Interview in the Fall 2017 Harp Therapy Journal

Melinda Gardiner's New Journey

by Sarajane Williams

     In spring 2005, The Harp Therapy Journal featured an interview with Melinda Gardiner, executive director of the Music for Healing and Transition Program. She officially retired from that position in April. Here, we celebrate Melinda's experiences and new plans from the following email interview.

Please tell us about the growth and changes that you've seen, under your leadership of MHTP and in the field of therapeutic music.

That is a lovely question!  It is quite extraordinary to gaze back to 1990, when I originally began searching for more education in order to responsibly use acoustic sound and music as therapeutic modalities in my nursing and hospice practices. I had training in quite a few integrative modalities, and was working as an RN in an integrative medical practice, but wanted to make sure that I would “do no harm” with music.     I got involved in MHTP in 1996 as an Area Coordinator to offer the training here in the Hudson Valley of NY.  Shortly after that I became a faculty member, and then a Board Director (President of the Board) in 1998.  At that time, I also took up running the day-to-day details of MHTP, so that Margo Drohan, the new ED, could focus on implementing a complete revision of the curriculum and strategic planning.  So, it has been over twenty years of involvement.  

I have seen the refinement and professionalization of the training and certification process for therapeutic musicians in the NSBTM accredited programs.  There has been an incredible growth in employment opportunities for therapeutic musicians, and increasing openness in healthcare to our presence as part of the healthcare team.  I’ve participated in the establishment of the NSBTM, the creation of Standards for the profession, and seen growing respect of our profession, as well as  collaboration, with the American Music Therapy Association.  There is also the on-going growth of smaller educational programs that offer trainings in creative ways that might not meet the NSBTM Standards, but are still adding to the possibilities of sound and music assisting the healing process for people needing care. 

 What will your new relationship be with the MHTP?

I continue as a member of the MHTP faculty, teaching MHTP’s Module 1 as well as the live, remote-learning Module 3.  I remain an Area Coordinator for the Hudson Valley, and I have just become an MHTP Advisor to students.   

Since I love teaching,   I will continue developing and teaching MHTP-partnered continuing education workshops for therapeutic musicians.  These offerings expand on the classes I have taught over the years at conferences, like the Somerset Folk Harp Conference.  They will primarily become live webinars via the Zoom platform.   Offering these workshops as webinars makes them very accessible and affordable for people, and allows me to continue supporting MHTP and my therapeutic music colleagues.  I am also finding that it is great fun creating them.

For example, I am offering a six hour (6 CEU) webinar, A Primer on Gregorian Chant for Therapeutic Musicians in August, and again in September 2017.   I had already taught this content as a workshop here in Columbia County to about 25 therapeutic musicians, but CMPs in other parts of the country requested it.  I found that it was surprisingly easy to put into webinar form.   So, I am excited about the creative possibilities.

 What dormant and new ideas do you have to explore?

One of my inspirations is the life-work of St. Hildegard of Bingen, and I am continuing to deepen my exploration of her music, theology and approach to therapeutics.  I have offered retreats on her unitive picture of reality, and will continue to do that, and am looking forward to finding new ways to share her imagination of Reality.  I think her work has much to offer us in these times.

As I have been reflecting deeply on why certain musicians have had, and continue to have a profound effect on my own heart-space, I have realized that it has to do with the quality of Devotion.  That has led me to explore the act and feeling of Devotion and how it is relevant to our work as therapeutic musicians.   The word comes from devovere, " to dedicate by a vow,"   The  official definition is “the act of dedicating oneself to a cause, enterprise, or activity.”  I have an inkling that embodying Devotion has something to do with one’s ability to empty oneself and surrender.  Perhaps surrendering to the Word, the tune that is coming in, or perhaps the guidance of the Higher-Self of the patient you are playing-for.  I feel that this is definitely worth exploring more deeply.

 Please tell us about your healing work with crystals and gems.

I studied the use of quartz crystals extensively about 25 years ago for 10 years as apprentice to a Native American elder.  Like sound and music, it is a modality that simply uses the inherent vibrational quality of crystalline Silicon Dioxide, ie: quartz.  Quartz crystals are transducers and transmitters.   My work with them now is mostly everyday personal use:  to help focus intention, to enhance the environment at home.  Interesting, St. Hildegard of Bingen wrote an entire book on the use of gems and crystals for healing. The book is only available in German and is out of print.  Her writings are harmonious with what I understand from my earlier studies with Natïve Americans, perhaps indicating that there is a cross-cultural understanding about the healing potential of these beautiful minerals.  I am considering having the book translated so that we might publish it.

What is your involvement with the works of Hildegard von Bingen?

In the late 1980’s I was exposed to St. Hildegard’s holistic approach to health via a German friend, as well as in my Anthroposophical nursing training.   I took a week-long workshop with Therese Schroeder-Sheker at Amherst Early Music, and in 1993 my husband found the now out-of-print book of Hildegard’s Symphonia in Gregorian notation on a business trip to Germany.  That led to my deep immersion in the music so I that I might sing some of the pieces for special liturgies in my parish.  

During that period, I was also participating in all of Don Campbell’s Toning courses, so was becoming quite sensitized to the effect of sound on my own body/mind/spirit.   Hildegard’s music has a particular intervalic “architecture,” and that, plus the pure vowels of the Latin and the powerful images in the pieces, affected me profoundly.  As I became more involved in therapeutic music, I felt that some of her music could be used therapeutically, and that led to writing a book of her songs that included Gregorian as well as modern notation with Mona Peck, my colleague in MHTP. 

