Archive for the ‘Harp Thoughts’ Category


I walk by a room and see a lady lying in bed on her side, clothed and uncovered, awake. Her neighbor’s tv is blaring, though her neighbor’s not in the room. She’s not watching the tv, just lying there. I go in and turn off the television; that alone eases the atmosphere somewhat. I play gently for her, a bit longer than I usually do for the general residents. She never seems to look at me or acknowledge me in any way, though as I play on, her eyes slowly close and she begins snoring softly. There are no monitors or verbal cues – no external signs of any change in her condition, but I can’t imagine how peaceful it must be to drift asleep to harp music after listening to a loud obnoxious television for goodness knows how long.

This, sadly, is not uncommon. It happens almost every day. People just sit there, sometimes staring at the tv, sometimes not, and it’s turned up extra loud because they can’t hear well. Just imagine then how loud the commercials are. Perhaps it helps them to hear better, but I can just imagine the awful things those loud, noxious vibrations are doing to their bodies. Sometimes I feel like if I do nothing other than turn down or turn off a tv (that the resident is not watching of course), I’ve made a significant positive change to a resident’s day.

Getting sick

Last year, or maybe early this year, I learned the meaning of the phrase “to save for a rainy day.” My current significant other works in construction, and they generally do not work when it rains because the moisture affects certain materials and of course if they’re working outside, it creates hazardous situations. Thus, when you don’t work, you don’t get paid, so you ought to have some extra for such unforeseen conditions. This happened to me when it was very snowy and I could not get my car out of my driveway. Now that I think about it, I probably posted on this very subject.

Today another such situation has come to light – getting a cold. From the first, we learn not to go into hospitals or nursing homes with even a sniffle if we can help it. There are signs all over nursing homes that basically say if you have a cold, visit some other day when you don’t. So what to do? I feel well enough to get stuff done, but I for sure have a sniffle and a bit of a scratchy throat. The optimist in me believes I won’t spread anything, that it couldn’t possibly be airborne, and since I don’t touch people it should be ok. There are times, however, when contact with family members or staff occurs. Now I have to weigh the risk against the knowledge I don’t get paid.

I suppose I will stay home today just in case. I believe I can afford it for today. Thank goodness it’s a Friday, though, because I don’t normally work on weekends and whatever nonsense this is will probably go away. I’ve missed some time here and there already for personal reasons, and while I can afford it every once in a while, I can’t make a habit of it. Some days I’ll just have to push through when I’m extra tired, which I normally don’t because doing this work while very tired can be somewhat hazardous, but in today’s case, I suppose it’s best to keep my patients and their caretakers safe as possible.

Reading people

I’m still not good at it. When I ask if I should stay, and someone says “Yeah whatever,” they’re obviously upset about their current situation. It still leaves me confused as to whether I’m really wanted. This happened at the bedside of someone actively dying yesterday. A male family member and two female family members were there. I asked if I should stay or if they wanted me to come back later, and there was some hesitation. One of the women asked the man, and he just said “sure.” Although I am there for the patient, the last thing I want is to have a negative impact in any way with the family. The situation is so deeply personal, and despite the fact that I view myself only as a deliverer of comforting music, I’m still there as a stranger in the room.

Despite my misgivings in the beginning, the time spent with her was lovely. After allowing me to play, the family even moved from her side to let me in. She wasn’t really focusing on anything. As I walked in I heard one of the family members say “spacey.” When I asked her favorite song and they said “Let Me Call You Sweetheart,” I was incredibly relieved that I knew it. I played that and some other slow popular tunes of her day. For a while she looked straight at the harp, and even straight at me. At one point her left eyelid drooped and I’d swear she winked at me. I don’t know if the family saw that, but I’m grateful that I stayed and played – because I think she was, too.

To speak or not to speak

During our internships and classes, we learn that when playing at the bedside, talking as little as possible is best. Most of the time I wouldn’t even introduce myself, I would just go in and play. Then I learned that maybe it’s nice to introduce myself and even ask if the person wanted to listen to some music. Sometimes. Depending on my perception of the alertness of the patient. Of course, if a patient spoke, we learned it’s ok to respond as long as we don’t turn it into a conversation and try to steer the patient from turning it into a conversation.

