Starting off as a wedding harpist at the age of 14, which is now over 45 years ago, I have experienced the anxieties of many a young bride, and their mothers, planning the music for the big day.
This in return has grown my repertoire of music to a room full of books and yet, every bride has a different “special song”. This led to opportunities to play at many varied occasions in the circle of life.
Reading through the June newsletter of Lutheran Women of Victoria, after being a guest at their Convention, I realised with surprise that people are talking about me. Wide-eyed, and a bit caught off-guard, as I didn’t feel that I had done anything to create a stir, I was pleased to know that the harp music was “moving and intriguing” as Jenny Gellert mentioned in her report.
The music I play these days has a meditative focus, which is completely different from the wedding celebration music that I play at other times. It is free flowing or less structured to the listener, although I still understand the structure that I am working in.
Therapeutic Harp Music is based on the science of sound. It is live, acoustic music mostly played at the bedside of patients. The music helps provide an environment conducive to the healing process. It creates an atmosphere of peace and calm as well as synchronising the brain so that the listener is able to recall significant moments of life that may help the healing and bring peace. The music speaks for itself and is a non-invasive adjunct to medical care.
Therapeutic harp is increasingly being used in hospitals, at home, through pregnancy, at birth, in rehabilitation situations, giving respite in aged care and in dementia care facilities. Harp music creates a calming environment for patients, families, visitors and staff. The vibrations, that emanate from the strings, are absorbed by the body, and can be beneficial in many situations. The soothing sounds are of comfort to the dying, as hearing is the last faculty to go.
My bright blue harp and my little shoulder harp work well when I have to be more mobile in smaller spaces, moving from room to room and from one care facility to the next. It creates a cradle of sound that brings respite for the person who cares for someone, and an opportunity to speak about deep spiritual topics in the caring environment. Helping them to step into life again with hope in their heart. The music is like a channel for the spirit to connect to us when we feel vulnerable.
My weekly journey takes me from East to West and around Melbourne towards Geelong and finally Torquay. I visit aged care homes; care homes for Down’s Syndrome/Parkinson’s and other full-care residents. Palliative care, hospices and hospital wards. As pastoral carer for Mercy Place, I spend one day a week attending more closely to the spiritual needs of the residents; wherever I go, the harp makes out a significant part of my work.
Music expresses the things that cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent.Victor Hugo
The main question when I walk into a room is “What meets me here today?”. This question leads me to connect to the person where they are emotionally and find a way towards hope. This can only be done if I am connected to the spirit. When I play for someone living with dementia, I add in a melody or a texture or a rhythm when appropriate to the situation. I sometimes play classical music or something more recent like Elvis or Doris Day or Ed Sheeran, when appropriate. Sometimes it helps to sing a song, but very often the person responds by singing the song themselves. I often use parts of a song that people might recognise, to connect to the different emotional aspects of the person as I migrate through the musical keys and tonalities.
When playing for a group, as large as the one we had at the Victorian Lutheran Women’s Convention, it can become meditative to the whole group. Creating a cradle of sound for a group that size can be tricky as disturbances can be quite disrupting. However, when I remove technology and only use acoustic sound, everyone becomes centred into a sort of inclusive attention. Another interesting thing about this kind of music is that it stops when it is done. For me personally, it is as if the Spirit works through me, to connect with the listeners through a prayer that is conveyed through music.