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Doreen harpist recognised in King’s Birthday Honours

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A Doreen harpist was last week recognised in the King’s Birthday Honours List alongside 1191 upstanding Australian people.

Michael Johnson was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia, OAM, in the general division for his service to music as both a performer and a teacher.

Starting out as a rock musician in the 1970s and 80s, Mr Johnson’s career took a new direction when he was introduced to the harp, which he found ‘really lent itself to a mindfulness practice’.

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The services Mr Johnson was recognised for his OAM date back four decades, having worked as a harp teacher and composer since 1983 and as founder and director of Lyrebird Music since 1984.

He is also resident harpist and composer at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne.

But it’s Mr Johnson’s passion for music’s beneficial psychological impacts that have seen him deliver a greater service to the community.

Mr Johnson worked with patients nearing the end of their lives as well as those wanting to use music as a tool for mindfulness at the Gawler Foundation since 1991 – a not-for-profit cancer support organisation and meditation retreat in the Yarra Valley, which led him to do further studies in psychology.

Studying health science at Swinburne University, Mr Johnson investigated the therapeutic properties of music to ‘almost anesthetise the fear of inner voices’ and recentre individuals during a response to past traumatic events.

“Music does remarkable things,” Mr Johnson said.

“Adding music to mindfulness increases the effect of reducing cortisol and adrenaline and helps you release neuroreceptors and hormones such as serotonin, melatonin, oxytocin and dopamine.”

The findings saw him implement music-based meditation practices for people suffering complex mental illnesses and those dealing with mental health issues because of early onset dementia at Delmont Psychiatric Hospital.

He also added a meditative music program to his performances at the Royal Botanic Gardens in 2019, where listeners are guided through a meditation followed by a gentle concert to alleviate stress.

While he couldn’t perform his harp during the pandemic, Mr Johnson retrained in mental health support, and now organises a music and mindfulness group work and provides individual psychosocial counselling at EACH Social and Community Health Service, Victoria.

“[EACH] can support just about anyone, really. People can walk in off the street if they want to and ask for support,” he said.

Mr Johnson said the OAM came as a ‘big surprise’, and was ‘very excited’ to receive the award alongside respected Australians such as writer and environmentalist Tim Winton.

“I feel very, very honoured,” he said.

Mr Johnson encouraged members of the community needing assistance with their mental health to reach out to their local community hub, or his workplace EACH who provide a range of health, disability, counselling and mental health services across Australia by calling 1300 003 224.

The OAM recipient will continue to perform his harp at the Botanic Gardens during the warmer months and record his music, and said he looked forward to continuing his research into music’s beneficiary factors when he had the opportunity.

People can find information on Mr Johnson’s music, including his upcoming performance at the Scienceworks Planetarium in Melbourne, by visiting www.michaeljohnson.com.au.

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