Newest songs

Also, I’ve been really bad about practicing, though now I’m getting better about having a daily routine. Here are my newest songs:

Unforgettable – recorded by Nat King Cole in 1951.  More info.

Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White -  a fun song I learned at the request of a patient in Merion Gardens. There is a (very different-sounding) version with words here.

Getting to Know You – from the 1951 Rodgers and Hammerstien musical “The King and I.”

and a hymn request:

What A Friend We Have in Jesus – it’s really a sweet tune.

Where I need to be

Now I know that my lack of posting isn’t for lack of stories. It’s me not being in the habit. I’ve had some inspiring times especially in the last  couple weeks.

One thing the teacher from BSH, Edie, firmly believes and teaches is that there are no coincidences. This often seems to work in our favor. One day two weeks ago, I intended to go to work early, but was inexplicably exhausted when I woke up in the morning and went back to sleep for another two hours. I was disappointed in myself because I’ve really been trying to be better about having a regular sleep schedule. That day I went to Carney’s Point to play. Our nurse there heard me and came to find me to ask me to play for our patient who was actively dying. I was surprised because he wasn’t even on my list. I went to play for him in his small room filled with family members. I don’t even know how long I played, but our nurse felt the need to come in and “rescue” me – I could’ve gone on. Anyway, I went on to play for another patient of ours as well as for the other residents. As I was leaving, one of the earlier man’s loved ones came to thank me and said that not very long after I left he passed. They felt it was peaceful and that I had helped. It’s so lovely to hear that and reminds me how meaningful my work is.

In other news, I’ve finished all the class requirements for my Mastery level – the online research course (which I’m *so glad is behind me!) and the last weekend module. We focused a lot of self-care and meditation again. I’ve started including meditation into my daily routine and I really love it. It’s not routine yet, but I’m getting there.
Really, so much has happened and I’m sorry I’ve not written it down, both for the sharing and also for myself. Heck, regarding ‘no coincidences,’ I didn’t even mean to click on the button to my website just now. I guess my mouse slip was the universe telling me to stop putting off posting.

Rough Day

So the days have gone on. I’ve finally gotten into a kind of regular schedule after missing a couple weeks because of bad weather.

Today was a very emotional day for me. For the first time since I started with Compassionate Care, I started the drive home with tears in my eyes. One patient I’d been playing for for a while was having a rough time. I still don’t know enough to know if it was what they call “actively dying,” but her breathing was labored and erratic, and there were a few times during the session when I thought she may have gone. Her eyes were looking pretty filmy, like the man I played for a few months ago who was already gone, and she kept alternating between trying to sit up with labored breathing and resting back with seemingly no breath and rolling her eyes back. I lost track how long I played for her, but it was at least half an hour. I think closer to 45 minutes. A good amount of the time I played just simple, quiet, two- or three-note noodling, though I also played a few hymns very softly and slowly.

Sometimes she would lift her hands and point as if she were seeing things moving around. Once she seemed distressed and reached out to touch the harp. A couple times she reached out, and I had no choice but to take her hand. Once she squeezed my hand hard. Her eyes cleared for a moment when she looked right at me and said “Thank you.” She had never spoken to me before in the year or so I’ve played for her. She could acknowledge my presence sometimes and even smile when I played, but never said anything. It was an intense moment. I don’t think I will ever forget that.

Afterwards she continued to  act as she had before, not really focusing on anything, and breathing laboriously. It was hard to leave, but I felt I’d been playing an incredibly long time. She was still alive when I left the room. It was hard to go on after that, though. Immediately after an aide asked me to go into the activity room to play for that jolly bunch, but I had to take a breather. I did play for them, and for another half hour after that, but I found it difficult to maintain my normally bright demeanor. I wanted to go in and check on the lady again before I left, but the door was closed.


UPDATE 3/9: Yup I was right. She passed last night or this morning. I believe, given her reaction, she found some comfort in what we shared, so for that I am grateful. May she rest in peace.


