Ronnie Lee Nelson had a heart attack in early October. His attack was atypical. He felt weak, and there was no pain. Paramedics had to help him move. However, he was transported to the emergency room at Newton Medical Center, like so many other heart attack victims in the area.
When Nelson was in intensive care, Judy Mace played her small 9-pound, easily transportable harp for him. She has played for NMC since June as part of her harp therapy 80-hour internship at the hospital, under the purview of Chaplain Janine Arnold.
Nelson said the first time he heard Mace play, he was sitting in a straight-back chair and fell asleep to the relaxing tones.
?This is the first time I?ve heard solo harp playing music,? Nelson said. ?It?s so peaceful. I can hardly believe it. It?s so peaceful and soothing to the mind, body and soul. That?s my estimation of it. It puts me to sleep.?
While in the hospital, Nelson said he?s had some trouble sleeping, but the harp relaxes him. He said it feels like it?s helping him.
?(It) makes you forget all your worries and pains that you have ? it did me, anyway,? Nelson said, reclining in his hospital bed. ?Has to be something therapeutic about it.?
The sounds coming off the strings sound so pure, like no other stringed instrument he?s ever heard, Nelson says.
?They say that there is no such thing as a pure sound,? Mace said. ?But the harp comes closest of anything.?
When Mace played for Nelson a second time, he reclined in his hospital bed with his eyes shut and a slight smile on his face. One of the songs she played was ?Edelweiss? from ?The Sound of Music.?
Mace?s musical background isn?t just in harp. She?s been a piano teacher for more than 30 years and has a bachelor?s degree in piano performance. Now, she?s working on her certification from The International Harp Therapy Program and needed to finish an 80-hour internship with patients. As of early October, she had completed 64 ?harp-healing sessions? for patients at NMC, according to a news release. Her internship ended in October.
Mace has played harp for more than 15 years. Throughout history, the harp has been thought to be a healing instrument, Mace said during The Therapeutic Harp Program she presented for nurses and staff in October at NMC.
?The healing harp is a tradition that goes back thousands and thousands of years,? Mace said. ?No one knows for sure why the harp is such a therapeutic instrument, but it might have to do with the overtone series of the harp.?
People hear just the first note produced when a string is plucked, she said, but we don?t hear all the other overtones, and when you pluck one string, you hear all the other strings.
?So that?s one thing unique to the harp,? Mace said.
Mace said patients benefit from hearing live harp music ? the music can be changed to suit the patient, and patients feel the actual vibrations from the instrument. On a CD, people don?t get the full spectrum of sound like they do with live music.
Everything in nature vibrates, Mace said.
?We are vibrating beings living in a vibrating universe,? Mace said. ?Resonance increases overall energy. Every sound you hear affects every cell in your body. Sound especially effects the water cells of our bodies.?
Another benefit to patients is the 20 to 30 minutes of attention they get from someone. Nurses aren?t able to spend that much time with patients because of their busy schedules.
The playing of harp music is good when someone is actively dying, Mace said. It helps them let go.
One time, Mace played harp music for a hospice patient who was busy fidgeting, going from one activity to the next.
?I was playing along?it just brought (his high nervous-energy level) down,? Mace said. ?He just kinda melted into the bed ? just kind of a deeper experience.?
Mace likes to play what people enjoy hearing.
?We try to play the kind of music a person likes,? she said.
Mace has had to learn a variety of music, including classical, children?s, opera, ethnic, holiday, oldies, patriotic, Broadway, hymns, Celtic and country/western.
One time, but not the only time, Mace played music that caused a woman to cry. The woman was from another country, and Mace happened to know the national anthem of that country. When the woman began to weep, Mace?s training took hold, as she was taught to not stop playing if a patient is having a ?bad cry,? but she could modulate out of it. Her instinct was to keep playing, and it turned out the woman was touched by the music, so she was having a ?good cry.?
Mace told those attending the presentation about the five important qualities of individualized therapeutic music. The qualities are:
? The mood of the listener.
? The listener?s preferred musical style.
? The tempo based on the listener?s breathing and heart rate.
? The listener?s resonant tone.
? The listener?s preferred delivery of the music.
?Every person has a note that they resonate with ? that they like and enjoy,? Mace said.
Among those attending the presentation was NMC nurse Jennifer Speer. Mace helped Speer find her resonant tone by having her place her hands behind her neck and make humming sounds from low- to high-pitched. Where a person feels the most vibration in their hands when making a certain tone is the person?s resonant tone, Mace said. Speer?s tone was G.
She then had Speer read something, and Mace played the G note on her harp. The note matched Speer?s voice.
?Even a person in a coma will twitch when you find their resonant tone,? Mace said.
Mace jokingly said she has a theory the entire town of Newton resonates with G because that?s the note of a train whistle. Those attending laughed.
The nurse?s role with the therapeutic music is to refer patients, allow Mace 20 to 30 minutes of uninterrupted time with patients and help monitor patients? responses to the sessions.
Before she begins playing, Mace invites patients to close their eyes.
?I say this is not a concert; this is kind of like a music massage,? the North Newton resident said.
Patients and employees alike at NMC enjoy the harp playing.
During the presentation, Speer has seen how harp music can effect people in the hospital. For example, she?ll be in an area of the hospital where everyone seems stressed, and that changes when the harp music starts to play.
?Things are much more calm,? Speer said.
The goal of playing harp music at NMC? To relieve pain and anxiety, Mace said. This is not a long-range goal ? it?s an immediate one.
The music has been working for patients. One time, Mace?s music helped a woman with her breathing.
?There was a lady who was on some kind of breathing machine, and she was just gasping for breath,? Mace said. ?By the end of the session, she was breathing calmly. That amazed me.?
Unlike Mace, not too many people are happy their work causes people to drift off.
?I often put people to sleep,? Mace said. ?That seems normal to me. Sometimes the nurses cheer.?
They cheer because this person might have been having trouble sleeping, and the nurses are happy about it.
Mace described other times she?s helped patients. For example, she played for an older man a song he had played when he was in high school, and he cried.
?Often, people are moved to tears,? Mace said.
His family had the chance to share this experience with him, which might not have happened if Mace hadn?t have played for him.
Another time, a woman was agitated and talking, and Mace played some quiet music, which wasn?t calming the woman. Then, Mace remembered she was taught to match a person?s mood, so she started playing in an agitated manner. Then, the woman calmed down, closed her eyes and crossed her arms across her chest.
Another time, Mace had a learning experience. She was playing along for a man who was dying, and she played something different than she had been. At that point, the man furrowed his brow and curled up. She changed back to what she originally had been plucking, and he opened his body posture by flopping his arms open, unfurrowed his brow and started tapping his foot to the tunes.
Being with people who are dying doesn?t seem to intimidate Mace.
?I was with my father when he was dying, so that experience helped me to not be so afraid of it,? she said.
Mace started her therapeutic harp adventure when she began a Christina Tourin course in April 2012.
?I started (becoming interested in therapeutic harp playing) with that empty nest time of thinking, ?What am I going to do with my life??? Mace said.
The harp Mace uses at NMC is a small, 25-string harp. The larger one she has at home is equipped with 40 strings. Mace said there?s not a standard for harps. The biggest harp made, the concert grand, has 47 strings.
?You buy as many strings as you can afford,? she said.
Mace believes harps can help people.
?The individual, like a harp, has to be tuned every day,? Mace wrote in her slide presentation. ?Listening to music that a person finds joyful and uplifting can help maintain a sense of centeredness, balance and well-being.?
Photos and Story by?Wendy Nugent