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Frank Gray


Musical therapy is charity aim

Caroline Johnson lives in Bloomington, where two of her daughters play in a blues band.

It was during a trip to Colorado that her daughters got to meet a young up-and-coming blues musician and rub elbows with a concert organizer who runs an operation called Blue Star Connection.

Blue Star rounds up donations and musical instruments and provides them to hospitals and individuals around the country for music therapy programs for children.

The organization is small. It relies on volunteers who agree to assume the responsibility for spreading word about the program in their home states. Right now, Johnson is running the program in Indiana.

Before you can start distributing musical instruments, though, you need some takers, so Johnson said she called every hospital in Indiana, spreading the word about Blue Star.

Johnson’s calls didn’t generate much response, but one call did catch someone’s attention. In the Child Life Department at Lutheran Hospital is a woman named Tammy Else who had hoped to establish a music therapy program. She had been working with IPFW on the idea, but it was still only an idea. There was no money for musical instruments.

Then, Johnson’s call came in August. She said she asked Else whether she could wave a magic wand and have any musical instruments, what would she want? Else told Johnson what she wanted, and last week the first of the musical instruments she wished for started arriving in the mail.

The significance of it all is that Lutheran is only the second hospital in Indiana and the 22nd in the nation to get instruments through the Blue Star program.

“We’ve already got five guitars,” Else said, and she is expecting more recorders and kazoos, which are used in programs for children with cystic fibrosis. The instruments will help form the foundation for a music therapy program, Else said.

Johnson emphasizes, though, that Blue Star doesn’t just go around randomly giving musical instruments to children. Instruments are typically provided to children with medical conditions who have expressed an interest in having a specific instrument.

One autistic girl expressed an interest in having a violin. The organization provided her with a violin, had a teacher show her how to hold it and play it. The girl now carries the violin with her constantly, Johnson said.

Another child wanted a bagpipe, and the organization actually found a child’s bagpipe for the child.

Music can help therapists make contact with some patients. For other patients, simply getting an instrument that they have asked for can provide a lift.

Blue Star is planning a concert in Indianapolis this month. That is the only fundraising activity in Indiana.

Meanwhile, Johnson is accepting donations of what she calls gently used musical instruments of any kind. She says she will pay to have them shipped, and Blue Star in Colorado determines where they will end up.

Hospitals accept instruments solely through the organization.

Blue Star will also ship instruments to people who have been recommended through doctors or family members.

Johnson can be contacted at

Blue Star’s website is

Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, by fax at 461-8893, or by email at You can also follow him on Twitter (@FrankGrayJG).