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Local violinist brings the medicine of music to Central Coast hospitals

Concert violinist Brynn Albanese is a Certified Music Practitioner. She's trained to play music for patients in hospital settings.
Beth Thornton
Concert violinist Brynn Albanese is a Certified Music Practitioner. She's trained to play music for patients in hospital settings.

Local violinist Brynn Albanese is bringing live music to hospital patients across the Central Coast. It marks a new beginning for her as a Certified Music Practitioner.

We met outside in the garden at a local hospital in San Luis Obispo, where Albanese had just played her violin for patients in the ICU.

“Definitely a new chapter in my life as a musician,” she said.

As a concert violinist, Albanese has performed on big stages around the world – she’s toured with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and The Boston Pops, and San Luis Obispo locals know her from Café Musique. These days she often plays for a single patient at a time in hospital rooms and memory care facilities on the Central Coast.

“Being a person who performed music as a performance to many, many, many people, solo or with orchestras or chamber music, coming full circle around to music as a service,” she said.

Brynn Albanese performed with Café Musique.
Courtesy Café Musique
Brynn Albanese performed with Café Musique.

As one of the only Certified Music Practitioners (CMP) in the region, Albanese went through an intensive training program that brings together art and science. She studied the healing effects of music, and how it’s not just good for the soul, it’s good medicine, too.

“A Music Practitioner is prescriptive with music in the moment. I am trained scientifically to use the intrinsic elements of live music as a type of therapy for different patient conditions,” Albanese said.

Upon arriving at a hospital, Albanese reports to the nurses station and is directed to patients who might benefit from her services. For example, someone recovering from heart surgery.

“That would be a certain type of music that I would play for them. Usually, I would choose a music that I’ve learned called vital signs stabilization music,” she said.

There is also music specifically for patients with high anxiety and pain.

“That kind of music is called relaxation response. Basically, it’s my job, in that moment, to try to lower the patient's blood pressure possibly, that would be one of my goals in that moment, and to get them to breathe,” she said.

Albanese said her specialty is working with dementia and Alzheimer’s patients. She plays memory music, mostly familiar songs from the past that her patients might recognize.

“Perhaps like Moon River or Simple Gifts or Over the Rainbow, somehow those simple tunes refocus the patient and once in a while, you get someone singing,” she said.

Albanese also carries a Native American flute with her. She said the lower vibration of the wooden instrument is better suited to patients who are in palliative or comfort care.  

“The slower the vibrations, the more the body can actually relax,” she said.

Albanese calls her work Pneuma Melodies.

“It’s your breath and it’s your life force, it’s what keeps you alive,” she said.

Albanese knows from her own experiences that music promotes healing of body, mind, and spirit. And she said the practice is gaining acceptance in medical settings.

“Certified Music Practitioners were, at one point, more common on the east coast than the west coast. Now, you’re starting to see more in some of the bigger cities,” she said.

Albanese hopes the field will continue to grow, and that more musicians will get trained to provide this type of therapeutic service to patients here on the Central Coast.

The KCBX Arts Beat is made possible by a grant from the Community Foundation, San Luis Obispo County.

Beth Thornton is a freelance reporter for KCBX, and a contributor to Issues & Ideas. She was a 2021 Data Fellow with the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism, and has contributed to KQED's statewide radio show The California Report.
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