Backyard Music for the Heart

By Dawn M. Aerts

Iron County Today

CEDAR CITY–For Karyn Whittemore, music is all about healing and the heart.

While most people don’t think of guitar strings and melody as therapy, Whittemore doesn’t mind the idea of setting up her backyard with lights, sound system and filling the night with the soft, eclectic and mystical songs she says can “reach into hearts.”

She has worked as a Family Nurse Practitioner, a primary care provider at Family Healthcare since 2010, and has been board certified for almost 19 years. But it is her love of singing and songwriting, late nights playing the guitar and performing for an audience that connects her with a sense of healing.

“As a little girl I loved singing the songs of ABBA, fantasizing about a life on stage, practicing in front of the mirror,” said Whittemore of her early years in Maryland.  That was before she earned herself a scholarship in theater arts, violin, and a move to pursue a degree at Southern Utah University in 1984.

“I played piano, and began writing music in high school,” said Whittemore with a smile, “But a piano is kind of difficult to bring along with you when you want to perform, so in 1991, I picked up a guitar.”  In those years, she earned an FNP license through the University of Utah, and later, changed her major to nursing to complete a Registered Nurse (RN-BSN) program through Weber State University. And in 1998, she completed a Masters’ degree in Nursing through the University of Utah.

“Basically, I provide health care for a community clinic with under-served people, at a cost that’s affordable for them,” said Whittemore of a career of healing. “I love my patients, so the songs and music have become part of that experience.”

Over the years, Whittemore and her music have evolved.

“I like to do my little concerts in the backyard…  I’ve found that there’s a connection you build with any audience, and sometimes that becomes a special connection, that is even spiritual.”  While she is most inspired by musical artists like Jewel, Alana Morrissette and Sarah McLaughlin, Whittemore has followed her own heart in performance.

“For me it started with a melody, something I replayed over and over, until the lyrics revealed themselves and then what the song was about,” said Whittemore of her writing process.  “But I think the energy I feel now is more about trying to connect with others and then to write what might be helpful for people to open up their hearts.”

While Whittemore is a self-taught guitarist, her music began in folk music that has since moved into the eclectic genre.  “The beautiful thing is that everyone has a ‘palette of color’ so to speak, the emotions that we share and make us who we are.  We all have that spectrum — anger, love, jealousy, so we can share that in music, the negative and the joyful.”

It is Whittemore’s husband, Jerry, who plays a key role in her music.  “He is the one who sets up the sound, the engineering stuff, the lights, and the one who has encouraged me the most through the years,” said Whittemore, “And he’s also a very honest critic.”  

That collaboration has led to performance at a variety of venues, from small neighborhood taverns and community events to large-scale outdoor rallies – and to produce a series of CD recordings with other talented musicians.

“The first full length CD was mostly piano with original songs and not good enough,” said Whittemore of the journey.  “It was usually the melody that first inspired me and the lyrics that came with it. So I most enjoy the songs that are easy to listen to, the in and out melody and then, I like to engage people in that experience.”

More recently, Whittemore has introduced the loop-pedal into her songs, a tool that she describes as offering a layered effect without the need for additional instruments. “As a vocalist, it gives me a fuller sound, and allows me to tell the stories and to convey myself in a different way.”

Her backyard and one-woman concerts consist of vocal, guitar and loop pedal that blends fully arranged songs into complex vocal harmonies. “I have to say that one of my favorite venues is my own backyard,” said Whittemore. “So at least once a year, we invite neighbors, friends and my patients to come and just enjoy an evening of music together.”

At her former workplace at Valley View Medical Center, Whittemore was known among patients and co-workers as the ‘singing nurse.’

“Sometimes I see and hear something from the audience — in the way they respond to my music. Maybe they are thinking about a past relationship or of a certain time or place, and I am able to see something in their face, in their reaction and it affects me and the music.”  

She believes her role in patient care has long-connected her to the audience and the healing synergy of music.  “In songwriting or in performance I see music as part of a real healing process,” said Whittemore. “It’s like giving love, breaking down the walls so we can reach out with our hearts.”

Caption:  Karyn Whittemore, vocalist, acoustic-guitar and songwriter performs at local venues as well as for community events. Her first CD (2001) Slippery Road; second CD produced (2007) Everything’s Changed; and most recent (2012) Love Creature, is available through  See Youttube channel, Karyntv. (Photo by D. Aerts)

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