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Northwestern Buffett Institute for Global Affairs

Trauma, Music and the Breath

The Trauma, Music and the Breath Global Working Group aims to evidence the promise of music as an effective intervention for therapeutic outcomes in children, providing a new window into how music and breathwork can support children’s holistic health and wellbeing.

About the Project

With a focus of contributing toward United Nations Sustainable Development Goal #3: Good Health and Well-being, the Trauma, Music and the Breath Global Working Group is developing evidence-based musical interventions for therapeutic outcomes in children that address childhood trauma and the youth mental health crisis. These interventions will be implemented in elementary schools and community centers around the world to promote children's physiological and psychological wellbeing, enabling them to thrive in their educational and home communities. Community leaders, classroom teachers, music educators, musicians, counselors, pediatricians, psychologists and psychiatrists will have access to the training and the tools to teach others how to use music and breath to support children processing trauma.

The group will investigate the effects of the interventions they design using both biomedical and qualitative behavioral data collection strategies. Research findings will illuminate best practices for leveraging group singing, rhythm and breathing techniques as interventions for children processing trauma worldwide. They will also inform the development of pedagogical materials, training programs and university-level curricular changes designed to foster larger-scale implementation of best practices and increased global impact. Learn more in our Buffett Brief on Trauma, Music and the Breath, or explore more Global Working Groups' research in our collection of Buffett Briefs >>




Group Members


Sarah Bartolome, Music Education, Bienen School of Music

Nicole St. Jean, Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Feinberg School of Medicine

Group members:

Heather Aranyi, Alignment Coaching and Consulting

Deb Birnbaum, Metropolitan Opera

Teresa Brancaccio, Voice and Opera, Bienen School of Music

Michelle Buck, Kellogg School of Management

Amanda Draper, Music Education, Indiana University Jacobs School of Music

Melissa Foster, Theatre, School of Communication

Ben Gorvine, Psychology, Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences

Nancy Gustafson, Voice and Opera, Bienen School of Music

Kurt Hansen, Voice and Opera, Bienen School of Music

Mark Werwath, Professional Education and Engineering Mangagement, McCormick School of Engineering

Student research assistants:

Aman Datta (School of Communication, Communications Studies '24)

Ava Prezant (Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, Economics and Political Science)

Nithan Rajappa (Medill School of Journalism, Journalism ‘26)

Latest Work and Developments

Research Activities

  • The Trauma, Music and the Breath group is blending biomedical, behavioral and psychological research to provide a holistic understanding of how musical interventions affect children's physical body and mental wellness. They collaborated with the John Rogers Biomedical Engineering Lab to test the effects of musical interventions on heart rate variability, respiration, movement, speech rate and speech amplitude using proprietary, wearable sensors. To collect data on psychological measures, the group is using WellCheq—an app developed at Johns Hopkins University to record daily wellness check-ins and give teachers a window into how musical interventions affect children's mental health.
  • In May 2023, the group hosted Olivia Yinger, a music therapy for trauma specialist from the University of Kentucky, for a three-day residency to inform the design of a musical intervention that positively impacts measures of children's physiological and psychological wellness. The group completed their pilot study utilizing this intervention in summer 2023 in Evanston, Illinois.
  • In 2023–24 the group will examine the effects of musical interventions on children’s wellbeing across cultures. In partnership with the International Centre for Community Music at York St. John University, they will examine the effects of group singing and breathwork among children at primary schools in York, United Kingdom. The group has also forged a partnership with faculty at Universidad Iberoamericana Ciudad de Mexico, to conduct a similar study in Mexico City. 
  • Group co-lead Professor Sarah Bartolome is engaged in two additional research projects on the implementation of trauma-informed practices in music education, through which she is developing case studies to document these practices and evaluating their implementation. 
  • The group has completed their pilot study and are entering the first phase of their study in Evanston, Mexico City and two cities in the United Kingdom, York and Hamlet. In total, 67 students will participate by the end of the academic year. 

Engagement Activities

  • Co-lead Sarah Bartolome presented the group’s research at the Singing and Inclusion Symposium at the Free University of Bozen-Bolzano in Italy. 

Teaching Activities

  • In 2021–22, group leader Sarah Bartolome taught a new graduate seminar on Music, Health and Well-being. The group also brought International Centre for Community Music faculty member and music-for-trauma specialist Catherine Birch to Northwestern’s campus for a series of guest lectures in music education courses.