We first encountered Hannah Christianson B.M. '13 at a meditative yoga class, tipped off that she may be a Berklee alumna as her ethereal vocals and soulful ukulele ushered the packed class at the Boston YMCA into a state of zen. Christianson, who also works as a teacher, producer, and performer, talked to us over the phone in June 2017 during an apprenticeship in upstate New York.
Growing up in Fargo, North Dakota, Christianson first thought she wanted to be a doctor, then an architect, an Egyptologist, a teacher, and, ultimately, a musician. “As a songwriter, you’re solving puzzles. I'm helping people through music and healing on an emotional level. [There's] architecture in song design, and I'm a teacher," she says. "So in a way, I’ve been able to incorporate different aspects of those things” into her career. While in high school, she discovered music therapy and, while writing a paper for a psychology class, found several articles written by Berklee professors, further piquing her interest. "I definitely felt the healing power of music for myself, how it could help me feel better when I was feeling sad or confused about the world. I would just play, and that's where I would find my voice."
Shortly thereafter, Christianson attended the Berklee Summer Songwriting Workshop; it was her first time traveling alone outside Fargo. “I just had the time of my life," she says. "I loved being around fellow songwriters that understood the world in a similar way and being able to bond together in music. Being in that kind of creative environment really stimulated my mind. It was so inspiring.” With the help of a scholarship and the encouragement of her family, she enrolled at Berklee and received a degree in both music therapy and songwriting with a minor in psychology. Since graduating, she completed her 1,000-hour music therapy internship at Boston Children's Hospital in 2013, and she has been a finalist and winner of several songwriting awards including the John Lennon Songwriting Contest. Her most recent win was in the pop category of the Great American Song Contest, and she was also a finalist in that competition's adult contemporary category.
Music, Movement, and Meditation
"Playing music in a place like a yoga studio, you're automatically in a different place than a bar," Christianson says, noting she often teams up with other female songwriters at studios like South Boston Yoga and JP Center Yoga for improvised music accompanied by meditation with guided breathing. "It's nice when you can be in a space where you feel the power of music more intimately, more personally, more on a deep level."
Blending these different modalities, she also works with her husband, Jeff Woods, a yoga and meditation expert, incorporating her music ability into yoga workshops such as Music, Movement, and Meditation; Om Holy Night at Chakra Power Yoga with fellow therapist Heather Woods; and duo the Arrow and the Bow with fellow alumna Hillary Reynolds '11.
"Feeling vibration in your body is different than hearing it in a speaker. The intention of the music and yoga class setting always brings that mindset of creating space for people to feel what they need to feel, to heal, to become whole," Christianson says. "I'm always experimenting with different types of settings with yoga and meditation, and I feel really fortunate Boston has been a place where I can try these different things."
A Hundred Hearts
Christianson also works producing other artists, providing therapeutic support in vocal coaching and production, and teaching songwriting. "It's kind of this blend from my background in music therapy and my expertise in songwriting, to assist artists to develop and transform," she says. "Helping others find their own voice and their own truth and expressing that is so meaningful."
She also regularly performs and records, including her most recent album, Grow the World You're Dreaming Of. Her song "A Hundred Hearts," written and released while at Berklee, has become a surprise wedding soundtrack staple, having been performed or played at hundreds of ceremonies across the world. "Somebody from this company called Song Freedom emailed me, asking if I'd be interested in licensing my songs and said that they were getting a lot of requests for 'A Hundred Hearts.' I don't even know how people found out about it; I just released it as an independent artist," she says, noting that the momentum began while at Berklee. "I get messages from [wedding videographers] in Brazil, Ireland, Australia; I saw it was used in a wedding video in Uzbekistan; and I get random messages to perform it at weddings." She also noted the importance of management consulting in helping to shape her career, noting the talents of Hailey Magee from Talisman Music Group, whose affordable part-time services help independent artists with development, organization, and press.
Christianson is currently planning to give a performance and songwriting workshop at the International Music Camp on the border of the U.S. and Canada in North Dakota. "It's really cool to be able to give back and share," she says. "I can help others on their paths toward following their dreams."