The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


A gentle cradle of sound

Harp therapy eases life's transitions

Sterling Secrist didn’t signal his appreciation for harpists Sarah Schwartz and Melanie Brown with applause but with tears.

“When they come with the harp,” the 86-year-old hospice patient said, “it gives me the chance to forget about my worries and troubles for a while. The music soothes and comforts me. And when it makes me cry, that is something really special. Then I know it’s working.”

Schwartz and Brown played Scottish, Welsh and Irish songs for Secrist—reminders of his mother’s heritage—when they visited him at the Magnolia Care Center in Wadsworth, Ohio, part of the Hospice of Wadsworth-Rittman. The two noticed how Secrist, once a musician with the Armed Forces Orchestrain Washington, D.C., appeared relaxed and joyful as their sessions concluded.

Harp therapists Melanie Brown (left)
Harp therapists Melanie Brown (left) and Sarah Schwartz grip the hands of Peggy Rose, 68, before she goes into surgery at Medina [Ohio] General Hospital. They had just played several Christian songs for her, including Jesus Loves Me, which elicited tears from the patient.
Members of St. Matthew Lutheran Church, Medina, Ohio, Schwartz and Brown are certified as therapeutic practitioners of harp therapy. They are part of the spiritual care team at Medina General Hospital, working with Rob Shores of Lutheran Chaplaincy Services. Both are graduates of the International Harp Therapy Program based at the Hospice of San Diego.

Though skilled musicians, they emphasize that harp therapy isn’t a bedside concert or atmospheric music. It’s a ministry to ease patients during times of transition—from birth to death and also through the changes of chronic and crisis illnesses. Because hearing is the first sense to be developed and the last to leave us as we die, harp therapy can help ease these transitions.

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Embracing diversity