University of Pittsburgh
March 13, 2002

University of Pittsburgh Senior Missa Haas Wins VSA arts Young Soloists Award for Outstanding Young Musicians with Disabilities, Performs March 20 at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.

Contact:  412-624-4147

EDITORS: Missa Haas is available for interviews. To interview her before March 16, contact John Harvith at the number below; to interview her after March 16, or to cover the VSA arts Young Soloists Evening or afternoon dress rehearsal, contact Dani Fox or Peggy Ferrin at 202/628-2800 or TTY 202/737-0645.

March 13, 2002

Author of a published poetry collection, and a researcher with a passionate interest in music therapy for pediatric hospice patients

PITTSBURGH––She won't be 22 until May 21, but University of Pittsburgh senior Missa Haas thus far has packed an incredible amount of achievement into her young life:

• She has had her poetry collection Fairies and Pixiedust, written while being home-schooled during high school, published by LTD Books in a second edition as both an e-book and a trade paperback, with a portion of the sales proceeds benefiting the Make A Wish Foundation;

• Last March she was called to Harvard University's Graduate Student Conference for Japanese Studies to give a panel presentation titled The Performance of Healing in Japan and the West;

• Next month, for the 16th annual conference of the National Expressive Therapy Association at Long Island University, she will give a presentation titled Comprehensive Recommendations for Music Therapy in Pediatric Palliative Care that she collaborated on with violinist, composer, conductor, and Pitt music faculty member Roger Zahab. The conference's program announcement notes that Haas is the principal author of two articles—Uses of Music Therapy in Routine Therapy, Complications and Procedures Associated with Chronic Respiratory Disorders and Cross-Cultural Perspectives of Music Therapy in Pediatric Palliative Care—and is now working with Zahab on a "music therapy book for the nonclinician, explaining clinical & musicological terms in layman's language, patient perspective and the special case of the musician as patient";

• In August she will graduate from the University of Pittsburgh with three majors–– natural sciences in the College of General Studies and music and interdisciplinary studies in the College of Arts and Sciences; she also is an Asian studies certificate student and a student in the Honors College.

• This semester she became only the second student in the history of Pitt to win both the Student of the Year Award and the Success and Determination Award from the College of General Studies; and

• She has just been named one of the two winners of the VSA arts Panasonic Young Soloists Award for outstanding young musicians with disabilities. As a winner, she will receive a $5,000 scholarship and perform two works March 20 in the Terrace Theater of The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts: Chopin's Scherzo No.1 and the American premiere of "The Wedding Scene" from "The Mermaid Ballet Suite" by contemporary Hong Kong composer Du Mingxin that "sounds like my goldfish look," according to Haas. "I love my goldfish," she says, adding, "I have an interest in playing composers who are alive, and I really like tonal composers, so I have been listening to contemporary composers to find out what I like."

A native of Pittsburgh, Haas was born with a respiratory disability and because of it moved to Pompano Beach, Fla., for the first two years of high school at Ely High School, which she described as the only-known premed high school in the nation at that time. She was homeschooled for the final two years of high school back in Pittsburgh. She started taking Advanced Placement courses as a high school freshman, got the AP books and followed the same curricula the teachers in Florida used once she switched to home-schooling. She received her high school diploma from the Pittsburgh Homeschoolers Accreditation Association and was one of its valedictorians in 1998. "They had a graduation ceremony in Harrisburg for graduates from all over the state," Haas said. When she entered Pitt in 1998, Haas tested out of about 30 credits, some of them graduate credits in mathematics.

"I really like math and statistics," she said. "In fact, fellow students who need to do statistical analyses of their research pay me as a consultant. I really like to help explain to them what statistics mean."

Haas could spell when she was nine months old. "I accompanied my mother to classes at Thiel College starting when I was two or three years old," she remembered. "She got her bachelor's degree there in fine arts, and I went with her all four years whenever she couldn't afford a babysitter. I think that's why I have an affinity for math."

Haas became interested in music when she was 17 and hadn't taken piano lessons before then; she didn't even have a piano at home until she was 18. "I love the piano, I love to play," she said. "Everything else, like watching TV, seems cheap. I've always had an absolute fascination with music." Her piano teacher at Pitt is Donna Amato; her principal music history instructor at Pitt is Professor of Musicology Deane Root, who has described her as "a remarkable person, a rare combination of a probing mind, sheer determination to succeed, and a warm and compassionate heart….I've never met a student with greater determination to receive her education or success in putting her class work into practice even before completing her degree."

