Because it’s been too long

To anyone who may have been reading, I apologize. I suppose I have not been making a great enough effort to keep up this blog. While every “thank you” and “that’s so soothing” and “please follow me for the rest of my shift” is precious, I’m afraid it will get repetitive to write about. I never get tired of hearing it, and it seems people don’t tire of saying it, but I still fear people getting tired of reading it.

This is not to say I don’t have many unique special moments, but once I get home I get caught up in daily things and just seem to forget about posting. Honestly, I don’t have a very strong writing background. Or rather, a consistent one. So, again, I will pledge to make a greater effort to share my experiences. For sure I will have plenty of things to write about next month. The work keeps piling up – and I’m so grateful for it!

On a business note – the other day I calculated and found out I’ve driven 6000 miles since November. That’s about 1000 miles per month! I just thought that was interesting.

Once I figure out how to record myself without sounding like I’m recording a cassette tape on a boom box and learn about copyrights, I’ll try and make some tracks to put up on the site.

New songs

My three newest songs:

Old Rugged Cross – Christian hymn

Near the Cross – Christian hymn

In the Good Old Summer Time - first published in 1902 by George Evans, words by Ren Shields

Musical balm

“You don’t know it, but your face looks so relaxed right now. Before you were all [makes tight face].” – Nurse who called me into resident’s room to resident 3/3/2010

“See? She’s making you feel better” – Resident to her baby doll 3/3/2010

“Can you just follow me around for the rest of my shift?” “Be sure to find me next time.” – Nurse 3/3/2010

“That’s so soothing. I felt it go straight to my heart. See? It’s good for your heart!” – Visitor to resident 3/4/2010

Today a woman was crying. She was very lonely. I sat with her a while and played some hymns since she had a charm bracelet with crosses. She talked the entire time about how she was lonely, and by the end, the tears had stopped, but she still sounded pretty angry. She finally stopped talking about the people who left her, but then she started talking about one of the residents whom she doesn’t like. She did acknowledge that the music was beautiful at one point.

I also finally realized the power of playing non-specific music very simply today. I started to play a song, slowly, but the patient got agitated. I changed to a different song, and she was still agitated. Then I switched to non-specific noodling, and she calmed down.


I learned a new song yesterday. Three Coins in a Fountain from the 1954 movie of the same name sung by Dean Martin (also recorded by Frank Sinatra, The Four Aces, and Jack Jones) as requested by a gentleman at Post House in Glassboro, NJ. Today I played it for the first time (at a different venue). One man from whom I’ve never really heard much coherent said “three coins in a fountain”. I was so pleased he recognized it and showed signs of liking it. Normally he grumbles to himself, though once he did start ‘singing’ “You Ain’t Nothin But A Hound Dog” when I played “Love me Tender.” :) He’s a man one could easily assume is ‘not all there,’ but he acknowledges me with his eyes and these occasional musical connections. It’s wonderful because he’s one of those visibly affected by harp therapy. Today’s was such a short moment, but of a significance where one couldn’t say it was “just” a moment.

There was another encounter today where one of the residents’ daughter told me she noticed the whole hallway quiet down when I started walking down and playing. That was really nice to hear, because I don’t always notice the change in dynamic when I’m focusing on the individuals. She was so appreciative of the soothing music for her mother and for the rest of the residents. That’s something I really need to keep better track of. I got to a point in my internship, and I suppose still now with my work, where I heard something like that so often that I stopped recording it. For these people it’s so novel and special, and what more can a person say than “Oh thank you that is so soothing” or some variation thereof? I will make it a point from now on to keep better track. It’s nice to be appreciated, but rather more important to know how many people I’ve touched with my music. Sometimes people aren’t verbal with their thanks. Some people can’t be, so I don’t have any more proof than the appreciation of their peers and my intuition that they can hear me and I’m having an effect on them without checking their monitors, which I can’t normally do in the nursing home setting.

An inspiring evening

Today I went to a workshop and concert presented by Sunita Stanislow (see her website!). It was fantastic and inspiring. The workshop was called “The Art of the Arpeggio” and she gave a lesson on how to shape and color chords to make our harp playing more musical. She used visual language and technique, and that along with her clearly apparent passion for playing made for an incredibly engaging class. Afterwards, we had the ever-popular Bedside Harp potluck feast complete with goodies from various BSH students. Following dinner, Sunita performed a powerfully entertaining and inspiring concert including traditional and modern Jewish pieces as well as some traditional and not-so-traditional Celtic pieces. I must say one of my favorites (if I could possibly pick one) was her jazzed up version of the Butterfly.

This obviously isn’t her version, but just so you know the song I’m talking about, here’s a youtube video of a  version done by the group Celtic Women.

Tonight’s was the type of concert that makes you want to play all day and all night so you can play those beautiful songs so wonderfully, too. I really would like to learn the quick-fingered Celtic techniques of decorating music to make it really dance, though I did learn some neat tricks today that I will be implementing in my therapy rounds.


The pros and cons

Yesterday I was finally able to get out of the ice and get to work. The two days previous were highly frustrating because for all that I chipped away, I couldn’t get out.

I got a really nice comment from a gentleman. He said, “You don’t know this, but I’m hard of hearing. I can’t hear when people speak to me. I heard your music. It was lovely. Thank you.”

It really was lovely to hear that. I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t understand the science (if any) behind it, but it’s wonderful to have that quote in my collection in case anyone says “Oh she’s deaf” in the future.

