Harnessing the Harp’s Healing Powers

“Here comes the magic harpist,” a resident sings out as volunteer harpist Lynn Heinitz arrives at St. Joseph’s Hospice, her beautiful Celtic harp slung over her shoulder.  And so the magic begins!

Hailing from a musical family, Lynn learned to play many instruments as a child but had it in the back of her mind that one day she would play the harp. On her fiftieth birthday, she received a harp as a gift and knew that ‘now was the time’ to share her love of music with others. Her first experience playing the harp in a hospice setting was when her sister-in-law was in a palliative care unit. Lynn remembers, “After playing, I turned around and there were 25 or so people listening. One doctor commented, ‘You have just decreased everybody’s blood pressure here.’” It was then that she knew the harp had special powers. Since that time she has played at retirement homes, celebrations of life, anniversaries, weddings, gallery openings, and even at her own workplace, the 911 Centre where she is a professional dispatcher. She says, “It helps bring down the chaos when the harp walks in”.

In spite of past experiences, the first time Lynn played at St. Joseph’s Hospice she felt nervous and unsure. She went up to Suite #7 and knocked on the door. “Hi, I’m Lynn and I’m here to play the harp. Would you be interested in some music?” The resident, Margaret, turned to her with a smile. Ironically, she was just settling for some Reiki healing and was putting on a harp CD. When asked about this special “first” experience, Lynn commented “The energy in the room was amazing. It was the beginning of a musical friendship. Several sessions later, Margaret asked if I would play at her Celebration of Life, organized by friends so that she could attend. Of course, I said ‘Yes’ and was so glad I did. Margaret passed away a few days after the celebration but she left with me memories I will treasure forever.”

As “the instrument of angels” the harp evokes many different reactions from listeners. Lynn recalls playing harp for one resident who was no longer coherent. “I was playing Moon River and suddenly, from complete stillness, his arm shot up and he began conducting. I found out later that he had been a music teacher. It was a profound experience. While not a word was spoken between us, we shared a closeness through the music.” In another instance, she was playing for a family friend who just happened to be in Hospice. As his wife and son sat at his bedside, the songs she played evoked many family memories of times past. Afterwards, his son thanked Lynn for bringing peace to the entire family.

Since then, Lynn has played in many situations, ranging from a festive gathering celebrating a  resident’s wedding ceremony in the Great Room, to sitting quietly bedside, allowing a resident to strum the strings. Often families or appreciative staff stand in the hallway and listen. The harp’s serene, contemplative sound and favourite melodies like Edelweiss, Danny Boy, or Hallelujah bring comfort and often pain relief, with each listener receiving a different message from the music. Even the sight of Lynn’s harp, graceful and gleaming in birch and zebra wood, creates pleasure and relaxation.

And just like her listeners, each time Lynn feels rewarded by her experiences. When asked to play at a Hospice celebration, she always insists on volunteering her services. “This is my gift to others. This is for Hospice and everyone who passes through their doors. I get just as much out of sharing my music with others as they get from me.  Sometimes I wake up in the morning and think ‘I have to go to Hospice. I feel I need to give the gift of music.’ And when I come home I bring with me the positive energy and peacefulness Hospice offers to all.”