The Healing Power of Harp Music
Throughout the ages the healing power of harp music has been documented through art, religion, and literature. The harp is one of the most ancient of instruments and it is known for its’ gentle and soothing sound. In the Bible, the shepherd David was asked to play his harp for King Saul to soothe him of his rages and despair.
For centuries the harp has been chosen for healing and comfort. Pythagoras said "Music Heals" and he used the “Lyre" as a healing instrument developing theories about the effect of pitch and mode on the human body.
Currently, healing harp music is being performed in hospital nurseries, operating rooms, cancer clinics, and hospices with very positive results. When thoughtfully performed, harp music has a positive effect on the well being of patients by reducing their stress and anxiety levels. From a medical perspective, studies have proven that harp music is effective in reducing pain, respiratory rates, and blood pressure. It can also reach patients who are non-responsive and in comas.
As a professional harpist for over twenty years, I have had many profound experiences in performing healing harp music for people. I know that it is very beneficial to people who are sick, suffering, and dying.
My first experience with playing the harp in a clinical setting was unplanned and accidental. In 1995, my mom fell gravely ill and had slipped into a coma in the ICU. A local folk harpist had heard about it and brought her folk harp to my mom’s room. She kindly left the little harp in the room and invited me to play it.
The next day I decided to play a little to pass the time musically. I played hymns she loved, a few classical pieces and simple improvised melodies. It was surprising to hear from the staff how helpful it had been to the other patients in the ICU. In fact, several of the families in the ICU waiting room thanked me for the solace it gave their loved ones. I was unaware that my playing for my mom would have an effect on anyone else. I was focused completely on her and not in a “professional harpist mind-set.” I was just a daughter playing music for her dying mother. Intuitively, I knew she could hear me. After two days of playing, I was astonished when my mom came out of her coma and communicated with me before her death. It was the harp music that brought her back – she knew it was me.
Years later I participated in a “music care” program through hospice in Louisville, KY and performed for many patients in the hospice unit of the hospital and in home hospice settings. Clearly, music had a powerful effect on people who were struggling for courage in the face of death and all that was left behind.
I was inspired by the strength and graceful compassion of the hospice nurses and staff. Here was mercy and dignity in the face of great suffering and vulnerability. The agony of the death vigil required compassion and I gave it through my harp strings, playing from my heart. To be present to these patients and their families and give the gift of music was profoundly meaningful to me.
In 2002, my family relocated to North Carolina and I resumed my professional performance and teaching career. I performed at several of the Duke School of Nursing graduation ceremonies and was impressed with the outstanding faculty and healthcare professionals. Their dedication was an inspiration to me and renewed my interest in performing healing harp music.
“On June 6, 2006, in celebration of National Cancer Survivors’ Celebration, healing harp music was offered to the oncology patients at the Morris Clinic of Duke Hospital. Laura Byrne is now performing for patients throughout Duke Hospital as a guest artist in the Healing Arts Network at Duke (HAND). ”