I played harp today for the first time at a local hospital’s hospice unit. A year ago the thought of taking my harp out in public and playing music for an hour seemed as likely to happen as winning the lottery. And it was just two years ago that I despaired of ever knowing a tune well enough to sit down and play it.
It was the evaluator for the American Harp Society Audition and Evaluation (see Slay The Dragon for more about the A & E process) who suggested that I volunteer to play harp for hospice. He thought that playing in a setting where the focus was on sharing music, and not on me as a performer, would help reduce the performance anxiety that was all too evident when I played for him.
The universe evidently agreed with him. A few weeks later my friend who already played at the hospice unit invited me to a volunteer recruitment lunch. She told the staff who greeted us at the door that I played the harp, and suddenly the volunteer coordinator appeared, handing me a clipboard, pen and volunteer application and saying, “Why don’t you fill this out while you’re here?
Following an interview, a criminal background check, fingerprinting, reference checks, a drug test, a health screening, two TB tests, and viral titers determining that I had immunity to all the usual childhood diseases, I was approved as a hospice volunteer. (Young children, old people, and dogs have been left in my care without anything close to such an in-depth investigation.) Then I completed 12 hours of training about hospice philosophy and the hospital’s hospice program. Four months later I finally scheduled my first day to play.
The A & E evaluator was right. Hospice is the perfect place to share music with others without being stalked by fears about performing. The unit is small, only eight beds for now, and the staff are warm and welcoming. An alcove under a stained glass window at the end of a short hall provides a cozy place to play. There aren’t many people in the halls. Those who are, are on their way to somewhere else and don’t stop and watch me play. It was me and the harp and the music spending an hour together, and perhaps soothing people’s hearts in the process.
The nurses said that they could hear the harp throughout the unit, and that the music was beautiful. I didn’t see any patients or families, which in a strange way helped me focus just on the playing, and not on any perceived or imagined outcomes. I remembered to breathe, and to just “keep calm and carry on” when my fingers did something new and surprising. I remembered to listen to the sounds of the strings as I plucked. The hour passed quickly, and I didn’t even play all the tunes on today’s set list.
The volunteer coordinator asked me to come back and to play regularly. I committed to playing an hour each week, every Tuesday morning. I know that playing this often will help me develop ease and comfort with performing. And the tunes in my repertoire are definitely going to stay in my fingers. But as I was packing up today, that’s not what felt important. Instead, it was realizing once again that the harp is such a gift in my heart, in my life, and that passing the gift on feels right, feels like the best next step in my journey to place where Music lives.