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Happy Family Hour: Arizona Music Therapy Service Goes Online

Three days a week, a music therapy service hosts a free Happy Family Hour on Zoom for kids and adults. Participants sing and play instruments like drums, guitars, maracas and shakers in an hourlong journey of music.

Nathan Servilican and Brittany Ker-Petersen lead the session over Zoom on a recent Wednesday night. Both are interns working at Mind-Full Music Therapy Services, and they are singing to a small group of 10 people and some of their parents.

The business uses interns from Arizona State University music therapy program, and it was founded by one person. 

“My name is Debi Kret. I am a masters-level board certified, neurologic music therapist. And I am the owner, founder, director of Mind-Full Music Therapy Services," she said.

Kret has been a music therapist for 28 years, and she helps clients of “all ages and stages” with music. Based in the Valley, she provides services to local schools, senior centers and private homes. Kret says music therapy helps with memory retention, cognitive rehabilitation and also helps those with developmental delays. Each therapist is trained in multiple instruments, including voice. 

“We are trained in knowing how to manipulate the music to work with whoever our clients are to serve them," Kret said.

But since the pandemic, most of their services had to either shut down or be moved online. And in June, Kret got an idea to host a free Happy Family Hour, three times a week. This is for children of all ages who are encouraged to sing and play instruments with the instructors using their own instruments or even just fingers drumming on a table.

The one downside, Kret says, is the Zoom audio cuts out if too many people make noise at the same time. So she usually has everyone but the interns mute themselves. But everyone can be seen on camera, and sessions also are broadcast on Facebook Live, shaking maracas, strumming ukuleles and guitars while singing. 

“We start off with something, obviously we would greet everybody at the beginning of a group, then I like to do something super active like a physical dancing thing to get the body going and moving," Kret said.

They also incorporate questions and discussions, Kret says. For example, at the Wednesday session, one of the songs sung was Paul Simon's "Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard," and they discussed one line of the lyrics: “Rosie, the queen of Corona.”

“So really what it means is Rosey was one of the girls that went to Corona High School. And she was like the homecoming queen. That’s what that song means. So it has nothing to do with COVID. It was a long time ago so Paul Simon didn’t know," Kret said.

Betsy Niccoli has been at every Happy Family Hour since the start, Kret says. She is 29- years-old and has Down’s syndrome. Her mother, Mary Ann, says the sessions have helped Betsy with her communication skills. She called music a universal language that speaks to Betsy and evokes positive responses. And Mary Ann says this program is one of the best.

“Well Betsy’s older so we've done it through different programs over the years. Ms. Debi ... has an exceptional program, in the way they deliver the program. Particularly in the way they interact, they sing songs to each individual person then they sing it collectively," Niccoli said. 

Mary Ann says Betsy will continue to attend these Zoom sessions for as long as it’s available. Kret says that while it will remain free and available three times a week through August, she is not sure about the future. Currently, she and her interns are hosting the sessions  without pay.

“You know when I first did it I was so apprehensive. And it’s so much time on my part, and, 'OK, I’ll do Zoom.' And yet I’m so blessed by it, honestly.” 

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Jill Ryan joined KJZZ in 2020 as a morning reporter, and she is currently a field correspondent and Morning Edition producer.