BBC presenter Clemency Burton-Hill spoke about how music has helped her recover from a major brain hemorrhage.
The 39-year-old Radio 3 host underwent emergency brain surgery after her collapse in New York City in January.
Months later, she says music has played a key role, as she relearns to talk and walk.
“Sometimes that’s what comforts me,” she says. “And sometimes that’s what helps me get up, fight and live. ”
“It’s the ultimate motivation,” Clemmie – as her friends and colleagues call her – told friend and journalist Sophie Elmhirst.
The presenter, who is behind Radio 3’s award-winning Classical Fix program, as well as a regular face on the BBC’s Proms coverage, currently lives in New York City where she is artistic director of WQXR, the classical music station of the New York public radio.
Earlier this year, she suffered from a massive brain hemorrhage caused by a previously undiagnosed condition: an arteriovenous malformation (AVM), an unusual and abnormal cluster of blood vessels lining the arteries and veins in her brain. .
It could have been fatal.
As it stands, doctors removed half of her skull during emergency surgery at Manhattan’s Mount Sinai West Hospital and she was unconscious for 17 days. No one was sure his brain’s ability to recover.
Throughout those early days, music played on a loudspeaker near his hospital bed – the playlist compiled by those close to him.
Before showing any sign of conscience, British opera singer Andrew Staples – a close friend who was performing in New York City when the presenter collapsed – remembers his left foot tapping on some Brahms.
“I remember it struck me as an unusual piece to inspire the tapping of the toes,” Staples recalls.
About a week later, as medics removed the tubes that had initially helped her breathe, one of Burton-Hill’s favorite pieces of music, Richard Strauss’s Morgen, went through the speaker.
“With her good hand, she grabbed my wrist as I leaned over her shaved head, and I sang the words to her,” Staples said. “We both cried a lot. I no longer worried about whether she was more “in there”. ”
Although she couldn’t remember the moment, Burton-Hill remembers how she seemed to make the choice to give up or to live the moment she regained consciousness.
“It was literally: I can do this, I’ll be fine,” she says now. “Music is the opposite of despair. It would be worth fighting for. “
As her recovery intensified, renowned friend and violinist Nicola Benedetti came to visit her and together they play Bach, with Burton-Hill – herself a solo violinist – playing the left hand on the violin and Benedetti’s tilting. Surprisingly, the broadcaster again recalled all the notes.
“It’s a cliché idea that music is beyond language,” she says, “but from what I’ve been through in my own brain, I really know it now. ”
Gradually, language and movement began to return despite the obstacles to recovery posed by the coronavirus pandemic.
“I really believe music is part of my recovery because it uses both sides of the brain,” says Burton-Hill.
“It’s like it trains your brain to be ambidextrous. “