Author: Crappell, Courtney
Date published: June 1, 2012
At a time when the popularity of traditional music lessons seems to be on the decline, I am always interested to discover new career opportunities for independent music teachers. At a conference presentation I attended last summer, Lori Fraser, a consultant for the Yamaha Music and Wellness Institute, introduced a fascinating music program called "Operation Harmony."1 Designed to encourage emotional and physical wellness, the program benefits wounded war veterans. To find out more about the program and how it came to be, I spoke with a key contributor, Kevin Higgins. His words were personally inspiring and helpful in considering future career possibilities in music teaching.
Courtney Crappell: Kevin, would you introduce yourself and tell us about how you become interested in helping others through music making?
Kevin Higgins: I am 40 years old and I live in San Antonio, Texas, where I work at Alamo Music as a piano salesperson. At the age of 26, I had a serious motorcycle accident. My left leg was amputated below the knee at the scene. After several years and multiple surgeries the doctors told me I would have to learn to deal with the enormous amount of pain I felt as a result of nerve damage in the remaining portion of my leg. Although the pain medication I was taking daily was sure to shorten my life considerably, it was a necessary trade off for improving my quality of life on a day-to-day basis.
Even though I had taken piano lessons as a child, I had not played the piano in more than a decade. Then one day on a whim I visited a piano store in my area, and what I discovered was profound. As long as I was playing the piano, I could not feel the "phantom pain" that had cursed me for so many years. After that discovery, I began playing the piano every day and within 18 months or so, I found that I was able to live my life without the medication that made me tired and angry all the time. At that point, I switched industries from telecommunications to my current position. I had to. Music saved my life. I became a missionary for the healing power of music.
CC: Can you tell us about the Soldiers' Angels program in San Antonio?
KH: The Soldiers' Angels program, aptly named "Operation Harmony," was founded by fellow musician and philanthropist Jeff Bader, husband of Patti Patton-Bader, a direct descendant of General Patton. I had already been searching for a way to help our wounded warriors with music for two years when I met Jeff in 2009. He had been giving some guitar lessons to veterans and was interested in how our music and wellness program could help our soldiers improve their quality of lifestyle. Since I had suffered the same type of traumatic injury that many of our brave warriors suffer, I was sure the program could help them considerably. We did not have the $30,000 necessary to fund the music lab but we did not hesitate - Alamo Music trusted me and installed the lab. I started fundraising immediately. As part of the process, I founded the Wounded Warrior Performance Series2 and called on local musicians and industry contacts to volunteer their time for our Wounded Warriors. To date, we have raised more than $20,000 and blessed many peoples' lives in the process. The Yamaha music lab for the wounded warriors has been the crowning achievement of my life and affirmed my mission to use the healing power of music to help others.
CC: Would you introduce us to the concept of a "music and wellness" lab?
KH: The Yamaha Music and Wellness program we are using has some very specific attributes not found in traditional music making programs. It is a melding of the very best of many industries. The program called "Clavinova Connection" uses precepts from music therapy, psychology, neurology and digital technology. The 10step program includes such proven therapies as guided imagery, breathing exercises and recreational music making (RMM). The best part of the program is that you do not have to have any musical experience or ability to benefit. Anyone can do it. The music lab is comprised of between five and 13 Yamaha Clavinova keyboards, adjunct networking hardware and software, as well as music and wellness software stored in the pianos themselves. It is a fully integrated turnkey product supported by both the dealer and the Yamaha Institute.3
CC: Are there any other groups in San Antonio that are adopting this model?
KH: Many organizations and studios are now starting to see the benefits of this type of program. Teaching studios and schools use the Clavinova Connection lab not only to do music and wellness exercises, but also to do group piano lessons and recordings as well. In addition to the lab for the wounded warriors, I was also able to install this program to help people with mental deficiencies at a care center called Mosaic and for people with Parkinson's disease at Franklin Park retirement center here in San Antonio.
CC: Could this type of program be part of a traditional music teacher's job or is it only for music therapists?
KH: No, the program does not require a music therapist as facilitator. Although a music therapy background could be helpful, only a very basic understanding of music is required to be a facilitator for the program. The key component is that the instructor is a caring compassionate person. I believe this type of program is the future for many medical and long-term care facilities. I am glad that Yamaha has taken the steps and invested the millions of dollars to develop this program for us. It will open the door for many music teachers seeking employment by these institutions.
CC: What advice might you give to those interested in beginning a music and wellness program in their area?
KH: If you are thinking about starting a music and wellness program I would advise you to use a program that has years of research and development behind it to ensure you get results and are able to promote the program with confidence. There is a big need and desire for people and groups to participate in recreational music programs like the Yamaha Clavinova Connection program. If you are planning to apply for grants to fund your project, remember, in most instances grantors do not want to be the sole funder of your project. Apply for multiple grants and work with community-based organizations in a collaborative effort to raise the funds. In my experience, collaboration is the key component when it comes to helping others. If you work together for the betterment of everyone, you will be blessed and bless many.
CC: From my own experiences as a teacher and in talking with others, I can say that classical trained musicians tread carefully when venturing into the realm of music therapy. Nevertheless, this program sounds like a meaningful way that we can all contribute towards these specialized audiences. In the future, I imagine that this type of experiential music class with wellness as the focus will become more popular as part of our local music teachers associations' service projects. For entrepreneurs interested in fundraising, it could even become part of our regular jobs as music teachers. For those of us desiring to stay in a more traditional teaching setting, our advanced students may enjoy becoming part of something like Operation Harmony within the local community. Perhaps the current service-minded generation of high school students would enjoy expanding their horizons through music teaching experience. Thank you so much for sharing your personal story with us, Kevin, and for introducing this significant program in San Antonio.
1. Soldiers' Angels, Operation Harmony, http://soldiersangels.org/ operationharmony.html (accessed March 13,2012).
2. Wounded Warrior Performance Series, http://www.alamomusic.com/ wounded-warrior-performance-series (accessed March 13,2012).
3. Yamaha Music and Wellness Institute, http://www.yamahainstitute.org/ (accessed March 13, 2012).
By Courtney Crappell, NCTM
Courtney Crappell, NCTM, serves as assistant professor of piano pedagogy at University of Texas San Antonio where he coordinates the class piano program and teaches piano and piano pedagogy. He holds a DMA degree from the University of Oklahoma.