Hip Hop & Harp
When Christine Gallagher met rap musician Kuf Knotz at a Whole Foods in Wynwood, Pennsylvania in ’13, ’15 MA, her whole life changed. It was just months before Gallagher Knotz first appeared with his former band at a fundraiser for a nonprofit called Beyond the Bars, where they served on the board of directors.
“I thought his music was great and I thought, ‘If I were ever to be a performer, I want to be in something like this.'” At the time, however, Gallagher was a full-time music therapist. . Two months later she had her fateful encounter with Knotz and decided to approach him and let him know that she would be interested if he ever needed a harpist.
“He was like a harpist?” Gallagher fondly remembers it. However, Knotz sent her some of his song tracks. In November 2017, he contacted her and asked if she could play at Underground Arts (a local music venue in Philadelphia) that night – the soundcheck was in two hours. At this point in her career, she had never performed in front of an audience that was likely to congregate on the subway.
“Though I knew my only chance to do this would be if I didn’t say yes at that moment,” she says.
She admits that she had to improvise throughout the show, relying on the music therapy skills she acquired at Immaculata: listening, matching, leaving space and being present. She describes how she got through that first gig with so much adrenaline that it literally drowned out any nervousness she might have felt. She channeled all of the experiences she’d had while running in schools, shared apartments, and other unfamiliar places as a music therapist to ground herself. A little encouragement – “You Got This” – didn’t hurt either. The audience loved the juxtaposition of the set.
Gallagher and Knotz played a few more gigs before he asked Gallagher if she could sing too. Soon after, she started playing the harp and singing, and they took it out on the streets as a duo.
Years later and the duo grows strong. In 2018, Kuf Knotz and Christine Elise (Gallagher’s artist name) released their first album, which they only sold on shows to pay the tour costs. Her current album “Kəˈmyo͞onədē” [Community] released in 2021, is available on all platforms (including Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal, Bandcamp, and Amazon Music). Her radio team secured airplay on college and triple-A radio stations, making them more accessible to a wider audience.
The realization that they get the best out of each other gives both musicians a look from a different artistic perspective. Knotz’s music style has always been based on hip-hop and the spoken word, with positive messages and motivational topics being the focus. Gallagher brought classical music into play.
“The reviews have been incredible,” says Gallagher. She explains that her billboard gets people’s attention: hip-hop and a harpist? “How will that be?” The feedback they received from the audience is appreciation and gratitude. They are often told that their performance was a therapeutic experience that, according to Gallagher, “is not a typical reaction in a bar!” that people can identify with. Although her songs touch on current events, Gallagher says there is always this basic message of moving forward.
Out of the conviction that they support community music therapy and the encouragement of their fans, Gallagher and Knotz have added music therapy workshops to their tour schedule. As a licensed professional consultant (LPC), Gallagher founded the community outreach performance project Higher Grounds Music. She explains that the organization is a group practice for music therapy on the street.
Gallagher has been teaching graduate music therapy courses at the Immaculata since 2018. Teaching a few weekends during the semester allows her and Knotz to tour their schedule. No matter which city you visit, Gallagher will find a place to hold music therapy workshops. They have conducted workshops in universities, schools, libraries, yoga groups, community centers, and perform at night in bars, coffee houses, art centers, and theaters. They recently did a workshop in Indiana for children in need of emotional support before they play three concerts on this road trip.
Although Knotz has always been community-oriented, the concept of collaborative music therapy was alien to him. However, with his commitment to community musicians, his role in the workshops has become as important as Gallagher’s role as a clinical therapist.
The input from community musicians is at the heart of community music therapy. So there is a connection between the participants, musicians and therapists. Gallagher realizes that some people are more connected to Knotz and others to her. “It creates this extra energy that we both provide – that we wouldn’t have without the other,” she adds. But even though they are a self-sufficient duo, they gladly accept help and support on their musical path.
On tour, Gallagher and Knotz meet the loveliest and most caring people who make it possible to survive on the street. One such example came when they were traveling through Alaska in the middle of winter – the coldest and darkest time of the year for the state at the northwest end of North America.
“We built this tour in Alaska without really knowing what we were getting into,” admits Gallagher. When their plane landed there was an additional eight hour hike to get to the concert venue. Gallagher recalls people asking, “Do you have emergency snow gear? Are there ways to protect yourself from animals? Do you have any extra gas? ”Gallagher admitted that she and Knotz were currently questioning the decision to perform in Alaska. However, the community came to her rescue and provided all necessary supplies. They were very grateful because Gallagher realized they were in the middle of nowhere with no gas stations and tons of snow!
Gallagher wants to run more workshops, not just in the US but internationally, while creating what she calls what she calls a ripple effect that the music therapy sessions bring to the community and their subsequent performances. The ultimate goal is to expand the program for their workshops and provide resources so that the community can continue if the duo are eliminated.
Outside of touring, Gallagher and Knotz support their musical careers by expanding their music therapy program. They expanded their organization, Higher Grounds Music, and were involved in projects such as composing songs for a video game for children with autism.
The ability to continue practicing music therapy while touring and performing is the best of both worlds for Gallagher. “When I got around to it, I didn’t realize I was going to make my dream come true – everything I’d worked for,” she says. “I didn’t know it was given to me.”
Her advice to anyone considering a similar career path: Just say yes.