For 20 years, Gilles Comeau has shone new light on the mysteries of teaching and learning piano. His research at the crossroads of the humanities, health sciences, biomechanics and engineering has transformed his field, relying on a solid scientific foundation. In recognition of his outstanding, influential work, which bridges many disciplines, the School of Music (Faculty of Arts) professor has received the 2021 Jacques Rousseau award from the ACFAS, a French-language learned society.
“Professor Comeau’s work has allowed piano pedagogy to become established as a scholarly discipline, by exploring it from an original, multidisciplinary perspective,” said Sylvain Charbonneau, vice-president, research and innovation. “The University of Ottawa is proud of this distinction, which recognizes his rigorous approach, questioning numerous widespread beliefs in the musical community.”
A pioneer in many regards, Comeau was the first music researcher to receive a grant from the Canada Foundation for Innovation, to establish the Piano Pedagogy Research Laboratory, a one-of-a-kind technological facility he has led since 2004. He is also the founding director of the Musicians’ Wellness Centre and, since September, of the Music and Health Research Institute, at uOttawa. The latter is exploring the effects of music on the health and well-being of individuals and communities, from an inclusion and social justice perspective.
Comeau has been a trailblazer in the use of technology to better understand the basis of learning the piano, such as capturing children’s eye movement to understand how we learn to read music. He is particularly interested in piano practice-related injuries, performance anxiety and transfer of motor skills from music to surgery. Working with experts in areas such as medicine, kinesiology, rehabilitation, engineering and biomedicine, he has helped develop rehabilitation programs for musicians.
These initiatives and many others have earned him international recognition in his field and national honours, including election to the Royal Society of Canada.
The ACFAS Jacques Rousseau (1905–1970) award for multidisciplinarity was created in 1980 in honour of the eponymous Quebec botanist and ethnologist. Comeau is the second University of Ottawa recipient, after the late professor Gilles Paquet, who was honoured in 1982.
Article originally appeared in the uOttawa Research News