On the down side, there was a woman in a hallway just in front of the nurses’ station calling for help. I put myself in her view hoping to comfort her, but she just kept calling for help. A nurse came up and told her “Listen to the nice music. Isn’t that nice?” The woman cried “Sure it sounds nice, but it can’t help me.” While I understood she was having a problem, that was rather hard to hear. Hard, but important. When you’re surrounded with smiles and compliments, it’s good to have a reminder that what I do isn’t a cure-all. Nothing really is. I’ve seen people have such wonderful relaxation responses to my harp. Maybe it doesn’t work for everyone, but what does? For the many who are positively affected, it is profound.

Snow day

I’m rather snowed in this week, so in the meantime, here’s a lovely harp poem a friend of mine sent me.

Harp of Cnoc I’Chosgair, you who bring sleep
to eyes long sleepless;
sweet subtle, plangent, glad, cooling grave.
Excellent instrument with smooth gentle curve,
trilling under red fingers,
musician that has charmed us,
red, lion-like of full melody.

You who lure the bird from the flock,
you who refresh the mind,
brown spotted one of sweet words,
ardent, wondrous, passionate.
You who heal every wounded warrior,
joy and allurement to women,
familiar guide over the dark blue water,
mystic sweet sounding music.

You who silence every instrument of music,
yourself a sweet plaintive instrument,
dweller among the Race of Conn,
instrument yellow-brown and firm.
The one darling of sages,
restless, smooth, sweet of tune,
crimson star above the Fairy Hills,
breast jewel of High Kings.

Sweet tender flowers, brown harp of Diarmaid,
shape not unloved by hosts, voice of cuckoos in May!
I have not heard music ever such as your frame makes
since the time of the Fairy People,
fair brown many coloured bough,
gentle, powerful, glorious.

Sound of the calm wave on the beach,
pure shadowing tree of pure music,
carousals are drunk in your company,
voice of the swan over shining streams.
Cry of the Fairy Women from the Fairy Hill of Ler,
no melody can match you,
every house is sweet stringed through your guidance,
you the pinnacle of harp music.

– Gofraidh Fion O Dalaigh. 1385]

Sweet Dreams

Oftentimes I play for people who appear to be asleep. Maybe they are, and maybe they aren’t, but in any case their eyes are closed and they’re lying down. I know that such a person still receives the music. Their brains process it in some manner though they may not be aware of it like a wakeful person. I’ve often wondered, though, if they feel noticeably different when they wake up. Maybe it’s something barely perceptible that they don’t even really notice because they can’t pinpoint the sensation. If I were ever to create a study, it would be about live harp music during sleep. I like to think I’m sending them sweet dreams, but on a measurable scale, I wonder what I’m *actually doing.

Studies have been done regarding the effects of music on a person’s blood pressure, oxygen saturation, anxiety level, etc (and at some point I promise I’ll attach them to this site), but I wonder if wakeful perception has anything to do with it, i.e. would the effects be similar if the person were asleep? Perhaps, if it hasn’t already been done, I will suggest this for the group research proposal assignment when I take the research course for BSH.

It ain’t over til it’s over

This classic Yogi Berra-ism comes to mind after hearing a special story yesterday. I had a gig playing for the closing of a hospice wing in a hospital. They’re transferring, so it’s not over, but they were there for a long time, so it was still a sad occasion. But that’s just the context. After the ceremony, a man came up to me, complimented my music, asked about my last name, and kind of out of the blue launched into a story about his wife. He said he had been helping her dress when she fell out of the chair and broke her arm. After they discharged her from the hospital, he realized he couldn’t take care of her himself and had to take her back. He talked about how the trauma of the broken arm shocked the rest of her 94-year-old body and she wasn’t doing very well. Then he said he didn’t know how to grieve. He told me he had been brought up in an orphanage, so for his whole life he’d never let anyone get close to him. He had never really grieved before. Until now for his wife. Then he started to get visibly upset and said “See? I’m getting broken up right now. I think I’ll go. Byebye.”

I was a little shocked and confused because this seemed to come from nowhere. It turned out he had been telling everyone his story. This is how he’s been dealing with his grief. He says he doesn’t know how, so he just tells everyone he can about it to let it out. Later on I heard others talking about it, and to make the story even more amazing, it turns out they had gotten married 10 years ago, both for the first time. He was 70 and she was 84! She held the door open for him and it was love at first sight. It’s enough to make you get a bit misty. The women I was with and I certainly did.

This reminded me of a story of one of my BSH classmates who hadn’t played an instrument before, picked up the harp at 73, and at 76 was becoming a certified harp therapist. I may have gotten the numbers wrong. It may have been 76 and 79. The point is she is well up there in years and still learning new and fantastic things.

It just goes to show you, life really does go on and keeps happening. Some times are harder than others, but really, it ain’t over til it’s over.

What is that called?

I never know how to answer this question. The first thing that comes to mind is what song I’m playing, but most of the time, the person says “No the instrument.” Of course, the few times I first reply “It’s a harp,” they roll their eyes as if I were insulting their intelligence. ‘Of course it’s a harp.’ But goodness! 9 times out of 10 they really are asking what instrument it is! Granted, most people haven’t seen one so small, so they aren’t sure if maybe it has a different name, like the violin vs. the cello or some such.

And a little anecdote from last week:

I had this shocking experience with a woman in a nursing home. She was sitting in a hallway staring out the window. I came up beside her to play for her and she looked at me as if she were frightened. She grabbed my arm, and when she felt that I was really there she opened her mouth and started crying. She cried the whole time I played for her, but it took her some time to let go. She never said anything, but I’ve heard of some people honestly believing we’re angels, which would be understandably frightening to someone still living. Sometimes people jokingly say “Oh look, an angel,” and I laugh a little, but sometimes I get a little nervous because I know there really are some who believe.