The sweet sounds of the harp rang out in harmony across Villa Maria Catholic Homes (VMCH) Wantirna earlier this month – uplifting the spirits of aged care residents.
Around 20 harpists from across Australia gathered from April 10 to 15 to learn or refresh their knowledge on the healing qualities of the harp, as part of an international conference led by renowned American harp therapist Christina Tourin.
Studies have shown that the harp – its sounds and vibrations – help to lower blood pressure, reduce heart rates, anxiety and pain levels, and bring a sense of calm, inner peace and emotional balance to listeners. The practice is particularly healing for people living with dementia or in palliative care.
The conference was hosted by VMCH’s aged care residence in Wantirna, which has an innovative wellness program for people with dementia. Australian harp practitioner Carla Whiteley has run a Harp Therapy program at the residence for more than three years and says it has had a clear impact on residents.
“Therapeutic harp music is based in the science of sound. It is live, acoustic music played for people who may be patients in hospitals or living in aged care residences to help create a calming environment conducive to the healing process. It also supports their families, visitors and staff,” she said.
Carla said the conference was a “great success” with harpists given the unique opportunity to network and be inspired by one another. A painting activity, whereby harpists interpreted their paintings musically on their instruments, saw participants think more creatively about sound.
Harpist Moira Pagan described the conference as a “wonderful experience”.
“I learnt loads about myself as well as the practice of the therapeutic harp within the environment of an aged care residence,” she said. “Sitting opposite the residents I could see a couple of folks who had little expression on their faces become animated and smiling during the course of the music.”
Fellow harpist Rhonda Ward described the conference as “magical and enlightening”.
“Watching Christina provide a therapeutic harp session for residents in their rooms was a highlight. This gave us the opportunity to observe the powerful role that music plays in enhancing the lives of residents.”