I have taught, and hope to continue to teach, workshops and longer retreats focused on St. Hildegard’s extraordinary work.  So far, the workshops have been focused on the music and its therapeutic aspects.  In retreats, there is time to explore St. Hildegard’s unique, visionary, creation-centered theology, and interesting, holistic approach to healing, as well as the music. 

 In the past, you've been a producer for Nemeton Productions. Do you have any plans to return to that role?

I am considering initiating Nemeton formally again, but I would partner with my church to help support that parish community.  I am fairly certain that there would again be the possibility of developing a regular audience for Celtic music in our area.   When I was actively acting as a producer from 1987 until about 2005, offering  six concerts plus workshops a year, my intention was to bring in musicians (lots of harpers, of course) who were able to create a sacred and liminal space with their presence and music.  That would be my intention again.  Back then, the Hudson Valley Harp Circle was in the mix, too, so I produced workshops with iconic harpers like Chris Caswell, Grainne Yeats, Sileas, many workshops with Robin Williamson, Robin Huw Bowen, etc. 

Tell us more about your vocal studies involving sean nós and the Céile Dé Order.

The Céile Dé is one particular expression of Celtic Christianity as a Wisdom Tradition.  It is anchored in the Gaelic tradition of Ireland and Scotland, the recognition of Nature as the first scripture, and was passed down orally.  The Céile Dé pretty much disappeared from recorded history as the Roman Church became pre-eminent in Ireland and Scotland.   I have been part of that contemplative, formerly monastic, tradition for about 12 years.   One of our practices is singing Irish (Gaelic) and Scots Gaelic prayer-chants that have been passed-down over generations (some in Old irish) but also include newly composed prayers.  I have always been a folk musician, learning primarily through the oral tradition, with singing most essential and important for me.  So, in the last few years, I have been drawn to focusing on exploring sean nós singing---the old-style singing in Irish---though the style is also used for English songs.   It is another way to explore and experience the Word, feeling and melody intertwined and resonating within and connecting with Creation.

 How will your role change, as a founding member of the NSBTM?

I am on the Advisory Board, though I have taken a break in participating for several months as I explore my next direction.  I am looking forward to becoming engaged a bit more again in the Fall.

How has your music thanatology training affected your practice of therapeutic music?

I have not taken music thanatology---other than the Contemplative Musicianship year offered by the Chalice of Repose, which I sadly did not complete because of family challenges and family.  So, I have not studied music thanatology, as that would have been the following two years.  But, I can say that my association with Therese Schroeder-Sheker has been an extremely important catalyst and inspiration for my own therapeutic music work.  Therese generously gave me the first suggestions of a path to pursue many, many years ago, and I honor her to be the Initiatrix of all of our therapeutic work in hospice and end-of-life, palliative care.  Therese was exploring and formulating methods of training therapeutic harpists long before the advent of the other training programs.

 Name three of the most important things that you have learned during your therapeutic music journey.

A.      I have learned that the people who choose to take up the work of therapeutic music are extraordinary people, each in their particular, unique way.   I have been marvelously gifted to meet so many of them, to get to know them, and to be able to, in some small way, assist them in fulfilling their destiny as therapeutic musicians.  I have worked with so many people over the years that inspire me and who have become friends:   MHTP Board members, teachers, area coordinators, staff and students; the founders of the NSBTM, the SAMA Board….the list seems to be endless. 

B.      Bringing the modality of Unitative Listening (a transpersonal modality for musicians based on the process of the Therapeutic Touch) into MHTP was a significant moment for the program.  What I did not expect was that over the years since I introduced it (I think around 2001), I have been  impressed by how many CMPs say it is one of the most important aspects of the training.  Developing the ability to be entirely present to, and focused on, the person you are playing for, while allowing the music to be the therapist is a key to our work.  I have learned that our genuine, mindful presence is just as important as what we are playing, and that it is a gift we offer to healthcare that few clinicians are trained to do.

C.      I’ve learned that it takes patient persistence and the willingness to educate the healthcare community over and over about our profession and what we can offer.  It is an on-going challenge that can yield wonderful benefits.

 Now, what is your vision for the future of MHTP and of/for therapeutic music?

My vision hasn’t changed much.  I see therapeutic music -- and the entire spectrum of live, acoustic music in clinical settings -- as becoming a larger and larger presence in healthcare. This is already happening.   I see it as being recognized by administrators and other healthcare clinicians as a cost-effective way to humanize, and thus support, the healing process in increasingly technologically-focused healthcare environments.  Bringing Beauty – through music – into healthcare.  I see it as becoming a norm.   As far as next steps for training:  I would love to see training in therapeutic music made available to music conservatory students as a career possibility.

In your experience, how does the role of the harp stand out or relate to therapeutic music.

Stringed instruments certainly comprise the most common group of instruments used in our field: harp, lyre, guitar, violin, viola, cello, hammered dulcimer, dulcimer, etc.  Of them all, the harp is a natural instrument for therapeutic work….particularly the lever harp because of its portability and simplicity.  There is the vibrational aspect and timbre of the long, unimpeded strings that provide an inherently therapeutic sound.  The harp is an archetype in its form, with association with healing and well-being in story and myth.  There are rare occasions when this instant association is a disadvantage, of course.  

Other comments

Thank you, Sarajane, for your vision, and gentle, steady presence.  I remember well the Therapeutic Harp Conferences in 2000 & 2001 in Richmond (I think those were the years!) and how important they were to our profession.