Aerial view of campus with Williamsport, the Susquehanna River and Bald Eagle Mountain as a backdrop

World-renowned ragtime pianist and scientific wonder to perform at Lycoming College

World-renowned ragtime pianist and scientific wonder to perform at Lycoming College

Download Image: Web

The Lycoming College Music Department will present “Neuroscience Meets a Musical Brain,” an event that will feature a performance by world-renowned ragtime pianist and scientific wonder Robert Milne along with a lecture by Kerstin Bettermann, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of neurology at Penn State Hershey Medical Center, about her studies of Milne’s brain function. The event will be held Tuesday, March 11 at 7 p.m. in Clarke Chapel and is free and open to the public. While on campus, Milne also will conduct a master class with Lycoming music students.

BettermannSince he was a child, Milne has always had the ability to hear any musical score and repeat it at will without practicing. He grew up thinking all musicians have the same ability, but recent studies by Bettermann hint that his talent is something rarer. Milne attended the Eastman School of Music and by age 19, he was the assistant first horn in the Rochester Philharmonic. In 2004, he was filmed and documented for future generations during three days of interviews at the Library of Congress and was declared a “national treasure” at the conclusion.

Milne first came to the attention of Bettermann when neurologist Jim Toole, M.D., reported to her what he had seen at an impromptu concert by the musician. Milne, while playing the piano, had performed three different time signatures simultaneously and effortlessly, all while carrying on a conversation with people standing nearby. Toole said that what Milne was doing was “impossible” because he was using both sides of his brain simultaneously. 

Bettermann tested Milne’s abilities while monitoring his brain through an MRI. What she discovered was a complex, multi-faceted ability never seen before in regards to internal “listening” to music, an ability that neither she nor Milne himself can explain.

Bettermann conducted 40 hours of memory tests on Milne, including four and a half hours of brain wave tests with the MRI facility, and more than 100 hours of interviews. With the comprehension of her results, she is hopeful that neuroscientists, gaining further understanding of brain function, may ultimately be able to help the recovery of patients who suffered from a brain injury. Her presentation at Lycoming will summarize highlights of her research on Milne in brain function and music.

Milne is the founder and director of the Frankenmuth Ragtime Festival in Michigan. He is an active “musical ambassador” for the U.S. Department of State, and has performed numerous times in Japan, including the Okinawan Islands and Hokkaido. He has also performed in this capacity for members of the Swiss Parliament at the U.S. Embassy in Berne.

Lycoming College is a four-year, residential liberal arts and sciences school dedicated to the undergraduate education of 1,400 students. Its rigorous academic program, vibrant residential community and supportive faculty foster successful student outcomes. Lycoming offers 36 academic majors and is recognized as a Tier 1 institution by U.S. News & World Report. Founded in 1812 and located near the banks of the Susquehanna River in Williamsport, Pa., Lycoming is one of the 50 oldest colleges in the nation. For more information, visit

Useful Resources