Sax Player Serenade Doctors During His Brain Surgery

This week in chill news we take a lighter note with a story that involves brain surgery, an operating room and one impressive saxophone performance from a music teacher. But let’s start at the beginning: Music teacher Dan Fabbio, 25, had been diagnosed with a benign brain tumour that had been growing slowly since childhood, and which threatened his musical career.


Following a successful surgery to remove the tumour, Fabbio proved his musical ability had been preserved by delivering a perfect saxophone performance right there in the operating room, all while not in exactly a normal position.


“He played it flawlessly and when he finished the entire operating room erupted in applause," said Elizabeth Marvin, a professor of music theory in the University of Rochester’s Eastman School of Music, in a statement .


Leading up to the surgery, researchers had to determine exactly where musical information was processed in Fabbio's brain so they could map it. To do this Elizabeth Marvin, Bard Mahon and their team of researchers at the University of Rochester's Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences developed a series of musical tests for Fabbio to perform while inside an MRI machine.


The study had Fabbio listen to and then hum back a series of short melodies, thereby activating the parts of his brain important for music and language processing, which would then be mapped out by the MRI machine. In addition, he performed language tasks where he would identify objects and repeat sentences.


When it came time for the surgery, the theatre room worked like a symphony. Dr. Web Pilcher, a neurosurgeon at the University of Rochester, used the map of Fabbio's brain developed by Mahon to guide him. Fabbio repeated the humming and language tasks from the MRI scan, and Marvin, the music theory professor, listened so she could signal to the surgeons whether or not they came across an area of the brain that disrupted music processing, which they needed to avoid.


The ability to process and repeat a tune is important, especially if said person is a music teacher. So, the surgeons wanted to know if they had successfully preserved his ability to perform after removing the tumour. The end result? Well why don’t you click on the video below.

Despite what looked like a nonchalant performance. The serenade presented several challenges: he would have to lie on his side while playing and his brain could potentially protrude out of his skull due to the pressure caused by the deep breaths required to play long notes on the saxophone – not chill at all. This prompted both Fabbio and Marvin to choose a version of a Korean folk song that could be modified to be played with shorter and shallower breaths. He performed flawlessly.


If you were wondering how Fabbio is doing since his performance. Well, it’s all been on the up and up. He has completely recovered, and returned to teaching music within six months of his surgery.

Leave a comment