical, health and social care professionals, voluntary sector workers and creative practitioners to join forces with informal and family service-users and the wider self-caring public in order to explore, celebrate and develop new approaches in advancing health and wellbeing through the arts and humanities in hospitals, residential and community settings.

Supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, this initiative launches a new era in developing ways that arts and humanities knowledge and practice will enhance health and wellbeing. On the AHRC website, informal careers, service users and the self-caring public are invited to share their ideas of how arts and humanities have benefited them and may help others experiencing challenges to their health and wellbeing.

Nurses, doctors, occupational therapists, psychologists, dentists, physiotherapists, social workers, childcare and school workers, alternative and complimentary therapists, as well as those who have traditionally drawn on the arts and humanities such as music therapists, dance and drama therapists, poetry therapists, art therapists, bibliotherapists and sports therapists, are invited to join and report on successful, innovative projects and events in this field.

The International Health Humanities Network has partnered with many other institutions in its endeavors to “bring the human back into health,” including the OppNet division of the National Institutes of Health. For more information on the Health Humanities, visit the International Health Humanities Network, at

 Brian Abrams, Ph.D., MT-BC, LPC, LCAT, Fellow of the Association for Music and Imagery, serves as Associate Professor of Music and Coordinator of Music Therapy in the John J. Cali School of Music, College of the Arts, Montclair State University. He has been a music therapist since 1995, with clinical experience involving a wide range of populations. He has published and presented internationally on topics such as music therapy in cancer care, music psychotherapy, and humanistic dimensions of music therapy. His current interests include contributing to the development of the global, interdisciplinary area of Health Humanities.


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