Hip Hop & Harp
When Christine Gallagher ’13, ’15 M.A. ran into rap musician Kuf Knotz at a Whole Foods in Wynwood, Pennsylvania her entire life changed. It was only a few months prior that Gallagher first heard Knotz perform with his former band at a fundraiser for a non-profit called Beyond the Bars, where she served on the board.
“I thought his music was amazing and I thought to myself, ‘if I was ever to be a performer, I want to be in something like that.’” However, at the time, Gallagher was working full-time as a music therapist. Two months later, she had her fateful encounter with Knotz and decided to approach him and announce that if he ever needed a harpist she would be interested.
“He was like, a harpist?” Gallagher remembers fondly. However, Knotz sent her some of his song tracks. In November of 2017, he contacted her and asked if she could play the Underground Arts (a local Philadelphia music venue) that evening—the sound check was in two hours. At that point in her career, she had never performed in front of an audience that was likely to assemble at the Underground.
“Although, I knew that if I didn’t say yes in that moment, that was my only chance to do this,” she says.
She admits that she had to improvise throughout the entire show, relying on the music therapy skills she gained at Immaculata: listening, matching, leaving space and being present. She describes how she made it through that first performance with so much adrenaline that it literally drowned out any nervousness that she may have felt. She channeled all the experiences of walking into schools, group homes and other unfamiliar locations as a music therapist to ground herself. A little pep talk – “You Got This”—didn’t hurt either. The crowd loved the juxtaposition of the set.
Gallagher and Knotz played a few more gigs before he asked Gallagher if she could sing as well. Soon thereafter, she began playing the harp and singing and they ‘took it on the road’ as a duo.
Years later and the duo is going strong. In 2018 Kuf Knotz and Christine Elise (Gallagher’s performing name) released their first album, selling it only at shows to help pay touring expenses. Their current album “Kəˈmyo͞onədē” [Community] released in 2021, is available on all platforms (including Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal, Bandcamp and Amazon Music) . Their radio team secured airplay on college and Triple-A radio stations, which has exposed them to a wider audience.
The realization that they bring out the best in one another provides both musicians a glimpse from a difference artistic lens. Knotz’s musical style has always been geared toward hip-hop and the spoken word, focusing on positive messages and motivational themes. Gallagher brought classical music into the mix.
“The reviews have been amazing,” Gallagher states. She explains that their publicity poster piques people’s attention: hip-hop and a harpist? “What is this going to be like?” The feedback they’ve received from the audience is appreciation and gratitude. Often, they are told that their performance was a therapeutic experience, which, according to Gallagher, “Is not a typical reaction you would receive in a bar!” She recognizes that their music can have a calming effect on listeners while containing edgy hip-hop lyrics that people can relate to. Although their songs touch on current events, Gallagher says that there is always this underlying message of moving forward.
With a conviction to support community music therapy and the encouragement of their fans, Gallagher and Knotz have incorporated music therapy workshops into their touring schedule. As a licensed professional counselor (LPC), Gallagher founded the community outreach performance project, Higher Grounds Music. She explains that the organization is a community music therapy private practice on the road.
Since 2018, Gallagher has taught graduate music therapy classes at Immaculata. Teaching a couple weekends a semester allows her and Knotz to tour around her schedule. No matter what city they visit, Gallagher finds a place where they can conduct music therapy workshops. They have done workshops at college campuses, schools, libraries, yoga groups, community centers and then they perform at bars, coffee houses, art centers and theatres at night. Recently they did a workshop in Indiana for children who need emotional support before playing three concerts on that road trip.
Although Knotz had always been community-minded, the concept of community music therapy was unfamiliar to him. However, with his dedication to community musicians, his role in the workshops has become as important as Gallagher’s clinical therapist role.
The input of community musicians is at the crux of community music therapy. So, there is a connection between the participants, musicians, and the therapists. Gallagher recognizes that some people relate more to Knotz and others to her. “It creates this extra energy that we both provide – that we wouldn’t have without the other person,” she adds. However, even though they are a self-sufficient duo, they gladly accept help and support on their musical journey.
While touring, Gallagher and Knotz encounter the most gracious and caring people that make it possible to survive on the road. One such example came when they toured Alaska in the middle of winter—the coldest and darkest time of the year for the state lying at the northwest extremity of North America.
“We built this tour in Alaska, not really knowing what we were getting into,” Gallagher admits. When their plane landed, there was an additional eight-hour trek to get to the concert location. Gallagher remembers that the people asked, “Do you have emergency snow equipment? Do you have ways to protect yourself from animals? Do you have extra gas?” Gallagher acknowledged that in the moment, she and Knotz questioned the decision to perform in Alaska. However, the community came to their rescue and provided all the necessary supplies. They were extremely grateful because Gallagher noted that they were in the middle of nowhere, with no gas stations and tons of snow!
Gallagher wants to conduct more workshops, not just in the U.S., but internationally while creating what she calls a ripple effect that the music therapy sessions bring to the community and to their subsequent performances. The ultimate goal is to expand the programming for their workshops and provide resources so the community can continue when the duo leaves.
Outside of touring, Gallagher and Knotz sustain their musical careers by broadening their music therapy program. Continuing to grow their organization, Higher Grounds Music, they have been involved in projects such as composing songs for a video game for children with autism.
Having the opportunity to continue practicing music therapy while touring and performing is the best of both worlds for Gallagher. “When I transitioned into this, I didn’t realize that I was stepping into my dream—everything that I had worked for,” she states. “I didn’t realize that it was being handed to me.”
Her advice to anyone considering a similar career path: Just say yes.