It's music to her ears

It's music to her ears

Lola Cuddy honoured with lifetime achievement award for her pioneering work in music perception and cognition.

By Anne Craig

September 23, 2015


A pioneer in the field of music perception and cognition, Queen’s University Professor Lola Cuddy recently received an important honour from her peers for a lifetime of achievements. Dr. Cuddy was recognized by the Society for Music Perception and Cognition (SMPC) after spending 50 years teaching, mentoring and researching at Queen’s.

The award recognizes her contributions as a researcher, her internationally recognized research findings and the guidance she provided to the society.

“Dr. Cuddy’s work has made a deep and lasting impact on our understanding of diverse areas ranging from structure in music processing, to musical training and skill acquisition,” says Michael Schutz, SMPC awards committee chair. “More recently her interests have led to contributions related to the processing of music in populations with neurological disorders. Beyond this research, Lola influenced a generation of scholars and her service to the field (in particular, to the growth of academic publications) has proven immensely important in creating the vibrant academic community we enjoy today.”

Dr. Cuddy started her university career at United College of the University of Manitoba, where she found little opportunity to pursue research in the areas of music perception and cognition. After studying psychology and mathematics, she decided to study clinical psychology in graduate school at the University of Toronto. At U of T the opportunities to study perception and cognition led her to switch her interests to psychoacoustics, perhaps a natural progress for a musician.  

In 1965, Dr. Cuddy arrived at Queen’s where the 12 faculty members of the psychology department had offices located in vintage houses around campus. In 1969, the psychology department was founded in Humphrey Hall and she was in charge of designing a psychoacoustics laboratory – which is where Dr. Cuddy found her academic home.

“I recall a sense among researchers that on a day-to-day basis we worked very much alone in our pursuits,” says Dr. Cuddy. “We were not part of the mainstream of psychological inquiry and, although there were exceptions, not given much attention by the field at large. We could not have predicted the burst of conference activity, collegiality and publication results that grew exponentially from 1985.”

In the early 1980s, as her field of study continued to expand, Dr. Cuddy helped create and develop courses in psychology of music and psychology and the arts at Queen’s.

“It is difficult to explain the rapid expansion of music perception and cognition research,” says Dr. Cuddy. “One could point to the hard work of its devotees, increased technological facilities for research generally, Internet communication among researchers, and, in a somewhat more speculative vein, increased musical sophistication among students and colleagues in other fields even if they have not been formally musically trained.”

Now an emerita professor, Dr. Cuddy continues to supervise students and continue her research into dementia and how memory loss relates to music. She says one of her greatest research findings to date is showing how musical memory is often spared in Alzheimer’s patients. She is continuing her research in this area with colleague Jacalyn Duffin (History of Medicine).

“Music engages many aspects of our lives and has many long-term benefits,” says Dr. Cuddy. “It can protect us against aging and can also be used as an intervention. I’ve learned so much and still have so much to do.”

Arts and Science