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Creating a remarkable health experience

Together for Health: Lullaby Project Pittsburgh

The Together for Health series spotlights community-based and social service organizations that are creating environments to support whole health — physically, mentally and socially.

Claire Gunsbury, Flutist, Teacher, Arts Administrator Founder, Lullaby Project Pittsburgh

Growing up as an aspiring professional flutist, I never imagined that I would one day be leading a team of lullaby writers to help spread awareness about the effects of birth trauma and promote maternal and child health. But since the creation of Lullaby Project Pittsburgh in the fall of 2022, and three successful cycles serving 12 families, I can’t imagine my musical life without it.

I was first introduced to the Lullaby Project during my undergraduate degree at the University of Colorado Boulder. What I experienced was a stark contrast to the traditional model of musicians performing on a pedestal in front of audience members. Instead, I was invited into a world of healing and empowerment that put musicians and parents side-by-side in a collaborative songwriting environment. A group of fellow students and I were trained by teaching artists from the flagship Lullaby Project at Carnegie Hall. They taught us how to use our musical expertise as a tool for helping parents explore their stories, how to move from conversation to lyric writing, and how to listen with compassion. I had the privilege of meeting with two separate families during this experience and being an active participant in the songwriting process while listening to their hopes, dreams, and fears.

Bringing the Lullaby Project to Pittsburgh

After graduating, I knew I wanted to find some way to stay involved with the Lullaby Project. I was about to start my Master of Music in Flute Performance at Carnegie Mellon University, so what better way to stay involved than to start a new chapter here? With an established community of world-renowned health care providers, top-ranked universities, and a vibrant cultural district populated by professional artists of all kinds, Pittsburgh had all the resources in place for something like Lullaby Project to thrive. Besides being a source of healing for families, the project has a huge impact on the musicians involved, and I wanted to create an opportunity for others to share in that experience. With the support of Carnegie Hall’s Lullaby Project in New York City, Professor Monique Mead at Carnegie Mellon University, and Dr. Tracey Vogel at Allegheny Health Network, Lullaby Project Pittsburgh was born.

For me and my colleagues, the Lullaby Project work is an excellent source of community and creativity. It reminds us why we became musicians in the first place and helps us maintain the necessary skills of communication, versatility, and improvisation. Our main goal in sessions with parents is to empower them and to be there as a resource in writing their own song, in their own words. Each story and individual is unique, but music is a vessel for all of them. With a few words and a simple melody, a lullaby can hold a mother’s fear and joy, a father’s pride and stress, and the tenderness of another day together. As a family and child grow and change, the song can too.

The Lullaby Project has given me a new perspective on an art form that I love dearly. I am continuously inspired by the musicality and vulnerability of mothers, fathers, and my fellow musicians as we work together to create a resource of health, well-being, and creativity for families in Pittsburgh.

See the experience of the Lullaby Project firsthand — from families, musicians, professors and clinicians alike — in the video below.

[View MP4]

Monique Mead: The Lullaby Project is really only an excuse to make a connection. And so in this Lullaby Project, they are really connecting on the deepest human level.

Dr. Tracy Vogel: I just think music has a way of healing. And I think this Lullaby Project just offers an opportunity to use music, to allow parents to tell their stories about their traumatic births. And to reframe and reprocess how they see it in a way that brings joy, post traumatic growth and even healing to the families.

Monique Mead: The Lullaby Project was created by Carnegie Hall in New York, and it pairs expecting parents or people have just had their babies with musicians to create personalized lullabies. And it's often you know, we're working with people who have trauma or who are bringing children into the world under extreme circumstances.

Amy Walsh: I had a really difficult first birth with my son. I took all the classes, read all the books came into the experience thinking that it was going to be like his most magical, beautiful experience and it was not that. And I'm friends with a lot of people that work in AHN. And whenever I told them about my experience, they referred me to Dr. Vogel.

Dr. Tracy Vogel: It's a therapy that is for families, not just the moms, it's incorporating the child. In addition, it doesn't use medications. So there are no side effects to doing this, which I think is a beautiful thing.

Amy Walsh: Because we were talking through my original birth trauma experience, we came up with all the words that I had felt them but then we came up with all the words that came out of it like strength and love and growth and compassion and all these different things that I feel like I sort of transitioned and looking back at the first traumatic experience. I am glad that happened.

Beleyou Kebede: Songwriting has the power to basically help us sift through the story of our lives. And I feel like we're bringing awareness to you know, some of the not so pretty things that can come out of somebody's pregnancy journey, which I feel like is super important.

Dr. Tracy Vogel: Watching the process has been absolutely magical. I don't have another word for it. We heard Celtic music come into it and the vibe and hearing her put her voice to it, and then allowing us to also participate and sing along with her. It's almost as if we're showing her, we're taking this journey with you. In that moment, looking at everyone's faces in the room and how moved they were. I think it just spoke to the power of music.

Amy Walsh: I didn't want my first boy to only ever hear about his birth story that it was traumatic. I can kind of take something that was difficult and hard and make something beautiful out of it.

Monique Mead: I'm hoping that the mothers and the parents are going to walk away with feeling that through this project they've created words they've been in touch with their deepest feelings, and that those have come together through the power of music and through the power of their own voice, that they'll be able to echo that through the years of their child and perhaps their generations.

Amy Walsh: This is the poem that I wrote my first session. My beautiful boys surrounded by toys how you've helped me grow before I was surrounded by me along you both came in your own unique ways each to heal and help me grow. I choose you again my soul mates and friends the depth of my love. You'll never know. Dax O’Ryan. That's my first son. I see you flying I love to watch you soar. Benjamin Stone oh how you’ve grown. I can’t wait to see you...

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