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Seattle, WA


Relearning Music After Stroke

Video:  Boyd’s Return to the Bandstand After Stroke

Linda’s husband, Dr. Boyd Phelps, DMA, is a professional saxophonist and music educator who lost nearly all ability to express his musical knowledge — including notation, theory, recognition/memory/ability to play of a vast repertoire of songs  — when he suffered several strokes in the left hemisphere of his brain during 2010-2011 . As a result of the strokes, Boyd has expressive and receptive aphasia (impaired ability to speak, read, write, or comprehend words) and acquired amusia (impaired ability to play or understand music). Until the strokes, Boyd was a very fine musician, music educator, bandleader, author, and an authority on the saxophone. Now he has difficulty in all these areas due to his aphasia and acquired amusia. Through his determination and strong work ethic, and with the help of acupuncture, speech therapy, and a unique type of “music therapy”*, Boyd is gradually regaining his music and language skills. On July 26, 2011, Boyd was finally able to play his saxophone with his band for the first time in a year, and we captured the milestone event in this video!

*Dr. Ken Kassover, the pianist in Boyd’s jazz quintet, is a neuropsychologist who graciously applied his knowledge of brain function and jazz music to guide Boyd in how to relearn music. With Ken’s coaching, Boyd was soon able to study and practice music on his own.

Acupuncture is very effective in reducing and resolving the effects of stroke, including language skills, music skills, paralysis, pain, sensory perception, and other neurological impairments. In China, acupuncture is among the first treatment modalities people get after a stroke because it is well known in China that acupuncture can restore normal function in paralyzed arms, legs, face, and esophagus, among other effects of stroke. For optimum results, acupuncture treatments should begin as soon as possible once a stroke has begun. Boyd’s treatments began 4 days after the stroke, while he was still in the hospital, and there was marked improvement in his language skills immediately after treatment. His music impairments were not known about until Boyd tried to play his saxophone weeks after his discharge from the hospital.

Acupuncture treatment for stroke addresses specific areas of the brain affected by the stroke, and also energetic pathways in the body.  In the community acupuncture setting, treatment for stroke involves the stimulation of acupuncture points on the arms, legs, and head. Electroacupuncture – a subtle electrical pulse applied to the needles on the head – is sometimes used to stimulate neurological function of the affected brain regions. For patients with mobility impairment, including post-stroke paralysis, house call treatments may be arranged.

2014 update: Boyd has come a long way since the night of the video above when he knew how to play only 3 jazz tunes (a.k.a. jazz standards). His repertoire has reached 30-40 tunes and keeps growing as he continues to practice. He moved his “practice room” outdoors to enjoy the fresh air while he relearns jazz by practicing out in the neighborhood. His favorite practicing spots are near the Lenin statue in Fremont and near Trader Joe’s in Ballard. He has become a local attraction at those places for his music. Artists, photographers, and news media have stopped to capture his image. Here are a few examples:

April 2016 update: Oh no!! He will have to relearn how to play saxophone again!! In February 2016, Boyd fell while stepping off a bus and suffered serious injury to the spinal cord in his neck! It caused paralysis of his arms and legs. Subsequent major surgery on his spinal cord and intensive rehabilitation therapies are helping him regain mobility. Once again, he has a long road ahead. Please send positive thoughts and healing vibes his way! At this time, friends are helping raise funds to assist his recovery: YouCaring – Help Boyd Phelps Get Back On His Feet

2013 Photo/Article in the Seattle Times → Lenin the saxophone all over again

2014-01-12 Boyd Red Hand of Jazz
“Red Hand of Jazz”


← 2014 Photo by Ben Menesini


Five Songs
“Five Songs”



← 2012 Sketch by Tina Koyama

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