by Marcie Swift
Barbara Russell, Certified Music Practitioner and teacher of the harp, was anxiously awaiting her studio date to create her first CD. Enthusiastically embraced by several hospice communities and hospitals, Barbara is highly regarded for her soulful, intricate, and deeply spiritual arrangements that abet stress, pain, loneliness, and depression.
But Barbara was suffering from her own anxiety. Prior to her studio date, she met with the young and talented rising star of the harp world and superb teacher Haley Hewitt in order to brush up on technique and create the best sound for the CD. Barbara found herself fretting with each practice session. She was focusing more and more on her deficits, less and less on her healing skills. To make matters more challenging, a series of severe thunderstorms rolled into the Sunderland, MA area, making imminent the cancellation of her recording date.
That was when she called me. I’m a friend, colleague, and long-term student of Barbara’s and also a Certified Music Practitioner of the Harp. But at that time, I was undergoing chemotherapy following a series of grueling surgeries that began in December 2013.
Barbara left me a phone message. With a slight quiver in her voice, she gently asked for inspiration and support. She knew I had gone through the recording process of my own 11 years prior and that I had high regard for her talents, including plucking an uncanny degree of emotion from each string. Her embellishments and fluidity were a constant source of inspiration to my own playing.
I told Barbara that she was slipping back into a performance model of harp playing and forgetting that the CD was a vehicle to help and nurture others who are not able to be in her presence. Could she shift her focus from her perceived technique deficits and imagine herself playing for others to aid them in suffering, and pain, and anxiety? I reminded her that our healing harp work is based upon intention and that the CD should be a declaration to heal and nurture even more people than ever before.
This seemed to turn a light bulb on in Barbara’s mind and she relaxed.
On Monday, Barbara arrived at the studio with a renewed perspective. A semi-retired psychologist with an active practice for 35 years, I enjoy assisting friends with career and relationship issues. I offered an active intervention plan. But something even more transformative and unexpected happened that surprised us both.
I told Barbara how much I wished I could be in the recording studio to support her and to hear her wonderful, soothing vibrations. Then I said something I had not expected to say. I asked her to imagine that she was playing for me while she was recording.
“I just had my fourth chemo treatment two days ago and a whopper of a booster shot on top of it and I am lying here in my bed today really suffering,” I said. “Today is not a good day at all and it will take a week before I feel more myself but then I have to go through another treatment. Why don’t you picture me while you are playing as I am now, in bed, in pain, nauseated, tired, and frustrated that I can’t be outside kayaking?”
Those ideas resonated with Barbara, and she arrived at the studio with a clear sense of direction. She found herself playing well and smoothly. The thunderstorms came and halted the recording for a bit, but she went on for several hours of recording.
That night at 11:30 pm, Barbara sent me an email describing how she had pictured herself playing for me, saying the words "Marcie" and "heal" while her music flowed. What she could not have known was during that day, I woke up to severe nausea, stabbing pains, and fatigue. I took my dog for a walk and went on some simple errands around town, literally taking everything one step at a time and slowly. By noon I started to feel stronger and even hungry to the point of being ravenous. My pains stopped and I spent the rest of the day learning a new Scottish reel and preparing dinner, something I had not felt capable of doing previously. My energy and mood were noticeably improved, much to my surprise. When I read Barbara’s email, I realized my improvements coincided with Barbara’s playing.
I think we forget that we heal ourselves as we heal others. In this case, Barbara and I are two healers with a long-term respect for one another’s ideas and music. The bond was strong and flexible, so strong and flexible that it stretched over 60 miles and seemed to enter my cells and my very soul on what was previously a nightmarish day.
The therapeutic harp is being used by trained practitioners all over the world to heal and alleviate stress, pain, sorrow and suffering of a multitude of human challenges. It is also increasingly being used for pain relief in conventional medical settings. A recent article in the New York Times tells of how an E.R. in New Jersey is using the therapeutic harp and other healing options as an alternative to opioids for pain.
In soothing Barbara back into her immune-boosting therapeutic harp work and away from the rigidity of self-absorption and self-doubt, I not only reminded myself why I believe so deeply in this work, I also profited intellectually, spiritually, and physically.
Music was the vehicle to transfer healing and love. Together we created a dynamic therapeutic intervention that broke through the barriers of distance and time.
© 2016 Marcie Swift