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!

UTHN meeting of 7/9/19

(Notes provided by Kathleen Dougherty as I was on vacation)

Our speaker was Melou Stewart Cline, Music therapist. Melou has her NICU-MT, a national certification to practice Music Therapy in the NICU. Melou also is a Neurologic Music Therapist, NMT.

Melou outlined a multimodal approach to NICU music therapy, which included humming, singing, humming with harp, singing with harp, and touch. The latter, as I understood, is only employed by NICU nurses and parents (or other approved persons).

Provide music geared to the developmental stage of the NICU infant. For instance, at six months gestation, singing and playing harp will stress the child’s immature physiology. Proceed hierarchially: Start with gentle humming (Brahm’s Lullaby has had good results) and pay attention to startle responses. Keep sound levels below 70 dB.

Startle response: The Moro reflex is when an infant suddenly extends arms and legs, arches the back, then curls everything in again. The child may gasp. (Infants may startle not only to sound, but bright lights, physical touch and other unfamiliar stressors in the NICU.)

Watch for improvements of oxygen saturation, heart rate, and relaxed states. If humming is tolerated, move to singing, then humming with instrument (harp), then singing with harp. All interactions at slow tempo and low volume. Note: I can’t recall discussion about harp alone.

These MT interactions with NICU infants can also soothe the medical staff and the parents.

NICU sessions are usually brief, 10 to 20 minutes, to avoid overstimulating the baby.

Before birth:

Singing one specific song to an unborn child can help Mom sooth the infant after birth. Perhaps Dad’s singing, too.(Generally in gestation babies start to respond to sound at 18-20 weeks.)

Music therapy in NICU can decrease length of stay. NICU nurses and parents may also employ gentle human touch to soothe preterm infants along with gentle humming or singing.

UTHN meeting notes from 6/3/19

Attendees: Heidi, Peggy, Laurel, Chris, Tristan, Kate, Tamara

Today we are celebrating and honoring our member, Tristan Adair as she retires from 25 years of work as a Music Thanatologist.  Before Tristan embarks on her next adventure traveling the country in search of Sasquatch in her RV and teaching harp, we wanted to hear more about Tristan’s journey as a Music Thanatologist and learn from her vast experience.

Tristan was a music student of piano from the age of 3. Lucky enough to be born into a family of talented musicians she was recruited early to play in the family string quartet on violin and String Bass.  Tristan attended BYU on a full music scholarship and also trained at the Royal Academy of Music in London playing String Bass. 

After graduation, Tristan was living in Oregon and was recruited (voluntold) by her mother for the Bend Oregon Hospice, where her mom was a volunteer.  At that time, Tristan had never played a harp or been interested in hospice work.  As serendipity usually happens, while Tristan was volunteering, Therese Shchroeder-Sheker  was invited as a keynote speaker to present at the hospice. She spoke about her Chalice of Repose Music Thanatology training program and Tristan was intrigued.  Tristan and Therese had a long conversation after the conference and Therese encouraged Tristan to apply to the program. Even though Tristan did not play the harp at that time, she was admitted to the program in Missoula Montana.  Tristan recounted that long ago she had had a memorable dream about a harp which made no sense to her at the time but was obviously prophetic in hindsight.

A short Youtube video of Therese Shroeder-Sheker you may want to watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gppfjwu4xXk

The Bend Oregon Hospice was so supportive of this training that they partially funded Tristan’s training at the Chalice of Repose. When she graduated Tristan came back to Bend and was hired to work as a Music Thanatologist for them.  Even with Tristan’s vast musical background and experience, the Chalice of Repose experience was daunting and demanding, according to Tristan. Many applied, few were admitted to the program and of those, many were redirected to other occupations before graduation. (It sounds like Harvard Law School.)

Tristan met Ann Dowdy at Chalice of Repose and Ann recruited Tristan to come to Salt Lake City where she said there was a great need and opportunity for Music Thanatology. Tristan has worked for a number of different hospices in Utah: Applegate, Care Source and CNS were the most memorable. Tristan recommends working in an inpatient hospice with a clinical team who truly understand the benefits of Therapeutic Music for the best experience in the world, as she had at CareSource. The most difficult misconception hospice and palliative care team members have is that music is a performance to entertain patients, which of course, it is NOT.

