SPU student Joe Kauffman lending vocals with Aegis on Galer residents Bob Brumfield, back, and Duane Hyde.
SPU student Joe Kauffman lending vocals with Aegis on Galer residents Bob Brumfield, back, and Duane Hyde.

Aegis Living on Galer music therapist Kaylee Tilton needed her first intern to be successful. By the time it was over, Seattle Pacific University graduate Joe Kauffman was offered full-time employment and several senior residents were officially recording artists.

“Kaylee was excellent the entire time, and really flexible to learning styles and ideas and thinking outside of the box,” said Kauffman, who has since been tapped to run the music therapy program at Aegis Living at Rogers Park.

Tilton had to go out of state to major in music therapy a decade ago, all the way to the Berklee College of Music in Boston. There wasn’t such a program offered at any university in Washington state, she said.

While she was in Boston, Seattle Pacific University started a music therapy program, which remains the only one offered in the state, Tilton said.

So it only made sense to partner with SPU to pilot an internship program that offered students real-world experience and a place to develop their skills.

“That’s where our new, young, energetic therapists are being trained,” Tilton said.

Kauffman was the first at Aegis on Galer.

“He’s my guinea pig, for sure,” Tilton said. “I told him that from the get-go.”

Kauffman said he would visit his grandmother at her nursing home every weekend when he was young.

“We would play piano or sing songs or even do some dancing,” he said, “really anything to kind of lift spirits there.”

When Kauffman, who grew up in California, decided to pursue music therapy, his choice of schools was limited.

“Seattle Pacific just ended up being the best fit,” he said.

Many of the Aegis residents Tilton works with have dementia or other cognitive issues, and music therapy can help them channel their frustrations and gain social stimulation, she said. Other facets of music therapy address physical, emotional and spiritual health.

Kauffman started out watching and learning, and then was given more independence to plan and implement sessions, Tilton said. She was more nervous about the internship than she let on, she said, but also excited about the potential.

“They’re not concerned about the way it’s always been,” she said, “and they come up with some cool, innovative ideas that I may not have thought of.”

Kauffman observed a biweekly songwriting class that followed the Template Method, Tilton said, where residents replaced lyrics to popular songs familiar to them as an exercise.

“And then Joe said, ‘Hey, have you ever considered writing a song from scratch?’” she said.

Residents came up with a few songs, including “Our Golden Rules,” with lyrics to live by. The choir group was dubbed the Aegis Ageless Singers by resident Duane Hyde.

Then Kauffman had the idea to record the song, so the residents could have it as a keepsake to listen to whenever they wanted.

“I have a recording studio that I’ve been using for personal use over the last few years, so it was pretty easy setting up this kind of session,” Kauffman said.

He put together instrumentals — the bass, drums, keys and guitar — and then residents took a field trip to SPU’s Nickerson Studios, run by music technology professor Ron Haight.

“He asked that we do something like that in the future again,” Kauffman said.

Tilton said the men and women took turns recording vocals in the studio, and then everyone came together for the clapping part. Kauffman handled the mixing and editing.

“Joe is a bit of a gearhead,” she said. “He’s a musician’s musician.”

“Everything just kind of played out the way we wanted it to,” Kauffman said.

The choir recorded “Our Golden Rules” on April 19, and then performed it during a community talent show a week later. Kauffman also organized that event.

“I’m very grateful for the experience,” Kauffman said about the internship, “and I feel like I learned a lot and grew so much.”

Aegis leadership apparently agreed.

Kauffman had plans to return to Aegis on Galer as an associate, but then he was offered the music therapist position at Rogers Park; first he has to pass his board exam.

“I’m very excited about it,” he said. “Really, the timing of it worked out so perfectly.”

Kauffman is looking forward to meeting his new residents, while the Aegis Ageless Singers are ready for their next gig.

“What was neat too is they were like, ‘When’s the next choir rehearsal? What’s the next thing?’ ” Tilton said.