Trevor McPherson, throughout his exposure to the niche field of musical neuroscience, has noted the vast majority of research centers around western musical culture. Studies are conducted by western trained musicians, examine the effects of western music on the brain, and compare non-musicians with western musicians. This dearth of cross-cultural literature in musical neuroscience is a gaping hole within the discipline. The burgeoning field of cultural neuroscience has shown us that culture can drastically shape the way our brain processes and is affected by the world. When musical neuroscience research is restricted to western concepts, structures, and participants, it discounts how our societal roots create significant variation throughout humanity.

Trevor spent last summer abroad in Australia, interning at the MARCS Institute for Brain, Behavior, and Development. There, he worked with the “Music, Cognition, and Action” group exploring the relationship between music and neuroscience. Much of the research focused on rhythm in the context of coordination and synchronization, leading Trevor to an interest in auditory entrainment and its effects on the brain.

This past semester, Trevor began a new collaboration between music therapist Dr. Dorita Berger, and neuroscientist Dr. Flavio Frohlich, exploring the neurological effects of rhythmic entrainment. Under their guidance, Trevor is conducting research that explores an interdisciplinary component to Dr. Frohlich’s laboratory. Rhythmic entrainment, an established phenomena, is the natural synchronization of neural firing with an external stimulus. It serves as the basic principle for many techniques used in music therapy and has great potential to provide benefits to individuals—from using auditory synchronized movements in physical therapy rehabilitation, to assisting motor control in patients with Parkinson’s disease.

Trevor is now in Bali, Indonesia, studying gamelan music in a culturally immersive and authentic way. This musical tradition is altogether foreign from western practice. Its repetitive and homogeneous structure has been studied and linked to trance and entrainment by cultural anthropologists and ethnomusicologists alike, making it an ideal complement to the study of western musical practice. In Bali, Trevor is working with Mekar Bhuana, a non-profit organization dedicated to the documentation and understanding of traditional Balinese gamelan music and dance. Putu Evie Suyadnyani, an acclaimed dancer, is the director of Mekar Bhuana and specializes in dance instruction. Her husband, Vaughan Hatch, is an ethnomusicologist and music archeologist who has dedicated the past twenty years to researching Balinese gamelan. Together, they founded the organization, combining their accrued knowledge with a network of local musicians, to bring traditional compositions to life, while working to educate the public through private instruction, workshops, and performances. Their ultimate goal is to inspire an understanding and love of traditional music and dance in the Balinese youth. Each day, Trevor studies a variety of gamelan styles one-on-one with a local musician and composer, I Wayan Gede Purnama Gita S.sn, rehearses with Mekar Bhuana’s Semara Pagulingan orchestra, attends gamelan performances, and continues to work remotely on a study through the Frohlich Laboratory.


Trevor McPherson is a senior at UNC Chapel Hill double-majoring in Biology and Music, with a Neuroscience minor. He is a Carolina Scholar currently in Bali, Indonesia on a Burch Fellowship. As an aspiring neuroscientist interested in the effects of rhythm on the brain, Trevor has been studying gamelan in a culturally immersive way to better understand how people engage with rhythm.

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