Some of Tristan’s most memorable experiences playing harp at the bedside occurred when she was privileged to play for patients who were actively dying and passed in her presence.  One experience she remembers was a patient who seemed to generate a golden spiral from the top of his head upward and as they took their last breath, the spiral began to evaporate from the head moving upwards and then totally disappeared.  Tristan believes that was when the patient’s soul took flight from their body.  Another time she was playing for a young ALS patient and she saw a golden tapestry hanging midair over the patient prior to their passing.  She has witnessed a glow of patients who are on the verge of dying that is unexplainable.

Tristan wished to thank all the members and guest of UTHN for their support and friendship over the last 2 years.  As this work can be very solitary and most people don’t really understand what we do and why we do it, having a support network like UTHN is most valuable to share ideas, experiences and learn from each other.

Cyndi Bowen wanted me to thank all of those involved in her therapeutic harp healing experience last month.  She found it a profoundly healing experience and couldn’t adequately express her gratitude at the time.

As a followup to our discussion, the Music Thanatology Association International will be holding their annual meeting in Portland Oregon September 13-15 at Still Meadow Conference & Retreat Center
16561 SE Marna Road
Damascus, Oregon 97089

Potential presenters include Peter Roberts and Farshid Akhlaghi

All are welcome to attend. More information can be found on their website: www.MTAI.org

Our next meeting will be July 9, location to be determined.  Peggy Cann is hosting and one of our Music Thanatologist friends will be presenting on Music Therapy in the NICU.

Our UTHN meeting was followed by the Heartland harp trunk show featuring the Serenity, their newest addition to their line of carbon fiber harps. Dave Woodworth was present and incredibly generous as he hauled one of each model into my house for us all to try.  The Serenity weighs 5 lbs, fully levered and has 25 strings.  It is retailing for approx.. $2500.  If I was in the market for a new therapy harp, this would be the one I’d buy. While Dave was here he fixed a chronic intermittent buzzing problem I have been having with my Lewis Creek Jessie harp.  I can’t believe how great it sounds now. 10 years old and still serving me and my hospice patients well.  We all enjoyed playing them and lifting them and envying the built in light system.  Safe travel wishes for Dave as he continues on his cross country show of harps.

UTHN Meeting April 23, 2019

UTHN Meeting April 23, 2019 held at Kristen’s house

Attendees:  Kristen, Peggy, Laurel, Cindi Chris, Kate, Angela, Heidi, Tristan

Today was Tristan’s and Chris’s birthday which we celebrated with good food and a potluck lunch.

I: Heidi Reviewed the Generations 2019 conference Music Therapy Track held 4/16/19 at the Salt Palace Convention Center; Peggy, Tamara, Pam and Heidi attended and Peggy presented: 

Conference Session I: A Continuum of Music in Healthcare: From Music Listening to Music therapy

Presenters: E. Christensen, SCMT, MT-BC; P Cann, CMP; S Cheek-O’Donnell, PhD; M. Frani, PhD; M , Hearns, PhD

Massamiliano Frani, PhD is the CEO of Genote  see www.genotelab.com, recorded music to achieve various outcomes working with specific populations. He graciously offered attendees a 2 month free trial if we email him and mention his offer at this conference. He discussed his research using his product with long distance runners and the effect it had on their Ck, Hb, Cortisol, and Testosterone levels. Statistically significant results include an decrease of Ck and increase of testosterone and better motivational and coping skills.  See Youtube videos for more information   https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCm4tiXyX_axzIq1Ty9q7eYA

I’m not sure when this discussion came up but the reference is to an article about a Therapeutic Musician who plays the harp. See the article   http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/12/19/AR2008121903041.html?referrer=emailarticle&noredirect=on

Sydney Cheek-O’Donnell, PhD, Assoc Dean for Research at UU

Discussed Time Slips, a storytelling method to work with Dementia patients. TimeSlips opens storytelling to everyone by replacing the pressure to remember with the freedom to imagine. The open, poetic language of improvisational storytelling invites people with dementia to express themselves and connect with others. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9yxxbw7YIys

The UU has an Arts In Health Innovation lab, free yoga at the UMFA for the public and recently produced a play about a blind woman called Molly Sweeney

There will be an Arts in Health Symposium at the UU in the Fall of 2019, see http://artsinhealth.utah.edu/

Maureen Hearns, PhD, Chair of the Music Therapy Dept. at Utah State University, Logan

Music therapy In Dementia Care:

  • Music therapy provides opportunities for:
  • Memory Recall which contributes to reminiscence and satisfaction with life
  • Positive Changes in Mood and emotional states
  • Sense of Control Over Life through successful experiences
  • Awareness of self and environment which accompanies increased attention to music
  • Anxiety and stress reduction for older adults and caregivers
  • Nonpharmacological management of pain and discomfort
  • Stimulation which provokes interest even when no other approach is effective
  • Structure which promotes rhythmic and continuous movement or vocal fluency as an adjunct to physical rehabilitation
  • Emotional intimacy when spouses and families share creative music experiences
  • Social interaction with caregivers and families

Peggy Cann, CMP gave a great presentation on what Therapeutic Musicians do and demonstrated by playing the harp for the group as she would for the NICU patients she plays for. She discussed the differences between Music Therapists and Therapeutic Musicians training and scope of practice. 

