Music and the mind is the theme of a concert and symposium in Newcastle

It’s said that music is the medicine of the mind.

Some say it’s a gateway to the soul.

Prominent German neurologist Professor Eckart Altenmüller knows this better than most.

He’ll be displaying his deep knowledge of the subject in Newcastle this week, with a keynote speech at a Hunter Medical Research Institute [HMRI] symposium, discussion at a public forum and performances at two concerts.

Renowned Newcastle-based musician Sally Walker described Professor Altenmüller as a “renaissance man”.

That is, a person with many talents.

“He’s a doctor, neurologist, psychotherapist, psychiatrist and a fantastic flute player,” she said.

“I’ve been privileged enough to have met a number of brilliant people, but I have never met someone who is so brilliant,” Ms Walker told Topics.

“People in Germany think he’s the heir to [neurologist] Oliver Sacks.” 

She added that the professor was a “lovely, humble and inspiring” person.

Ms Walker and Professor Altenmüller will play the flute together at concerts in Newcastle on Friday and Sunday.

Professor Altenmüller’s lecture at the HMRI symposium on Saturday is titled Music and the Mind.

“My lecture will be about the beneficial effects of music on our wellbeing, emotionality and the brain,” he told Topics.

“I will demonstrate that music is a universal language of emotions.

“Music supports pro-social behaviors and induces powerful adaptations of our brain in terms of increased neural wiring, enlargement of critical areas and improvement of memory functions.”

He said music was useful in rehabilitation for stroke and Parkinson’s patients.

“In dementia patients, music can restore biographical memories since it is linked very powerfully to emotional memories,” he said.

Music can even boost the immune system.

Choir singing, for example, can “directly improve the immune system”.

“Indirectly, music can improve the immune system by improving wellbeing and motivation,” he said.

He added that music-induced emotions had been important in human evolution, particularly for encouraging group cohesion and improving emotional wellbeing.

“In the Stone Age, the lives of humans were very hard. Frequently, early humans were suffering from climate conditions and diseases. Strong emotions induced by music could tie the group together and soothe the souls of these early humans.”

Sally Walker, who is artistic director of Twilight Musical Dialogues, said “music starts where the words stop”.

“It’s a subliminal and intuitive medium that shifts you to a better place,” she said.

“You don’t reach it with your intellectual level necessarily, but on a visceral level. That’s why everyone will cry in the movies when the beautiful tune comes in and obviously the story.

“If you listen to a movie and turn the music down, you’ll have a very different experience of the movie.”

The concerts will be held at Adamstown Uniting Church on Friday and Christ Church Cathedral in Newcastle on Sunday

The HMRI symposium and seminar are free to the public. They will be held on Saturday at the Harold Lobb Concert Hall at the Conservatorium of Music in Newcastle. Register at

Supercar Corners

Newcastle architect Barney Collins designs buildings. He also has a talent for naming things.

Take the names he has bestowed upon the corners and straights of the Newcastle 500 circuit, with the help of colleague Michael Rodgers.

Turn 1 - Hammerhead (obvious given the number of crashes).

The Straight down Watt Street – it can only ever be called “the Straight” (a great engineering and power reference).

Turn 2 - Cop Shop Corner (obvious).

Turns 3-6 - The Wave (near the beach).

Turn 7 - Sahara (can get covered with sand).

Turn 8 - Sticky Rice (after the restaurant on the corner).

Turn 9 - The Bus Stop (Newcastle bus terminus used to be across the road).

Straight Part 1 - Boatman’s Row (a historical reference to this place and the row of terraced housing built for the men who pulled the ships into the harbour).

Straight Part 2 – The Canon (referencing Fort Scratchley).

Corner 10 – Nobbys Corner (aka lifesaver).

Corner 11 - The Horseshoe (obvious).

Corner 12 - Jet Pilot (in honour of the jet that flew over the circuit at the event, the Pilot Station and where the Supercars put on the after-burners).

Pit Straight - Moriarty’s Run (aka the Mullet Run. Moriarty was the engineer responsible for the alignment of the wharf and road).