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Dr. Carlene J. Brown '80 stands as a pioneering figure in the field of music therapy and research.

A double major in music therapy and music education, she was among the first cohort of graduates of Emmanuel College's former music therapy program. This milestone, one of many, set the stage for a distinguished career studying physiological and psychological responses to music.

A recent milestone includes her role as the sole music therapist on the University of Washington/National Institutes of Health-sponsored research team that’s studying the influence of music on pain management. Specifically, they are investigating how patients with chronic lower back pain respond to live and recorded sessions of the Body Tambura, a German stringed instrument, performed by Dr. Brown while monitoring their EEG readings. While data isn’t yet available, participants have reported reduced pain intensity and improved well-being, with some achieving states of relaxation previously unattainable. The study is a pilot and given the results, Dr. Brown expects the study will continue on a larger scale.

body tambura musical instrument
The Body Tambura

“One woman fell asleep during the session, and that surprised her. She said she always has a hard time falling asleep,” Dr. Brown said.

Dr. Brown presented her work using music for pain management at the December 2023 Sound Health Initiative workshop on "Music as Medicine: The Science and Clinical Practice," co-sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, National Endowment for the Arts, Renée Fleming Foundation and John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. 

Emmanuel Laid the Groundwork for Success

Dr. Brown expressed gratitude for the pivotal role the College played in shaping her career and instilling in her a deep sense of purpose and commitment to serving diverse communities through music. 

"Emmanuel provided me with a well-rounded musical education and philosophy of music therapy that I carry into all aspects of my work. The foundation I received at Emmanuel allowed me to embark on many different career paths." 

Her connection to Emmanuel has remained steadfast throughout her journey. Dr. Brown, a classically trained pianist and organist, highlighted the mentorship and guidance she received from faculty members Dr. Lily Owyang and Donna Chadwick, whose support continues to inspire her professional endeavors.

“Dr. Owyang helped to elevate my skills and musicianship as a pianist and organist. She trusted me as a musician and gave me many opportunities to play,” Dr. Brown said. “I accompanied many of Louise Cash’s vocal recitals for students, and I’ve played at dozens of churches.” (Louise Cash was a professor of Performing Arts at Emmanuel.)

Emmanuel provided me with a well-rounded musical education and philosophy of music therapy that I carry into all aspects of my work. The foundation I received at Emmanuel allowed me to embark on many different career paths.

Dr. Carlene J. Brown

After graduation, Dr. Brown quickly found success as a music educator in Brookline, Mass., and later expanded her impact by leading a summer program for middle school youth at Tanglewood organized by the Boston Symphony Orchestra. The program, Days in the Arts, brings together students from Boston and other cities in Massachusetts to build confidence, develope leadership skills, foster cultural connections and empower youth through the arts.

“We used the arts to break down cultural barriers, and it was a stunning success. The students arrived on a Monday and left on Friday, and they were trying to figure out how to use public transportation to see each other. These are kids who would never have necessarily crossed paths,” she recalled. 

Expanding Access to Music Therapy

Dr. Brown earned a doctoral degree in the psychology of music in 1991 from the University of Washington in Seattle. She explored the physiological and psychological responses to music with a focus on its therapeutic aspects. “I asked, ‘Why was I seeing these reactions in a therapeutic setting? Is it me? Is it the person? Is it the music? What is music actually doing to influence a reaction?’”

She was also involved in a program to diversify the faculty at the university. “Part of my passion is to model the way for first generation and students of color to not only get through undergraduate, but also to consider a doctorate degree,” she said.

Dr. Brown's commitment to diversity and inclusion extend beyond academia. She was part of a team that established a community music school in Seattle and spearheaded a music therapy program within it. The endeavor brought music therapy into a broader educational context, emphasizing accessibility and inclusivity in the arts.

“This was an amazing opportunity to bring my musician side and my administrative side together to serve the community,” she said.

Dr. Brown joined the faculty of Seattle Pacific University (SPU) in 2005 as a professor of music and a one-year position turned into a tenured role, and she eventually became the chair of the Music Department. In 2009, she launched a music therapy program at SPU — the first such program in the state. 

As Dr. Brown continues to break new ground in the field of music therapy and research, Emmanuel College is honored to say her journey began in the heart of Boston.