Yesterday I played for a Ukrainian woman whom I’ve seen before. She doesn’t speak much English, though I believe she understands. She was sitting in a wheel chair with an aide by her side. She was very agitated. I know she likes classical music, so I started to play a theme from Finlandia, which was the first thing that came to mind, and she immediately visibly calmed down and even started to hum along. She started to say something in English, and that was the first time I’d heard her speak it. As I played, she became agitated again and tried to get up. She managed to get out of her chair and walk a few steps with the aide close behind with her chair. The aide tried to get her to sit back down but she kept yelling at her in Ukrainian. Eventually she did have to sit back down because she got tired, and she started speaking to me in Ukrainian again. Then she reached out to me and kissed my hand. She pulled further and kissed my wrist. I played for her a little longer, and when I started to leave, she kissed my hand and my arm again. Though my BSH training yelled at me to get to the nearest handwashing area, it was such a sweet sign of gratitude – at least, that’s how I understood it.

Yesterday I also played for a woman I’ve seen a few times, who’s always curled up in bed and rarely speaks. Last time I saw her was the first she’d said anything, and it was to tell me to take a quarter lying on her table! She’s obviously in a lot of pain and to think she wanted to give me a tip – well of course I didn’t take the quarter but thanked her anyway. Yesterday she told me that her daughter just died of cancer and that she hopes she sees her soon. She repeated that over and over. It was so sad. And yet again, she told me to take the quarter from her table.

Latest song learned: On A Clear Day – requested by a sweet lady at Cardinal Village. It’s from a musical of the same name from 1965. Probably the most well-known version is from the 1970 film with Barbara Streisand (I just happen to love Robert Goulet’s voice).

My friend Chucky

In a nursing home in Woodstown, NJ, there’s a little bird named Chucky. He’s my little friend who likes to sing with me. Whenever I walk by, he sings the same two notes, and I play them back, and then we make a little song. I tried to capture it on video today, but by the time I thought of it, I think he got bored, so it didn’t come out well. I’ll try again next time I go. It’s really cute :)

Happy New Year!

Since I last posted, I saw more smiles and tears, got another cold, missed work for car repairs and got snowed in. I had an impromptu recital with a Chinese woman who wanted to sing “Home Home on the Range” with me at a Christmas party, and at that same party got to see another Chinese woman do a traditional Indian dance. At one point in an inpatient unit, I played for someone who had already passed. That was kind of awkward. He may have been around just as I started, but if he wasn’t gone the whole time, he was for the most of it. I was the one to tell the nurses he had passed, though it was really that I asked if he had passed and they went and checked and said yes. In another facility I play for regularly, I made the doctor who’s usually kind of grumpy and who I was sure didn’t really like me (or rather, the idea of a harp in a medical setting) smile with some holiday music.

All in all, the holiday season seemed pretty short because of missed time. I’m glad to have brought some joy where I could, though I’m also kind of glad that I didn’t play holiday music so much that I got sick of it as many musicians do. It was a fun time, and now it’s time to crack down and learn more regular music.

Have a Happy Healthy and Prosperous New Year!

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.

Is that all?

Today a man made me smile with that question. He is a new patient for me. He was in bed watching tv when I came in and started playing. He fell asleep in the middle of it, a reaction I rather love because I know the importance of rest. I tried out one of my new songs, which I really shouldn’t have because it has a lever flip in an odd place, and lo and behold, he woke back up. I played another song to get him to sleep, and he started closing his eyes. By that time it’d been about 15 minutes, the amount of time I usually spend with the hospice patients. He seemed asleep again, so I stopped and was about to take off the harp when he said “Is that all?” So I played him two more soft tunes and put him back to sleep. He was totally out when I left.

Also today I was amazed by the look of peace on a woman’s face while listening to my harp in an oncology treatment room. Generally in this place people are in reclining chairs receiving chemotherapy and other medications, sometimes for hours and hours. This woman said she had just seen another harpist earlier this week – I wonder who it was! – and seemed so peaceful as I played. The smile on her face in an otherwise not-so-happy place is why I do what I do.

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.


Sometimes when playing popular tunes, I wonder if patients and residents recognize or appreciate them because often the singer has as much to do with their emotional connection as the tune itself. Tonight I ran into a great example of why I shouldn’t worry so much about it. When people really know and love a song, they sing along and/or probably hear their favorite singer  singing along in their heads. By request, I learned “Because of You” written by Arthur Hammerstein and Dudley Wilkinson and used in the 1951 film “I Was an American Spy” (according to Wikipedia).

The first version I heard was a rather jazzy one by Louis Armstrong.

The next was a crooning one by Tony Bennet.

I then clicked on what turned out to be an operatic version sung by Jan Peerce.

And lastly, well I just have to say this one is pretty weird.