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Gabriel Friedman

July 2, 2012
Senior Gabriel Friedman has found ways to combine his love of music and neuroscience through community work and research at Pomona College.

Senior Gabriel Friedman has found ways to combine his love of music and neuroscience through community work and research at Pomona College.

Gabriel Friedman ’12 received a $10,000 grant earlier this year from the Donald A. Strauss Public Service Scholarship Foundation to establish a music mentoring program, which pairs underprivileged children with students from The Claremont Colleges. A neuroscience major, Friedman also is a mentor for the anti-poverty program Uncommon Good and works on campus as head music librarian and mentor for organic chemistry. He is applying for a Fulbright Fellowship to study the relationship between music and the brain in Finland.

Giving Back

I’ve played piano since I was 7 and started taking lessons again at Pomona during my sophomore year. That’s one of the reasons I wanted to teach. I was getting free lessons through financial aid because of donors who’d made gifts to the College, and I thought it would be a good way to give something back to the community. I started out teaching two daughters whose family couldn’t afford music lessons. When other students heard about what I was doing they would say, “that’s cool, I wish I could do something like that.”

45 Students, 45 Mentors and Facebook

With the grant from the Strauss Foundation, I was able to start a program that now has 45 mentors. We give one-on-one lessons on everything from drums and electric guitar to piano and trumpet. My student is Adrian. He’s 8, plays soccer and is very good at sight-reading music. His brother takes guitar from one of the other mentors. All of us are really proud of our students and the progress they’re making. I even see Facebook statuses about the songs the kids are playing.

Music and the Brain

During the school year, research shows the learning gap between lower and higher income families narrows. Over the summer that gap gets bigger because higher income families can afford enrichment activities. Part of the motivation for my research was to learn how music lessons might be able to reverse those disparities. I thought it was an interesting connection, especially with my background in both neuroscience and piano.

Narrowing the Gap

Very few studies of music learning have used random assignment--they’ve mostly looked at students who already play music and compared them to students who don’t play. To get to the core of the effect music has, I randomly assigned lessons to half the students who signed up and told the other half they would be able to start lessons in the fall. We tested IQ before and after and found significant positive changes in the children who had received the lessons. You can’t say that music is the only thing driving this, but in this case, it showed that music could reverse that decline.

The Liberal Arts and Problem Solving

I think this project embodies the idea of the liberal arts. You can appreciate music for what it is, but also understand it on a scientific level and learn about the effect playing music has on us. It also opened my eyes to what is possible. I’ve learned that you can have interests across different fields and use those interests to solve real world problems.