Cancer & Cookies

Mom’s words:

I cannot give enough praise to Jeff Lehman, owner of Archtop Music Therapy. Being in the field of special education, I have had experience with music therapy. I am knowledgeable with its profound benefits teaching academics, language, and social skills to students. I had no idea how powerful music therapy would be for my child’s emotional growth and the knowledge I would gain in understanding and helping my son grasp the changes in our lives. Easton is a “Mama’s boy”. He does not like to transition away from me. This behavior has strengthened since his father was diagnosed with Stage IV Carcinoid Cancer three months ago.  Easton acts silly when nervous. He’s sensitive to moods and timid around new people.


Mr. Jeff came to our house and approached my son gently, winning him over by talking about his interests. I think at one point Jeff even played super heroes with Easton. Mr. Jeff met him on his level and slowly introduced his instruments and computer. He was patient with Easton, letting him explore but also teaching him how to appropriately play the guitar and keyboard. Mr. Jeff strengthened his relationship with Easton playing his favorite song, Little Red Caboose. I am in aw that Mr. Jeff learned it just for him. Mr. Jeff made it fun and gave Easton control of the tempo. They even changed the song’s words making up a new version. They laughed and sang loudly and softly. It was a joy to see! As Mr. Jeff continued to expand their relationship, he slowly began asking Easton about his feelings regarding the changes he was experiencing since his father became ill. I was shocked at how much Easton shared. I learned so much. I’m not sure if it was Jeff’s questions or his ability to form a comforting relationship with Easton. Either way it was obvious that Jeff knew exactly what he was doing. Their rapport was strong and Easton began sharing. I was unaware of his thoughts and feelings. He was unable or unwilling to express these with me. Mr. Jeff and his musical therapy approach was amazing! He did not dwell on the negative feelings or grief that Easton expressed. He chose to ask pointed questions about the positive experiences Easton shares with his father. Leading the conversation to the positive quickly made for an extremely memorable song that our family cherishes! Mr. Jeff lead and directed Easton through asking questions, giving choices and together rhyming words to compose a song. Easton’s vocabulary grew throughout the experience.


Mr. Jeff was able to redirect Easton when he was silly and rambunctious. He kept it playful and captivated his attention. He ended the session on a positive. He even left us with an activity for Easton to learn the words. It was a long song and since Easton is not yet reading, then the practicing would make his participation in the final recording stronger. What a great idea!


Easton has been silly practicing. I think he knows most of the words. Although he has changed some. For example, Easton says “neat” is what old people say. He thinks “playing super heroes is real fun”.  It doesn’t rhyme but he likes it! I love that he has taken ownership of his song. He even sings the melody with different words making new songs.


This experience was better than I could have ever imagined. It has helped me understand the grieving process for Easton. I cannot fix all that life has changed but this experience has opened up the lines of communication. The song is cherished by our family because it portrays Easton’s relationship with his father. The song means so much more than because it tells the story of Easton and his Dad!


Mr. Jeff’s enthusiasm for music was evident and contagious. His passion for children and their growth made him stand above others in the field of music therapy! His patience, knowledge and skills made this experience positive. Jeff was able to blend his musical talent, technological knowledge and educational background and experience regarding language, behaviors, and social emotional growth. We are thankful for the goals we have met as the result of music therapy with Mr. Jeff!

My words:

Easton is a four-year-old neurotypical boy. His father was diagnosed with cancer several months ago. Treatments have been painful, decreased his energy level, and impacted his diet and appetite. Easton has had difficulty dealing with these life changes: his father currently unable to do some of the things that he usually does with his son. I met with Easton for a therapeutic songwriting session, as a means for him to creatively express his thoughts and feelings through a fun, non-threatening activity.


Easton was immediately personable, not the timid sort of boy that I was at the age of four. Prior to the session I had asked mom for Easton’s favorite song. It was “Little Red Caboose.” I was not familiar with this song and an internet search revealed many different versions. Some had multiple verses, but the recording on Easton’s CD (which needs to be kept in the car or else he will listen to it non-stop) just had a chorus which modulates up a half-step and speeds up in tempo every repeat. I used the song as an ice-breaker, as a musical warm-up, and as something familiar before we ventured on to create something new. We played “Little Red Caboose” on the keyboard. He sang and played along. We played “Little Red Caboose” on the guitar. After watching me, I gave him the pick and he strummed while I fretted the chords. We played together, me on the guitar and him on the keyboard. I tried suggesting other songs, but he only wanted “Little Red Caboose.” It goes like this:


Little red caboose.

Little red caboose.

Little red caboose behind the train.

Smokestack on his back.

Going down the track.

Little red caboose behind the train.


After the musical environment was firmly established and Easton was fully engaged we began to compile lyric ideas. I asked him to share some of the activities that he liked to do with his dad. These included jumping on a variety of dad’s body parts, making forts, playing superheroes, riding in dad’s Corvette, and eating cookies. Maybe it was the cookie he had for lunch or the cookies that were left for later, but the discussion eventually devolved into Easton bouncing around the room yelling about cookies. (Using silliness as an avoidance tactic is something I do in my forties and I tried to remember if I had the wherewithal to use it when I was four.) The music had to return to the forefront to get us back on track. “Little Red Caboose” began in the key of C major, using C major and G major chords. I used this as a reference point to begin improvising on guitar and yelling about cookies transformed into singing about cookies. The first two lines came quickly. The third line was shorter, suggesting a limerick form and AABBA rhyme scheme. I moved to a F major chord to acknowledge the lyric and rhyme change. Easton was great at coming up with rhymes. What rhymes with tummy? Yummy! What’s yummy? Cookies! It felt right to end the chorus with the same lyrics it began with. I used the circle of fifths (A major, D major, G major) to get back to the tonic chord of C major. Our chorus was complete!


A chromatic descent down to A minor began the verses. We were still somewhat stuck on cookies, but we needed some new rhymes. What rhymes with sweet? Street! Let’s sing about Dad’s Corvette! What else rhymes with sweet? Sheet! Let’s sing about making forts! Let’s sing about superheroes and rhyme Superman with Iron Man! The process was all happening so fast. It’s hard for me to remember if Easton came up with my favorite line independently or if it was a response to a question from his mom. “If daddy was a cookie I would eat him.” I love metaphors.


We had three choruses and two verses (more than enough for a complete song) and Easton’s attention was starting to wane so we moved on to recording. We sampled a couple of drum loops and he picked his favorite. I asked whether he wanted this to be a guitar song or a piano song? Both! I recorded both. The lyrics were a struggle. Not old enough to read proficiently, Easton had to remember not only the lyrical melody and rhythm, but also the actual words. I tried to break it down into smaller parts. I sang and recorded five lines. Then he sang and recorded those same five lines. Repeat this a total of five times and the vocals were complete. He made some mistakes. He got frustrated. There is a saying with therapeutic songwriting that it’s “about the process, not the product” – meaning that the act of creating the song is more important than the song (or recording) itself. Me (and my perfectionist tendencies) believe it can be about both. Easton gave it his best, but I could tell he was not satisfied with his performance. It was decided that I would burn a CD for him to practice along with and I would return at a later date to give it another try. This also gave me a chance to perfect my instrumental tracks.


Creating a song with Easton helped him to express his feelings, be creative, and have some fun during a stressful and confusing period in his life. If you have a child struggling to emotionally cope with a difficult situation or event, please consider contacting me about therapeutic songwriting.

Easton and Dad1

Easton and Dad2