Haas is now primarily interested in music therapy research. "I also became interested in it at 17, after I left the premed high school. From the course work I had done I knew that the discipline existed. I had been really sick for a couple of years and found it so calming to listen to or play music: It's very expressive and has the capability of allowing one to express emotions that are too difficult to express or that you don't wish to articulate in concrete words."

Haas is specifically interested in music therapy in pediatrics. "My research has been in music therapy in pediatric palliative care––for hospice patients," she said. "I don't work too much directly with patients, but rather with therapists, because I don't have the professional background, and doing so would shortchange the children's sessions.

"Physicians are becoming increasingly interested in music as a means to lower blood pressure and manage stress," she continued. "While they're interested, they don't really know how to implement it, because they come from this extremely scientific, mathematical background, while the music therapists don't have training in medicine and physiology to the extent that the physicians do. So I'm trying to garner acceptance for the discipline by presenting it in a professional way: 'If you want a mathematical model, here's one for you.'"

Haas has been trying to assemble articles on the neurocognition of music from both the musician's and scientist's points of view. "Sometimes neuroscientists who aren't musicians will play recordings that from a musician's standpoint are terrible—hearing a violinist shifting in passagework where you're not supposed to hear shifting taking place, for instance," she said. "Also, if patients are unconscious and they hear music they've had an adverse experience with, it will increase their heart rate and their respiration rate, in essence causing stress to the system. That is why I am recommending that when patients enter the hospital they be asked their music preferences. My overall goal in doing music therapy research is to facilitate the use of music therapy in the professional field of medicine, and to illustrate how music can improve the quality of life for everyone, if they're receptive to it, and not everyone is receptive to music. It needs to be done on a case-by-case basis."

Haas has interviewed physicians at Pitt's School of Medicine as part of her research, "primarily feeling out the territory, seeing how they think music therapy might be implemented here in Pittsburgh." She "wants to have music therapy enter the medical research mainstream, because we're so quick to use drugs that can be quite toxic to the body. We often don't take the time to ask, 'What can I do to make my body feel better.' Music is such a vital resource that we have overlooked."

She also has been tracing the history of music therapy in hospice care. "There is one example of a child in the 1980s who had cancer," she said. "The hospital didn't allow anything noisy, because it was a serious, quiet place. Her mom would sneak in a Walkman and headphones, and it was like contraband being brought into the hospital!"

When she was studying music in Vienna during the summer of 2000 through a Pitt Austrian Nationality Room Scholarship, Haas spoke with terminally ill children in a Viennese hospital with an extremely active music therapy program. "I asked questions that other researchers, had they not been patients, would not have asked ['How do you feel when you play music or music is played? How do you feel during a music therapy session, what are you thinking, what is different when you're in a session?], and, because I'm younger, they were more willing to speak with me. All the patients felt that it helped. When they were listening to music they felt like they were actively participating in something, even though they were too ill to play a board game. Because of these therapy sessions, they learned to listen actively rather than passively, as so many in our culture have learned to do."

Haas' conclusion? "The listening preferences of children in hospices should be evaluated. We should take research on the most commonly known songs and use that as a starting point to talk to children about what kinds of music they like."

For graduate school, Haas said that "I could go to Harvard, but I'm thinking of staying at Pitt. It really enjoy it here. Right now I'm interested in the field of security and international intelligence."

The VSA arts Young Soloists Award annually recognizes outstanding young musicians with disabilities, ages 25 and under, who have exhibited exceptional talent as vocalists or instrumentalists. A committee of music professionals selects the four annual award recipients to receive scholarship funds and the opportunity to perform at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. The Panasonic Young Soloists Award, given annually to two musicians who reside in the United States, is sponsored by the Panasonic Consumer Electronics Company. The Rosemary Kennedy International Young Soloists Award, for two musicians who reside outside the U.S., is sponsored by The Kennedy Center Education Department through the Rosemary Kennedy Education Fund.

The other Panasonic awardee is Anthony Hearn, a vocalist from Eden, N.C.; the Rosemary Kennedy awardees are Adrian Anantawan, a violinist from Mississagua, Ontario, and Catriona Hetherington, a cellist from Dunfermline, Scotland.

VSA arts is an international nonprofit organization founded in 1974 by Jean Kennedy Smith to promote education and lifelong learning opportunities in the arts for people with disabilities. VSA arts was designated by Congress as the coordinating organization for arts in education programs for children and youth with disabilities. More than five million people participate in VSA arts programs annually through a network of affiliate organizations and collaborators in the United States and other countries.