Stories from the Harp: Moved by Music

Aug 30, 2016


The theme of today's Stories from the Harp is physical movement. Hospitals are host to a lot of patients who are unable or unwilling to move, family and friends who have nothing to do but sit still and wait or anxiously pace the halls and wait, and staff members who too often are rushing around with crises to attend to. Music can change all of these things!

This first dancing story is told by Barbary Grant, who plays harp in a couple of different hospitals in the Palo Alto area.

As soon as I started playing in a corner of the pediatric unit, a young girl pokes her head out of her door to see where the music is coming from. Caroline is an absolutely lovely 6-7 year old with blonde ringlets. She solemnly approaches the harp, listens quietly for a moment, and then begins to dance. This is not the ordinary wild bouncing-in-place that I usually see, but an elegant, slow series of ballet moves. Caroline seems to be in a trance, moving simply and gracefully. Her mother, who looks like she has had a lot of very long nights, leans in the doorway and watches. Soon Caroline's dance attracts the attention of the staff, and other patients and visitors. The unit goes quiet as everyone perceives that something magical is happening. Their expressions register wonder rather than amusement. This continues for nearly 40 minutes (!) till I finally stand up and start to pack my things. Caroline asks, "Where are you going?" I explain that I need to move to another location so I can play for other children in the hospital. Caroline seizes a chair and moves it about 10 feet away. "How's this?" she offers. Her mother steps in and explains that the "harp lady" really has to leave the unit and that it's time to say goodbye. Caroline looks at her mother squarely and says, "Bye, Mom." Then, pointing to me with a thumb over her shoulder, "I'm going with her!"

Barbary also plays piano inside the front entrance of Stanford's Cancer Center every Thursday afternoon, and remembers one particular incident:

A young Asian man brings his baby girl over to the piano to "watch" me play. He is so charmed by the Chopin waltz I'm playing that he begins dancing with his newborn daughter, weaving around the lobby furniture in graceful arcs. He is clearly a trained ballroom dancer. Normally the Cancer Center is - understandably - filled with anxious and fearful patients and their equally worried families, but today, watching this new father dance with his baby, every face breaks into a smile. Cell phone cameras snap into action and married couples reach out to hold each other's hands. The room is transformed by music, grace, joy and daddy-love.

We'd also like to share a couple of excerpts from the log that Angi Bemiss has kept from her many years playing harp at Atlanta's Northside Hospital.

This was a most special visit. A nurse brought 2 chairs into the hallway and a patient and his wife came out to sit and listen. After several songs (and many "thank you, beautiful" comments), the wife turned to her husband and said, "We could dance." And that's what they did!! They danced for a while and then they stood there and hugged. It was so precious! (Later, his nurse said, "We were all sitting here with tears in our eyes." Me, too.)

This other excerpt from Angi's log doesn't involve dancing, exactly, but it does illustrate the power of music to move people!

The patient and family described this well as "a miracle." Background: I had planned to play in ICU and was pushing the Harp Cart down 2C hallway. A nurse at end room asked, "Oh, can you play here for us?" I didn't want to sit right at nurses' station, so I set up several rooms down. The miracle: So, I played (and met that nurse's patient) and was packing up to go on to ICU. A different nurse came out of the door behind me and said, "Oh, please stay here." Several minutes later, her patient came out in a wheelchair. "This is only the second time I've managed to get myself into the wheelchair, but I had to see you. I could tell there was a harp playing because I used to play the harp!" Thus began a 2-visit dialogue and special times with this precious patient and her family. (I ended up loaning her a little harp to take home, since her legs are paralyzed and she'll be bed-bound for the next 6 weeks.) One special note - her nurse was amazed at the improvement in the patient's BP [blood pressure]. (I was playing when they took it.)

If you have a Story from the Harp (or any other instrument) to share, we would love to hear from you! You can contact us here.


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