Music as Medicine: Heather on Earth Music Foundation

Heather on Earth Music Foundation gives hospitalized children and their families a
moment of relief and happiness.

By Sally Gales


 The Heather on Earth Music Foundation is the only non-profit organization to fund music therapy in children’s hospitals.

Big, brightly colored balloons with messages of hope and wellbeing float along the white ceiling. Pictures of friends and family are taped up to the walls right next to the bed. A fluffy, brown teddy bear with a red bow leans up against a puppy with large, sad eyes, and both sit slightly in front of the throngs of other stuffed animals along the side of the bed. Upon a closer look one sees that what should be a potpourri of childhood trinkets and memories becomes a bleak façade for the beeping EKG, dripping IV, and scattered array of steel instruments. Amongst the middle of the two contrasting worlds is a sick child who tries to keep up her charm and curiosity while fighting a disease. Medicine, however, isn’t the only way to help ailing children, and Geri Fessler created the Heather on Earth Music Foundation as a different sort of healing.

For many years, Geri has had the opportunity to work with hospitalized children, but one day she realized she could give them all a wonderful gift-music. She founded the non-profit organization, Heather on Earth Music Foundation, in memory of her eldest daughter, who passed away at a young age. Geri wanted to create an organization that would sustain the essence of both her and her daughter’s lives and help other families in a time of hardship.

Music is a universal language that speaks to every person, regardless of age, religion, or race. Its crescendos and adagios go beyond a person’s physical realm and touch the spirit. Music has been shown to inspire, center, relax, distract, and calm. But it is what music can do for the health of a child or adult that Geri was so keen to give. Music is known to boost the immune system, decrease pain, alleviate anxiety, and implement patient interaction and cooperation. Geri is giving patients and their families not only another weapon to fight with, but also a precious moment of joy and peace where unfortunately darkness and fear are more common.

The Heather on Earth Music Foundation is the only non-profit organization to fund music therapy in children’s hospitals. They implement skilled musicians with a clinical background in working with kids as music therapists. The foundation believes that live performances create the ideal environment because the music therapist is able to adjust to the child’s reaction. Music sessions are held in either group or individual sessions, and each meeting is different in order to accommodate what the child needs that day. The foundation also works with The Songs of Love Foundation to create a personalized music portrait for each child. They believe every child should have their very own Song of Love, and are now celebrating almost 15,000 Songs of Love. Regardless of how many children are in a session, or whether or not each child has their own song, the result of Heather on Earth Music Foundation’s contribution is always the same-happiness.

The Heather on Earth Music Foundation funds music therapy at a variety of hospitals, including Maria Fereri Children’s Hospital in Westchester, New York; Schneider Children’s Hospital in New York City; Winthrop-University Hospital on Long Island; and Schneider Children’s Medical Center of Israel in Tel Aviv.  “We’re also funding research at Beth Israel Hospital in New York through the Louis Armstrong Center for Music and Medicine,” Geri explains. “This is a two-year study that will include the measurements of vital signs and use of live music on infants from eight neo-natal intensive care units in the Northeast.” The foundation not only recognizes the importance of music in the pediatric ward, but they are also proud to be embracing the world of autism by giving the magic of music at the Tender Care Human Services, serving children in the Brooklyn and Queens areas.

In order to continue their philanthropic work, the Heather on Earth Music Foundation graciously accepts donations on all levels to keep the music playing. In return, its contributors receive such a great feeling of inner peace, knowing they’re part of such a special mission, by bringing music to children as they heal.

Geri knows how fortunate the foundation is to have Michal Negrin designing their extraordinary jewelry collection, straight from the heart of the Holy Land. Michal’s passion towards helping children in need, combined with her love for music, makes a perfect match. The exclusive pieces created for the collection create a certain kind of magic, perhaps because of the beautiful icon of an angel looking down surrounded by hand-selected Swarovski crystals and pearls. “People express how much they cherish the jewels, and wear them with such pride as a symbol of love and good luck,” says Geri. It was Ana LaRuccia, an artist friend of Geri’s, who brought the icon to life.

The Foundation will be hosting an Intergenerational Gala, as they graciously share the message that “Music Matters,” on Sunday, March 30th, 2008, at The Carltun, Eisenhower Park, East Meadow New York, in celebration of family, friends, life, love, and music. The festive evening will entail a gourmet style dinner, free flowing cocktails, a select raffle gallery, and, of course, superb music. The foundation will be honoring Donny Deutsch with The Heather on Earth Award of Distinction. Purple Heart of Courage recipients, Brittany Maier and Gabriella Greco, will be giving special musical performances. Anyone can participate in a variety of ways: sponsorship, donating a raffle prize, purchasing a reservation, or placing an ad in the foundation’s Exquisite Book of Love.

The organization has given Geri an opportunity to keep the memory of her daughter alive and vibrant. She says, “I feel as if I’ve become a magnet for earth angels. I am so blessed to have my husband Eric, three spectacular daughters Gillian, Shaina, and Taryn, and our extraordinary symphony of Hearts@Work.”

The Heather on Earth Music Foundation works to uplift and soothe children who are hospitalized. Through their founder’s motto of “Smile, Live, Love, and Laugh,” they bring children to a world void of pain, and full of melody, tempo, sounds, singing, and, perhaps most importantly, laughter.