The hospice job, however, is very different. Working in nursing homes is not at all like working in the hospital because the residents aren’t necessarily very ill unless of course I’m in the nursing or dementia unit. Conversing can be ok as long as we stick to the rule of not giving out too much personal information. That is up to the individual to decide. I don’t mind telling residents my name is Kitty and I’m from Philadelphia. Group hours can be awkward because I’m still used to not speaking. I’ve come up with a little spiel, and sometimes I remember to introduce songs. I’ve gotten better over time. The lunch hours are even more confusing because I’m supposed to be background music, but they treat it like a performance and clap after every song. I’d like to be able to tell them that it’s ok to focus on their lunch and not clap! Though one, I’m still trying to be in the background, and two, it doesn’t really seem my place to tell them not to clap. I just feel kind of bad for the ones who do want to eat, but might feel they should clap because everyone else does.

Yesterday I finally started back on my list of songs to learn. This one is a little more difficult, but I’ve mostly got it: Days of Wine and Roses – by Johnny Mercer and Henry Mancini for the 1962 movie of the same name. Someone asked for it a long time ago – I think in a lunch room.

The Beauty of Technology

Today while I was eating lunch, I realized that I wouldn’t really be able to develop my musical ability without today’s technology. For the most part, I learn by ear. Without musical recordings, it would take a long time to get around to hearing all the songs I want to learn enough times to burn them into my memory. Generally I have to hear a song at least three times in a row to get the tune down, and then I listen to different sections to get the chord progressions. This would be near impossible on vinyl and such a pain with cassettes. Thus, this post is a shout out to the wonders that are CDs, digital music, and especially Youtube. With Youtube, I don’t have to buy the individual tracks just to listen to them on the internet, and that is a beautiful thing given the number of songs that are out there for me to learn. Some time in the relatively near future I hope to start putting up clips on Youtube.

(Ok, well technically I could work really hard to learn to read and play note-perfect without the distractions of television and the internet, but that’s another story entirely ;) )

Making choices

When I was doing my internship at RWJUH Hamilton, I would go almost every day during those first few months and spend long hours. I would play for everyone I possibly could, and when someone asked for me, I’d go without question. Nowadays, as far as I know, my job is to play for the hospice patients and the general facility populations. Sometimes, though, when targeting my patients, I feel like I don’t have the time or sometimes the energy for the others. I know it’s not necessarily my job. In fact, since I’m being paid by the hospice, unless I’m doing a marketing thing like a lunch or group activity coordinated with the facility, they probably would like me not to spend much time with non-hospice residents. It just makes me feel kind of bad since I don’t have all the time in the world like with my internship, and I’m definitely not a volunteer who can take as much time as necessary to play for everyone possible.

The upside, however, is that I reach more people that I can get to know than with the internship. I work in a very wide area and play for a large number of people. While the populations don’t rotate as much as in a hospital, it’s nice to have repeat visits. I have the opportunity to ask people what songs they like and then go and learn them and come back to play them. That seems a special delight for these people.

Speaking of which, the latest song I learned: Let Me Call You Sweetheart

Though – oh dear! I just learned that I only learned the chorus. Apparently there’s more to the song. Speaking of choices, generally that’s the part that people remember most anyway, but it helps to lengthen sessions to have a whole song. So, to learn the whole song or stick with the chorus? Of course I’ll go learn the rest. Here’s the whole song that I’m talking about.

Talking about harp therapy

Twice in the past couple weeks, I had an opportunity to speak to groups of people about what I do. The first was my mother’s eighth grade music class. Of course it’s towards the end of the year and there were some sleepy-heads and some chatterboxes, but I got to talk to them for a whole hour and play my harp a bit. My mother’s idea was to show them other careers in music besides just performance. During the talk I came up with two nuggets of wisdom that I’ve learned in the course of being a harp therapist.

  • You don’t have to read music to make music.
  • You don’t need applause or verbal thank yous to know you’re appreciated and have made an impact.

I told them the story of the woman who was unresponsive but cried at a song during my internship. Some of them seemed vaguely interested and some even asked questions. My favorite was “Do you get paid to do this?” I happily replied, “Yes! Yes I do!”

Also, last week I was part of an in-service about complimentary services offered for the hospice team. It was great to gather with some of the staff who I rarely get to see, and tell them what I do for them. The hospice also provides massage therapy and reiki to patients. I’m so happy to be part of a health care team that takes a holistic approach to palliative care. Of course it means a job for me, but also it’s so lovely to see how much they really care about their patients and want to make them as comfortable as possible in as many ways as possible.


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.