Attending: Keri Kammerman, , Laurel Wright-Feighery, Kinsey Mitton, Pam Archbold, Kate Dougherty, Peggy Cann, Angela Scothern, Chris Watts, Kristen Rogers-Iverson, Tamara Oswald
Guests: Kimber Martinson, Aileen Kelley
Aileen Kelley was our guest speaker at this meeting. Aileen graduated from BYU with a degree in Music and later earned a Masters degree in Music from California State University, Sacramento. She was always drawn to Music Therapy but there was no program she could attend at the time. In 2004 she certified as a Music Practitioner through the Music for Healing and Transition Program (MHTP), and now teaches nationwide for that organization. Aileen coordinated the Healing Music Program at the Kaiser Hospital in Roseville, CA, from 2010 to 2017 where she also played the harp at bedsides of critically ill patients. Retired from American River College after teaching there for 18 years, she maintained a private teaching studio, directed the Capital Valley Harp Circle, and performed in the community as a freelance harpist until 2017 when she moved to Sweden with her husband, serving a 2 year church mission with him. Aileen was Peggy’s advisor when she went through the MHTP training.
Aileen’s therapeutic music journey began In 2001 when her granddaughter, Myra, was born four months early in Vernal, UT. Aileen came to her granddaughters NICU in Provo and was granted permission to play harp for her in a limited capacity. As the nurses and staff experienced the response of the babies, parents and staff to the harp music, they encouraged her to bring the harp every day and play as long as she could. The babies responded with increased oxygen saturation, fewer alarms, and steadier respiration rates. Mainly Aileen played simple and soft lullabies and found that keeping the music flowing through improvisation was important. NICU babies need to sustain their blood pressure within an ideal range: not too low and not too high. Since they entrained to the tempo of the music she played she had to watch the monitors for optimal results.
Myra was about 26 weeks gestational age before her heart began to entrain to the tempo of the harp. Aileen learned from this experience that Therapeutic Music was her calling and at the end of the year of playing for the babies, Aileen found the MHTP program. According to Aileen, the MHTP course took what she had learned playing in the NICU and gave it structure. Aileen reported that Myra is now 19 years old and getting married this April. She does not suffer from any problems associated with her difficult start in life.
Techniques for Improving Improvisation Skills
Aileen instructed us all to set our harps in C major, use a G chord for the bass and 4/4 time and improvise the melody using only the white strings (pentatonic). We all played together and then slowly harpists dropped out. This was a lovely exercise that everybody could participate in. Aileen used this technique once with an Asian woman who had intractable pain. Nothing else she had tried seemed to connect or soothe this patient until she used this technique and the patient responded quickly and positively.
Aileen talked about using the sounds of the room including beeps and alarms to minimize their annoying sound and blend then into the background. Find the tone and then work with it.
In lessons with students, Aileen uses harp technique exercises as a foundation to improvise which she demonstrated using a 3 finger pattern etude.
Aileen recommended Joyce Rice’s book: Petty Larcenies. The point of this reference is that Joyce uses the opening phrases of familiar songs and then spins off in improvisational directions. This illustrates how one can also start with a familiar phrase but then take off and make it something new by changing the patterns. E.g. changing ascending patterns to descending patterns and vice versa.
Aileen demonstrated using a form of musical question and answer phrases and said there are no wrong notes, just interesting ones. She emphasized listening to the end of a phrase and imagining where it might go…and then play what you imagined.
Peggy told a story about playing for an opera singer who moaned as she was dying and how Therapeutic Musicians can use a patient’s voice pitch and breathing to accompany them. Aileen called it “companioning the patient”. Sometimes humming or moaning is a way to vibrate ourselves from the inside out and a way to comfort ourselves.
Kinsey shared an experience of playing for a patient who did not respond to much of anything she was doing but she felt that a particular technique was the right thing to do and after a while it did help that patient to relax. Aileen added that 20 minutes of playing seems to be the magic amount of time needed to really benefit a patient and patience is often critical to success. “Put aside expectations and let the patient drive the session.” She emphasized the importance of working within the moment at the bedside, meeting the patient wherever they are at. She also noted these improvisations should be kept simple and spacious to not overstimulate the patient.
The left hand should be kept simple unless it is the main improvisation source. Single notes, simple arpeggios and drones work well. A drone can be a powerful stabilizer for patients.
Final comments on improvisation from Aileen: Music exists in time. The mind will engage with a melody and go on a journey. Rhythm = bodily functions.
Aileen encouraged us all to imagine a patient and a condition or situation and then create improvisations to practice the techniques before it’s needed by a real life patient.
In addition to the other hats she wears, Aileen is the founder of Music Partners in Healthcare (MPIH.org). This is a non-profit organization that educates healthcare facilities and provides Therapeutic Musicians to those facilities to provide music to patients at the bedside. As the first Therapeutic Musician in the Sacramento Valley, Aileen had to create a demand for her services. Now, through the non-profit organization, MPIH provides paid positions for Therapeutic Harpists throughout the Sacramento Valley at memory care centers, hospitals, and skilled nursing facilities. There is now more demand than harpists supply and it is a model worthy of emulation that the Utah Therapeutic Harp Network might want to consider in the future.
If anyone would like to drop Aileen a note she can be emailed at email@example.com
We had talked about having a harp circle at Pam’s house next month but after the Corona virus events of the last week, we will postpone that until a later date. Peggy has suggested we have a virtual UTHN meeting via Zoom April 14, Tuesday at 10 am. She has agreed to be the Zoom host and we can focus on repertoire and self care. Peggy attended Joanna Mell’s Zoom harp gathering which meets 11 am on Thursdays. Last week the group simply played for each other providing the name of the piece and the composer, although sometimes they just improvised. A calendar invitation will be sent out as well. Hope you all can make it!
I am including a link to a live, unattended performance put on by Utopia Early Music Saturday night at St. Marks Cathedral. Teresa Honey is the harpist on a gothic harp. Enjoy! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Esq0YeXIEw8