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Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Harp in the Hospice

John Faherty writes:

Karin Gunderson, is one of six harpists who play for Hospice of the Valley patients.

The organization started the harp program in 1998.

The harpists play regularly at the inpatient hospice homes, stopping in rooms at a patient's request. An at-home patient can request a session for a $50 fee.

Many find it both relaxing and spiritual.

Perhaps they always have: Harps were found in Egyptian tombs and angels were often depicted playing the instrument in Renaissance art.

Gunderson says the instrument has a unique ability to bring people together. "The harp tends to access stored emotions," Gunderson, who estimates she has played for 20,000 patients, said.

"I see those moments a lot. When I start playing, the family member in the room just has to walk over and hold their hand and kiss them. It's very powerful," she said.

Gunderson also believes harp music has physical benefits for the patient. "I see vital signs improve," she said. "I know that when I play 60-70 beats per minute, people's heart rate will come down to that range. Or up to that range if they are too low."

Barbara Crowe is the director of music therapy at Arizona State University. She is cautious when it comes to saying the harp can help people physically, as some harpists believe.

"None of it is substantiated," Crowe said. "It is certainly useful, we just have to be careful about what we claim."

But Crowe says that does not diminish the power of the music.

"Music is an amazing tool," Crowe said. "You can see the mood of a room lift. We use music to promote emotional awareness."

link: Hospice patients find peace in heavenly instrument


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