UTHN Meeting from 9/17/19

Harps from the MTAI Conference

Attendees:  Peggy Cann, Kristen Rogers-Iverson, Chris Watts, Tamara Oswald, Tristen Adair, Kathleen Dougherty, Heidi Jaeger

Singing and Harp Accompaniment

What to do with patients who don’t want to passively listen to instrumental music and want to sing?  Chris put a book together for one of her patients that includes the lyrics to the patient’s favorite songs and a lead sheet for herself so they could sing and play harp together. Chris  incorporates techniques of guitar for use on harp to accompany sing alongs.  She demonstrated all of the techniques on her handout so that we could hear how they sound which made the handout easier to understand.

Handout provided: Chris Watts, Chording patterns to add variation when singing songs. These were adapted from Elaine Stratford’s guitar course and sound somewhat like the strums by the interesting manes Stratford gives them like:  Pussy Willow, 3 Away, Boom Chuck, etc. 


Ray Pool’s Hymns and Harmony Catagory A, pg 1

Angie Bemis’ Simply the Harp website, Traditional Songs and Lullabies Key of C, www.simplytheharp.com

Ray Pool’s 3’s a Chord video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hmBvia892jI

Peggy showed us how to start with a song with only 2 chords and then play just using the root of the chords.  We all practiced singing and playing He’s Got the Whole In His Hands, You Are my Sunshine, Kum By Yah. The easiest way to start is to just play one note of the chord, mainly the root note. If the chord is C, play C. 

The second step would be to add the 5th note of the chord in a broken chord pattern.

Then add  1, 5, 8 of the chord.  Also,  steps 1,5,10 of a scale makes a nice bass.  These steps work in any key, begin with the root of that scale.

Many songs only use 2 chords. In the Songs That Teach Book, songs are categorized as 2 chord songs, 3 chord songs, etc.  

When playing lullabies for babies as Peggy does in the NICU, she often only uses root and the 5th note of the chord in a lub dub heart beat kind of rhythm which she demonstrated. 

Other sources for Easy Music to play for groups:  Readers Digest Book of Music and look for the Guitar Guy on the Internet for lead sheets to common songs. http://www.theguitarguy.com/

Peggy mentioned that Certification for playing in NICUS can be obtained by Therapeutic musicians as well as Music Therapists. The program is based in Florida and that is where certification is granted. https://music.fsu.edu/NICU-MT/upcoming-trainings     The 2019 information– out of date— is on the site.  2020 has not yet been posted.

Report from the Music Thanatology Association International conference in Portland OR Sept. 13-15, 2019

Approximately 55 people attended the 17th annual MTAI conference.  The Theme of the conference was, From Music Into Silence. The highlight of this conference was the first US screening of the documentary film about Music Thanatologist, Peter Roberts, life and his work in Australia titled From Music Into Silence. https://vimeo.com/263142820

This is a fabulous documentary filmed over four years about what one person (Peter Roberts) can accomplish when he answers his true calling: becoming a Music Thanatologist and playing harp at the bedside of the dying. In spite of the subject matter, this film is not so much about death and dying but triumph of the human spirit, compassion, and what can be done for others when there is nothing more to be done. I found it uplifting and appealing with it’s focus on universal themes of beauty and peace. Action/conflict junkies may be disappointed, but it is a beautiful documentary shot in Australia and Turkey with archived footage from Missoula Montana. The poetry of Rumi runs throughout the film spoken in Persian with English text as a Rumi poem was Peter’s initial inspiration to change his life and become a Music Thanatologist. This film will be shown in various cities in Oregon the week following the MTAI conference and then the filmmakers will return to Australia.  Further release plans are not known at this time.

Conference, Day 1:

While I traveled to this conference I had no expectations that I would know anyone there or what it would be like.  The agenda had not been published when I registered so I committed to going based on an intuitive feeling that I just needed to be there. When I arrived I found people I had extended relationships with through mutual friends and family ties and by the end of the weekend I had 55 new sisters and brothers of the harp.  Though our training is quite different, Music Thanatologists, Therapeutic Musicians, Music Therapists ultimately find ourselves in similar situations on a day to day basis in the field and so we shared with each other how we approach these events with music and found there are more similarities than differences between us. Singing and the application of voice to bedside offerings is emphasized by the MTAI program so we sang a great deal and I was able to take home many pieces of shared music that I plan to incorporate into my own practice.

Scola Cantorum

The meeting was opened with a ritual of singing/humming and meditation and a formal processional into the meeting space. After a business meeting, which I did not attend, we resumed our educational gathering with a demonstration of three different approaches to bedside therapy provided by Bethany Lee, Therapeutic Musician; Anna Fiasca, Music Thanatologist; and Jake Beck, Music Therapist.  Bethany first played and sang a version of Blackbird by the Beatles for a patient who had just been diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer and given a prognosis of 3 months to live. Bethany played a second piece that was not familiar. 

Anna demonstrated how a Music Thanatologist would approach this scenario by playing a metered piece in Dm Dorian mode to address the patients sorrow and loss and create an environment of safety. Her tempo matched the patients breathing. Then she played an unmetered piece to include minor intervals allowing more freedom for the patient to rest without rhythm that included short phrases and repetition.  She finished her offering with the song, “You Dwell In the Heart” which is a blessing delivered in a major key to provide a sense of intimacy and warmth.  Voice and harp were used throughout this session.

Jake played a guitar and sang to the patient.  He first asked the patient what kind of music she liked as he explained patient preference is important for patients to reminisce and music familiarity helps patients open and relax. He played and sang, Somewhere Over the Rainbow and finished with Will Ye Go Lassie, Go (Wild Mountain Thyme)Jake said if he had more time he might finish with another song, Hard Times Come Again No More.

