Jonathan De Souza is happy to be returning home. After earning his Bachelor of Music in 2005, the London native pursued graduate studies in England (MMus from Royal Holloway, University of London) and the United States (PhD, Univeristy of Chicago). Now, as he takes on a position in the department of Music Research and Composition, he's back where his hear has always been.
"I only applied to Western," said De Souza. "During high school I studied viola with Ralph Aldrich. I just wanted to come here and take lessons with Ralph."
Ans so he did - and much more. De Souza was valedictorian when he graduated and participated in the Music Students' Council, Soph Team, and Peer Guides as well as musical theatre. His focus was theory and composition, but he performed in the orchestra and chamber ensembles. He continued to play throughout his doctoral studies in folk and jazz groups to "keep a hand in the practical side". (You can watch him play Finnish fiddle tunes on YouTube.)
Finding the balance between scholarly and practical experience is still important. "Western has a music school within a research university. Performance and education happens alongside scholarly work in Music Research and Composition. It's exciting to be starting a career in that kind of musical and intellectual environment. There are a lot of great things going on and great people. And that includes new things since I left. The music faculty has changed and grown while I was away."
De Souza also has changed and grown. His research focuses on music cognition and the psychology of performance. "It draws directly on the things I worked on as an undergrad. It would be hard to do this research is I hadn't had that hands-on experience. My undergrad training helped ground everything since."
That training included a solid technical and musical foundation, forged by hours of playing and practising. "Then when you go out into research, you have something concrete to base it on."
De Souza examines how a person's motor skills and cognitive reactions change and are influenced by playing an instrument. "There is a powerful connection between the hands and ears, between action and sound. Once you develop those connections, it can influence your perception.
"As you practise an instrument over a lifetime, you're making movements that correlate with particular sounds. Certain types of sounds, constrained by the instrument you play, shape your perception.
"I'm interested in how musical instruments shape musicians' thinking about and perceiving, hearing music - how that physical access to sound can affect your experience of music in different ways."
For example, it is known that Beethoven continued to go through the motions of playing a keyboard after he lost his hearing. "Current psychology suggests his movements engaged the auditory centre of his brain and enhanced his auditory sensations through engagement with the instrument," said De Souza.
"We don't just experience music with our ears. We experience it with a whole body. And instruments can often come to feel like extension of our bodies. I'm trying to unpack certain things that have become automatic, things that have become so familiar they are invisible. I ask what it feels like to play musical instruments." Before he can continue his research, he and his wife Heather (Brandon), also a Western music grad, will be unpacking and settling back into life in London.