I have been playing the harp since 1990 and found the soothing,
and healing vibrations of the harp are personal therapy for me.
Most harpists and harpers feel the same way. There is a unique
calm, a peacefulness that permeates every cell and dimension of the
Performers are never quite the same after a session on the harp.
echo this, whether it's on the concert stage, retreat, or hospital
There is something profound about the vibrational energy that comes
from harp strings when pulled with the intention of
being fully present in the moment. The resonant properties of a vibrating
harp string produce frequencies that are in and beyond our hearing range.
These harmonics travel infinitely, into dimensions that most of us
do not comprehend. Our spirits, minds, emotions, and bodies
are affected. We know instinctively that we need more, we don't want it
to stop. One feels better for having heard the live harp music.
Several years ago, I felt called to bring harp music to the bedside of
suffering people. When I called the local hospitals and asked if they
like gentle harp music, I was told, "we can't have wandering minstrels in
Actually, I agreed with them. I secretly wanted to be by the bedside, not
just in the halls anyway. So, was I to give up this calling, this dream?
For a while I let it go.
Then I was asked to play the harp music on the award-winning palliative
care video titled Not A Day Goes By. This is the story of a brave
woman who died of cancer. Their frightening and lonely hospital
is told by her very eloquent husband. He relates how on Christmas Eve,
Christmas Day and Boxing Day, not a soul came to visit, to help ease the
pain of their coming toward death.
I was so touched by their story and the process of creating the music
that would play behind the words of her husband. It was the spark that
I needed to persevere with my dream.
I approached palliative and pastoral care boards with ideas and
I scrambled to take hospital clinical pastoral education training and
therapy training when I had already set up a concert touring schedule.
I knew that I "should" be on the road for two years with the new release
my second harp recording if I wanted to "be successful." That's what
were telling me. But after a short tour I found myself reevaluating the
idea of what success meant for me.
I still struggle with what the world deems as success and what my spirit
believes. At the time I just had to walk through those doors when they
opened to me. And that has been my style of journeying. Walk on
for the moment may never pass this way again.
I believe the main goal of harp therapy is to enhance the quality of
is for me the reason I want to be by the bedside. It also helps to
support transition, letting go, empowerment, relaxation,
rehabilitation, socialization, process.... Harp music has the potential
help meet some of the special physical, emotional, psychological, social
and spiritual needs of people during illness or transition. It has been
experience that live harp music pulls on the heart strings of the
their loved ones, and on the caregivers.
I use two sizes of harps for this process - a small lap harp of 25
and a larger 38-string folk size harp. For special transition work I
to use the larger harp for the deep bass notes. My lap harp is used more
in the lighter situations. Staff, patients and family members who want to
experience playing the instrument usually move to the larger harp. Soft
singing with harp music is used only when requested. A mid-to lower-range
voice is very soothing and comforting.
My harps are "user friendly." That I think is the added bonus. Once
realize you are not there "to entertain" or "give a concert," you can
people to journey with you through a unique process in a peaceful,
environment of sound, imagery, life review, tears, conversation, laughs
and silence. Many people have secretly desired to play harp and when a
musician or a practitioner frees himself from the fear of instrument
damage, there are beautiful rewards. Yes, there have been broken strings
and, yes, sometimes the harp gets extra scratches, but the smiles and
genuine joy of the person who has this first time experience is a
memory for all.
One such beautiful memory is of an Old Order Mennonite midwife, plainly
dressed with her hair cupped in a white prayer bonnet, running her
along the harp strings with such sighs of relief at 4:30 in the morning.
had just finished a five-hour team journey in candlelight and harp music
we transitioned with a mother in birthing her second child. I was holding
this lovely, fresh new male child as mom and dad brought in their little
girl to see the new addition to their family. Harp notes and joyous
laughter were heard ringing through the halls.
A little taste of heaven. That's what intrigues me about the transitions
birthing and dying. You are as close to the other side as you can get
without being there. You get the taste of it, the feel of its mystery
in your bones.
For the last few years I have been journeying at the bedside of dying
patients. It has been my main focus, my original dream.
The seed planting for this dream began when I survived a violent
that brought me near death. I was 19. When my spirit crossed over, I
myself vibrating through a long, peaceful tunnel toward another reality
that seemed familiar. I often long for this "home" feeling. When I play
certain notes on my harp, it immediately puts me there - close to the
side - heaven - home.
