Judy Mace recently wooed an audience with the soothing sounds of her harp at Tabor College.
Many Lifelong Learning patrons closed their eyes and absorbed her harp’s sonic vibrations as they rippled through a room in the Wohlgemuth Music Education building.
Some patrons began to breathe slower and more deeply, others audibly sighed between songs, and many could not take their eyes off Mace as her fingers danced across the strings.
A Newton pianist with a degree in piano performance and certification in harp therapy, Mace also discussed how she incorporates this wash of relaxation in a medical and hospice framework.
Harp therapy is proven to reduce anxiety, lower blood pressure and heart rate, she said, and can serve as a distraction from pain.
“I play the harp in the intensive care unit at Newton Medical Center,” Mace said. “I have seen patients’ heart rates and blood pressure actually go down on the monitor.”
She discussed why the harp is thought by some to be the purest sounding instrument.
“There is just something about it,” Mace said. “It is uniquely set up to be soothing and intrinsically healing.”
Without delving too deeply into detail, Mace said there also have been scientific studies that discovered the harp’s construction actually contribute to its calming sound.
“Its soundboard is out in the open compared to a piano’s, which is enclosed, or a violin or a guitar’s sound boards in which the strings run parallel to their soundboards,” Mace said.
She also discussed the benefit of a live performer over a recording.
“I watch the patient and try to look for the right response,” Mace said. “Even if they are not aware or alert, I can immediately modulate to what I think they’re feeling.”
Where recording and radio take out some frequencies from music, patients benefit from getting all the frequencies when she plays to them live, and seem to respond to the personal attention.
“Everything in nature vibrates,” Mace said. “I try to create a vibration that is the same as that person’s vibration. Every sound you hear can affect you to the atomic level, your muscles, blood vessels; every cell of your body has a vibration.”
Right now, does her harp therapy pro bono by keeping in contact with nursing staff who tell her what patients might need her service.
She follows a few guidelines when personalizing her harp therapy care to each person.
She tries to play in a listener’s preferred music style, sometimes bases her tempo on listeners breathing and heart rate.
“Everyone has a certain key that speaks to them,” Mace said. “It’s that key that feels like home.”
She also assesses the mood of each listener and attempts to pair it with a musical mode.
“The Ionian mode is good for babies, hospice care, and it works well as background,” Mace said. “Dorian mode is strong and grounded. It can help settle anxious elderly people, but it also could be used for troops on their way to war.”
When played slowly, the Phrygian mode can be good for emotionally blocked people who need to cry, she said, while the Lydian mode is like “a kitten on the strings,” and until she started harp therapy, she said she never had any use for the Locrian mode.
“I discovered it’s actually good for when people are dying,” she said. “It got timelessness like a bubble that is good for releasing your spirit.”
While playing during the death of her first hospice patient, she said she changed to the Locrian mode.
“As I changed keys I realized he had passed,” Mace said holding back tears. “In training they tell you it’s not you that did that, but it felt like I caused it.”