I work at the intersection of music and neuroscience to educate, engage and entertain. 

 
 

My Story

I'm an opera singer who came of age during the decade of the brain. I've always been pulled both by art and by science and have finally found ways to integrate the two in my work. I finished a Masters of Music degree in Voice Performance and a Ph.D. in Cognitive Neuroscience and currently enjoy faculty positions at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and the University of San Francisco. I'm passionate about communicating ideas to the public, by giving compelling lectures about the brain, hosting two podcasts and performing and directing contemporary opera.  

 

“Music isn't music until the brain makes it so.”

— Indre Viskontas

 
 

I teach science by telling stories. 

For my TV debut, I co-hosted a 6-episode docuseries called Miracle Detectives on the Oprah Winfrey Network and appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show. I'm fortunate to have been featured on major radio stations across the US, including several appearances on the NPR program City Arts & Lectures and The Sunday Edition on the CBC in Canada. I'm the co-creator and host of the popular science podcast Inquiring Minds, which boasts more than 7 million downloads and recently launched a new podcast, Cadence: what music tells us about the mind, now available on iTunes.

I went to school for a long time.

Combining a passion for music with scientific curiosity, I'm affectionately known as Dr. Dre by students at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, where I'm pioneering the application of neuroscience to musical training, and at the University of San Francisco, where I'm an Adjunct Professor of Psychology. My BSc is in psychology and French literature from the University of Toronto, my MM degree in vocal performance from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and I received my Ph.D. in cognitive neuroscience from UCLA.

I've written a bunch of stuff. 

As a scientist, I've published more than 50 original papers and chapters related to the neural basis of memory and creativity, including several seminal articles in top scientific journals.  My scientific work has been featured in Oliver Sacks’ book Musicophilia, Nature: Science Careers and Discover Magazine. I've also written for MotherJones.com, American Scientist, Vitriol Magazine and other publications.

I like to talk. 

I often give keynote talks, for organizations as diverse as Genentech, the Dallas Symphony, SXSW and Ogilvy along with frequent invited talks at conferences and academic institutions. My 24-lecture course Essential Scientific Concepts was released by The Great Courses in 2014, selling more than 20,000 copies in its first year.  My second course with them, Brain Myths Exploded: Lessons from Neuroscience was released in early 2017.

View my projects ->

 
 Ross Benoliel and Indre Viskontas in Daniel Felsenfeld's "The Bloody Chamber." Opera Grows in Brooklyn. Photo by Matt Gray, (c) American Opera Projects.

Ross Benoliel and Indre Viskontas in Daniel Felsenfeld's "The Bloody Chamber." Opera Grows in Brooklyn. Photo by Matt Gray, (c) American Opera Projects.

 

Opera

I also like singing. A lot.

I was that kid who listened to Maria Callas while doing homework. When I was 11, I made my mainstage debut as an altar boy in the Canadian Opera Company's production of Tosca. I was hooked. 

Mostly I sing opera, with a lyric coloratura sound. I'm particularly fond of Mozart, Donizetti, Verdi and Puccini. But I'm especially committed to singing contemporary opera - music written by composers who were or are alive during my lifetime. For a list of the roles I've sung and the people I've worked with, head on over here

A few years ago, I joined forces with Dana Sadava, a friend and esteemed colleague, to form Pasadena Opera. We present operas that speak to current issues and pique our artistic and scientific interests. (In addition to being an awesome conductor, Dana also has an engineering degree from CalTech).  I'm the Creative Director of the company. 

 

Chamber Music

I have a band.

I love chamber music, which is music played by a handful of musicians without a conductor. My favorite combination is voice + string quartet, sometimes adding piano. I started a group called Vocallective: a consortium of musicians with whom I perform vocal chamber music. I've had the good fortune of collaborating with people like the Telegraph Quartet, Keisuke Nakagoshi, Ian Scarfe, Edwin Huizinga, Meerenai Shim, Allison Lovejoy and many others. I even have a scientific project devoted to figuring out what makes a musical group 'groove'. Check it out here. 

 

That's me singing the role of the Countess in Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro.

 

Podcasts

I have a nifty home audio studio.

So I record myself often. I have two podcasts so far: Inquiring Minds, which has about 200 episodes and more than 7 million downloads and is co-hosted by Kishore Hari and Cadence, a new podcast exploring what music can tell us about the mind. Both are produced by my awesomely talented friend Adam Isaak.  

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