Local music talent shines at Heart of a Child benefit

The Heart of A Child benefit raised $68,000 this year for Resounding Joy’s Ariana Miller Music with Heart Program. The program provides no-cost music therapy for young cardiac patients at Rady Children’s Hospital.

The May 7 benefit concert was hosted by television star Marc Summers and featured 20 of San Diego’s most talented young musicians, including Del Mar Heights Elementary School fourth grader Minji Kim, a violinist who performs with the Symphonic Strings at the San Diego Youth Symphony and Conservatory.

The “best of the best” lineup included Carmel Valley’s Adrian Liu , a pianist who has performed at Carnegie Hall and will attend Stanford University this fall; and Del Mar’s Samantha Tullie and Cameron Chang, both seniors at Canyon Crest Academy, who performed a Broadway medley.

Also performing was the Youthcelli Quartet featuring CCA sophomore Daniel Sun, Bryan Ping from Westview High and Sameeran Das and Andrew Levine from La Jolla Country Day. The cellists toured China with the San Diego Youth Symphony last summer.

“I don’t know how it happens but every year we get better and better talent. It was unbelievable, I was just blown away by it,” said Jeff Miller, founder of the Music with Heart program.

Olivenhain residents Jeff Miller and his wife Anita founded the Music with Heart program after they lost their daughter Ariana to congenital heart disease in 2008 at the age of 13.

“When her health declined, we saw first hand what an incredible impact music therapy had on lifting her spirits,” said Jeff Miller of his gifted, music-loving daughter who survived six open-heart surgeries and countless invasive procedures.

When she got to the point where she was unable to go to school, waiting for a heart transplant, she had to spend a lot of time in bed both in the hospital and in the family home.

Music therapy leads patients through whatever the child is capable of doing — for some children it’s as simple as playing soothing music for them. For Ariana, it was more participatory — she wrote songs with the therapists, made recordings and learned how to play the guitar.

“On the days the music therapists would come, she would come downstairs and within minutes she would be smiling, laughing and singing,” Miller said. “She would become a completely different kid…she would forget that she was really sick.”

Carmel Valley resident Barbara Reuer provided the music therapy through her private practice MusicWorx — she founded her non-profit Resounding Joy in 2005.

Resounding Joy provides four main programs throughout San Diego County: Sound Minds for teens with babies; Mindful Music, its senior program; Semper Sound, a military program; and Healing Notes, which Music with Heart now falls under.

For a year and a half, Reuer sent her interns to work with Ariana.

“She just loved it, it was the highlight of her day and improved her quality of life,” Reuer said.

After Ariana passed away, the Millers wanted to do something in her memory and started the program in 2011 offering music therapy to young cardiac patients at Rady once every two weeks.

“The program was incredibly successful, the patients loved it, the families loved it and the nurses and doctors loved it,” Miller said.

Dr. John Lamberti, chief of the cardiovascular surgery division and the director of the Eugene and Joyce Klein Heart Institute, acknowledged that the music therapy program makes a huge difference and is an important part of the treatment program at Rady.

They rolled their Music with foundation under the umbrella of Resounding Joy and through fundraising efforts like last year’s Heart of a Child concert they were able to raise enough money to increase their visits to the hospital to two times a week.

Due to the success of this year’s concert, Miller said they will now be able to have music therapy for cardiac patients five days a week.

“It’s incredible,” Miller said. “When we started, there wasn’t any music therapy going on which was unusual for a pediatric hospital of that size and reputation. From where we started with two times a month to now almost every day of the week, it’s an incredible feeling.”

What started as a program to memorialize Ariana has grown into something much more. As a radiologist, Miller said he and his wife had a lot of opportunities and good insurance to give their child the best possible care but many young patients don’t have those same opportunities. To provide something as beneficial as music therapy to those children, at no cost, has become a very important mission for the Millers.

“Ariana is in a better place,” Miller said. “The focus now is really on the kids out there that are suffering from heart disease and going through these horrible procedures and surgeries.”

“The Millers are very passionate and compassionate people and this is something very near and dear to their hearts,” Reuer said. “Jeff Miller is an incredible leader, he really pulled off a wonderful concert.”

To learn more about the Ariana Miller Music with Heart program, visit resoundingjoyinc.org/healing-notes.

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