We broke for individual self care sessions and I was able to hike one of the many trails in old growth forest around the property which was quiet and peaceful.  I even had the opportunity to sit and play my native American flute in the forest. accompanying the birds and crickets.

After dinner the film, From Music Into Silence, was shown.

Day 2:

There is a part of the film that is shot in Turkey and honors and remembers the Gallipoli battle of WW I fought in 1915 in Turkey.  For the morning musical offering James Excell sang a capella “And the Band Played Waltzing Mathilda” a haunting ballad that commemorates that battle from the point of view of an Australian survivor.   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cZqN1glz4JY         James shared with me afterwards, the most difficult thing about singing this song is getting through it without breaking down emotionally. No one in the audience managed it. It took great courage for him to share this song with us.

An interesting fact that I was unaware of was in ancient celtic times, War Harps were used which were giant harps place on a hillside and caught the wind in their strings creating an other-worldly sound in order to scare the enemy.  Peter plays wind harp at the Gallipoli sight that is quite moving.  As he said in our discussion, “What song could I play that would be appropriate for such a sacred site?  Better to let the wind play the song for dead.” 

We spent the morning discussing the film with the cast (Peter) and the producers and director:  Farshid Akhlaghi and his wife Sammi Ghafari.  Farshid was unable to get his travel visa approved by the US state department in time to join us so he was Teleconferenced in from Australia to join the discussion and answer questions about the film, his message, technical aspects of filming and many other details.  Sammi was able to join us in person and of course Peter was present. It is disappointing that after 3 showings of the film to the public in Oregon, the film and its creators will return to Australia and figure out next steps for its sale/release/showing to the public. It has been to at least 5 film festivals and no more are planned. It was shown in Australia to the public in 5 major cities and all shows were sold out before the screening.  Farshid said that his original intention was to make a film about peace and beauty. Peter’s story was his vehicle for delivering that and it changed his life, he said.

After Lunch the presentation was a tribute to two long time members of the MTAI who have passed away in the last year, Sandy LaForge and Abigail Robinson with musical offerings and remembrances by other Association members. There was group singing and harp playing during this session.  

Joshua Ward presented a session of Harp Fundamentals. He was a lifelong student of the Salzedo method and rediscovered his passion for the harp through MTAI training.  No new material but good reminders for us all:  remember proper hand shape with fingers curved downward and thumbs up, wrist bent inwards, arm bouncy without being parallel to the floor, sit straight, shoulders relaxed, bounce the harp off your shoulder to find it’s center of gravity, don’t lean over with your bass hand shoulder (because many MTs play harp off their left shoulder he avoided referring to left and right hands or sides and simply called them bass and treble sides), Be fluid and make adjustments as needed, develop hand gestures and remember your hands are dancing.  

Day 3:

We began with a panel presentation in playing harp in the NICU.  In spite of the program focus of playing for the dying, many MTs play in a NICU environment where premature babies, the parents and the staff all benefit from Therapeutic Harp music. Simple quiet music is necessary for this work below 50 decibels, ideally, even though machines and monitors in the NICU may be louder.

Comments:  All babies have musical preferences based on family culture, what they may have been exposed to in utero, and their own unique personalities.  Best to play warm music (major tonalities) and short duration, no more than 20 minutes.  By calming the staff and family, that calmness will help calm the baby. Metered music at a slow tempo is best for babies. 

The panel consisted of Music Thanatologists who work in NICUs and Ruby Lee, an RN from one of the NICUs. One of the most interesting comments came from Ruby where she said that until participating on this panel, she was unaware that MTs actually watched the baby monitors in the NICU to gauge the effectiveness of their playing and altered their delivery based on the bio metrics.  This is an opportunity for education of the clinical care team in the future.  Ruby has been a NICU nurse for almost 30 years and she also said that she believes it is important even for babies who will not survive to experience music before they die.  She is obviously a big supporter of the MT program at her hospital.

We finished the final session with Scola Cantorum led by Elizabeth Markell.  We learned and sang in 4-6 part harmony, This Old Brown Earth and For My Soul’s Desire. She also included a 4 piece orchestra to accompany us with harp (of course) accordion, cello and guitar.  Two more songs which I can add to my personal repertoire.

Final thoughts:  I learned a great deal about the Music Thanatology Association International program and their emphasis on prescriptive music as well as the power of the human voice to facilitate the comfort and gentle passing of souls. While the training and the certification requirements of the program are different than the program I certified in, (International Harp Therapy), many of the practices are applicable to both and we can all learn from each other.  Christina Tourin, IHTP founder, was mentioned frequently and she was the guest speaker at the MTAI conference 6 years ago held in Utah.  I plan to attend the MTAI conference annually as often as time and money allow to continue the friendships made and the my own learning process.  

I found the practitioners I met at this conference warm, welcoming, inclusive and very willing to share their experience and knowledge with others.  I would recommend attending this conference to anyone already practicing Therapeutic Music or aspiring to do so. I intend to incorporate many things I learned in this 2.5 day conference which were very practical and useful tools to add to my skills, knowledge and abilities as a Certified Therapeutic Harp Practitioner.  In order to be invited to this conference, one must register with the MTAI program as a “Friend of MTAI”. This costs $40 and must include an application for membership. This also grants access to their Slack website.    

The next meeting of the UTHN will be in October and Tamara will lead this one. Topic and date to be announced but keep your Tuesday mornings open!

Published by

Heidi Jaeger

Therapeutic Harpist (CTHP) and Advanced Reiki Practitioner (ARP) serving Northern Utah. Currently employed by Bristol Hospice and available for presentations, demonstrations and private consultations.

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