INTO DARKNESS Be still... my soul... for we shall be set free from pain and death. I give my anguished body unto you in life and breath. Chorus: I hear the church bells chime ringing out the Divine. I feel the church bells chime echoes of the Divine... Presence... Angels guard my bed, when the reaper comes to call. Hold me safe and close. Oh, my body must not fall into darkness... into darkness... Chorus: I'll leave behind my loved ones, oh so dear, with suffering hearts. Yet peace and freedom beckon at my door 'Twill pierce my heart. Chorus: Carry me through death on your feathers soft and white. Through the darkness deep I see glimmerings of the light of tomorrow... Chorus: "Come unto me, all ye who are weak and heavy laden, and I will give you, rest."
As an on-call chaplain and a practitioner of harp therapy, I have
transitioned with many patients and families. This is a walk along a
mysterious path. It is the path of compassion.
My own heart strings have been pulled and stretched in many ways, till I
thought they might shred and snap like the gut strings of my harp.
you can change harp strings, but you can't change the strings of a heart.
I see many hearts break right in front of me. But somehow you find the
love, the deep compassion that brought you to this place, this present
experience. You walk through the tinge of fear. You call on all of your=
all your training, all your life experience and you make yourself fully
in that moment that is often life changing for that family.
This is sacred ground....
One experience that graced me with possibilities happened when I was
wearing two hats, both the chaplain hat and the harp practitioner hat on
the same ward. A verbally crusty old gentleman nearing death taught me a
lot about letting go. Initially he used to flick his hand at me and tell
that the only angels he wanted to see around him were his wife and
granddaughter. He clearly didn't want me near him. My harp reminded him
that death was closing in on him. Gently each visit he grew to accept my
presence and harp music. We moved all the way from "bug off" to him
to me, to him walking down the hall and listening to me play, to him
touching the harp strings, to him asking me to play harp for him over
at his bedside, to his sharing about his fears of dying, to his accepting
death. After a two-week absence, he returned for his last few days. He
no longer able to speak. I spent a while with him asking him if he would
like me to play by his bedside. He gently squeezed my hand and I told him
I'd be down shortly. Later, after checking with his wife who had been
resting, she said her husband had said two words. With all his strength
had said, "harp, harp" to his wife. She couldn't believe it. We spent a
lovely, tender time together, this soft hearted man and his dear wife and
the harp music. Next day at his time of death, I was called in as on-call
chaplain. I marvelled at how far he had come, at how much he had taught
More recently, I played harp for two meaningful services - a memorial and
As artist in residence at St. Paul's Anglican Cathedral, London, Canada,
played for a Diana, Princess of Wales memorial, just a couple of hours
after the televised funeral. A thousand weeping and grieving people sat
front of me as I set the tone with a half hour prelude of harp music. I
right beside the table with her picture on it as people were bringing
flowers in honor of her. I thought to myself, "if I can do this - survive
playing through this deeply sad and vulnerable experience with so many
grieving persons - then I can do almost anything."
Well, the "almost anything" came just four weeks later when I played at
funeral of my oldest nephew who died at the age of 24. It was the first
time I wept openly as I let the harp music vibrate its healing tones
through my own body, mind, spirit and emotions as people gathered for the
funeral. After, I played "The Winds Of Love" as I watched my three sons
help carry out his casket. Tom was special to me, again another teacher.
taught me so much about courage as we journeyed in conversation in the
months of his life.
Sometimes harp music is there for the patient, sometimes it is there to=
a calm atmosphere for loved ones, and sometimes it's there just for=
Yes, live harp music has a way of pulling on your heart strings.
Jacquelyn Brown lives in London, Ontario Canada with her husband, three
sons and one daughter. She is a troubadour harpist, singer-songwriter,
harp therapy practitioner, and artist in residence. Having had rickets,
she has= experienced the arts as therapeutic and spiritual from her
earliest memories. A former dancer and gymnast, she now focuses her
energy into performance and harp therapy. Her original music deals with
the heart's response to life, nature, healing, and spirituality.
Jacquelyn has two recordings to date: Awakening... the breath of life and
Earth Air Fire Water.
Back to Moondance Cover