Remembering Sandra Trehub

On behalf of McGill University

Sandra Trehub (1938-2023)

We are greatly saddened by the passing of Sandra Trehub. Born in 1938, she died peacefully at her home on 20 January 2023. Sandra was a trailblazer. Her research focusing on auditory pattern perception in infancy and early childhood single-handedly started developmental research in music perception and cognition. Her experimental studies documented that infants have basic skills that form the building blocks for remembering and responding emotionally to music, including the capability to perceive and categorize auditory sequences on the basis of pitch, changes in pitch, and rhythm. Her research also established that singing to infants is a universal behavior, which ultimately facilitates language acquisition and bonding with care-givers. A fellow of the Association for Psychological Science and the British Psychological Society, Sandra was awarded many honors, including a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Society for Music Perception and Cognition and the Kurt Koffka Medal from the University of Giessen in Germany.

After graduating from McGill University in Montreal in the 1970s, Sandra had a long career as Professor of experimental psychology at the University of Toronto (Mississauga campus). She authored hundreds of scientific journal articles and chapters, delivered lectures to audiences in many countries, and mentored many graduate students and post-doctoral fellows who went on to have successful academic careers of their own, including Tonya Bergeson (Butler/Indiana), Laura Cirelli (Toronto), Anabel Cohen (PEI), Marianne Fallon (Central Connecticut State), Erin Hannon (Nevada Las Vegas), Stuart Kamenetsky (Toronto), Bruce Morton (Western), Barbara Morrongiello (Guelph), Glenn Schellenberg (Toronto, ISCTE-IUL), Laurel Trainor (McMaster), and Tara Vongpaisal (MacEwan); as well as others who opted for careers outside of the academy, including Leigh Thorpe, Tali Shenfield, Michael Weiss, Anna Volkova, and Mathieu Saindon.

Sandra had boundless energy and limitless curiosity. Although she had the bad luck of turning 65 in the last year that mandatory retirement was legal in Ontario—and thus was required to retire—Sandra continued to be productive, writing and participating in conferences until the end. Indeed, she had an invited talk scheduled at Princeton University for 8 February 2023. She was fearless and tenacious and never gave up on an argument, while at the same time being nurturing and helpful to those she mentored, a group that extended far beyond her own students. She was also a role model for many women in science and, in her later years, became very involved in supporting community music for children, particularly at St. James Town Community Arts in Toronto.

Sandra was adventurous and traveled to many remote areas of the globe with her architect/husband Ron Matthews (died 2007). Her interest in various human musical cultures led her to observe cross-cultural differences in child rearing and musical behavior, which influenced her scientific thinking. In short, Sandra’s contribution to the fields of development, education, and music perception and cognition have been inestimable. We stand on her shoulders.

The obituary from her large and beloved family can be found at