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For Lauren Anderson, music has spiritual and healing powers

Lauren Anderson, a Chicago native, is a music therapist in the pediatric unit at the University of Kansas Medical Center and a singer/songwriter who recently released “Truly Me,” her first full-length.
Lauren Anderson, a Chicago native, is a music therapist in the pediatric unit at the University of Kansas Medical Center and a singer/songwriter who recently released “Truly Me,” her first full-length.

Lauren Anderson knew as a child that music would play a prominent role in her future. It now plays two big roles.

“I’ve been singing as long as I can remember,” she said. “My parents loved music, my grandparents were musical, my brothers both majored in guitar. Music was a big influence in our lives.”

Anderson, a Chicago native, is involved in music in two big ways: as a music therapist in the pediatric unit at the University of Kansas Medical Center and as a singer/songwriter who recently released “Truly Me,” her first full-length, and who has performed at various clubs around Kansas City, including Knuckleheads and VooDoo.

Anderson talked to The Star recently about music and its spiritual and remedial powers.

Q. Were people always telling you what a great singer you were growing up?

A. People told me I was good, but my motivation was more of an internal thing. I could never stop singing. My parents were always very encouraging, and they let me pursue what I wanted.

There was a time I thought I wanted to be an opera singer. That’s why I studied voice (at Augustana College in Rock Island, Ill.). I even went to Italy for a summer to tour with an opera company. I still enjoy opera, but I realized it wasn’t for me. I have a warmer place in my heart for rock, pop and soul.

Q. What music did you listen to growing up?

A. The first two CDs I owned were by the Pointer Sisters and Ace of Base. And I loved Lauryn Hill and Whitney Houston. As for songwriters, I’m a big fan of Jason Mraz and ZZ Ward. She has a raw way of writing I really like. It’s like Adele. They just lay it all out there. I’m a fan of Ani DiFranco, too. She has a great way of writing.

Q. After graduating from Augustana, you started working on your master’s degree in music therapy at the University of Kansas. What prompted that move?

A. I didn’t really know about music therapy until I was an undergraduate. I like psychology, and I saw someone talk about (music therapy) and started looking around for graduate schools. KU has a really good one, so I applied and got in.

Q. What did it require?

A. A lot of psychology. You have to be proficient in voice, guitar, piano and percussion and be able to play by ear. You have to play many different genres and understand music in a way that you can meet a client and find out what goals they need to reach and how they can reach them through music. For example, if someone is having anxiety, how can I help them decrease that anxiety through music? You have to be pretty comfortable making up music on the spot.

Q. What was your master’s thesis on?

A. It was on the use of wind instruments for pulmonary function for kids with cystic fibrosis. Basically, I was looking into whether it helped the lungs if a kid with cystic fibrosis sang or played a wind instrument. I tried to prove it improved the quality of life. I had a small population so I didn’t get anything significant, but the numbers were positive.

Q. What’s the best part of your job?

A. It’s really great when you work with a child who is really interested in doing it. I’ve written a lot of songs with kids. We have a YouTube channel for kids. Those whose parents give them the permission can write something and then record a video of it and upload it for friends and family at home and connect with them. That is really satisfying.

Q. When did you start performing again?

A. I was still in graduate school and I was doing shows at Henry’s in Lawrence, solo and sometimes I’d pair up with friends. When I moved to Kansas City, I started in coffee shops. I played at Black Dog Coffeehouse in Lenexa and the Main Street Cafe in Independence. I played there with Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear before they blew up. Then I started doing regular sets at Bar Louie in P&L. And then blues jams, which is where I met the guys in my band.

Q. You have released two recordings, the first in 2014. Was it your first time in the studio?

A. Yes. It was at LA Audio in Olathe. The band was only about a month old. We just wanted something we could use to get our name out there. It took about 10 hours, and it went really smooth. It was a good experience.

The full length came out in September. It’s 14 songs. We recorded it at Weights and Measures (Soundlab) with Duane Trower, who was so easy to work with. It took about six months. We spent more time orchestrating it and producing it more. It includes the five songs on the EP. We added some instruments to a couple of them, like on one I heard a cello, so we added that.

Q. How do you describe your music?

A. I’m working on that. I’ve been put in the blues scene, but I’ve found I’m not traditional blues, so it confuses some people. I’m going with blues-rock or rock-soul. I’m more in that direction.

Timothy Finn: 816-234-4781, @phinnagain

Feb. 12 at Knuckleheads

Lauren Anderson and her band will open for the Nick Moss Band at 8 p.m. Feb. 12 at Knuckleheads, 2715 Rochester Ave. Admission is $10.