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Concert benefits music therapy for sick kids

Inspired by an Olivenhain girl who loved music, a group of accomplished young musicians are set to perform in a once a year musical program to raise money for music therapy for hospitalized kids.

The Heart of a Child Concert on April 28, which benefits the Ariana Miller Music with Heart Program, features 17 acts (solo and group) from classical, pop, rock and country music by vocalists and instrumentalists in kindergarten through college. Many have won music awards and some have performed at Carnegie Hall, on TV and Broadway.

The money raised at the concert will go to providing music therapy at Rady Children’s Hospital, where Ariana Miller had six open heart surgeries. It will also fund music therapy for local children who are not in the hospital, but are facing major illness.

After Ariana died in 2008 at the age of 13, awaiting a heart transplant, Jeff Miller and his wife, Anita, wanted to provide music therapy for other children, who like their daughter might find joy in music as they fight illness.

“When Ariana began music therapy, it was as if a switch in her soul was flipped to the on position and she was able to regain some control over at least this one aspect of her life,” said Anita Miller.

Ariana played the piano and sang and produced two albums for friends and family. The couple has a recording of Ariana singing “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” at 18 months old, and recalled that a day rarely went by when Ariana wasn’t singing something.

“Ariana’s health struggles had zapped some of her joy, and music therapy allowed her to once again create and experience something that had been such an integral part of her soul since birth,” Anita Miller said.

The Olivenhain couple partnered with local nonprofit Resounding Joy to provide free music therapy for children with heart disease. They later expanded the program to include children fighting other significant illnesses and disabilities, in the hospital or at home.

Since it was established in 2010, the Ariana Miller Music with Heart Program, under the guidance of Resounding Joy, has raised more than $230,000, mainly through the annual Heart of a Child fundraising concerts.

The program has provided free music therapy to more than 1,500 children at Rady Children’s Hospital.

The benefit concert will be hosted by San Diego TV personality Pat Brown and Emmy-nominated television director Hal Grant.

The celebrity guest performer is Merrick Hanna, a reality television and YouTube sensation who competed on “America’s Got Talent,” and is known for his freestyle hip-hop “flo-bot” popping and animation-style dancing. He was featured on the prime-time hit “So You Think You Can Dance” making it to the Academy Week Round at age 11.

The lineup of performers includes Anne Liu, who has performed at Carnegie Hall; Isabella McCormick, an award-winning harpist with the San Diego Civic Youth Orchestra; Sadie Duca, a vocalist who has been on “America’s Got Talent”; and Nikki Castillo, who is known for her role as Patty Logan in CBS’ “Scorpion” and Akina in Disney’s “K.C. Undercover” along with more than a dozen other young musicians.

“If you are feeling down on the world, this will reinforce your faith in humanity and our youth,” Jeff Miller said.

The event begins with a reception and silent auction at 5:30 p.m. at the Irwin M. Jacobs Qualcomm Hall, 5775 Morehouse Drive in Sorrento Valley. Food trucks will arrive at 5 p.m. and the concert starts at 7 p.m.

Tickets are $25 for general admission; $100 VIP (includes guaranteed preferred seating and unlimited beverages); VIP Ticket Packages (6 for $550 or 10 for $900).