Session II:  Music therapy in Utah: Current Trends, Reimbursement and More

Presenter: Emily Polichette, MM, SCMT, MT-BC

MTs can bill for restorative care if their work is in support of other outcomes.  They need an MD to sign off on this.

If insurance companies deny billing, ask to see their exclusion policies.

Utah Association of Music Therapists  has a group devoted to legislative lobbying and they are always trying to get more billable services approved by Medicare/Medicaid See Utah State HB 277 which created the designation of State Certified Music therapist (SCMT).  Only MT-BC people can apply for SCMT certification.

The term “Music Therapist” is not owned exclusively by BC-MTs which is one reason why they pushed for HB 277.  It is important for the public to understand the difference between music therapists and Board Certified Music Therapists. One difference is in the amount of training and internship hours BC-MTs receive versus other certification programs.

Session III:  Music and Mental Health in the Medical Settings

Presenter: Heather Fellows, SCMT, MT-BC

An experiential session.  We all took up instruments, drums, guitars, and played together.  Heather and some of the other Music Therapists present sang. Heather provided stories of her 20 years of practice as BC-MT working with all kinds of patients and how she used music, usually guitar and voice, to hold space for patients.


  • Group Music Listening with Adolescents for Self-Expression in Grief Recovery (McFerran, 2011)
  • Active music making, songwriting and analysis, and music assisted grief rituals with hospice workers (Wiodarczk, 2010)
  • Singing and vocal improvisation with adults with mental illness in complicated grief (IIliya, 2015)
  • Live Music Based experiences improved pain control, physical comfort and relaxation in terminally ill hospice patients (Krout, 2001)

 Heather told a story about a family member of a terminally ill patient who requested she play and sing Charley Puth’s song, See You Again. 

Session IV: the Power of Your Individual Voice: Songwriting and Voice in Music therapy

Presenter: Brandtley Henderson, MM, MT-BC

Why we sing:  Everybody can do it!

Muisc can create and reinforce neural pathways.

Singing is a way to create a shortcut from the prefrontal cortex (decision making) to the amygdala (emotional processing).

Singing permits the individual to acknowledge and process emotion in a way that is engaging, accessible, and non-threatening.

Another experiential session. Everybody can sing who can breath and make any sort of vibrational noise from their throat. You don’t have to be a trained singer. Brandtley  played guitar and sang songs and had us all write a song in 15 minutes as a group which we then sang.  It was pretty easy to do actually:  pick a rhythm, create a phrase about a preselected topic, attach the phrase to a melody.  Sing.  Brandtley works with the Utah State Hospital patients.  

II. We were all requested to watch the TED talk You Are Contagious by Vanessa Van Edwards


and listen to the podcasts: 

End of Life University  Dr Karen Wyatt  Mortal Wisdom


181  Impermanence

183 How to let go of what you thought should happen

167 Kathryn De Longi and Music Thanatology  (Kathryn is Kristen’s cousin and inspiration).

Using these sources as inspiration we talked about our own experiences when we were not centered and focused on our patients and the effect that had (or did not have) lending support to the concept that our intention and mindfulness is critical to the work we do.

We discussed the importance of focusing on gratitude as a way of improving not only our own emotional and physical health but that of others around us and how HeartMath measures and encourages this practice of cardiac coherence.

Cindi quoted: “Gratitude allows grace to complete it’s cycle”  I cannot find the source for this citation but I did find the following via google search:  https://mentalhealthgracealliance.org/christian-mental-health-and-mental-illness/what-you-get-when-you-give-thanks

Tristan shared an experience she had recently of an estranged family coming together at the bedside of their dying loved one and how the music helped them heal at this critical time before their loved one passed.

We also shared experiences of how times of brokenness can allow us to utilize other gifts we have to make a positive impact on the world in spite of our own disabilities and limitations. Laurel shared her experience from living with a chronic illness for the last 25 years and finding gratitude for all the blessings of her life.

We finished with lunch together and a healing ritual for one of our members using harp, intention and holding space for support.