Brain damaged musician makes music again through technology

A brain damaged violinist has performed in concert with her best friend 29 years after they last played together after her mind was wired up to a computer to allow her to play notes using only her thoughts.

Rosemary Johnson, 51, was a leading member of the Welsh National Opera Orchestra but her promising career as a soloist was cut short when she was involved in a devastating car accident in 1988 while travelling to a concert.

Miss Johnson was left in a coma for seven months and suffered a debilitating head injury which robbed her of speech and movement, confining her to a wheelchair and leaving her unable to lift, let alone play, her beloved violin.

Alison Balfour 
Alison Balfour 

But in a groundbreaking project led by Plymouth University and the Royal Hospital for Neuro-disability in London, her brain was linked to a computer using Brain Computer Music Interfacing software, allowing her to compose and play music again.

This month, for the first time she was able to perform with her best friend Alison Balfour, with whom she last played when they were both violinists in the Welsh National Opera Orchestra in the 1980s.

Rosemary Johnson, aged 19, before the accident 
Rosemary Johnson, aged 19, before the accident  Credit:  Paul Grover

“The idea with playing with Rosie again after so many years was something I never imagined would be possible,” said Mrs Balfour, who now plays with the Bath Philharmonia.

“I felt honoured to be doing this with her, to be her sound, her music, her violin and to have her next to me again was wonderful, really wonderful.

“Music has an extraordinary power to move people. It can give them a voice, it can give them a chance to express themselves. It can be a release of emotion and a connection with other people.”

“I can remember the first day Rosie came in. She had the kind of musical look about her that gave us confidence in what she was doing.  I am a rank and file but she was a solo player, she was a numbered position.

“She had everything ahead of her. After the accident I remember the orchestra felt broken. That lasted a long while.”

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